Guarding the Sanctity of Human Life

Rabbi Akiva said: “Beloved is humankind, for they were created in the image
of the Creator; it is an even greater love
that it was made known to them that
they were created in the image of the
Creator, as it is stated [Genesis 9:6]: For
He made humankind in the Divine

Ethics of the Fathers, Ch 3.
The Meaning

The following is adapted from the Introduction by Dr. Michael Schulman to the section on the Prohibition of Murder and Injury, in “The Divine Code,” Part V:

Human life is an unalienable right of every person, and a gift from G-d that He expects us to guard and respect. Mankind was created “in the image of G-d,” and therefore possesses a dimension of holiness. Taking a human life diminishes a measure of the Divine image that is present in the world, and without G-d’s permission it is strictly forbidden. Furthermore, murder is an act of extreme rebellion against G-d Himself, Who blessed mankind “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28), and “He did not create it for emptiness; He fashioned it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18).

In addition, a person who murders harms many others as well. The tragic loss of a person’s life afflicts his loved ones, his friends, and his associates. The effects of murder also extend across time and space. A murderer also “kills” his victim’s would-be descendants for all generations to come. All that potential for good throughout the future has been lost because of the violent act. Even if the victim would not have subsequently had any children, all of a person’s great or small good deeds are the spiritual fruits that he adds to the world. Therefore, the Jewish Sages taught that someone who causes the destruction of one person’s life from the world is considered as if he destroyed an entire world, and conversely, someone who saves or sustains one person’s life in the world is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Yet what acts constitute the sin of murder? Are there times when killing is permitted by the Torah? Does a person ever have the “right” to end his or her own life? What about engaging in activities that are inherently life threatening, or accepting donor organs from living persons who will not regain consciousness? In the Noahide Code, G-d provided ample instructions for how the commandment applies in any circumstance.

Furthermore, the respect one must have for the “image of G-d” extends beyond taking or saving a human life. Are there acts that don’t involve physical harm, but which are spiritually equivalent to murder? For example, can one be guilty in the eyes of G-d for destroying another’s reputation, or subjecting him to humiliation? What if the publicized damaging information is true? These questions, as well as many more, are addressed in the Noahide Code. Specifically, “Murder and Injury” covers obvious issues such as homicide (whether premeditated murder or accidental manslaughter), suicide, euthanasia, and causing serious physical injury. It covers issues such as the Torah Laws regarding permissible acts of self-defense, endangering one’s life to save another, and death caused through criminal or unavoidable negligence. The prohibition of injury also extends to non-physical attacks such as slander, embarrassment, and causing emotional harm. Even though many of the precepts relating to murder and injury are complex, an underlying theme can be summarized in one sentence. It is known as Hillel’s “Golden Rule” of the Torah, and it simply states, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. The rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

By extension, a person should also refrain from speaking evil about others, as well as against the Creator, for respect is due to every person by virtue of being created with a rational human soul, which is the “Divine image” within a person. If one speaks words that destroy a favorable image of a person in another’s mind, then one has done actual harm, both to the person who was spoken about and to the listener. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement, explained: “Evil gossip kills all three – the inventor of the slander, the one who relates it, and the listener. This is all in spiritual terms…”

Scriptural Sources

This prohibition is stated in Genesis 9:6 – “Whoever sheds the blood of man, among man, his blood shall be shed; for in the image of G-d He made man.”

Some Details and Related Principles

List of topics in the Table of Contents under the Prohibition of Murder and Injury, in “The Divine Code,” Part V:

  • The prohibition of murder; abortion; euthanasia; causing mortal injury, and partners in murder.
  • The prohibition of suicide.
  • When it is permitted to sacrifice one’s life for one of the Seven Noahide Commandments.
  • The laws of a pursuer and self defense.
  • The laws of intentional and unintentional killing, and killing through negligence or under duress.
  • The prohibition of causing personal injury or damage.
  • The prohibition of endangering oneself or another.
  • The obligation to save a person’s life.
  • The prohibitions of embarrassing another person; evil gossip, and tale-bearing.
  • The laws of reproductive sterilization and contraception.

Selected rules related to the Noahide prohibition of murder and injury, from the text of “The Divine Code,” Part V:

  • One who injured or embarrassed another does not receive full atonement for the distress he caused just through monetary restitution alone. He should also ask forgiveness, and the person who was harmed should not be unforgiving. Rather, when he sees that the person who harmed him truly wishes to seek his forgiveness, he should pardon him.
  • It is forbidden to cause another person suffering through one’s speech. This is morally and logically binding, as the sage Hillel said as a summary of the entire Torah, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”
  • One who truly repents for the sin of murder should make a complete repentance, including increasing his acts of loving kindness and his charitable giving, and providing sustenance to those who are poor and living in pitiful conditions. It is also good for him to exile himself from his place of residence and his station in life, for exile atones for the sin of murder.

Presented from the booklet Go(o)d for You with permission from the publisher, Ask Noah International (

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