Cannibalism is presumably forbidden under Jewish law. However, cannibalism is permitted in order to save ones life provided the other person is already deceased (There is no justification to murder in order to save one's own life).

So suppose one is stuck on a deserted island with two people, one Jewish, and the other a gentile. If, G-d forbid, both of them died and one were forced to become a cannibal to survive, which person is more preferable to eat, the Jew or the gentile?

I am looking specifically sourced based answers

*I Absolutely repudiate any insinuations of racism which may stem from this question. See here for a response to such a suggestion.

  • It's not so clear, actually, that cannibalism is completely forbidden. There's a ר"ן somewhere (on the רי"ף in כתובות?) that writes that it's only an איסור דרבנן, if it's אסור at all.
    – MTL
    Feb 9, 2015 at 17:14
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    Perhaps there is a third possibility of starving to death rather than eating human remains, even though it is Pikuach Nefesh. Feb 10, 2015 at 14:36
  • Another thing to think about, is that some "gentiles" have a nefesh behamis that emanates from klipas nogah; where clean animal souls emanate from.
    – EhevuTov
    Jul 1, 2015 at 0:40
  • Pretty sure the Rosh held it was permissible, can't remember where I read it though.
    – Chaim
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:20
  • @Chaim I too remember a Torah temimah discussing this. But I can't find it anywhere Jul 4, 2016 at 15:23

4 Answers 4


I am not sure if Havarka meant this and if he did then I'll remove my answer, but I think there is a simple way to solve this.

There is a Mitzvah Min Hatorah to bury a Meis Mitzvah which only applies to a dead Jew ( Rambam - Mitzvah 231). There is no Mitzvah to bury a non jew. (I believe there is a Mitzvah Midrabbanan to bury a non jew out of Darcei Sholom but that would not override a Mitzvah Min Hatorah)

So by eating the Jew, you are denying him a chance at burial and directly transgressing a Mitzvas Asei of burying him. By eating the non jew first, perhaps you will be saved by the time you are next starving and you can bring the Jew to a full Jewish burial.

  • 1
    Darchei shalom/mishum eivah would also countenance against discussing this in a public forum such as this one.
    – Loewian
    Feb 9, 2015 at 22:51
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    Not sure that's true - a christian would certainly minister to a dead christian before a Jew (unless they believe in "post mortem conversion" a la Mormonism). This familial preference is normal and wouldn't naturally inspire eivah. Feb 16, 2015 at 1:46
  • What if you buried the Jew and the non-Jew and now you're starving?
    – Daniel
    May 13, 2015 at 12:23
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    Maybe bury your torso until after he's digested?
    – Double AA
    May 14, 2015 at 0:11

Rav Yisroel Reisman quotes a Gra in his 11th shiur on hilchos tumas kohanim saying it's forbidden to receive hanaa from a dead Jew yet mutar from a dead non-Jew. Seemingly, it would be preferable to NOT eat the dead Jew when other food (non-Jew) is available.


I would eat the Jew.

  1. His body is an object used for a mitzva and such objects should be used for more mitzvas
  2. I is a prohibition to leave a body unburied and if you eat the jew first, his body won't lay out to decompose in public.
  3. If one eats the non-jew and then gets discovered before he eats the Jew, it will create ill will amongst the goyim.
  4. In chassidus, the things you eat impact your neshama. Eating dogs and bears, for example, will make one more aggressive and impudent. If eating a dog makes you more doggish, eating a Jew will make your neshama more Jewish.
  • What about Kavod Hamet? Surely it being eaten isn't Kavod Hagoof... Feb 9, 2015 at 14:21
  • Yes, but when faced with the two unpleasant options of laying out on the sand and decomposing or being eaten by a Jew and providing him sustenance to do do mitzvos, the latter is better. Feb 9, 2015 at 16:22
  • This is true only in a scenario that you are sure the body will decompose... Feb 9, 2015 at 16:24
  • you have a great sense of humor :D
    – havarka
    Feb 9, 2015 at 23:42
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    The question asks for sources; can you add some? May 13, 2015 at 15:33

The one who is more fresh, it`s healtier, but you speaking about the case when they died exactly at the same time, correct?! So then I would go after a gentile, since Jews are prohibitied to have an autopsy, which would taking parts of the body be, right?!

It would sound like teoretic questions, but it actually happened quite recently, not to Jews, but still. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Andes_flight_disaster

  • 1
    Any source for your claim that "Jews are prohibitied [sic] to have an autopsy" (but can perform one on non-Jews)?
    – msh210
    Dec 25, 2014 at 15:11

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