Saving a life (Pikuach Nefesh)

by Mark S. Railey
Jan. 25, 2021

Judaism offers the concept of Pikuach Nefesh (saving a life).

Is there ever a time you can disobey a commandment or instruction from God, even one written in the Bible?

YES! You may disobey a command if in disobeying it, you are saving a life. For example, is it a command to tell the truth? ABSOLUTELY! And yet, people lied when hiding Jews from the Nazis. Would God hold these lies against these "Righteous Gentiles?" NO! because they were saving a life. Another example: Can you take a life - such as the unborn? NO! Except, when saving the mother.

I want to pause here to simply express how much I hate abortion. I believe it is perhaps the worst crime against innocence in the history of humanity. I do not believe there are any grounds that justify taking the life of an preborn child except to save the life of the mother.

This became poignantly clear when there was a problem with the delivery of a baby and the doctor turned to the father and in desperation said "Choose!" The weakened mother looked at her husband and said "Save the baby!" And with tears the husband said to the doctor, "Save my wife!"

Would God punish him for this choice? NO! The concept of Pikuach Nefesh protects us in all of our most challenging situations when obeying God's word could cost a life. (Note: I will leave warfare and martyrdom for another post).

Thankfully, both the mother and the baby lived.

The Babylonian Talmud in Yoma 85b (referencing Exodus 31:16), tells us "These are the mitzvot that one shall do and live by; live by and not die by them."

Moses said "I lay before you both life and death... therefore choose life" (Deut. 30:19).

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