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A Jew may not do anything which will hasten the death of another Jew. This is a selection from here, by Rabbi J. David Bleich (I added the bolding)

The practice of euthanasia-whether active or passive-is contrary to the teachings of Judaism. Any positive act designed to hasten the death of the patient is equated with murder in Jewish law, even if death is hastened by only a matter of moments. No matter how laudable the intentions of the person performing an act of mercy-killing may be, the deed constitutes an act of homicide.

One nineteenth-century commentator finds this principle reflected in the verse "But your blood of your lives will I require; from the hand of every beast will I require it; and from the hand of man, from the hand of a person's brother, will I require the life of man" (Genesis 9:5). Fratricide is certainly no less heinous a crime than ordinary homicide. Why then, having already prohibited homicide, is it necessary for Scripture to prohibit fratricide as well? R. Ya'akov Zevi Mecklenberg, in his commentary on the Pentateuch, Ha-Ketav ve-ha-Kabbalah, astutely comments that, while murder is the antithesis of brotherly love, in some circumstances the taking of the life of one's fellow man may be perceived as indeed being an act of love par excellence. Euthanasia, designed to put an end to unbearable suffering, is born not of hatred or anger, but of concern and compassion. It is precisely the taking of life in circumstances in which it is manifestly obvious that the perpetrator is motivated by feelings of love and brotherly compassion that the Torah finds necessary to brand as murder, pure and simple. Despite the noble intent which prompts such an action, mercy-killing is proscribed as an unwarranted intervention in an area which must be governed by God alone. The life of man may be reclaimed only by the Author of life. So long as man is yet endowed with a spark of life-as defined by God's eternal law-man dare not presume to hasten death, no matter how hopeless or meaningless continued existence may appear to be in the eyes of a mortal perceiver.

(TRADITION 30:3 / Copyright 1996 Rabbinical Council of America, pages 52-52)

However, there is a famous story of the death of Rabbi Chanina Ben Tradyon and his executioner from Avodah Zarah 18a

אמר לו קלצטונירי: רבי אם אני מרבה בשלהבת ונוטל ספוגין של צמר מעל לבך אתה מביאני לחיי העולם הבא?
אמר לו הן. השבע לי. נשבע לו. מיד הרבה בשלהבת ונטל ספוגין של צמר מעל לבו.
יצאה נשמתו במהרה אף הוא קפץ ונפל לתוך האור.

The executioner said to him: My teacher, if I increase the flame and take off the tufts of wool from your heart, so that you will die sooner and suffer less, will you bring me to the life of the World-to-Come? Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon said to the executioner: Yes. The executioner said: Take an oath for me, that what you say is true. Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon took the oath for him, and the executioner immediately increased the flame and took off the tufts of wool from his heart, causing his soul to leave his body quickly. The executioner too leaped and fell into the fire and died.

Not only is the suicide of the executioner apparently condoned, but his act of "mercy", hastening the death of R. Chaninah earns him a place in the world to come.

Is, then, euthanasia on a Jew allowed if performed by a non-Jew?

  • A good example to learn from ! 1. It seems that the two stories you try to connect are different. In the first, he was actively put to death wherein the article we talk about life-saving (of some kind) 2. Halacha you "quote" is very personal here and can not be generalized. I had my mother z"l sick with cancer and went to R' Elyashiv and R' Shlezinger and they told me completely different decisions. And even R" Elyashiv's approach was different for two different hospitals. – Al Berko Feb 22 at 13:17
  • Do you mean whether euthanasia constitutes a murder for Ben Noah? – Al Berko Feb 22 at 13:18
  • @AlBerko that is the underlying question, yes. – rosends Feb 22 at 13:21
  • So you probably need to rephrase the question altogether, starting with the gemmorah and asking on the Gemmorah "how could R"C ask a NJ to facilitate his death?" because the first long quote adds nothing to the question. – Al Berko Feb 22 at 13:24
  • @AlBerko the first is the halachic background which asserts that even in the most extreme cases (at least for a Jew) there is no excusing euthanasia. The second gives a concrete example of its being excused. – rosends Feb 22 at 13:30
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Regarding gentiles, R' Moshe Feinstein's explains it in full in IM Choshen Mishpot 73, 3 (sorry I don't have Otzar or something):

enter image description here

  • what this text seems to say is that, me'ikar hadin, it was wrong but because of hora'at sha'ah, we are forced to say after the fact that it was OK. – rosends Feb 24 at 20:47
  • Maybe, I have a difficulty understanding those long passages anyway. BTW, wasn't this executor the one that set the Rabbi on fire in the first place? Sounds weird - did he make Teshuva? – Al Berko Feb 24 at 21:34
  • That' a separate question, whether he volunteers to remove the sponges because of a sincere teshuva or because he wants to be guaranteed heavenly reward. – rosends Feb 24 at 22:15
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It seems that Rambam differentiates between a heaven-induced death and human-induced one (Rotzeah 2, 7:)

אֶחָד הַהוֹרֵג אֶת הַבָּרִיא אוֹ אֶת הַחוֹלֶה הַנּוֹטֶה לָמוּת.
וַאֲפִלּוּ הָרַג אֶת הַגּוֹסֵס נֶהֱרָג עָלָיו.

וְאִם הָיָה גּוֹסֵס בִּידֵי אָדָם כְּגוֹן שֶׁהִכּוּהוּ עַד שֶׁנָּטָה לָמוּת וַהֲרֵי הוּא גּוֹסֵס.
הַהוֹרְגוֹ אֵין בֵּית דִּין מְמִיתִין אוֹתוֹ:

1 Mishna Sanhedrin 6,4

It appears that all the opinions you quoted in the first part refer to the former. But in the case of the later, when the death is caused by another human it is (seemingly allowed) not so forbidden even by a Jew for a Jew, in other words, if a Gentile, say, tortures a Jew it is allowed to hasten his death. See also R' Moshe's IM Y"D 2, 174-2.

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The question is so fascinating that I found another aspect to it. As it happens many times with the stories in the Bavli, they are repeated elsewhere with different details, so I was looking for the same story in a different Masechet.

So the same story is told completely differently in Mas. Kalah 5, 4:

אמרו עליו על רבי חנינא בן תרדיון שפעם אחת נתחלפו לו מעות פורים במעות של צדקה והיה יושב ותמיה ואמר אוי לי שמא נתחייבתי מיתה לשמים.

So in the beginning of the story R"C was wondering if he was sentenced to death by the heavenly court.

עד שהיה יושב ותמיה בא קסטינר א״ל רבי גזרו עליך לכורכך ולשורפך בתורתך ולישראל עמך.
ועמד וכרכוהו בתורתו והקיפוהו חבילי זמורות.

And the executioner came and told R"C that he is to be put to death by the Romans...

והציץ בו האור והיה אור מצטנן ומתרחק ממנו. עמד קסטינר בבהלה. א׳׳ל רבי אתה הוא שגזרו לשורפך? א״ל הן. א״ל ולמה האור מכבה א״ל נשבעתיו בשם קוני שלא יגע בי עד שאדע אם גזרו עלי מן השמים המתן לי שעה אחת ואודיעך.

And the fire couldn't touch R"C and the executioner wondered if he's one who's sentenced to death. But R"C sweared the fire not to touch him until he knows the verdict.

היה קסטינר יושב ותמיה. אמר הללו שגוזרין מיתה וחיים לעצמן למה עול מלכות עליהן? א"ל קום לך וכל מה שמלכות רוצה לעשות - בי יעשה.

The executioner said to R"C - you're free to go ...

אמר לו ריקה, הסכימה עלי גזרה מן השמים ואם אין אתה הורגני הרבה הורגים יש למקום ... אלא סוף שהמקום עתיד ליפרע דמי מידך.

And then R"C realised that that was the verdict of the heavenly court - that he's to be put to death and it has to be by that executioner. (This is THE Chidush here that's missing from AZ 18a version.)

וידע קסטינר שכך היא המדה מיד עמד ונפל על פניו וכיון אבד והשמיע קולו מן האש ואמר באשר תמותי אמות ושם אקבר באשר תחיה אחיה מיד יצתה בת קול ואמרה רבי חנינא בן תרדיון וקסטנירו מזומנין לחיי העולם הבא.


What we see here is that R"C already knew he was sentenced by the court and he was גברא קטילא. As we know that the Halacha says that one who hurts גברא קטילא and even kills him is Patur, as he's already considered "a walking dead".

Therefore, hastening R"C's death wasn't a sin at all, after he was declared as "dead" from the Heaven.


Now some Halachic thoughts about גברא קטילא.

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