I think I have a good Jewish education but I don't know much Talmud, and so for all of my premises below, I would appreciate if a Talmud scholar would help with any pertinent references.

Premise 0) The sanctity of human life has the highest priority in halacha. For example, one could NOT choose to martyr themselves rather than to desecrate the Sabbath. Any law can be broken to preserve human life.

Premise 1) Jerusalem is a holy city because it is where the Temple stood.

Premise 2) A Jew is prohibited from prostrating before an idol or building one. We pray towards Jerusalem to remember the Exile, not because a holy artifact remains there.

Question: So is the willingness to fight and die for Jerusalem, to prioritize a material object over human life, against the spirit of Jewish law?

EPILOGUE: People are asking for citations for these premises, when I clearly disclosed that I lack them. Rather, I'd appreciate responses that employ citations to support or contradict them. For example, those saying that premise 1 is false: Jerusalem is NOT a holy city? I think I've heard religious people use the phrase "eer kadosh." Premise 2 is literally what I've been told by a Rabbi.

  • I think you are confusing fighting and dying. No one advocates Jews dying for Jerusalem.
    – Double AA
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:12
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    @DoubleAA, not compelling at all. Endangering human life is a transparent result of fighting.
    – Ryan
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:17
  • @Ryan It is. So? Assumption 0 says nothing about risking life. (Again, premises 1 and 2 are still just wrong. Not that I know what they have to do with the question.)
    – Double AA
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:19
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    In a little bit of a joking, Jon Skeet kinda way....human life is so valuable in Jewish law that it even overrides the importance of human life!
    – MTL
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:21
  • ^^^ Explanatory note: Sanhedrin 72a: "אם בא להורגך השכם להורגו" "If he's coming to kill you, you kill him first."
    – MTL
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


The title of this question and the text of the question seem to me to be very different, and all of this would have been a comment until it got too long.

I'll address the 'premises' of the question first. I don't really see how these assumptions connect to the question, other than the first (which has been strangely numbered '0'), but here it is:

0) The 'sanctity' of life (by which I assume you mean the value of preserving it) is not the highest priority in Judaism, though it is fairly high up on the scale. It's hard to really prioritize values in Judaism because sometimes they are given different expression in different cases. (For example, the punishment for violating Shabbos is death by stoning, the most serious forms of capital punishment, but one may violate Shabbos to save a life. On the other hand, it's better to be killed than to violate incest with one's sister, despite the fact that there's no capital punishment for someone who does such a thing. So which is worse, violating Shabbos or incest?) The point is that there are other values or commandments which are more important than preserving life (see Sanhedrin 74a) and one of those values is the preservation of Jewish identity (see Radvaz Teshuvah 4:92).

1) Jerusalem is 'holy' in a legal sense: one cannot bring sacrifices outside of the temple in Jerusalem and cannot eat certain sacrificial meats outside of the city (see Shevuos 14-15, among other places) and besides for the legal aspect of it, Jerusalem was/is holy because it is the site of the Shekhina - some manifestation or feeling of God's presence (Rambam Beis Habechirah 6:16). The reason for Jerusalem's holiness is not because there once was a Temple there in the past, but because that's the place for a Temple - past, present (in theory), and future. (Megillah 9b, Rambam Beis Habechirah 1:1)

2) The reason for praying towards Jerusalem is either because it is the place of the Shekhina (see above, and as context may imply in Kings I 8:48), or because all of the Jews praying towards one place indicates a unity of purpose/unity of God (see Sifrei VaEschanan 29), or because Jerusalem is somehow the place 'from whence prayers ascend to Heaven', whatever that may mean (Pikrei Derebi Eliezer 35). However, the reason is not because of any artifact, nor is it to 'remember the exile'; this rule was in place well before the exile (see Kings I 8:48 and its interpretation in Berachos 30a). But you are correct that idolatry is prohibited.

Now, the question is, considering that the value of maintaining human life is so great, how could it be that one is allowed to risk one's life (or that of others') for the sake of Jerusalem?

I believe that the answer is that Jerusalem isn't being treated differently than any other part of the Land of Israel, for which one is obligated to give up one's life (see Minchas Chinuch 425, 604). This must be the case, since there is a requirement to conquer the land of Israel, and this could have only be accomplished through soldiers risking their lives- that's how wars work. See also this short piece by R. Elazar Melamed one the subject of risking life for any piece of land. Of course, not everyone agrees, but you're asking about a particular opinion among many.

  • Thanks for charitably reading the question, providing many references and a clear answer. I accept this answer because of its nuanced, rabbinical character, not as an endorsement of the underlying beliefs.
    – Ryan
    Nov 26, 2014 at 15:22
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    see my last sentence in terms of acceptance/endorsement - neither do I, necessarily Nov 26, 2014 at 15:45
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    anyone care to explain the downvote? Nov 26, 2014 at 18:12
  • This view is not hold by all rabanim. Rabbi J. B. Soloveychik in the book "ish al haeda" page 257 holds that pikuach nefesh doche kol hatorah kula. Even erez jisroel. The question is what will be less pikuach nefesh in the long term Nov 27, 2014 at 18:16
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    @DavidMichaelGang I'm well aware; this is quoted by R. Hershel Schachter as well (Nefesh Harov pp. 97-98, and in "Land for Piece" printed in RJJ vol 16). Please note the last line in my answer and comment above that I don't endorse this opinion necessarily. However, I should also note that this opinion may be questioned from the Gemara Berachos 3b. One could explain that the possible war there would have been one without risk to Jewish life, but that's a stretch I think Nov 27, 2014 at 18:37

In 66, 115, and 132 there were 3 large Jewish revolts against the Roman empire and they all ended disastrously. The rabbis and students who were left holding the pieces of Jewish society realized that if not done right, Jewish revolts were not worth the risk to the continuity of society/torah study. Although some Talmud rabbis, such as Rabbi Akiva, supported the Bar Kochba revolt, the depiction of Bar Kochba and the Zealots who wanted war with the Romans during the first revolt, is strongly negative.

FYI, According to wikipedia, there was another revolt in 351, Samaritan revolts in the 5th and 6th centuries, and a Jewish-Persian action that led to a short lived Jewish province that was recaptured by the Byzantines. Caliph Omar had Jewish support when he conquered Palestine from the Byzantines in 637.

  • So....what does this have to do with Jerusalem, specifically?
    – MTL
    Nov 26, 2014 at 3:44
  • That the opinion of the talmud is that a shot at taking back Jerusalem is not worth the mess that will occur if it is not successful. Nov 26, 2014 at 3:46
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    Ah, now I understand what you're saying. I know what you're talking about, but the answer would be improved by a direct Talmud citation. I'll try to see if I can find one for you.
    – MTL
    Nov 26, 2014 at 3:51
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    I still don't see how this answers the question. What if the Rabbis thought that the campaign would be successful, would they have joined? How do you know? and, more to the point, why - shouldn't the value of maintaining human life take priority? Nov 26, 2014 at 5:54
  • I don't think they ever publicized a litmus test for when it was a good idea to have a revolt. For much of history after 135, the holders of Jerusalem were strong and didn't have any regional threats that the Jews could take advantage of. Nov 26, 2014 at 12:20

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