«Brit Shalom» – a guide to practical Noahide daily life, brief version

Chapter Five. Preservation of Human Life (The Prohibition of Bloodshed)

Whoever spills the blood of a human being, through a human being his own blood shall be spilled, for in the image of Gоd, He made the human being. (Genesis 9:6)
Thou shalt not murder. (Exodus 20:13)


1. Rabbi Akiva said: a human being is precious since he is created in the image of Gоd.129

2. Rabbi Akiva said: and you shall love your fellow as yourself130 – this is a great Torah principle.131

3. The life of a human being was given by Gоd and no one has the authority to nullify it. Therefore whoever takes someone else’s life132 or his own133 violates a commandment of the Creator.134 The punishment of a murderer is execution by a Jewish court.135

4. The prohibition of murder applies to an act committed directly, indirectly, or by an agent. Even though the punishment of execution by a Jewish court is reserved for someone who murders directly, someone who murders indirectly is still a murderer and his sentence is determined in Heaven.136

5. A national government may exact punishment even for a murder that does not require punishment according to the letter of the law.137

6. Included in the prohibition of murder is abortion of fetuses138 and “mercy killing” (euthanasia).139

7. There are cases where abortion of a fetus is permitted, especially during the first forty days of pregnancy140 and/or if the life of the mother is in danger. Where such issues arise, a rabbi141 who is familiar with them142 should be consulted.

8. It is forbidden to actively end the life of someone suffering from a disease, but it is not necessary to fight to keep him alive. Administering medication to lessen the pain is permitted as long as it is not a direct cause of death. The moment death is ascertained, it is permitted to disconnect life support systems.143

9. Even in situations where it is permitted, according to the letter of the law, to discontinue treatment of a patient near death, it remains forbidden until the moment of death to disconnect any life support system or respirator or to withhold any food and drink. In any situation where doubt arises, three people should be consulted: the patient (insofar as he is able to participate in the discussion), the doctor, and a rabbi.144

10. Removal of organs from a dead person for transplant purposes – after cessation of heart activity145 or brain death146 – is permitted by law and even desirable.147 Donation of an organ, such as a kidney for transplant, from a healthy person that does not endanger the donator is permitted and even desirable.

11. It is permissible for a doctor to perform surgery, even where risk is involved, if its purpose is to save the patient’s life.148

12. Someone who kills by mistake, because of carelessness, is exempt from the death penalty. But, if the one who killed by accident thought that murder was permissible, that person will, in fact, be punished for murder.149

13. It is permissible to participate in war as a soldier of the state.150

14. It is permissible for a soldier about to be captured to kill himself if he suspects that his captors will torture him.151

15. Anyone who is threatened that if he does not kill another person, he will be killed, is not permitted to kill even at the expense of his own life.152

16. It is permissible for a Noahide to engage in idolatry or illicit sexual relations if he is forced to do so. He does not need to give up his life rather than comply.153

17. A person is permitted to save himself from someone who is pursuing him to kill him by killing the pursuer if there is no other way to save himself. But if he can save himself by injuring one of the limbs of the pursuer, he is not permitted to kill him but only injure him.154

18. A passerby who sees someone pursuing someone else in order to kill him, but cannot save the person being pursued merely by injuring the pursuer, is allowed to kill the pursuer.155

19. If two people are walking in the desert and one person has enough water to save himself alone, he is not obligated to give any water to the other person since his life takes precedence over that of the other person.156

20. The Rambam (Moses Maimonides) wrote: Even though there are sins that are worse than shedding blood, none of them destroy civilization like shedding blood. Neither idol worship nor, needless to say, illicit relations are as bad as shedding blood. Idolatry and illicit relations are sins committed between a human being and Gоd whereas shedding of blood is a sin between one human being and another. And anyone who committed this sin is completely wicked and no divine commandment or good deed he fulfilled can make up for this sin or save him from strict judgment.157

21. A person should not assault anyone, man or woman, whether an adult or a minor,158 whether by striking, injuring, or wounding the other person, or by seducing159 or raping160 the other person.

22. Whoever strikes another person is called wicked,161 and striking a Jew is especially heinous.162

23. It is permissible to kill animals that cause distress to people.163

24. It is forbidden to cause suffering to animals where there is no benefit to human beings.164

25. It is permissible to kill animals for human benefit such as for food,165 clothing or medical research166 as long as unnecessary animal suffering is avoided.167

Behavioral Guidelines

26. There are those who prohibit Noahides from castrating males whether human or animal,168 but this view is not accepted by all. Nevertheless, this prohibition is worthy of consideration.169

27. Commonly accepted ethical standards obligate one person to save another who is in danger.170

28. It is appropriate for a Noahide who killed someone by accident to exile himself to another city or country.171 At a time when city of refuge laws are in effect for Jews,172 a resident alien who kills accidentally exiles himself to such a city.173

29. No one should injure himself or bring himself or others into dangerous situations174 in which there is no benefit as occurs when someone drives at excessive speeds.

30. A guard rail should be built around a roof to avoid danger175 and so, too, preventive measures should be adopted concerning any potentially dangerous situation.

31. Care should be taken not to place any obstacle on a road that could cause injury to another person.176 Such obstacles should be removed from any location where passersby could sustain damage or injury.

32. According to commonly accepted ethical standards, the prohibition of murder includes any behavior that diminishes the life of another such as public embarrassment177, insult, or even unfair competition in business.178

33. No one should say anything bad about another person, even if it is true179 and, even more so, should not tell lies about that person.180

34. It is permissible to publicize the bad deeds of an evil person in order that this person will not continue to cause damage to others and in order to set him straight.181 And so, too, when there is a need to check someone’s suitability for a certain position it is permissible to ask about his history and circumstances.182

35. A person should not hate another person secretly in his heart183 without revealing to that person what, in fact, he feels towards him. It is best, of course, that he should not hate him at all.

36. What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else.184

37. Although wasting of seed is not explicitly forbidden to Noahides,185 it still is not an appropriate act.186 But for medical reasons or for fertility treatments, it is permissible.187

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128 Deuteronomy 20:19; Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 529.

129 Mishnah Avot 3:13.

130 Leviticus 19:18.

131 Sifra Kedoshim, Parasha 2, Chapter 4. Words of Rabbi Akiva come to emphasize the universal value of love between one man and his fellow. See Sha’arei Kedusha 1:5; Sefer HaBrit, Part 2, Chapter 5, Essay 13.

132 Genesis 9:5: “but of man, of every man, for that of his brother I will demand the soul of man.”

133 Genesis 9:5: “But your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand”; ibid. Rashi; Bavli, Baba Kamma 91b; see Rashbach Gaon, Bereishit 34:12.

134 The commandment “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:13), even though it was stated in the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel, is a message to everyone on earth (Rabbi Yitzhak Abarbanel loc. cit.); see Kli Yakar on Exodus 20:8.

135 Genesis 9:6. “by man shall his blood be shed.” See Onkelos translation (Targum) ibid.; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:4.

136 Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach 2:2, accords with the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan in Bereishit Rabbah, Parashat 34, Siman 13, but Rabbi Hanina ibid., Siman 14, holds that such a person incurs the death penalty by the Beit Din (rabbinical court), as the Meiri ruled in commentary on Sanhedrin 57b; see Rav Moshe Weinter, Sheva Mitzvot HaShem Part 2, page 346, comment 18.

137 Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach 2:4; this law regarding a king of Israel applies to every other kingship, too. We omitted all the laws which incur the death penalty or which exempt a person from the death penalty since they are matters for the rabbinical court and not for the individual to decide.

138 Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of a person, by another person.” The sages held that these words referred to “a person within another person,” namely, a fetus in the womb of its mother. See Bavli, Sanhedrin 57b.

139 Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach 2:7; ibid., Hilchot Melachim 9:4.

140 Because a fetus at that stage is not considered to be alive. See Mishnah Bechorot 8:1; Mishneh Torah, Isurei Bi’ah 10:2.

141 Or a Noahide sage trained to make determinations in this matter.

142 Because of the proliferation of differing laws regarding this matter.

143 Avraham Steinberg, Encylcopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, entry of “Teminally Ill,” note 4 (details of the laws).

144 Ibid., entry of “Treatment of the Terminally Ill According to Halacha.”

145 Bavli Yoma 85a.

146 According to a ruling of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (1986), a person who is brain dead is officially dead in every respect.

147 Leviticus 19:16.

148 Bavli Baba Kamma 85a.

149 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 11:1.

150 Natziv of Volozhin, Ha’amek Davar on Genesis 9:5.

151 Berishit Rabbah, Parashah 34, Siman 13, this is learned from the incident of King Saul falling on his sword.

152 Bavli Sanhedrin 71a, Yerushalmi Shabbat, Chapter 14 (end); Yerushalmi Avoda Zarah 2:2; See Parashat Derachim Derech Ha’atarim, Lecture 2, ד”ה אמנם על פי האמור .

153 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 10:2; see above Chapter 3, Paragraph 16.

154 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:4.

155 Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 296, Letter Hei.

156 Bavli Baba Metzia 62a.

157 Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach 4:9.

158 Physical punishment of a child for educational benefit is not included here. Even so, care should be taken not to strike a child as an expression of anger or any other negative character trait; Mishneh Torah, De’ot 2:3; HaGra (Rabbi Eliyahu from Vilna), Even Shlomo 6:4.

159 Ramban on Genesis 34:13; Chatam Sofer, Responsa, Part 6, Siman 14.

160 Since, according to Ramban, (Genesis 34:13), setting up a judicial system (one of the Noahide laws), invariably includes laws that proscribe this behavior; or because this behavior, according to Minchat Chinuch (Mitzva 35 Letter 22), is a type of robbery (proscribed by Noahide law), or because forbidding this behavior (Bereishit Rabbah, Section 80, Siman 6) is a “fence” around the prohibition of illicit relations (proscribed by Noahide law).

161 Sanhedrin 58b; Mishneh Torah, Chovel 5:1-2.

162 Sanhedrin ibid.; see Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 10:6.

163 Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 191:1.

164 See Exodus 23:5; Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 11a, ד”ה עוקרין;see Rabbi Ya’akov Ze’ev Kahane, Responsa Toldot Ya’akov on Yoreh De’ah, Siman 33, ד”ה לכן.

165 Genesis 9:3.

166 Shvut Ya’akov, Part 3, Siman 71.

167 See Bavli Chulin 85b, the story of Rabbi Chiyya; ibid. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

168 Bavli Sanhedrin 56b, the opinion of Rabbi Chideka; see Mishneh Torah, Issurei Bi’ah 16:13 (according to the Kiryat Sefer ibid. and not according to the Maggid Mishneh); Sefer Mitzvot HaGadol, Negative Mitzvot, Siman 120.

169 See Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’Ezer, Siman 5 (end); ibid. Beit Shmuel; see Rashbach Gaon, Genesis 34:12.

170 In Israel, this is the mitzvah of “don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:16).

171 Mishneh Torah, Teshuva 2:4, Rotzei’ach 5:1; since one who is exiled is considered dead and in this way he can atone for his deeds (see Bavli Sanhedrin 37b).

172 Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:9-34; Deuteronomy 4:41-42, 19:2-10.

173 Numbers 35:15; Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach 5:3; for the definition of a resident alien, see Chapter 1, Paragraph 7 above.

174 Mishneh Torah, Rotzei’ach, Chapter 11.

175 Deuteronomy 22:8; see Sefer Haroke’ach, Siman 366.

176 Deuteronomy ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Siman 427:8.

177 Bavli Baba Metzia 58:2.

178 See Bavli Baba Batra 21:2.

179 Psalms 50:16-20; Mishneh Torah, De’ot 7:2.

180 Deuteronomy 22:13-19; Bavli Arachin 15b.

181 Chafetz Chaim, Hilchot Lashon Hara, Rule 4, Zayin.

182 Ibid., Yud-Alef.

183 Leviticus 19:17.

184 Bavli Shabbat 31a; Sefer Tuvia 4:16.

185 And there are those who prohibit it by law; see following footnote.

186 Genesis 6:12; 38:9-10; see Bavli Sanhedrin 59b, Tosafot ד”ה והא ; She’iltot DeRav Achai Gaon 165; see Mishneh LaMelech on Hilchot Melachim 10:7.

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