There is a halachik principle brought down in the Talmud and codified in halacha known as shaat hashmad - a time of forced religious persecution. Generally, the rule is that any commandment of the Torah does not demand martyrdom for its observance with the exception of the 3 severe sins (idolatry, sexual crimes [i.e. adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality], and murder) and the desecration of G-d's name (see Rambam Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 5:2). However, at a time when there is a movement on the part of the non-Jewish authorities to destroy Jewish practices, then even minor commandments (or even mere customs) also demand martyrdom for their observance (see e.g. Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 5:3).

Recently, Arab leaders have successfully incited Arab terrorists to commit violence against Jews with a short term aim of preventing Jewish prayer in the Old City (e.g. atop the Temple Mount or at its Western Wall) and a continuing long term aim of exterminating/expelling the Jews from Israel. In response, some Jewish religious leaders have advocated that Jews avoid entering the Old City until the situation calms down. Considering that the threatened violence is intended to prevent Jewish religious practices, why shouldn't maintaining these practices (i.e. praying/visting Jewish holy sites) fall under the spirit/letter of the shaas hashmad law indicating a need to involve some level of mesiras nefesh?

  • 2
    Oy. Interesting and, oy, timely question. Why did you tag it minhag rather than halacha?
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 8, 2015 at 18:34
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    I just led this discussion with 2 classes. We came up with no answer...
    – rosends
    Oct 8, 2015 at 19:01
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    I suppose anyone who says that the situation does not constitute a shaat hashmad would hold that the terrorism is not about "prevent[ing] Jewish religious practices," but rather about achieving a political end with any effect on religious practice being a side-effect.
    – Daniel
    Oct 8, 2015 at 19:43
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    I suspect that to be the case considering their affinity to groups like Neturei Karta who oppose the Israeli government. If the terrorists were against Jewish practice, they would oppose Neturei Karta as well.
    – Daniel
    Oct 8, 2015 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


There are two answers to this question both found in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 157 seen here. First, see the Ramma who says that the type decree which necessitates giving up one's life is only a decree leveled against jews alone, עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבַדָּם, not a decree which includes other people as well, as Shach #6 there explains. And as wiki says: Christians and Jews may only visit the site as tourists. They are forbidden from singing, praying, or making any kind of "religious displays".

Another answer to your question is found one line later where the Ramma says:

דַוְקָא אִם רוֹצִים לְהַעֲבִירוֹ בְּמִצְוַת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה, אֲבָל אִם גָּזְרוּ (גְּזֵרָה) שְׁמָד שֶׁלֹּא לְקַיֵּם מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה, אֵין צָרִיךְ לְקַיְּמוֹ וְשֶׁיֵּהָרֵג (ר''ן פֶּרֶק בַּמֶּה טּוֹמְנִין ונ''י פֶּרֶק סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה). מִיהוּ אִם הַשָּׁעָה צְרִיכָה לְכָךְ, וְרוֹצֶה לֵהָרֵג וּלְקַיְּמוֹ, הָרְשׁוּת בְּיָדוֹ

one is only required to give up his life if he is being coerced into a forbidden act, however if the decree is against fulfilling a positive commandment, one need not perform it and give up his life. If however the times call for such an act, and one wants to be killed for fulfilling it, he has the right to do so.

I would assume the positive commandment of praying or whatever religious acts are involved with visiting the sites mentioned are included in this.

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