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According to a book I'm reading (Judaism: Everything You Need to Know About: Jewish Religion) and various other Jews I have talked to say, you can violate the 10 commandments to save a life.

Is this true?

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    I would recommend reading the WIKI first : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikuach_nefesh – Al Berko Jan 23 at 14:34
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    @AlBerko unfortunately I was not aware of the term but yes the Wikipedia makes it 100% clear. – William Jan 23 at 14:35
  • It should be noted that the same applies not only to save a life, but also when the danger is to limb, mobility, eyesight... – Galastel Jan 23 at 15:53
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A general rule is stated in the Talmud (Ketubot 19a):

דאמר מר אין לך דבר שעומד בפני פיקוח נפש אלא עבודת כוכבים וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים בלבד

for a Master said: 'There is nothing that comes before the saving of life except idolatry, incest and bloodshed only. (Soncino translation)

(“Incest” is actually an imprecise translation. The term giluy arayot includes a range of forbidden sexual unions.)

As some of the Ten Commandments deal with idolatry, incest (or other sexual unions in the same category, e.g. adultery) and bloodshed, they can not be violated even to save a life. The others can.

There may be certain circumstances in which the others may not be violated as well, but that would be due to external factors (e.g. desecration of God's name), not due to their status as part of the Ten Commandments (and the reason for the exceptions mentioned above is also not due to their status as part of the Ten Commandments).

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I. Among the 10 commandments there are 3 that are not overridden by pikuach nefesh (i.e. יהרג ואל יעבור):

  1. Idolatry
  2. Murder
  3. Forbidden sexual relations

II. Additionally, all other commandments cannot be overridden under specific conditions:

  1. If a gentile forces him to violate any one mitzva, not for his own personal benefit, but solely to have him violate the mitzvot, and it is in the presence of ten Jews (בפרהסיא), he should sacrifice his life and not transgress.

  2. or in a time of persecution against obedience to mitzvot (בשעת גזרת מלכות).

Source: Bavli Sanhedrin 74a and Maimonidies Yesodei haTorah - Chapter Five, Shulchan Aruch Yore Dea 158

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