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Home » Ki Tisa

KI Tisa: Shabbos and the Jew

Submitted by on March 5, 2006 – 3:29 amNo Comment | 1,772 views


Why are the laws of Shabbat overruled when human life is at stake?

Three Answers


  1. Rabbi Yishmael reasoned that if one may kill for the purpose of preserving life then the rules of Shabbos may a fortiori be violated to preserve life.
  2. Quoting our Parsha “And you shall keep the Shabbat for she is holy to you,” Rabbi Shimon interpreted, Shabbat has been presented to the Jew not the Jew to Shabbat.
  3. Rabbi Natan, who also quoted our Parsha offered the final opinion. “ And they (Jews” kept the Shabbat for the purpose of establishing an everlasting bond in future generations.” “Break one Shabbat for him today,” explicated Rabbi Natan, “so that he (the person whose’ life was saved) will be able to observe many Shabboses in the future.”


Analysis of R. Yishmael’s View

Murder is forbidden but this prohibition is overruled in the case of self-defense. (The victim may take the life of his potential murderer). If the value of life overrules the prohibition of murder then a fortiori it overrules the prohibitions of Shabbat. In this sense, Shabbat steps aside and is willingly countermanded in preservation of the more important value – human life.

Analysis of R. Shimon’s View

The very nature of Shabbat is to serve as a sign of the Jewish bond with Hashem. In this sense, Shabbat is the servant and the Jew its master. Shabbat, the servant, would never permit its laws to threaten the life of its master. In other words, this is not a case of overruling the Shabbat but of observing it. Just as the rules of Shabbat prohibit kindling a fire when life is not at stake so do these very rules oblige us to light a fire when life is at stake.

Analysis of R. Natan’s View

Rabbi Natan opines that Shabbat is not overruled nor does it step aside in deference to its master. Shabbat simply looks after itself. If we save a life today, we will enable this person to keep many more Shabbats in the future. In this sense Shabbat is not only preserving the Jew’s life but also its own.

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