When a government makes decrees that force Jews to transgress religious laws, does halacha describe the degree to which the government's laws must be ignored?

If so, are there specific ways in which one is told to disobey non violently?

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    Unclear what you want. Civil law - especially regarding monetary matters - takes precedence over Jewish Law usually. The law of the land is law! In most non-monetary matters Jewish Law takes precedence, but there are rules for this too. What does civil disobedience have to do with this? Dec 24, 2015 at 14:11
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    Are you asking about an example of being forced to serve nonkosher food or violating shabbos? Dec 24, 2015 at 14:21
  • 1
    Edited the question hopefully to clarify it. Dec 24, 2015 at 17:09
  • 1
    @AvrohomYitzchok Much better. Nice question.
    – LN6595
    Dec 28, 2015 at 0:01

1 Answer 1


It seems, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the transgression, that a Jew is obliged to resist transgressing Jewish law in any way he can.

At least the sources quoted below which deal with how to respond to decrees to transgress Jewish law do not define the nature of the civil disobedience although they do state when transgression is not allowed. If there were specific ways of resisting, the sources might have been expected to mention them.

The Wikipedia article on “Self sacrifice in Jewish law says:

In general, a Jew must violate biblically mandated, and certainly rabbinically mandated, religious laws of Judaism in order to preserve human life. This principle is known as ya'avor v'al ye'hareg (יעבור ואל יהרג, "transgress and do not be killed") and it applies to virtually all of Jewish ritual law, including the best known laws of Shabbat and kashrut, and even to the severest prohibitions, such as those relating to circumcision, chametz on Passover, and fasting on Yom Kippur. Thus, the Torah generally asserts that pikuach nefesh (פיקוח נפש, "the preservation of human life") is paramount, and in most situations even the preservation of a limb is equated with the basic principle.


However, there are three areas of prohibition that may not be trespassed under any circumstances, even to save a human life. While these three areas of Jewish law are often informally referred to as the "three cardinal sins," they actually encompass many more than a mere three prohibitions. They all involve murder, sexual misconduct and idol worship. The governing principle here is called ye'hareg v'al ya'avor (יהרג ואל יעבור, or "be killed but do not transgress").

Source: Sanhedrin 74a, the Talmud records: “Rav Yochanan said in the name of Rav Shimon ben Yehotzadak: ‘It was decided by a vote in the loft of the house of Nitezeh in Lod: For all the sins in the Torah, if a person is told, 'Transgress and you will not be killed,' they should transgress and not be killed, except for idol worship, sexual relations and bloodshed.’” A Jew must sacrifice his or her life rather than transgress the above-mentioned sins.

Someone who then runs great risks or accepts great hardship for the sake of observing the religious laws of Judaism without actually sacrificing his or her life is considered especially righteous. Such an act of figurative self-sacrifice is called mesirat nefesh (מסירת נפש, "giving over the soul").


During a time of crisis for the Jewish faith—for example, if a government or any other power wants to force Jews not to be religious—every prohibition in Jewish law becomes yehareg ve'al ya'avor, and one is to have mesirat nefesh on every negative or positive commandment even when not in public. This is called "Sandal straps", and refers to the traditional Jewish manner of putting on footwear (Put on right, put on left, tie left, tie right). In this situation, one must die even for "Sandal straps".

It is also considered a crisis for the Jewish faith when a particular requirement within Jewish law is in danger of being outlawed by a government or other power.

Source: Rambam Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah chapter five parts 1-3

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