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The Jewish Legal System

Laws of Damages


What is the Jewish view on self-mutilation?

There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud (Bava Kama 91a) as to whether deliberate self-injury is permitted, but the accepted view is that it is forbidden. This can be derived from Gen.9:5 and from Deut.4:9. See also Rambam, Chovel u-Mazik 5:1, and Choshen Mishpat 420:31.

5 Follow-ups »

  1. Suppose that a person is in the wilderness and is suffering from severe frostbite. Now he’s miles away from the nearest hospital. In order to keep the frostbite from spreading he uses a saw to cut off the appendages already affected.Or a person is imprisoned unjustly like a POW. And in order to escape he removes his foot/arm.

    Are these cases considered self mutilation?

    As a rule, whenever there is a question of life or death, one is obligated to break any law to save that life, save for the prohibitions of idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality.

    R’ Daniel Fleksher

    Comment by ATR — April 5, 2006 @ 12:46 am

  2. Why is ear piercing not considered self-mutilation?

    That’s a good question. Indeed, we see examples in the Torah of both ear and nose piercing, so we must define self-mutilation in it’s context. In the eight chapter of Bava Kama in the Babylonian Talmud, the laws of “havala” or damages are enumerated. It is there that the dispute regarding self-mutilation arises. The main question is whether one should be punished for a damage to oneself which others would surely be punished for. Based on those laws, we can now define what self-mutilation would entail. Namely, a damage which causes another severe pain and leaves a wound. To bring the question full circle, I would pose that either ear piercing is not considered a case of undue pain and suffering, or it may be seen like a blow to the fingernail (a case where the Talmud says others are exempt from punishment), where no evidence of any damage or wound is apparent. Thanks for your great question.

    R’ Daniel Fleksher

    Comment by ATR — July 4, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

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