Yishai Kiel and Prods Oktor Skjærvø, "The Sabbath Was Made for Humankind": A Rabbinic and Christian Principle in Its Iranian Context



The rabbinic principle of piquah nefesh "the saving of a life," according to which the concern for preserving and maintaining human life overrides other religious precepts is often regarded as a cornerstone of humanitarianism and the value attached to human life in the Jewish tradition. Since both the rabbis and Jesus in the Gospels adduced scripture to justify this principle, it has been assumed that it must have predated the emergence of rabbinic culture.

The early rabbis’ (the tannaʾim) rigorous efforts through a variety of exegeses to locate this principle in scripture is emblematic of the fact that the principle was contested and subject to much debate in ancient Judaism. The assertion of this principle by the rabbis and in the Gospels set against the backdrop of several texts from the Second Temple period further underscores the diverging perspectives found in ancient Jewish circles and the lack of unanimity surrounding the principle.