ASSAI - Vol IV, No 1 February 2001

Editorial Introduction

"In the early hours of the morning of March 14, 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked on her way home in Queens, New York. The unknown assailant made several separate attacks on her over a period of about forty minutes, and she finally died of the stabs he had inflicted on her. As the police subsequently ascertained, at least thirty-eight neighbors had heard her screams for help, some may have also seen her struggle, yet no one intervened - not even to call the police."
Aaron Kirschenbaum, "The Bystander's Duty to Rescue in Jewish Law"
ASSIA-Jewish Medical Ethics 3, no. 2 (1998)

"As far as normative criteria are concerned, the obligation to save life is established in the codex of Jewish law as a legal obligation which obligates whoever happens to chance upon a situation where he can intervene and save life."
Eliezer Ben-Shlomo, "The Obligation to Save Life"
ASSIA-Jewish Medical Ethics 3, no. 2 (1998)

Until recently, Israeli law did not obligate rescuing someone whose life is in danger except for parents, who must come to the rescue of their children; firefighters, who must come to the rescue when they are summoned; and the driver of a car involved in an accident or the driver of a car who passes by an accident, who must come to the rescue of those injured. Aside from these three exceptions, there was no legal obligation to save the life of one's fellow man. All this changed in June 1998, when the Lo Ta'amod 'al Dam Re'ekha Law was passed by the Knesset.

Lo Ta'amod 'al Dam Re'ekha Law, 5758 -19981
Enacted by the Israeli Knesset on 28 Sivan 5758 (June 22, 1998)
Translated by David Schonberg, Advocate

1. (a) A person is obliged to proffer assistance, when able to do so without endangering himself or his fellow, to a person who, in close proximity, and following a sudden event, is subject to a serious and immediate danger to his life, his person, or his health. The Duty of Rescue and to Proffer Assistance
(b) If that person notifies the authorities or calls upon another person who can proffer the required assistance, then he shall be deemed as though he proffered assistance for the purposes of this Law: in this Section, "authorities" - the police, the ambulance services [Magen David Adom], and the fire-fighting services.
2. (a) The provisions of Section 5 of the Unjust Enrichment Law, 5739-1979,1 shall apply, notwithstanding that the person providing the benefit acted in accordance with his obligation under Section 1. Refund of Expenses and Damages
(b) The Court may order the party responsible for causing the danger that the rescued person was subject to, including the rescued person himself if he caused the danger, to indemnify the person who proffered assistance according to his obligation under Section 1, for reasonable costs and expenses that he incurred.
3. Save as otherwise provided by Section 2 (a) of this Law the provisions of this Law shall not derogate from the provisions of any other enactment. Saving of Powers
4. A person in breach of the provisions of Section 1 of this Law shall be subject to a fine. Penalties
5. The Minister of Justice is charged with the implementation of this Law. Implementation
6. This Law shall come into force upon the expiration of 90 days from the date of its publication [in Reshumot]. Commencement

Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister
Tzahi Ha-Negbi
Minister of Justice
Ezer Weizmann
President of the State
Dan Tichon
Knesset Speaker


Explanatory Notes: Lo Ta'amod 'al Dam Re'ekha Bill, 5753-1992
Hanan Porat, Knesset Member
Translated by David Schonberg, Advocate

From the draft bill of former Knesset member Hanan Porat, submitted to the Knesset Speaker and Deputies and set before the Knesset on 19 Kislev 5753 (December 14, 1992).

This bill is founded upon the command of the Torah, which stipulates the great moral rule, "You shall not stand idly by when your fellow man is in danger of harm; I am the Lord."3

The Gemara explains this rule in graphic terms:

From where arises the obligation for one who sees his fellow man drowning in a stream or a wild animal mauling him or robbers attacking him, that he is obligated to save him? From the verse: "You shall not stand idly by when your fellow man is in danger of harm."4
Furthermore, the Talmud learns from this verse that the duty of rescuing one's fellow man also applies when this involves great efforts and financial expense on his part, and such is the halakha according to Rambam.5 Tur, Hoshen Mishpat adds that if the rescued person has the means, he is obligated to pay his rescuer.6

The bill, thus, is intended to anchor this principle of Jewish law in the laws of the State and to involve the State with responsibility for and the application of these moral principles, both in the monetary field - by stipulating that if the rescued person lacks the means to pay the rescuer, then the State shall bear the costs - and in the area of punitive measures - by providing that if rescue is knowingly withheld from one's fellow man who is in close proximity, then that person shall be subject to a penalty of up to one year's imprisonment.

Indeed, it is not usually the case that provision is made for punishment for an offense that is committed by omission - by "inaction." However, "standing idly by" is not merely standing passively by; rather, it is a blunt and serious expression of estrangement from and disregard for human life, and it therefore deserves a suitable punishment, where necessary.


1. "You shall not stand idly by when your fellow man is in danger of harm" (Leviticus 19:16). Bill and Explanatory Notes published in Bills 2398, 4 Nissan 5755 (April 4, 1995), p. 456; law published in Laws 1670, 6 Tammuz 5758 (June 30, 1998), p. 245.
2. Laws 5739, p. 42.
3. Leviticus 19:16.
4. Sanhedrin 73a.
5. Hilkhot Rotseah u-Shemirat ha-Nefesh 1:14.
6. Tur, Hoshen Mishpat 436:1. These laws are systematically delineated in the work of the Deputy Attorney General, Professor Nahum Rakover, Osher ve-lo be-Mishpat (Jerusalem: The Library of Jewish Law, 1987), pp. 175-94.

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