I know that for the sins of sexual immorality, murder and idolatry one is required to die rather than violate them. The gemara in Avodah Zara 54a seems to imply that in private one is allowed to worship an idol while under compulsion and live.

Would this also be the case regarding the other two in private?

Looking for halachic sources- thanks!

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    Wouldn't it make more sense to edit to first ask if your inference from AZ 54 is correct? – Double AA Jul 6 '17 at 14:49
  • It says: הא כיצד הא בצנעא והא בפרהסיא...with regard to one text exempting the oneis and the other including the oneis – Gabriel Jul 6 '17 at 14:50
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    I read in the Tosfot that the Gemara means bidieved you are pattur from death for not giving up your life for one of these three sins in private but you still are obligated to give up your life (and liable if you don't in public)...is this the Halacha or are you still chayav mitah for committing one of the big three in private under compulsion? – Gabriel Jul 6 '17 at 21:30
  • Yes that is the halacha see halacha 4 in the Rambam quoted in the answer 4 The oral tradition teaches [that we can infer]: "that person" and not one who is forced [to transgress, who transgresses] inadvertently, or [who transgresses] because of an error. If, concerning the worship of false gods, which is the most serious [of sins], a person who is forced to worship is not liable for karet, nor, needless to say, execution by a court, how much more so [does this principle apply] regarding the other mitzvot of the Torah? [Similarly,] regarding forbidden sexual relations, [Deuteronomy 22:26]... – hazoriz Jul 7 '17 at 17:41

Before I can address your main question, I need to explore your premise further, as the way it's presented is either false or misleading. Before I can do that, I need to discuss a different Gemara on the topic.

Dispute regarding when one gives up his life

Sanhedrin 74a cites a dispute between R' Yishmael and R' Yochanan (quoting R' Shimon ben Yehotzadak and supported by R' Eliezer) regarding when one is obligated to give up his life.

  • R' Yochanan's opinion is the one you cite in your first line, that one is obligated to give up his life for idolatry, adultery, and murder always, and all other sins only when either the threat is one of religious persecution or if at least ten Jews are watching.
  • R' Yishmael's opinion is that one is not obligated to give up his life if threatened even for idolatry in private, while one is obligated to give up his life if threatened in public.

Tosfos in Avodah Zarah

Tosfos to the cited Gemara in Avodah Zarah start off by assuming that when Rava differentiates in a case of idolatry between sinning in private and sinning in public, he is paskening the halacha like R' Yishmael:

לכאורה משמע דרבא ס"ל דאונס דצנעא אין לו למסור עצמו ומתוך כך היה נראה לפסוק כרבי ישמעאל דשרי נמי עבודת כוכבים בצנעא

They reject this premise on two grounds:

  1. For whatever reason, they find it impossible to presume that there is any case of idolatry which is permissible.
  2. They quote R' Achai Gaon in his She'iltos to Parshas Va'eira who explicitly paskens like R' Yochanan.

וקשיא דחס ושלום שנפסוק עבודת כוכבים יעבור ואל יהרג ועוד בשאלתות דרב אחאי פרשת וארא (סימן מב) פוסק כר' יוחנן דאמר בשילהי בן סורר ומורה (סנהדרין דף עד. ע"ש) משום ר"ש בן יהוצדק כל מצות שבתורה יעבור ואל יהרג חוץ מעבודת כוכבים וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים יכול אפילו בפרהסיא ת"ל ולא תחללו את שם קדשי

Therefore, they assume that Rava in principle holds of R' Yochanan, bringing several proofs to this point. In the cited Gemara in Avodah Zarah, they say, Rava's explaining that the Braisa works even according to R' Yishmael:

לכך נראה דרבא נמי אית ליה דרבי יוחנן והא דקא משני לתרוצי הברייתא אפילו אליבא דר' ישמעאל הוא דאתא וכן משמע נמי בפ"ב דכתובות (דף יט.) דרבא אית ליה דרבי יוחנן דא"ל רבא אילו אתו לקמן לאימלוכי אמרי' להו זילו חתומו וכו' דאמר מר אין לך דבר שעומד בפני פיקוח נפש אלא עבודת כוכבים וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים והתם נמי בצנעא מיירי דאין דרך שיאנס אותם בפני י'‏

As an alternative answer, they cite "my beloved Rabbi, R' Moshe of Kotzi, in his Sefer HaMitzvos which he compiled" who explains that Rava's statement in Avodah Zarah does not contradict R' Yochanan's position. What Rava means here is that there are two separate obligations involved: don't worship idolatry, and serve Hashem even if it comes to giving up your life. Neither the former prohibition, nor its punishment, apply if one was forced in private to worship an idol. The latter obligation would still apply, and one would still have to give up his life; nevertheless, this obligation is not punishable by the death penalty.

It therefore comes out that there's no contradiction between the two Gemaras; they're merely addressing two different requirements. Rava still holds of R' Yochanan, and therefore we pasken accordingly, as recorded by Rav Achai Gaon.

כתב בסוף פרק בן סורר ומורה וז"ל רבא דפ' ר' ישמעאל לא פליג עליה דר' יוחנן אלא ה"פ אמר רבא הכל היו בכלל לא תעבדם בין לאזהרה בין למיתה כשהוא אומר וחי בהם יצא אונס דצנעא מכל וכל בין מאזהרה בין ממיתה אבל הא מודי רבא דאיכא עשה דבכל נפשך שיש למסור עצמו אפילו בכל אונסא כדאמר ר"א בברייתא כשהוא אומר לא תחללו אהדריה בכלליה והיינו אונס דפרהסיא בין לאזהרה בין למיתה והואיל ורבא שהוא בתרא לא פליג עליה דרבי יוחנן שריר וקיים פסק השאלתות שיש לאדם למסור עצמו למיתה ואפילו באונס ובצנעא עכ"ל

How does this extend to murder and immorality?

The Rambam paskens like Tosfos' second answer in Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 5:4 (though he chooses a different source than Tosfos), and he explicitly extends it to cases other than idolatry.

וְכָל מִי שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בּוֹ יֵהָרֵג וְאַל יַעֲבֹר וְעָבַר וְלֹא נֶהֱרַג הֲרֵי זֶה מְחַלֵּל אֶת הַשֵּׁם. וְאִם הָיָה בַּעֲשָׂרָה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל הֲרֵי זֶה חִלֵּל אֶת הַשֵּׁם בָּרַבִּים וּבִטֵּל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהִיא קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם וְעָבַר עַל מִצְוַת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁהִיא חִלּוּל הַשֵּׁם. וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן מִפְּנֵי שֶׁעָבַר בְּאֹנֶס אֵין מַלְקִין אוֹתוֹ וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר שֶׁאֵין מְמִיתִין אוֹתוֹ בֵּית דִּין אֲפִלּוּ הָרַג בְּאֹנֶס. שֶׁאֵין מַלְקִין וּמְמִיתִין אֶלָּא לְעוֹבֵר בִּרְצוֹנוֹ וּבְעֵדִים וְהַתְרָאָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בְּנוֹתֵן מִזַּרְעוֹ לַמּלֶךְ (ויקרא כ ה) "וְשַׂמְתִּי אֲנִי אֶת פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא". מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ הַהוּא לֹא אָנוּס וְלֹא שׁוֹגֵג וְלֹא מֻטְעֶה. וּמָה אִם עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים שֶׁהִיא חֲמוּרָה מִן הַכּל הָעוֹבֵד אוֹתָהּ בְּאֹנֶס אֵינוֹ חַיָּב כָּרֵת וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר מִיתַת בֵּית דִּין. קַל וָחֹמֶר לִשְׁאָר מִצְוֹת הָאֲמוּרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה.

And anyone about whom it is said that he should he killed and not violate, and he violates and is not killed - this is a desecration of the Name. If it was amongst ten Jews - this is a public desecration of the Name. He has nullified the positive commandment to sanctify His Name and violated the negative commandment not to desecrate it. Nevertheless, since he violated it under duress, we don't give him lashes, and it goes without saying that we don't kill him in court, even if he murdered under duress. As it says regarding one who gives his children to Molech (Vayikra 20:5): "And I will place My face against that man." From tradition we learn: "That [man]," and not one who was forced, did so by mistake, or did so by accident. If by idolatry, which is more severe than anything else, one who worships it under duress does not receive Kares, and it goes without saying [he doesn't receive] death in court, all the more so to all other prohibitions in the Torah.


The Gemara in Avodah Zara 54 seems to imply that in private one is allowed to worship an idol while under compulsion and live.

According to Tosfos' first answer, that's technically correct, but Rava's playing devil's advocate and doesn't actually hold of what he says here. According to their second answer, that's mostly correct: one can live after doing so, but that doesn't make it permissible.

Is this true regarding the other two in private?

According to the Rambam, who paskens according to Tosfos' second answer: Yes.


The distinction between public and private sins is only with regard to commandments other than all three of the major sins (including idolatry) and their correlaries (abizrayhu) and only at threat of death where the one making the threat has anti-religious intent. Idolatry, murder, and sexual sins are never allowed.

See e.g. Maimonides' Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah 5:1-2:

כל בית ישראל מצווין על קדוש השם הגדול הזה שנאמר ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל ומוזהרין שלא לחללו שנאמר ולא תחללו את שם קדשי כיצד כשיעמוד עובד כוכבים ויאנוס את ישראל לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה או יהרגנו יעבור ואל יהרג שנאמר במצות אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם וחי בהם ולא שימות בהם ואם מת ולא עבר הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו

במה דברים אמורים בשאר מצות חוץ מעבודת כוכבים וגלוי עריות ושפיכת דמים. אבל שלש עבירות אלו - אם יאמר לו "עבור על אחת מהן או תהרג" יהרג ואל יעבור. בד"א - בזמן שהעובד כוכבים מתכוין להנאת עצמו, כגון שאנסו לבנות לו ביתו בשבת או לבשל לו תבשילו או אנס אשה לבועלה וכיוצא בזה. אבל אם נתכוין להעבירו על המצות בלבד - אם היה בינו לבין עצמו ואין שם עשרה מישראל - יעבור ואל יהרג, ואם אנסו להעבירו בעשרה מישראל - יהרג ואל יעבור, ואפילו לא נתכוין להעבירו אלא על מצוה משאר מצות בלבד

The entire house of Israel are commanded regarding the sanctification of [God's] great name, as [Leviticus 22:32] states: "And I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel." Also, they are warned against desecrating [His holy name], as [the above verse] states: "And they shall not desecrate My holy name."

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.

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, 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.

For example, if a government hostile to the Torah laws that forbid homosexuality were to make it a capital offense to refuse to cater a gay wedding, since the wedding is a public affair, the caterer would have to allow himself to be killed rather than cater the ceremony. In fact, if catering qualifies as abizrayhu of the actual act, even privacy wouldn't preempt the obligation of martyrdom.

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    But "the Gemara in Avodah Zara 54 seems to imply that in private one is allowed to worship an idol while under compulsion and live." – Double AA Jul 6 '17 at 16:09
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    Why would you choose an example which is likely debatable??? And why would you choose an example of a sexual sin when the whole point is the public/private distinction only matters for other sins??? – Double AA Jul 6 '17 at 16:20
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    "since the wedding is a public affair, the caterer would have to allow himself to be killed rather than cater the ceremony." What is the prohibition? Rambam implies you need a prohibition. | " In fact, if catering qualifies as abizrayhu of the actual act" How on Earth would it qualify? Which Rishon's definition are you employing? – mevaqesh Jul 7 '17 at 6:08
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    "and their correlaries (abizrayhu)" You state this repeatedly, but cite no source for it. Rambam says nothing about it in the citation. Before telling people they must allow themselves to be slaughtered, you should probably cite a source. – mevaqesh Jul 7 '17 at 6:09
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    You still haven't demonstrated that catering the wedding is a sin at all. It's also not a contemporary example but rather a fantastical one since no contemporary country would make that a capital offense. – Double AA Jul 7 '17 at 11:09

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