The Sanhedrin is in place.

There is a plague going round and only one doctor has the skills to cure it. Unfortunately, this doctor is a wanton desecrator of Shabbos and has violated it in the presence of witnesses with warnings etc.

If he is executed, there will be nobody to save people from the plague.

Must the doctor not be executed due to pikuach nefesh?

Is someone's indispensability a consideration?

  • It reminds me of an incident in Chelm where the only baker in town committed murder but they hanged one of the two tailors because if they had hanged the baker, they would have no bread to eat. Feb 6, 2017 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


We have similar concepts in the Mishna.

One is the exiled murderer who is not allowed to leave his city of refuge, even if the entire nation needs him.

See Makos פרק ב - משנה ז

וַאֲפִלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל צְרִיכִים לוֹ, וַאֲפִלּוּ שַׂר צְבָא יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּיוֹאָב בֶּן צְרוּיָה, אֵינוֹ יוֹצֵא מִשָּׁם לְעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר לה) אֲשֶׁר נָס שָׁמָּה, שָׁם תְּהֵא דִירָתוֹ, שָׁם תְּהֵא מִיתָתוֹ, שָׁם תְּהֵא קְבוּרָתוֹ.‏

Since the Mishna chooses the Chief of Staff, we're talking about endangering all Jews if he's not allowed to leave his city of refuge to take charge at the battlefront.

Yet we see that it's too bad; if the Halacha is that he has to stay put, then everybody else may suffer as a consequence.

But maybe execution by Bet Din is more lenient? To answer that we have another Mishna in Arochin פרק א - משנה ד

הָאִשָּׁה שֶׁהִיא יוֹצְאָה לֵהָרֵג, אֵין מַמְתִּינִין לָהּ עַד שֶׁתֵּלֵד. יָשְׁבָה עַל הַמַּשְׁבֵּר , מַמְתִּינִין לָהּ עַד שֶׁתֵּלֵד.‏

A pregnant criminal is sent to her death immediately. We do not wait for her to give birth unless she's already in labor.

The reason we don't wait is called Inuy HaDin; once a criminal is sentenced we don't put them through the agony of waiting for their sentence to be executed (pun intended). The execution takes place on the same day as the sentencing. The only delay is the time it takes to walk from the Bet Din to the location of the execution.

Even though if we wait we will have saved another person's life, Inuy HaDin takes precedence.

Once she's in labor, the fetus is considered as being alive and killing her would mean that the executor is killing two people, so we have to wait. Until she's in labor the fetus is considered part of her; we kill her heart, lungs, hands and fetus. Halacha doesn't consider this as killing 2 people.

So even in Bet Din we see that we don't consider waiting in order to save lives when the Halacha is that the criminal must be executed - no matter how indispensable the person is.

The only solution would be to not sentence him in the first place.

  • 1
    This assumes the fetus is the same as another person. This doesn't seem obvious to me. It could be we don't delay killing for "Pikuach Nefesh" of the fetus (either because it's a part of the mom or because it's Pikuach Nefesh is weaker or because the prohibition of harming it is weaker), but we would for Pikuach Nefesh of another person.
    – Double AA
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:42
  • 1
    +1 for good and relevant sources, but I don't think they're necessarily conclusive (as you and @DoubleAA note).
    – msh210
    Feb 14, 2017 at 4:41

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