pikuach nefesh

Alternative Spellings

pikuah nefesh, pikkuach nefesh, pikkuah nefesh, pikuach neyfesh, pikkuach neyfesh, pikuah neyfesh, pikkuah neyfesh


  • The principle that the law of saving a person's life takes precedence over all other laws, with the exception of the laws prohibiting idolatry, incestuous relations, and the murder of an innocent person.

Example Sentences

  • "Organ donation in Jewish law is one classic example of the obligation to violate a commandment because of pikuach nefesh." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikuach_nefesh)
  • "For example, a sick person or a pregnant woman is obligated to eat on Yom Kippur when others fast because of pikuach nefesh. An Orthodox Jew might drive his car on Shabbat if he needs to get his sick child to the hospital." (JPS)

Languages of Origin

Textual Hebrew


פיקוח נפש pikkuach nefesh 'saving a soul'

Who Uses This

Religious: Jews who are engaged in religious observance and have some Jewish education
Orthodox: Jews who identify as Orthodox and observe halacha (Jewish law)
Jews: Jews of diverse religious backgrounds and organizational involvements
Organizations: People involved in a professional or volunteer capacity with Jewish nonprofit organizations


North America


Dictionary of Jewish Usage: A Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms, by Sol Steinmetz (Lanham, MD, 2005).
The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, by Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, (Philadelphia, 2001)

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