Around the time of the Holocaust many people in Eastern Europe decided it was better to stay in Europe despite the grave physical dangers (sakana nefashot) rather than leave to America due to the spiritual dangers at the time, namely, that it was extremely difficult to stay shomer shabbat, keep kosher, etc. Is there an actual Halacha for one in such a situation?

i.e. what is worse physical danger or spiritual danger, i.e. danger of losing one's torah observance and that of his children

  • 1
    "many people in Eastern Europe decided..." Can you source that this is true? Many may have found it difficult to leave financially, emotionally, or for any number of other reasons. Why do you think the valuation you described ever happened?
    – Double AA
    Nov 24, 2016 at 23:52
  • 1
    This shouldn't be tagged galut since it is a halakhic question that has nothing to do with galut. The OP just chose to illustrate it with an example that he believes took place in galut.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 16:58
  • How is it possible to be a danger to become an apostate jew
    – hazoriz
    Nov 27, 2016 at 19:32
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Remember to edit important information/clarifications into the post itself. Nov 27, 2016 at 21:52
  • consider marking an answer correct :)
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 3, 2017 at 7:00

3 Answers 3


I'm not addressing the Holocaust aspect of the question, but see this, adapted from the work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to cast the boys into the river in order to cause their physical death. The same Egyptians were also told that they must keep the girls alive, that is, raise them in the Egyptian way of life. This would cause not physical death like the boys, but a spiritual death.

Since the Torah mentions both decrees together in the same verse, this indicates that "every daughter you shall keep alive" is a decree no less harsh than "every son that is born you shall cast into the river." To destroy the soul is as bad as to kill the body, in fact worse - for spiritual death has an absolute finality that physical death does not.

Thought exercise: Compare and contrast this idea with Rashi's commentary to Shemot 2:1:

and he remarried her. This is the meaning of went, that he followed [lit., he went after] his daughter’s advice that she said to him, Your decree is harsher than פַּרְעֹה. Whereas Pharaoh issued a decree [only] against the males, you [issued a decree] against the females as well [for none will be born].

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    How does this nice drash possibly address the halakhic question at hand?
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 22:29
  • Presumably the Egyptian way of life included idolatry which is a cardinal sin. The OP did not mention idolatry, and presumably his case does not include it, this this cute derasha that was obviously never meant to determine life and death halakhic issues, becomes even more irrelevant.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 22:31
  • the question asked, "What is worse, spiritual danger or physical danger". I brought a source that says spiritual danger is worse.
    – Menachem
    Nov 27, 2016 at 23:05
  • But the context relates to the question of halakhic preference; not some undefined issue of "badness". For example, if I must die or wear shatnez, the halakha is that I wear the shatnez. All I see from your "answer" is that spiritual ills are worse. Thus, inasmuch as this is an answer, it is wrong, and inasmuch as it is right, it is not an answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 23:20

I am not agreeing with your presumption

But I think this source answers your question

Shulchan aruch yora daiya 116.5, Ramo

וְכֵן יִזָּהֵר מִכָּל דְּבָרִים הַמְּבִיאִים לִידֵי סַכָּנָה, כִּי סַכַּנְתָּא חֲמִירָא מֵאִסּוּרָא, וְיֵשׁ לָחוּשׁ יוֹתֵר לִסְפֵק סַכָּנָה מִלִּסְפֵק אִסּוּר (ב''י בְּשֵׁם הש''ס). ‏

Tzuras hadaf

Chullin 10a

This, therefore, proves that regulations concerning danger to life are more stringent than ritual prohibition

The question changed

A Jewish man is responsible for his observance, in very hard times the requirements of his observance become less strict. There is no such a thing as danger to a man's Torah observance.

But a man needs to protect his live.

So it is clear that he should protect his live and go live in a place with hard Torah observance.

But a woman can be forced to change her religion, and it seems from Shulchan aruch harav 306.29 to be the same level problem as life saving, so I guess in the case of a woman (possibly Bing kidnapped).

She should still protect her life (leave the place of life threatening) since it is life threatening now but the Torah observance threat is in the future.

  • Strictly speaking this isn't the best source for this, as the context regards the respective stringencies of danger and prohibition, and states that is possible prohibition has a certain characteristic, then possible danger would as well. It does not deal with the issue of the two conflicting with each other. Thus, unless you could cite a general rule that we will put ourselves in the position to possibly sin, to avoid another sin, there would be no evidence of the same, for danger.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 16:32
  • כִּי סַכַּנְתָּא חֲמִירָא מֵאִסּוּרָא - does not mean spiritual danger. just means some prohibitions are no longer prohibitions in a situation of danger. my question is regarding a case where one may lose all his connection to God and torah and this answer does not address this IMHO
    – ray
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:53
  • @ray no, it will not match the context, in the laws of shabos the word is often used as something the might me life threatening,
    – hazoriz
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:56
  • @ray issur seems not connected to spiritual danger then Sakono
    – hazoriz
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:58
  • @ray see bottom of left column hebrewbooks.org/…
    – hazoriz
    Nov 27, 2016 at 19:04

In our case, assuming that the level of danger for a particular individual is within the parameter recognized by halakha as dangerous, then it would be not only permissible, but obligatory to perform any non-cardinal sin to escape these circumstances. All the more so, it would be permissible to enter a situation where the sin itself is not guaranteed.


There is a general principle in halakha, stated in the Tosefta Shabbat (9:22), that nothing supersedes the protection of life:

ואם היה דבר של סכנה אין כל דבר עומד בפני פקוח נפש

The only exception to this is in the case of cardinal sins (ibid 15:17):

דין הוא שידחו את השבת להחיות נפש בספק הא לא נתנו מצות לישראל אלא לחיות בהן שנ' אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם וחי בהן ולא שימות בהן אין כל דבר עומד בפני פקוח נפש חוץ מע"ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

This is quoted by the Talmud as well (Yoma 82a), and the resultant law is codified by Rambam (Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Assurot (14:4) and Hilkhot Sh'vitat Assor 2:9) and the Shulhan Arukh (OH 617:2).

As is implied by the language above, even mere danger to life; not just certain death, allows one to violate any non-cardinal sin. This is also the implication of the Mishna Yoma (8:6) that one violates the Sabbath, even when this will not guarantee a life being saved, such as in a case where the victim may already be dead.

Edit: This has been getting a lot of commentless downvotes, so it could be it wasn't clear enough. To further clarify: it is pretty much impossible to prove the negative. If someone asks whether he may eat non-kosher food to save a life... On Tuesday, then if answer is 'yes', because the day of the week is not significant, then by definition there will be no sources that answer the question, and the best one will be able to do, is find general sources that omit the distinction. Similarly, here the OP introduces the possibility of a new legal category in the realm of yehareg v'al ya'avor; "irreligious". AFAIK this category does not exist as a relevant variable in the realm of yehareg v'al ya'avor.

Given that there is no evidence that "irreligious" is a discrete halakhic category in the realm of cardinal sins, halakhically, it is just the composite of multiple sins. Thus, the best possible answer quotes the classical sources and notes the universal ruling of ya'avor v'al yehareg for all non-cardinal sins, with no exceptions made for sins on Tuesdays, or the "sin" of being irreligious.

As mentioned in the comments,there is a category of sh'mad, which has specific parameters, in the realm of yehareg v'al ya'avor, but being "irreligious" is not sh'mad.

  • You asked: namely, that it was extremely difficult to stay shomer shabbat, keep kosher the halakha is that one would even violate a prohibition when life might be endangered; one would certainly save oneself even if it only carries the possibility for future violation of prohibitions.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 19:57
  • @ray Now you changed the question: i.e. danger of losing one's torah observance and that of his children It is important to ask what you mean to ask, so that others don't waste their time answering your question, only to have you change the question.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 19:59
  • did not change anything. you didnt understand. tried to make it clearer
    – ray
    Nov 27, 2016 at 20:00
  • Correct. I answered the question asked, not the one supposedly in your head. It is important that the two match.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 20:01
  • However it should be noted that even after you changed the question, I still see no evidence that the halakha would be different. The OP still says nothing about cardinal sins.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 27, 2016 at 20:02

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