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The Gemarah in Sanhedrin says that there are three things a person should give up his life for rather than violate. They are idolatry, murder and sexual immorality. But suppose, if a guy has a gun to your head, and says, "Worship my God or I'll kill you" and you can't muster up the courage to be killed, are you in violation of the Halacha to Martyr yourself? Or does the commandment of Vchai Bahem take over and therefore you are not in any violation?

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  • If you worshiped his god (lowercase), you would be liable for Karet (spiritual excision).
    – Lee
    May 6, 2015 at 15:55
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    Why might you think you wouldn't be in violation?
    – Double AA
    May 6, 2015 at 16:11
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    I think that the question could be made stronger. Basically, as written, it asks, "There is a law to become a martyr for certain things; if you don't fulfill that law, have you violated it?" I have to support @DoubleAA's comment, even though I would like to see answers to this question.
    – Seth J
    May 6, 2015 at 17:06
  • @SethJ, my bad. I'll clarify what I'm asking about.
    – Bochur613
    May 6, 2015 at 22:15
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    Do you perhaps mean to ask whether he would violate the prohibition of idolatry, or the separate law of "martyr oneself rather than succumb"?
    – mevaqesh
    May 7, 2015 at 1:05

1 Answer 1

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The Rambam writes (Yisodeh Hatorah 5:4):

וכל מי שנאמר בו יהרג ואל יעבור ועבר ולא נהרג הרי זה מחלל את השם. ואם היה בעשרה מישראל הרי זה חילל את השם ברבים ובטל מצות עשה שהיא קידוש השם ועבר על מצות לא תעשה שהיא חלול השם. ואעפ"כ מפני שעבר באונס אין מלקין אותו ואין צריך לומר שאין ממיתין אותו בית דין אפילו הרג באונס

Whatever circumstance that requires to be killed and not violate and he instead violated and was not killed he has profaned the Name. And if this was in front of 10 Jews, he profaned the Name publicly and failed to fulfill the positive commandment which is the sanctification of the Name and he violates the negative commandment of profaning the Name. Nevertheless since he violated it against his will, we do not give him lashes and needless to say we don't kill him in court even if he was forced to murder someone.

So someone is in violation of the commandment of martyrdom, but there is no earthly punishment.

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    This is but one side in a Machloket Rishonim, IIRC.
    – Double AA
    May 6, 2015 at 16:11
  • @DoubleAA, looks like someone agrees with you. Hopefully one of you will write up an answer with that information.
    – Yishai
    May 6, 2015 at 17:01
  • @DoubleAA, I've been taught by many teachers, all of them Ashkenazim, who have cited this as authoritative. It could be that, since martyrdom scenarios have, sadly, been very relevant throughout Jewish history, whereas capital punishment meted out by Beith Din has not, most authorities (in my experience) seem to accept the RaMBa"M's view (possibly as a way of not further frightening/worrying a terrorized community), although some have taken (at least academic) license to be strict.
    – Seth J
    May 6, 2015 at 17:02
  • @Yishai My notes say a Tosfot in Sanhedrin and the Yereim disagree. I can't spend much more time on this for now.
    – Double AA
    May 6, 2015 at 17:09
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    @SethJ Perhaps a tanna tuna (pictured here)?
    – Fred
    May 11, 2015 at 23:12

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