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MESIRAT NEFESH (giving up one’s life) AND KIDDUSH HASHEM FOR NON-JEWS

בס”ד

The motivation for writing this blog was the question: As Noahides, do we have any obligation to give up our life, (What is called: Kiddush Hashem) under any circumstances, and what is that obligation? I heard that there are 3 Jewish commandments for which they are obligated to give up their lives if they are being forced to transgress any one of them, and it got me wondering if we are as well.

The Jewish commandment in Leviticus 18:5 states:


You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which human beings shall live: I am Hashem
 וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָֽאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֹ

However, has its limitations. Jews also have a positive commandment for Kiddush Hashem — to sanctify G-d’s Name at the cost of their lives.

Leviticus 22:32 specifies that there are occasions when a Jew must give up his or her life to prevent the desecration of the Name of Hashem and to ensure that His Name is sanctified specifically “in the midst of the Children of Israel.”


You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I Hashem who sanctify you,
 לבוְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲנִ֥י יְ”הֹוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם:

And that’s why Jews, under certain circumstances, are obligated to sacrifice their lives – and in doing so are called kadoshim (“holy martyrs”) –in observance of this Jewish commandment. The details of this commandment are given in Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Foundations of Torah 5:2,3,7.  The most widely known detail of this commandment is the obligation for a Jew to give up his or her life rather than be forced to commit idolatry, murder, incest, or adultery.

A non-Jew’s obligation to preserve his life and the lives of other people is derived as a positive obligation and moral responsibility, from G-d’s commandment in Genesis 9:5-6 to Noah that prohibits committing murder (including suicide) or injury, and from the obligation to save the life of person who is being pursued. This is explained in The Divine Code, Part 5, chapter 7 (The Prohibition of Endangering Oneself or Another, and the Obligation to Save a Person’s Life).

Therefore, in  Hilchos Melachim (Laws of Kings) 10:2, it is stated:

“A non-Jew who is forced by another person to violate one of his commandments is permitted to transgress [with one exception]. Even if he is forced to worship false gods, he may worship them. For non-Jews are not commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name.”

In explaining the exception, The Divine Code states[1]:

  1. With one exception, a non-Jew is not required to sacrifice his life to avoid transgressing one of the Seven Noahide Commandments; i.e., a non-Jew is permitted to transgress in order to avoid being killed (with one exception, and its offshoots). (Topic f below explains the circumstances under which a non-Jew is permitted to give up his life to avoid transgressing any of the Seven Noahide Commandments.) The one exception is in regard to committing murder. Even if one is threatened with losing one’s own life or with excruciating torture beyond endurance, nonetheless, he must submit to being tortured and/or murdered rather than murder another human being. The reason for this is to comply with the common-sense dictum, “Who says that your blood is redder (than that of your fellow)?”[2] (It is not due to any obligation to more strongly uphold the Divine commandment against murder, compared to the other six Noahide commandments from G-d that are associated with this leniency. See below in topic e.)

This is to comply with the common-sense dictum, “Is your blood redder than that of your fellow?“ Sanhedrin 74a:21 states:

“The Gemara asks: From where do we derive this halakha [Torah law] with regard to a murderer himself, that one must allow himself to be killed rather than commit murder? The Gemara answers: It is based on logical reasoning that one life is not preferable to another, and therefore there is no need for a verse to teach this halakha. The Gemara relates an incident to demonstrate this: When a certain person came before Rabba and said to him: The lord of my place, a local official, said to me: Go kill so-and-so, and if not I will kill you, what shall I do? Rabba said to him: It is preferable that he should kill you and you should not kill. Who is to say that your blood is redder than his, that your life is worth more than the one he wants you to kill? Perhaps that man’s blood is redder. This logical reasoning is the basis for the halakha that one may not save his own life by killing another.”

b. Even if a person is being forced to kill someone who is already dying or an embryo in its mother’s womb, he should rather let himself be killed than kill the sick or dying person or the embryo. It would appear that the same applies to injuring another person. One should let himself be killed[3] if he is being forced to injure another person or commit rape[4] of a male or a female person, rather than commit the act to save his own life.

c. The above only applies if the person is being forced to commit direct or indirect murder physically. However, if one is being forced to stand in a certain spot where his body will be used by others as an instrument for murder, there is no obligation to give one’s life up to save the intended victim, since the murder is being done through the actions of others. It need not be mentioned that one is not obligated to give up his or her life to save another person’s life. Nevertheless, it appears permissible to do so.[5]

d. If a person committed homicide because another person was threatening his life (or limb or severe torture), this killer has committed an offense and is a murderer and will be punished by Heaven. However, a court of law cannot punish him because he was severely pressured.[6]

e. If a group of non-Jews is told, “Give over one of your group to be killed, or else all of you will be killed,” they have no permission to hand over one person from the group, for the reason given in topic a. However, if the murderers single out their victim, and will either kill that one particular victim or the whole group, it is permissible to hand over the one victim since it cannot be said that the victim’s blood is “more red” than that of the whole group.

So, non-Jews are permitted (except as explained above) to violate the Seven Noahide Laws if necessary to preserve their lives. This leniency is exemplified in the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5:18-19), a non-Jew, who asked Elisha for permission to sin by bowing to an idol to avoid being killed. Elisha’s response, “Go in peace,” signifies that Naaman would be doing nothing wrong in such a situation.


But may G-D pardon your servant for this: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow low in worship there, and he is leaning on my arm so that I must bow low in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow low in the temple of Rimmon, may G-D pardon your servant in this.”
 לַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה יִסְלַ֥ח יְהֹוָ֖ה לְעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ בְּב֣וֹא אֲדֹנִ֣י בֵית־רִמּוֹן֩ לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹ֨ת שָׁ֜מָּה וְה֣וּא | נִשְׁעָ֣ן עַל־יָדִ֗י וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֵ֙יתִי֙ בֵּ֣ית רִמֹּ֔ן בְּהִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָ֙תִי֙ בֵּ֣ית רִמֹּ֔ן יִסְלַח (כתיב ־נא) יְהֹוָ֥ה לְעַבְדְּךָ֖ בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה
And he said to him, “Go in peace.”
When he had gone some distance from him,
 וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ לֵ֣ךְ לְשָׁל֑וֹם וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ מֵאִתּ֖וֹ כִּבְרַת־אָֽרֶץ

Elisha’s response, “Go in peace,” signifies that Naaman would be doing nothing wrong in such a situation.

Although non-Jews are not obligated to sanctify G-d’s Name, it is not forbidden for them to sacrifice their lives to avoid transgressing a capital sin. The Divine Code states:

f. Although a non-Jew is not obligated to sacrifice his life for the sanctification of G-d’s Name[7] (i.e. to avoid committing idolatry or one of the other capital sins prohibited by the Noahide commandments, at the cost of his life), it is permissible for him to do so, and this is not considered suicide.[8] It appears that this applies even if he is being forced to transgress the commandment in private. Likewise, if one is being forced through torture to transgress one of the Seven Noahide Commandments, and is unsure whether he will be capable of withstanding the suffering, it is permissible for him to take his life so as not to transgress, and this is not considered suicide. This permission only applies to avoiding a transgression for which a non-Jew would be liable to capital punishment in a Noahide court if it were committed willfully.

This principle is exemplified in the story of Abraham, who, while not yet bound by the Divine Law as a Jew, allowed himself to be thrown into a furnace by Nimrod instead of being forced to commit idolatry. This incident illustrates that non-Jews have the flexibility to choose self-sacrifice over transgressing a capital sin.

Learning Points

1. Abraham’s Model: The story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his life rather than commit idolatry serves as a precedent that although non-Jews are not commanded to choose self-sacrifice rather than being forced to commit a capital sin (other than murder), they are permitted to choose to do so.

3. Leniency for non-Jews: They have flexibility in their observance when under threat of death, even in matters of worshiping false gods, as they are not bound by the Jewish obligation to sanctify G-d’s Name (Kiddush HaShem).

4. In the context of the Seven Noahide Commandments, a non-Jew is generally not obligated to sacrifice his or her life to avoid violating these commandments, except in the case of murder. Even when facing the threat of one’s own life or unbearable torture, the principle is upheld that one must endure personal suffering or death rather than commit murder or serious bodily injury to another human being. This underscores the ethical principle that no individual’s life is inherently more valuable than another’s, emphasizing the sanctity of human life.

By Angelique Sijbolts

[1] THE DIVINE CODE, 4TH EDITION EXCERPTS FROM THE PROHIBITION OF MURDER AND INJURY, CHAPTER 2 Sacrificing One’s Life for One of the Seven Noahide Commandments PDF © 20′24 by Ask Noah International.
[2] Tractate Sanhedrin 74a. Based on Rambam, Foundations of the Faith ch. 5, it is logical that one must give up his life rather than murder, so this must apply to non-Jews. Hence, the reason that the prohibition of murder outweighs a non-Jew’s own life is not because of the severity of the sin to G-d, but because of the logical moral reasoning, “Who says that your blood redder than that of your fellow?”
[3] Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg views the law as unclear regarding whether one must let himself be killed if he is being forced to injure or rape. The author finds reason why it should at least be permitted for the person to let himself be killed to avoid this, and not considered as a prohibited suicide, because of the dictum, “Who says that your blood is redder than that of your fellow?” This can be seen as a fortiori from Tamar (Gen. 38:25), who submitted herself to be executed rather than embarrass Judah (since publicly embarrassing a person is likened to murder). However, it is unclear whether a person is obligated to give up his life to avoid injuring or raping another. It, therefore, appears to the author that a Jew or a non-Jew may not cut off or break another person’s limb or commit rape to save his own life, and the common-sense dictum, “Who says that your blood is redder than that of your fellow?” would apply even to the other person’s limb. Nevertheless, some sources say that this is permitted. (In any event, one who is forced to transgress on pain of death is not to be judged or punished by a court of law for committing the forced act – including homicide, as explained in topic 7 below, even though one who kills under duress is held accountable in the judgment of Heaven)
[4] The pursuit of rape is tantamount to the pursuit for murdering. See Rambam, Laws of Murderers 1:10-15, who says this is learned from the verses Deut. 22:26 (a consecrated maiden who is raped in a field), and Lev. 19:16 (“you shall not stand [idly] by the blood of your fellow”).
[5] See topic 9 in the pdf and f in the blog
[6] Rambam, Laws of Kings 10:2.
[7] See Tractate Sanhedrin 74b, from which it can be learned that although a non-Jew is not commanded to sacrifice his life so as not to transgress one of the Noahide commandments, it is, nevertheless, still considered a sanctification of G-d’s Name if he does so, and even if there are no witnesses. Therefore, this should be permissible (but not required) for a Gentile in either a public or a private situation.
[8] See Shulĥan Aruĥ Yorah De’ah ch. 157, which rules this way regarding a Jew. We can also take proof from Abraham, who allowed himself to be thrown into a furnace by Nimrod, instead of being forced to commit idolatry. (Since Abraham was not Jewish within the Divine Law, this proves that what he did is permitted for non-Jews, and it is not considered to be like suicide.)

Texts from Sefaria.org

With thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton and Dr. Michael Schulman for their feedback, valuable input, and permission to use the pdf with the excerpts from The Divine Code.

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