Which is a more severe aveira, murder or chilul (desecrating) Shabbos?

On the one hand we know that murder is Yeheraig V'al yaavor (one of the 3 capital crimes for which one must give up his life). Chilul Shabbos is not.

On the other hand, The punishment for Chillul shabbos is Skilah (stoning), whereas murder is punished by sayif (the sword). Since skila is more severe than sayif it would seem that Chilul shabbos is more severe. (see Sanhedrin 49-50).

RELATED: Murder in Eretz Yisrael

While we do gauge the severity of aveirot based on a number of factors including the severity of the punishment meted out for violation (see Masechet Yoma 83a), whether or not the aveira would cause a desecration of God's name, and what is required for the attainment of atonement for that aveira (perhaps connected to the severity of the punishment meted out), whether or not an aveira is in the category of yeherag ve al yaavor is not one of them. The principle of yeherag ve al yaavor is derived not based on severity of the aveira involved but rather based on a logic of "how do you know that your blood is more valuable than that of the other." (see Sanhedrin 74a)

And, while you point out that based on the severity of the punishment meted out it would appear that chilul Shabbos is the more sever aveira, Double AA astutely pointed out that the Gemara in Yoma (85a) advances a kal ve chomer argument based on the assumption that murder is a more severe aveira than chilul Shabbos because the spilling of blood contaminates the land and drives away the Shechina (R'L). What emerges from this is that chilul Shabbos has an aspect which is more severe (being punishable by stoning) and murder has an aspect which is more severe (contaminating the land and driving away the Shechina). One is not more sever than the other, they both have aspects of severity over the other in different areas.

It is important to note that although some will argue that gauging the severity of aveirot is a bad thing, I would argue that this evaluation and weighing will aid us in appreciating the gravity of aveirot and therefore in doing Teshuva and preventing us from being over aveirot. It is therefore a very worthy thing to discuss.

The Rambam (Hilchot Rotze'ach 4:9) discusses this. After discussing a unique law applied to murderers, he writes:

ואין עושין דבר זה לשאר מחוייבי מיתות בית דין--אלא אם נתחייב מיתה, ממיתין אותו; ואם אינו חייב מיתה, פוטרין אותו: שאף על פי שיש עוונות חמורין משפיכות דמים, אין בהן השחתת יישובו של עולם כשפיכות דמים. אפילו עבודה זרה, ואין צריך לומר עריות או חילול שבת--אינן כשפיכות דמים: שאלו העוונות הן מעבירות שבין אדם להקדוש ברוך הוא, אבל שפיכות דמים מעבירות שבינו לבין חברו. וכל מי שיש בידו עוון זה, הרי הוא רשע גמור; ואין כל המצוות שעשה כל ימיו שקולין כנגד עוון זה, ולא יצילו אותו מן הדין--שנאמר "אדם, עשוק בדם נפש . . ." (משלי כח,יז).

צא ולמד מאחאב עובד עבודה זרה, שהרי נאמר בו "רק, לא היה כאחאב" (מלכים א כא,כה); וכשנסדרו עוונותיו וזכייותיו לפני אלוהי הרוחות, לא נמצא לו עוון שחייבו כליה ולא היה שם דבר אחר ששקול כנגדו אלא דמי נבות: שנאמר "ותצא הרוח, ותעמוד לפני ה'" (ראה מלכים א כב,כא; דברי הימים ב יח,כ), זו רוח נבות; ונאמר לה "תפתה וגם תוכל" (מלכים א כב,כב; דברי הימים ב יח,כא). והרי הוא הרשע לא הרג בידו, אלא סיבב; קל וחומר להורג בידו.

In English:

This measure is not taken with regard to other crimes punishable by execution by the court. If a defendant is liable for execution, he should be executed. If he is not liable for execution, he should be released.

Although there are other sins that are more serious than murder, they do not present as serious a danger to society as murder does. Even idol worship - and needless to say, incest or the violation of the Sabbath - are not considered as severe as murder. For these sins involve man's relationship with God, while murder also involves man's relationship with his fellow man.

Whoever commits this sin is an utterly wicked person. All the mitzvot that he performs throughout his lifetime cannot outweigh this sin and save him from judgment. Thus, Proverbs 28:17 states: "A man weighed down with life's blood will flee to the pit."

Come and learn from the example of Ach'av King of Israel. He was an idolater so debased in his paganism that I Kings 21:25 says: "There was none like Ach'av who gave himself over to the performance of wickedness in the eyes of God." And yet when his merits and sins were weighed in the presence of the Lord of spirits, there was no sin that warranted his destruction and was not counterbalanced by a positive quality, except the blood of Navot.

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