The Halacha is that one may not serve Avodah Zarah even on pain of death (Sanhedrin 74a).

I was staying by a family for Shabbos, and their 11-year-old son asked a genius question. What happens if the threat is not “worship or I’ll kill you,” but rather “worship or I’ll kill him”? Does this Halacha still apply?

On the one hand, one could argue that what the threatener decides to do is none of your business; let him do what he wishes, and you not get involved.

On the other hand, the source that one must give up his life for Avodah Zarah, as per the above-cited Gemara, is Devarim 6:5 - “and you should love Hashem, your G-d...with all your soul.” One could argue that it’s only your soul one is obligated to give up, and you have no right to give up someone else’s soul for your love of Hashem.

What is the Halacha? I have looked in the Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch, as well as the commentaries on the above, with no success of anyone talking about anything similar to this case.

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    Isn't it קל וחומר because אדם קרוב אצל עצמו so one can say "I wouldn't do it EVEn if you were about to kill ME". Another idea, יהרג ובל יעבר is that those three are above [the value of] human lives, does it matter whose?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 19:12
  • Firstly, you are not giving up his life. So the 'no right argument' cannot apply, only whether saving his life can permit the idolitary. The next point is he has the same time obligations as you.
    – user15253
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 19:14
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    @DonielF - Indeed you have - Thank you! Following the path from that question to the other places it leads to has been extremely educational. Thank you(again!)
    – Gary
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 19:36
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    How about worshiping vs calling off the Holocaust or the Temple distruction? Does it make sense?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 20:16
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    @AlBerko Let’s back up a second. “Give us one person to kill, or we’ll kill all of you.” What’s the Halacha there? Unless it’s like Sheva Ben Bichri (either someone’s chayiv misah anyway, or they singled someone out), you have to let them kill everyone.
    – DonielF
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


First of all You are not "giving up" your friend life because you are שב ואל תעשה-sitting down and doing nothing (rather than worshiping avoda zara) see Proof bellow Sanhedrin 75a. So the question should be rephrased in the positive: Are you allowed to worship Avoda zara in order to save your friend?

The Levush (16th century) in Yore Dea 157;

עבודה זרה, דכתיב: "ואהבת את ה' אלהיך" וגומר. פירוש: שלא תמירנו בעבודה זרה בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך. ומקשינן: אם נאמר "בכל נפשך" למה נאמר "בכל מאדך"? ואם נאמר "בכל מאדך" למה נאמר "בכל נפשך"? לכתוב המסתבר טפי וליתי האידך בקל וחומר? אלא אשומעינן: אם יש לך אדם שגופו חביב עליו מממונו – לכך נאמר "בכל נפשך". ואם יש לך אדם שממונו חביב עליו מגופו – לכך נאמר "בכל מאדך". כלומר: תהא אהבתו חביבה עליך יותר מכל החביב לך.
Avoda zara one should not do under any circumstance as it is written "and you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your soul,heart and wealth etc" i.e You should not substitute Hashem for a foreign deity. If it says to give up your life why does it need to say to give up your money (rather than worship a foreign deity)? It must be because some people's money is more important than their life, and some people's life is more important than their money. So the Passuk is saying: Your love of G-d should be more important than everything/anyone that you love

The Levush learns from the parsha of Shema: You are not allowed to betray G-d and worship idols, not even to save your friend who you love more than yourself, because you should love G-d more than anyone or anything.

A clear proof that one should not do a cardinal sin to save someone else's life is in Talmud-Bavli Sanhedrin 75a:

מעשה באדם אחד שנתן עיניו באשה אחת והעלה לבו טינא ובאו ושאלו לרופאים ואמרו אין לו תקנה עד שתבעל לו אמרו חכמים ימות ואל תבעל לו There was a person who was about to die and the doctor said the only way to save him is for a certain woman to cohabit with him. The Chachamim said she should leave him to die rather than save him by have relations with him.
Beis Yosef YD 157 quotes the Rambam:והרמב"ם פסק בפ"ה מהלכות יסודי התורה כמ"ד פנויה אע"ג דפלוגתא היא וספק נפשות להקל נראה שעעמו משום דשב ואל תעשה משום פגם משפחה
The rambam paskens this is not only talking about a married woman (for which it is a cardinal sin to have relations with the endangered person), if this woman wasn't married she still does not have to act morally depraved to have relations to save the endagered mans life and is not responsible for his death as she is Shev veal taase i.e stationary.

  • Are you sure this is the levush’s novella not found elsewhere also; regardless if this answers the question.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 10:03
  • @DonielF the edited answer brings proof From Gemara Sanhedrin 75a that your first thought that it is not the persons fault rather the other person dying is not his responsibility at all to save when only a cardinal sin can save the endagered.
    – user15464
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 1:09
  • I’m glad you bring up Sanhedrin 75a, as the Rambam’s opinion is אין מורין כן - we don’t advise this. Not that it’s forbidden, but that if she were to ask us, we would tell her not to do it.
    – DonielF
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 2:40

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