I've been looking at Rash"i's explanations of Tamar's refusal to embarrass Yehuda after she was found to be pregnant and was sentence to burning. Rash"i says that from her actions, we learn that one should jump into a fiery oven rather than embarrass someone.

First of all, it was tough for me to determine where this statement comes from, but I assume it's mentioned in some Gemarra? Regardless, isn't preserving ones own life paramount (except in 3 areas where one should die, like idolatry, etc.)? One can override any commandment to preserve one's life. Tamar was possibly falsely accused of being a harlot (my question on whether her being pregnant by her father-in-law is considered harlotry or zonah). Even if not, refer to Rash"i and Siftei Chachamim that question if she should have been sentenced to burning as she was neither engaged nor married.

In short, I don't see how Tamar's actions is an example of that principle. Shouldn't Tamar have challenged a false accusation and protected her own life? And, practically, is one actually supposed to jump in a fire to avoid embarrassing someone?

  • 1
    Indeed see Baba Metzia 59a for the source in the gemara. See also Halachipedia notes 32/33
    – mbloch
    Dec 7, 2017 at 19:42
  • @ShmuelBrin Offhand, it looks like it is. I'll try to view it again, tomorrow, B"N. I have no problem closing my own questions.
    – DanF
    Dec 8, 2017 at 3:31

2 Answers 2


The source is the Talmud: Berakhot (43), Bava Metsia (59a) Ketubot (67b), Sotah (10b).

Regarding the question of protecting one's life overriding other concerns, the question is obviously whether this is one of the cardinal sins. The simple approach is that it isn't. Rambam, for example, doesn't mention this teaching at all. Apparently, like Meiri in Sotah there (see here), he thought that this was just a dramatic exaggeration; not a halakha (or less likely, that it is a halakha and isn't normative).

Regarding why it would be omitted from the classical listings of just three, Tosafot (who apparently understands it to be an actual halakha) in Sotah (10b s.v. noah lo l'adam) writes that it is mentioned since listed together with the other three, since it isn't explicit in the Torah. (Not that the other ones are exactly explicit, but this isn't the place to discuss the problems with Tosafot.)

Alternatively, Rabbenu Yonah suggests in Sha'arei Teshuva (3:139) that shaming a person is akin to killing him. (Although it isn't completely clear that he accepts this as binding halakha; he us just explaining the statement regardles of whether it is literal or not, and regardless of whether halakha follows it.)


First we'll bring the exact language of the Sages (Berachot 43b, BM 59a, Soyto 10) "It is convenient for a person to jump into a fiery oven rather than embarrass someone in public" ("נח לו לאדם שיפיל את עצמו לכבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים"). The bold part is very important as it makes it clear that this saying is not about an obligation to kill oneself to prevent embarrassment of others, but rather defining it as a a figurative conduct, on par with comparing anger to idolatry and more. This is not a "mandatory behavior" like Yehareg vaAl Yaavor, it only means "one should value somebody else's embarrassment as a matter of life and death".

Based on this interpretation, we can say that since there's no obligation, and there's no "Yehareg vaAl Yaavor", you are absolutely right, that one who kills himself in this situation would be a sinner, according to Rambam in Yesodei-haTorah

"If anyone about whom it is said: "Transgress and do not sacrifice your life," sacrifices his life and does not transgress, he is held accountable for his life."

  • 1
    Some poskim agree, and some disagree. The matter is not 100% clear cut. Regardless, your personal musings arent worth much. Particularly when Tosafot quoted in the existing answer clearly disagrees with you, and Rabbenu Yonah likely does as well. Why should anyone care about an anonymous internet guy's opinion, over the Rishonim? How does this post contribute anything? Consider posting it as a comment.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 10, 2017 at 3:47
  • Why is an anonymous internet guy's opinion worse than the opinion of a rishon? Wasn't it a rishon who said "hear the truth from who that says it"?
    – Dov F
    Dec 10, 2017 at 16:55
  • @dov yes. But if known experts say something, and someone not known as an expert assets they are wrong, he'd better have some compelling evidence. We are supposed to accept the truth, but first we have to establish that it is the truth. || remember to use a @ if you want users to be pinged about your comments.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 10, 2017 at 22:47
  • @DovF You should post it as a question, not as a comment! I have a lot to say on it.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:21

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