There seem to be two contradictory statements of the Rabbis.

One is: Sanhedrin 74a

מי יימר דדמא דידך סומק טפי דילמא דמא דההוא גברא סומק טפי

who knows whether your blood is redder than his blood, maybe his blood is redder than your blood.

This refers to a case where one is told to kill another Jew on pain of death. One may not kill. So one has to give up one's life which implies precedence given to the life of the other person.

The other is: Bovo Metzia 62a

חייך קודמים לחיי חבירך

your life and your friend's life, your life comes first.

This refers to the case of two people on a journey with sufficient water for only one to get to his destination. Rabbi Akiva teaches that your life comes first.

At first sight the statements seem contradictory.

  • 3
    I just read an article about this but I have no recollection of where. One difference had to do with being an active participant in killing vs. a passive part which allows someone else to die.
    – rosends
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 11:17
  • 1
    What is the contradiction? Both state that you should not perform an act that works lead to a person's death; either your own, or anothers'.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 11:54
  • 1
    The first Gemara refers to actively killing someone. The second Gemara refers to passively killing him. When it comes to actively killing someone, who knows whose blood is redder. When it comes to passively killing him, your life takes precedence.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 12:08
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    @DonielF additionally, the second case involves you NOT SHARING your water. Unquestionably you are not allowed to STEAL their water to save your life, since doing so is tantamount to condemning the other to die. There's no contradiction at all. Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 22:09
  • @IsaacKotlicky I feel like that's a different way of saying the same thing, but I also feel like yours is a better way of saying it.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


I just learned this in two different classes.

In the case of the two people in the desert, the one who drinks the water will live and the one who doesn't will die, but the one who drinks the water is not actively killing the other -- he's just drinking his water. The other person isn't being murdered; he's dying of thirst. R' Akiva's teaching is akin to the instruction anyone who's flown has heard: secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others. You are required to protect your own life first, according to R' Akiva. (Note: there are also cases where we're required to intervene, e.g. to save someone from a pursuer, which were addressed in the aforementioned classes but seem beyond the scope of this question.)

In the case of the person who was ordered to kill another or be killed himself, however, saving himself would require positive action to kill the other. That's murder and he must instead give up his own life. It's not so much that the other's life takes precedence; neither life takes precedence over the other, but not violating the commandment against murder takes precedence over saving one's life.

What about a case where the other person will be killed (not die of other causes) but you don't do it yourself? Can you take positive action that leads to someone's death at another's hand? Yerushalmi Terumot 8:4 talks about this case. If bandits set upon a group and say to them: "give up one of your number for us to kill and we'll spare the rest of you", they do not comply -- even though they are not actively doing the killing, they are still deciding whom to kill. That's on the wrong side of the line. If the bandits specified a particular person, however, the group can turn him over. Reish Lakish says they can only turn him over if he's already liable for death (like Sheva ben Bichri in II Samuel 20), meaning that it's still not murder, but R' Yochanan says even if he's not already liable to death they can turn him over to the bandits to be murdered. (I do not know which way halacha rules in the end; if this is a practical matter for you, please consult your rabbi.)

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