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It is commonly known that there are 3 things that a Jew must give up their life for and not to be ovar (transgress) on these things: Giliah Ariyos (sexual relations that are not permitted), Shivchus Damim (killing someone), and Avodah Zarah (idol worship.)

Recently I was told by someone that there is actually a 4th thing. That is if someone is in a situation where they are forced to profess a belief or do an action that would constitute "kefirah and/or apikorsus" (perhaps someone can help with the translation for this here) than they also must give up their life.

They said the source can be found in Moreh HaNavuchim ("towards the end" as they told) and in many other seforim (rishonim as they said.)

Is there such a source for this in Moreh HaNavuchim? And whether there is or isn't are there any other sources that one must give up their life in order to to be ovar on these things?

  • maharshal judaism.stackexchange.com/a/52841/759 – Double AA Oct 9 '16 at 1:10
  • It should be noted that we probably don't hold like the Maharshal referenced by @DoubleAA and it is not quoted by Rambam. – mevaqesh Oct 9 '16 at 2:04
  • @mevaqesh it would be hard for the Maharshal (16th century) to be quoted by Rambam (12th). – msh210 Oct 10 '16 at 15:39
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    @msh210 I obviously meant that his opinion is not recorded by Rambam; not that his name is absent. – mevaqesh Oct 10 '16 at 18:12
  • Those three things are not the only cases in which one must give up his life; see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/14485/5083 which provides the other cases according to the Shulchan Aruch, based on the Gemara Sanhedrin (73b-74) – הנער הזה Jun 15 '17 at 15:51
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Besides for these three sins, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) clearly writes that there are two other situations which require one to give up his life: in public and in the context of persecution against the Jewish religion. Thus, any threat to death which is directed towards the Jew to abandon his religion must be met with martyrdom.

As far as I know, Rambam does not discuss this explicitly in his Moreh Nevukhim, but he does mention this case in a famous letter-responsum known as Iggeret ha-Shemad. There, Rambam actually rules that one is permitted to verbally announce that he believes that Muhammad was a prophet, even though doing so gives off the impression that one is accepting Islam, which is a heretical religion (Hil. Teshuvah 3:8, or 3:17 in this version) despite not being idolatry (Hil. Ma'achalot Asurot 11:7 or 11:4). Although mere acceptance of Muhammad as a prophet might not be heretical (kefirah/epikorsut), in Iggeret Teiman, in the Iggeret ha-Shemad, Rambam appears to encourage that one not give up his life when forced to convert to Islam, and instead simply keep a low profile (and try to get out of that country ASAP). This seems to be because a person can't just change his beliefs because someone puts a knife at his throat, and so the Muslims must know that we don't actually believe in their religion even after forcing us to profess belief in it.

Here is the relevant passage from Iggeret ha-Shemad

דע שכל השמדות שהיו בזמן החכמים, היו מצווים בה לעבור על המצות, והיה בם עשיית מעשה. כמו שאמרו בתלמוד שלא יתעסקו בתורה, ולא ימולו את בניהם, או שיבעלו נשיהן נדות. ואולם זה השמד לא יתחייבו עשיית מעשה, זולת הדיבור בלבד... וכבר נתאמת אצלם שאין אנחנו מאמינים באותו הדיבור ואינו בפי האומרו רק להנצל מן המלך, כדי להפיס דעתו בדיבורים מן הדיבור. וכל מי שנהרג כדי שלא יודה בשליחות אותו האיש, לא ייאמר עליו אלא שעשה הישר והטוב, ויש לו שכר גדול לפני השם, ומעלתו במעלה עליונה כי הוא מסר עצמו לקדושת השם ית' ויתעלה. אבל מי שבא לשאול אותנו אם ייהרג או יודה, אומרים לו שיודה ולא ייהרג. אבל לא יעמוד במלכות אותו המלך, אלא ישב בביתו עד שיצא אם הוא צריך, ומעשה ידיו יעשה בסתר... ולא יראה מדברי רז"ל שיאמרו ייהרג ואל יעבור ואל יאמר דבר אחד שאין בו מעשה. אבל ייהרג כאשר יחייבוהו לעשות מעשה, או על דבר שהוא מוזהר עליו.

As Shilat writes (Iggerot Ha-Rambam page 40, note 8): Shilat, page 40

However, this lenient opinion appears not to have been shared by many others, and is relevant to the question of whether or not one should give up his life before being forced to convert to Islam. Rabvaz (She'elot u­Teshuvot Radvaz, nos. 344 and 1163, or vol. 4 no. 92) quotes the Ritva as arguing with Rambam and require one to give up his life instead of admitting to Islam. He writes explicitly that one must give up his life before professing belief in kefirah:

והוי יודע שאמונת הישמעאלים אעפ"י שהם מייחדים, ע"ז גמורה חשיבא ליהרג ואל ישתמד שהרי המודה באמונתם כופר בתורת משה שאינה אמת כמות שהיא בידינו וכל כיוצא בו ע"ז היא, ולא אמרו בשאר מצות יעבור ואל יהרג במתכוין להעביר אלא כשאומרין לו חלל שבת כדי לעבור על דתך, לא שיאמרו לו חלל שבת כמודה שאין תורתך אמת ולא ציוה הקב"ה לשמור את השבת

This view may also have been held by Ran (Chiddushei ha-Ran to Sanhedrin 61a), but this was likely not actually written by Rabbeinu Nissim of Geronda.

  • Rambam appears to encourage that one not give up his life when forced to convert to Islam, and instead simply keep a low profile...This seems to be because a person can't just change his beliefs because someone puts a knife at his throat, and so the Muslims must know that we don't actually believe in their religion even after forcing us to profess belief in it. I might be missing your intent, but of course you can't give up your life! Rambam is famously of the opinion that it is is thoroughly forbidden to allow oneself to be killed when it isn't halakhically imperative. – mevaqesh Jun 15 '17 at 19:32
  • @mevaqesh actually, in this singular case Rambam himself might hold that there is such a thing as optional martyrdom, but I'm not sure. He writes that if someone asks us the halakha, we tell them that that he should not give up his life, but he also writes that those who do give up their lives in this context are to be praised: וכל מי שנהרג כדי שלא יודה בשליחות אותו האיש, לא ייאמר עליו אלא שעשה הישר והטוב, ויש לו שכר גדול לפני השם, ומעלתו במעלה עליונה כי הוא מסר עצמו לקדושת השם ית' ויתעלה. – הנער הזה Jun 16 '17 at 19:15
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Maybe the source you search is in the Sefer HaChinuch (25: מצות האמנה במציאות השם )

ולא יודה בחילוף זה ואפילו יאמרו להרגו ...

In fact, this is not a 4th thing, but an extension of the first. There is a notion of אביזרייהו (= extensions, but dont know the exact litteral translation) of the three. See in Sanhedrin 75a:

מעשה באדם אחד שנתן עיניו באשה אחת והעלה לבו טינא ובאו ושאלו לרופאים ואמרו ... תעמוד לפניו ערומה ימות ואל תעמוד לפניו ערומה ...

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