According to an alternate reading of Sanhedrin 74a cited by Mesoras HaShas §20 ad. loc., in a time of religious persecution, one must give up his life even for a “light mitzvah.” The Gemara 74b identifies this, according to Rashi’s explanation, as wearing one’s shoes in the manner of the non-Jews when the Jews had a different way of wearing them.

What is considered “persecution” to fulfill this criterion? Must it be widespread to the point that if practically any non-Jew sees a Jew on the street he’ll attack him? Or a majority? Or even a decent percentage? At what point is it considered “a time of persecution” that a Jew would be required to give up his life rather than even dress like a non-Jew?

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    The original Hebrew source would definitely help. Also, I always thought it was a general guidance toward Kiddush Hashem as Rambam brings it, not a concrete Halachah. Another thought is that in every specific occasion the local court must decide that specifically.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 21, 2018 at 22:34
  • @AlBerko Thought I had put it in, thanks. Anyway: I’m clearly not going like the Rambam in this question, as he learns that it’s only by a Gezeirah that one gives up his life. If I were to ask whether a particular incident reaches the benchmark, I might agree with you, but I’m just asking for a generality.
    – DonielF
    Oct 22, 2018 at 10:11
  • You might also ask whether this definition is personal or public, because practically in the times of the WW2 the opinions differed. Another question is whether the GOAL is to להעבירנו על דתנו or just pure extermination. See the Holocaust.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 22, 2018 at 10:33
  • @AlBerko What do you mean by “personal” and “public”? How many people are watching? If there are 10 Jews it doesn’t need to be Shemad/Gezeirah.
    – DonielF
    Oct 22, 2018 at 11:07
  • I meant that it might be on a personal basis - either "whoever thinks that it is שעת השמד" or an official Beis Din declaration that it's שה"ש. So does it have to be declared or left for personal interpretations.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 22, 2018 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


My understanding is that the two terms are synonymous, as per Talmud Bavli, Rosh Hashanah 19a and Taanis 28a, which both have versions that replace "גזירה" with "שמד."

According to Rambam in Mishne Torah,Yesodei HaTorah 5:3

It depends if it is state sponsored persecution designed to force Jews to abandon their faith.

See also Shulchan Aruch, Yorah Deiah 157:1 that it must be legislation specifically targeting Jews to transgress a negative prohibition.

If, however, it is a time of legislation (only against Jews) (Beis Yosef in the name of the Nimukei Yosef), even about the strap of one’s shoes he should be killed rather than transgress. Rama: And this is only if they wish to make him violate a negative commandment; if they made a law that one should not fulfill positive commandments, however, he does not need to fulfill it if he will be killed (Ran Shabbos Perek BaMeh Tomnin and Nimukei Yosef Sanhedrin Perek Sorer uMoreh). Nonetheless, if the hour requires it and he wishes to fulfill it and be killed, he may do so (Maharik Shoresh 88).

  • I’m asking according to the reading of the Gemara of Sha’as Shemad, and you answer me that the Halacha follows the reading of Sha’as Gezeiras Malchus? This doesn’t address my question at all.
    – DonielF
    Oct 26, 2018 at 9:34
  • I'm sorry, but I didn't catch that was your focus. Either way, aren't the two terms synonymous? "שגזרה מלכות הרשעה שמד על ישראל שלא יעסקו בתורה, ושלא ימולו את בניהם, ושיחללו שבתות" (תלמוד בבלי, מסכת ראש השנה, דף י"ט, עמוד א') Oct 29, 2018 at 16:46
  • If they were synonymous there would be no reason to substitute one for the other. גזרת המלכות implies an official decree against Judaism, while שמד is simply a dangerous time to practice Judaism. Take the Holocaust as an example: there was nothing official against Judaism until Kristalnacht or so; before was just Shemad, while after was Gezeiras HaMalchus as well.
    – DonielF
    Oct 29, 2018 at 17:00
  • I think these are merely two versions of the text. And my understanding of the word שמד is a time of forced conversion or the like. (It is only used colloquially to refer to dangerous times.) See: daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=2519 and aspaklaria.info/003_GIMEL/… Oct 29, 2018 at 17:12
  • You confuse גזרת שמד with just plain old שמד. A גזרת המלכות is a time of שמד, but a time of שמד is not necessarily גזרת המלכות. Unless you assume that if it’s a time of שמד and the powers that be refuse to do anything about it is the same as גזרת המלכות, as they implicitly agree with it, but that’s a huge חידוש that I’ve never heard anyone say before.
    – DonielF
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:36

I'd like to make a humble attempt at an answer based on reason. I believe I have based this thinking on what I learned in yeshiva. Let me know what you think.

The mitzva is to die 'al pi kiddush Hashem' - in order to make Hashem's name holy. In most times, if one were to die for the sake of a minor commandment, this would not sanctify Hashem's name. In fact it might be a chillul Hashem, as Torah would be being misrepresented (because the Torah says one must break any mitzva for the sake of preserving life - except the same ones for chillul Hashem!) and make it seem unreasonable if it expected someone to die over food, or tying a left shoe before a right shoe. However, refusing to engage in any of the three obviously evil sins of adultery, idol worship and murder is always something that will demonstrate how holy Torah is and Hashem.

A time of religious persecution must mean a time when even dying for a minor sin would strengthen the name of Torah. When would that be? At a time when the authorities are specifically against that mitzva, because it is Hashem's mitzva. If they are forbidding Torah study, or mikva, or trying to ban shechita, and are doing it davka to end Judaism, and trying blot Hashem's name out of the world chas veshalom, then dying rather than break the mitzva is explicitly a kiddush Hashem.

Religious persecution is when our religion is being persecuted.

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