Does the rule 'You shall not murder' stand above all other rules in Judaism?

  • 3
    How could one evaluate that? What do you mean by "most important" or "stand above"? (Note that 'murder' here has technical definitions. It doesn't just mean cause someone to die, as Jews are commanded to execute certain criminals and to go to war under certain circumstances.)
    – Double AA
    Jan 7, 2016 at 3:55
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    Maybe that other person is really good at guessing what you mean, or maybe he was trying to get you to stop asking, or maybe he was just a fool. The fact is I don't know how anyone can intentionally answer the current question accurately.
    – Double AA
    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:02
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    ... Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide a clear answer to your question, because "the most important commandment" and "stand above all other rules" could be interpreted in various ways. By some metric, for example, you could say that Torah study is the most important commandment (Pe'ah 1:1). By another metric, you could say that avoiding slander is the most important commandment (Rambam, Hil. Dei'os 7:4). Or charity (Shabbos 139a).
    – Fred
    Jan 7, 2016 at 5:18
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    @Fred rationalistjudaism.com/2013/09/kneged-kulam.html : "There are several mitzvos about which Chazal say that they are equal to all other mitzvos together. These are the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, Shabbos, Bris Milah, Tzitzis, and Gemilas Chasadim."
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 7, 2016 at 12:33
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    I think that this is a fair question, and that "There is no concept of 'most important commandment' in Judaism" is a fair answer. The question could be improved significantly with the addition of why one might suspect that this commandment might have this status, and some clarification of what "most important" may mean, in this context.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 7, 2016 at 15:30

4 Answers 4


Judaism does not specify the importance or reward of different commandments. We observe them all because God says so without trying to rationalize (although many have proposed explanations for the various commandments, e.g., Sefer Hachinuch).

It is however true that breaching different commandments created the need (in Temple times) for different sacrifices.

The Rambam in Mishne Torah Hilkhot Sanhedrin ch 15 lists the punition for various aveirot (sins). In his view, unlawful premeditated murder calls for death penalty but of a level below than other aveirot, e.g., some forbidden relations, idol worship, violating the Shabbat. But as is well explained elsewhere on MY one cannot use this classification to judge which mitzva (commandment) is more important.

In a positive way, there is a widely known story in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) of the great sage Hillel, quoted from here

A gentile wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this -- go and study it!"

Does it mean loving your neighbor is the most important commandment? No but it is a starting point for all the rest.

  • 1
    This answer is 100% incorrect. We have lots of measures for what commandments take priorities over other commandments. You have to do a bris on shabbos. The gemara even speaks about beautifying the mitzvah of bris after it's completed. So bris takes priority. It absolutely specifies rewards for commandments. If you shoo a mother bird from a tree before taking the eggs you get long life. That's a specific reward. I could give enough examples of how this answer is wrong I could fill up 100 of these comment boxes. -1
    – JMFB
    Jan 7, 2016 at 7:54
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    @JMFB priorities and importance are different things. I didn't discuss priorities. Now on your specific points. One doesn't do a Brit on Shabbat for a non-natural (eg Cesarean) delivery. What does this tell us about the relative importance of a Brit vs Shabbat? Nothing. It tells us that in some cases we do a Brit on Shabbat, in other cases not. On rewards there are only two mitzvot in the Torah promising long life as a reward. Shiluach haken (your example) and kibud av v'eim (respecting your parents). Just two. Does it mean the other mitzvot are not important? Of course not. B'shalom.
    – mbloch
    Jan 7, 2016 at 8:05
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    @JMFB this question doesn't ask about relative priorities. Those are much more well-defined than relative importance.
    – Daniel
    Jan 7, 2016 at 13:06
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    @JMFB If you can fill 100 comment boxes, please just give me 10 examples of Mitzvot whose reward is specified.
    – Double AA
    Jan 11, 2016 at 14:23

Does the rule 'You shall not murder' stand above all other rules in Judaism?
NO (but it's up there)

to summarize the quotes below (in order),
if we consider To know that there is a God a commandment as the Rambam does, it seems to be the most important commandment in Judaism.
Regarding our connection to G-d: their are is no difference in commandments
Regarding the way the Torah speaks about it: murder is on top
Regarding punishment for not keeping a commandment:
1. only a murderer is "killed" even if the witnesses did not observe his act together, or a warning was not given; or the witnesses to a murder contradicted each other with regard to the fine points of the testimony, but not with regard to the fundamental questions.
2. but if the testimony is perfect then the punishment for murder is not the most severe
Regarding being considered as a gentile regarding the whole Torah except marriage: murder is not one of the commandments if transgressed make him as a gentile
Regarding getting killed and not transgressing: murder is one of the 3 that even in privet you should get killed and not do it

Mishneh Torah » Sefer Madda » Yesodei haTorah - Chapter One
Halacha 1

The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being.

see footnote 2 here

the Tanya in chaper 24

It is thus clear that he who sins and transgresses against G‑d’s Will even in a minor offense, is, at the time he commits it, completely removed from the Divine Holiness, meaning G‑d’s unity and oneness,
but they (laws regarding the sins) are simply a matter of Scriptural decree.
(The sinner, however, who does distinguish between the gravity of the various transgressions, sacrificing his life for the prohibition of idolatry but not even restraining his desire for others, surely has his thinking clouded by the ”spirit of folly“ of the kelipah, which obscures his hidden love of G‑d. For in reality, every transgression creates the ultimate separation between the sinner and G‑d.)

Rambam Mishneh Torah » Sefer Nezikim » Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh - Chapter One
Halacha 4

There is nothing that the Torah warned so strongly against as murder, as Ibid.:33 states: "Do not pollute the land in which you live, for blood will pollute the land."

Mishneh Torah» Sefer Nezikim » Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh - Chapter Four
Halacha 8

The following laws apply when a person kills people, but the witnesses did not observe his act together - instead one saw him after the other did: a person killed in the presence of witnesses, but a warning was not given; or the witnesses to a murder contradicted each other with regard to the fine points of the testimony, but not with regard to the fundamental questions.
All those murderers should be forced to enter a kipah.**There they are fed parched bread and small amounts of water until their digestive tract contracts. Then they are fed barley **until their bellies burst because of the extent of the sickness and they die.

Halacha 9

This measure is not taken with regard to other crimes punishable by execution by the court. If a defendant is liable for execution, he should be executed. If he is not liable for execution, he should be released.

Although there are other sins that are more serious than murder, they do not present as serious a danger to society as murder does. Even idol worship - and needless to say, incest or the violation of the Sabbath - are not considered as severe as murder. For these sins involve man's relationship with God, while murder also involves man's relationship with his fellow man.

Whoever commits this sin is an utterly wicked person. All the mitzvot that he performs throughout his lifetime cannot outweigh this sin and save him from judgment. Thus, Proverbs 28:17 states: "A man weighed down with life's blood will flee to the pit."

Come and learn from the example of Ach'av King of Israel. He was an idolater so debased in his paganism that I Kings 21:25 says: "There was none like Ach'av who gave himself over to the performance of wickedness in the eyes of God." And yet when his merits and sins were weighed in the presence of the Lord of spirits, there was no sin that warranted his destruction and was not counterbalanced by a positive quality, except the blood of Navot.

Thus, it is written Ibid. 22:21, in the description of the prophecy of Ach'av's death in battle: "And the spirit came and stood before God." Our Sages commented:: "This is the spirit of Navot." And God told the spirit (Ibid.:2): "You will persuade him and prevail."

Now this wicked man Ach'av did not actually kill his victim with his own hands; he merely brought about his death. How much more so this condemnation should apply when a person kills another with his own hands.

and as the @mbloch answer brought
Mishneh Torah » Sefer Shoftim » Sanhedrin veha`Onashin haMesurin lahem- Chapter 14
Halacha 4

Stoning to death is a more severe form of execution than burning. Burning is a more sever form than decapitation, and decapitation is more sever than strangulation...

Mishneh Torah » Sefer Nezikim » Rotzeach uShmirat Nefesh- Chapter One
Halacha 1

Whenever a person kills a human being, he transgresses a negative commandment, as Exodus 20:13 states: "Do not murder." If a person kills a Jew intentionally in the presence of witnesses, he should be executed by decapitation...


Mishneh Torah » Sefer Kedushah » Shechitah Shechitah - Chapter 4
Halacha 14

... an apostate because of worship of false deities, one who violates the Sabbath in public, or a heretic who denies the Torah and [the prophecy of] Moses our teacher, as we explained in Hilchot Teshuvah, he is considered as a gentile (regarding the whole torah except marriage see hear and hear ) and [an animal] he slaughters is a nevelah.

Mishneh Torah » Sefer Madda » Yesodei haTorah Yesodei haTorah - Chapter Five
Halacha 1

... What is implied? Should a gentile arise and force a Jew to violate one of the Torah's commandments at the pain of death, he should violate the commandment rather than be killed, because [Leviticus 18:5] states concerning the mitzvot: "which a man will perform and live by them." [They were given so that] one may live by them and not die because of them. If a person dies rather than transgress, he is held accountable for his life.

Halacha 2

When does the above apply? With regard to other mitzvot, with the exception of the worship of other gods, forbidden sexual relations, and murder. However, with regard to these three sins, if one is ordered: "Transgress one of them or be killed," one should sacrifice his life rather than transgress.

When does the above apply? When the gentile desires his own personal benefit - for example, he forces a person to build a house or cook food for him on the Sabbath, he rapes a woman, or the like. However, if his intention is solely to have him violate the mitzvot, [the following rules apply:] If he is alone and there are not ten other Jews present, he should transgress and not sacrifice his life. However, if he forces him [to transgress] with the intention that he violate [a mitzvah] in the presence of ten Jews, he should sacrifice his life and not transgress. [This applies] even if [the gentile] intended merely that he violate only one of the [Torah's] mitzvot.


This is almost impossible to answer without ruffling someone's feathers but here is some food for thought.

Based on the idea that you are making reference to one of the ten statements (עשרת הדברות) and there is a teaching that all the 613 mitzvot are contained and alluded to in the ten statements, (See the commentary Heichal HaBracha of the Komarna Rebbe on the giving of the Torah.) the concept mentioned in the Mechilta on this is worth considering.

There is a question about what the Jewish people actually heard from HaShem directly. The view of Rabbi Yishmael is that they heard the first two statements which include all the others. They responded 'Yes' to the positive commandments and 'No' to the negative commandments. That is because the general categories of positive and negative encompass all the commandments.

But the opinion of Rabbi Akiva is that they heard only the first statement directly, which includes all the others. They answered 'Yes' for the positive commandments and 'Yes' for the negative commandments. Here's a link: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40606&st=&pgnum=88

This view of Rabbi Akiva parallels the order set down in creation mentioned in Bereshit. The 10 statements at the giving of the Torah parallel the 10 utterances of the creation of the universe.

Based on the language we say in Lecha Dodi, "Shamor v'zachor b'dibbor echod", (Negative and positive in one statement, G-d caused us to hear.), it seems the view of Rabbi Akiva is accepted.

In this context, the commandment of 'You shall not murder' is a subset of the first commandment and would therefore not be 'the most important'.

Another interesting perspective is found in Sefer Avkat Rochel by Rabbeinu Makir ben Abba Mori, book one, chapter one, which says the Sages say the last of the ten, 'Lo tachmod', is the greatest and all the others are dependent upon it. It goes on to say that one who fulfills 'lo tachmod' is considered to have fulfilled the entire Torah. Here is a link:


Here again, it is emphasizing the concept of all the others being contained within the one.

In the context of Avkat Rochel, this appears to be emphasizing the kabbalistic concept of 'Ohr Yashar', emanation from above to below and 'Ohr Chozer', the return to the source from below to above. In either case, the point of origin contains all the particulars that follow it.


First unlike an answer above to which I commented under, there is clearly a hierarchy to commandments. I can give many many examples. So it is a valid question, although as someone pointed out in the comments section it's not clear what you mean. Do you mean do you get the most severe punishment for it? Do you get the most credit if you don't do it during your life? Are there other punishments on earth or in shamayim that are worse than for the act of committing murder? Is this simply a moral or ethical question without consideration of punishment or reward? Are you concerned about what happens when there's a situation where there's a conflict between murder and another commandment, Etc. Etc.

Preserving your life, or perhaps not endangering your life, is a fundamental mitzvah. However if someone points a gun at you and tells you to point a gun at someone else and kill them or they will kill you, you can't kill an innocent person in that circumstance to save yourself.

If there's a bris and it falls on shabbos you have to perform the bris on shabbos even if you have to carry the knife on shabbos to do it. In fact you can even beautify the mitzvah(2nd cut) after the first cut is done even though the mitzvah is completed at that time. Gemara Shabbos second chapter.

So we see there is an order, a ranking so to speak, to mitzvahs. We need this to know when two mitzvahs conflict which one do we follow. We also have a hierarchy based on punishment. We also factor in sins against man vs sins against hashem as alluded to in another answer.

This is the only thing I could think of and I'm going to get downvoted for this, because of lack of citation. I'm tempted to make this a community wiki, although I'm hoping somebody else might be so kind as to give me the reference for this.

It does say somewhere that, "embarrassing somebody is worse then killing a person because when you kill somebody it kills their body, but when you embarrass them it kills their soul." (citation help please)

I believe it's in the gemara in the story about the new rosh yeshiva that didn't want the new student to know he lit the furnace in the morning so let his beard catch on fire so as not to embarrass the new student.

  • The gemara about "embarassing someone in public is equal to murder" is Baba Metzia 58b at the bottom.
    – mbloch
    Jan 7, 2016 at 14:06
  • Link for the English halakhah.com/babamezia/babamezia_58.html
    – hazoriz
    Jan 7, 2016 at 14:42
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    I agree with you that the question is unclear, but do you really think that "embarrassing somebody is worse than killing" is true for any reasonable definition of "worse"? I think it's pretty clear that that gemara is not to be taken literally. It doesn't even fit the "relative priority" standard that your answer talks about. If someone points a gun at you and says "embarrass somebody else" do you think you have to refuse?
    – Daniel
    Jan 7, 2016 at 14:45
  • @Daniel +1 also note the gemara really says "equal to murder", but of course it is not meant literally either
    – mbloch
    Jan 7, 2016 at 16:06

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