The Elephant and the Non-Jewish Problem – Part I

A well-worn anecdote has it that a teacher assigned the writing of an essay with the requirement that it relate to elephants in some way. Looking through the submitted papers, the teacher came upon the one authored by the only Italian in the class entitled “Eating Habits of the Elephant.” Next was a piece by the lone Frenchman headlined “Romantic Interests of the Elephant.” Reaching the last essay in the pile, he found the essay of the token Jew. His topic? “The Elephant and the Jewish Problem.”

One elephant that hasn’t left the room, so to speak, a full month after the publication of that article, is the one relating to the non-Jewish question — that is, the issue of what conclusions are to be drawn from the halacha that requires suspension of melacha proscriptions on Shabbos to save the life of a Jew but not that of a non-Jew, except where failure to save the latter’s life would foster enmity towards Jews, with potential violent repercussions.

I’m fully mindful that, with the onset of Feldman Fatigue Syndrome, this post might go by entirely unnoticed. But I’ve decided to launch it into the blogosphere anyway if only as a way of registering my non-acquiesence in the two significant treatments of this topic that I’ve seen presented in response to the Feldman piece.

I take strong exception, based on my understanding of the Torah view, to elements of both essays. I’ve set forth below the passages I find unacceptable, with brief accompanying comment. In my intended Part II of this post, I hope to share a differing perspective on the subject.

First, there is Rabbi Norman Lamm’s response to Noah in the Forward. On the the topic at hand, Rabbi Lamm has this to say:

Why, then, can you not be as generous to Jewish law, and appreciate that certain biblical laws are unenforceable in practical terms, because all legal systems — including Jewish law — do not simply dump their axiomatic bases but develop them. Why not admire scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities to preserve the text of the original law in its essence, and yet make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities?

. . . . This is a legitimate way for the Talmudic and post-Talmudic rabbis to protect the sacred Shabbat laws, and by appropriate halachic legislation enable us to live without violating our moral conscience.

Let me clarify my stand, as an Orthodox rabbi, on the issue you raised: It is strictly forbidden by the Halacha to deny a non-Jew whatever is necessary to save his or her life. There must be no discrimination whatsoever. Every human being is created in the Image of God and has a right to life and health.

Briefly, I don’t believe that the notion that “scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities to preserve the text of the original law in its essence, and yet make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities” accords with normative Orthodox Jewish belief.

Moreover, the statement that “Every human being is created in the Image of God and has a right to life and health” is correct but inapposite to this topic and, in any event, is not the basis put forth for this halacha by the preponderance of, or perhaps any, halachic sources that I’m aware of.

For his part, author Shmuley Boteach, writing in the Jerusalem Post, criticizes Rabbi Lamm’s approach for its “obtuseness.” Instead, he writes

Is the Jewish religion really so heartless as to give a Jew pause before rescuing a non-Jewish life on the Sabbath? Could it be possible that a religion that so courageously declares, at the very beginning of its Bible, that all humans are equally created in the image of God suddenly reverses itself and declares a non-Jewish life to be not only inferior to that of a Jew, but scarcely worth saving? Of course not. . . .

The Talmud was written at the time of the vicious Roman occupation of the Holy Land. The unbearable cruelty of the Romans led to two Jewish rebellions that were quashed so mercilessly by Rome’s mighty legions that millions of Jews were slaughtered in cold blood. . . .

The Talmud’s discussion, therefore, centered on whether brutal, gentile oppressors like Roman centurions, who were the principal non-Jews with whom the Jews had contact at the time, ought to be saved on the Sabbath. . . .

But when it came to everyday non-Jews, the Talmud was emphatic about their equal place before God and the equality and sanctity of every human life. . . .

Witness the fact that Judaism is the only religion that does not actively proselytize people outside the faith, because we do not believe that a non-Jew upgrades his existence by becoming a Jew.

Where to begin?

First, in positing that Judaism “courageously declares, at the very beginning of its Bible, that all humans are equally created in the image of God,” I believe Boteach confuses a renowned statement of America’s Founding Fathers with another renowned statement in Genesis; the two are not identical. Boteach also needs to cite where specifically the Talmud posits “the equality . . . of every human life.” None of the citations in his essay stand for precisely what it is that he wants them to. [An aside: I'm not sure why it is "courageous" of G-d to declare in His Torah that humans are created in His image. If humans were doing the authoring, that might require courage in a world filled with bloodthirsty pagans, but not for G-d, at least not an omnipotent One.]

Second, Boteach identifies the issue at hand as not only one of Judaism’s supposed ” outrageous . . . particularism,” in Feldman’s phrase, but also its seeming “heartlessness”. But wouldn’t Judaism be seen as equally heartless were it to require that Jews, as well, not be treated in violation of Shabbos? The fact is that the Talmud in Yoma exerts itself greatly to find Scriptural justification for precisely that permit.

Moreover, the Torah indeed does adjure Jews to render their lives forfeit rather than transgress several enumerated sins. In Judaism, we don’t call that heartlessness; we call it, rather, recognition that there are ideals for which it’s worth forfeiting even precious, albeit temporal, earthly existence, a notion which, as it happens, any society that sends its men out to war apparently subscribes to as well.

Thirdly, Boteach writes as if the entire discussion of suspending Shabbos for the saving of life in Yoma and elsewhere in Shas and the commentaries thereon doesn’t exist, and so his writing, as a halachic discussion, can’t possibly be taken seriously. His conjecture that the “Talmud’s discussion, therefore, centered on whether brutal, gentile oppressors like Roman centurions . . . ought to be saved on the Sabbath” is an incredibly narrow reading of this halacha to make without supporting sources — and Meiri isn’t one of them.

Lastly, I would be keenly interested to learn the source for his statement that “Judaism is the only religion that does not actively proselytize people outside the faith because we do not believe that a non-Jew upgrades his existence by becoming a Jew.” I’ve never seen a rationale remotely resembling that one for our discouragement of conversion.

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50 comments to The Elephant and the Non-Jewish Problem – Part I

  • Steve Brizel

    WADR, this article misses the mark. No less than RSZA paskened that all patients at Shaarei Tzedek were to receive the same quality of care on Shabbos-regardless of their faith. Whether one views the universal rationale of the Divine Image of mankind or the more particularistic view of Mishum Aivah as the rationale, the simple facts are a Jewish doctor must treat all patients in that situation with the same degree of care. I don’t think that engaging in a process of Darshaning Taamah Dkra ( seeking a rationale for a mitzvah) is a helpful process. FWIW, RYBS and the SE were both unhappy with the Mishum Aivah rationale for very different reasons. It is revisionism to insist otherwise. As far as R Boteach is concerned, since when does anyone regard his views as represntative of any section of Orthodoxy? I think that discussing his views serves no useful purpose.

  • Bob Miller

    My understanding is that the Written and Oral Torah can have more than one law apparently applicable to a given real-life situation. The laws in question can be complementary in that situation or one of them can take precedence over another. The judgment of our Torah sages is extremely important in deciding what applies, how it applies, and what is the order of precedence of the applicable laws.

    Consequently, the halachic system allows for cases where a given action may be allowed or required by our Torah sages even if some applicable law appears to point in the other direction.

    As an example, provision exists for a King of Israel to decree capital punishment in specific cases (analogous to imposing martial law), even though normal judicial requirements (such as two proper witnesses) are not met. His decree does not disrupt the law; it is part of the broad legal system.

    Enemies of the Jews and of our entire legal system often object to a law taken in isolation, not realizing (or not admitting) that other laws and considerations also apply, and that the latter may take precedence.

  • Tal Benschar

    Bravo Eytan. My reaction to both essays were similar. I look forward to your take on the issue.

    I am contemplating writing something on this myself, time permitting. But meanwhile, just to get the ball rolling, I want to point out something that no one has yet mentioned in the context of this discussion.

    As you point out, the Torah requires Jews to sacrifices their life for 3 mitzvos, plus kiddush Hashem. Less well known is the gemara in Sanhedrin which, acc. to most Rishonim, that for a Ben-Noach martyrdom is not required (Sanhedrin 74b -75a). This is for a case of AVODA ZARA! Presumably it would apply to all the 7 mitsvos bnei noach, except perhaps for shefichus damim (where there is a sevara mi amar etc.)

    So here we have an inequivalence in the other direction: a Jew is required to sacrifice his or her life to avoid idolatry, or sexual immorality (‘arayos), a gentile Ben Noach is not.

    Did the rabbis of the Talmud value gentile life over Jewish life? Is this cruel to Jews? The very suggestion is absurd.

  • Robert Mann

    Buddhism does not seek to convert others away from their faith. Indeed the Buddha turned away a student who wanted to leave another teacher the Buddha respected. In effect, he said “You’ve got a very good teacher. There is no reason to change. You should stay with him.”

    Interestingly, many American Buddhists come from Jewish and Catholic backgrounds. My speculation is that the intellectual honesty of Buddhist teachings, the absence of required dogma and superstition at the heart of Buddhism, and the preservation of a sense of the sacred, both in rituals and everyday life, are major attractions to these groups, who for whatever reasons are not satisfied or sustained any more by the creeds they were raised with.
    Interestingly, Many Buddhist say they have MORE rather than less respect for other religions/paths than when they had when they took up meditative Buddhism. A fundamental Buddist teaching, recorded on Empereor Asoka’s stone pillars in India, is to look for what is good in other religions and to respect it.

  • JosephW

    Thank You, Mr. Kobre for setting things straight.
    Rabbi Lamm’s statement that our “new moral sensitivities” cause halachists to create changes (or “develop” it) is untrue. The implication that G-d’s torah is in any way morally insensitive is unconscionable, and contradicts the fundamental principle of our faith of the perfection of the torah. (Rabbinic laws have nothing to do with progressive moralities, but everything to do with progressive human frailities.) And yes, I have read Rabbi Lamm’s essay in the original.
    Rabbi Boteach’s statement that “we do not believe that a non-Jew upgrades his existence by becoming a Jew” seems to me to be totally off base, and I would appreciate anyone who can cite sources concerning it.
    One further point: The concept of “mipnei eivah” which IS the source for the halacha to save a non-Jew’s life, might also be relevant concerning our attitude when communicating this issue to non-jews. This might be the explanation for the misinfomation being imparted in response to the Feldman article. However the famous Maharshal in Bava Kama must be kept in mind: Although one is permitted to refrain from communicating potentially harmful details of torah, one may not, under any circumstances (“yaharog v’al yaavor”) communicate a false statement explicitly.

  • mycroft

    The concept of “mipnei eivah” which IS the source for the halacha to save a non-Jew’s life,

    according to many but far from all. There are those who have written differently since before Noah Feldman was born!!!

  • Ori Pomerantz

    In cases when there is doubt for Pikuach Nefesh (risk to life), you break the Shabbat. I assume that include cases when you don’t know if the person is Jewish or not – correct?

    We’ve had significant assimilation in the diaspora. You might know that Roberto Carlos has no known connection to Judaism. Do you know who his maternal grandmother was? Or her mother? Do you know if his ancestor in a direct maternal line in 1500 was one of the conversos (Jews who converted to Catholicism rather than be exiled from Spain)? Or if his ancestor in 70 had been a young girl, taken as captive when Judea fell, who chose to emulate her captors and eventually married another slave?

    If any of Roberto’s ancestors in a direct maternal line was Jewish, our hypothetical Roberto would be Halachically Jewish as well. Wouldn’t this obligate you to save his life? Since you don’t know, wouldn’t the possibility be enough to obligate you?

  • joel rich

    Rabbi Lamm’s statement that our “new moral sensitivities” cause halachists to create changes (or “develop” it) is untrue. The implication that G-d’s torah is in any way morally insensitive is unconscionable, and contradicts the fundamental principle of our faith of the perfection of the torah. (Rabbinic laws have nothing to do with progressive moralities, but everything to do with progressive human frailities.)
    ===========================================
    We may be dealing with semantics but how would you classify our transition to monogamy for males as well as females?
    KT

  • Bob Miller

    Regarding Comment by Robert Mann — August 25, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

    Statues of Buddha (for example) represent idolatry. We do not tolerate idolatry whatsoever, hovever nice we may be. An idolator ought to respect Jews since we’re right and they’re wrong on this critical point.

  • yy

    Rabbosai —

    I’ve been holding back for weeks and weeks and now R’ Eytan and his commentators have pushed me just too far!

    The Mishna at hand was the source of my first serious religious crisis. It happened over 20 years ago during my first year of formal Torah learning. I was 23. At that time I was a grand philosopher in the making; searcher of cross-cultural wisdoms; student of Comparative Religion; dabbler into Chassidic truth. It was during the dark ages of pre-Artscroll. In fact there was nary a reliable English translation available, besides the fact that many Gdoilim were discouraging ANY translations. “Learn it INside” was the mantra.

    Then I bumped into that Mishna.

    I was profoundly let down; wildly determined to get to the bottom of it. “Now how in the world would all those nice frummies justify THIS,” I could hear my Y. HaRa snickering while my Neshama was plunging ever deeper into despair. I really wanted to believe that the imagery of the goy stuck under the rubble pleading for me to help him by shifting around a few rocks with me sighing “sorry, it’s Shabbos” was just not pshat. But the more I checked it out, the worse it got!

    Until.

    The next Shabbos I was a guest of a certain Chassidic figure. As we were walking together after the meal, I sprang it on him. I let him know how deeply concerned I am to hear to full truth and nothing but. He turned to me, with scathing love, and said very curtly: “If you ooonly knew the kedusha of Shabbos! If you ooonly knew you wouldn’t ask. For it’s not about evaluating one type of life or another. It’s ALL about Shabbos. SHAAAAAAAbbos! The question is whether there’s any reason here to justify desecrating the holy Shabbos, with the conlusion being that for a Jew there is since the likliness is great that he’ll be around next week for keeping Shabbos. If so, than Shabbos gains. SHAAABBOS! That’s all we’re concerned for. The non-Jew has nothing to contribute to holy Shabbos and therefore it’s simply not an option to desecrate Shabbos for saving him.”

    As I was absorbing this, he looked deeply into my eyes and then added: “You should know that G-d and only G-d decides when someone should die. We’re not talking here about playing G-d to decide who should live or not. Rather, are only concern is whether there’s a Mitzvah to be His messenger. In the case of Shabbos, that Mitzvah only pertains to Jews. Unless, of course, there’s a danger that NOT saving the goy will endanger other Jews.

    If that was the case, then Shabbos would truly suffer!

  • Reuven Wolf

    I agree with Steve that no useful purpose is served by bringing up Boteach’s absurd views on this blog. The one dubious purpose it does serve is to give him more material to add to the feature on his website called “Shmuly in the Press”. [Some might say that threads on a obscure (to the wider world) blog don't qualify as "press", but with an obvious egomaniac like Shmuly Boteach, you never know.] Whether you agree or (as I often do) disagree with Rabbi Lamm’s positions, he doesn’t deserve the insult of being mentioned in the same post as Shmuly Boteach. Rabbi Lamm is a Talmid Chochom who, by virtue of his scholarship, has earned the right to have his arguments debated on their merits. Shmuly Boteach is no Talmid Chochom, and nothing he has said or done (or written) in his public career warrants his off-base ideas even being given a hearing. The reason he provides no sources in his JP article for his absurd contentions is that he cannot; no such sources exist. A visit to his website will make clear even to someone unfamiliar with his history of outrageous views that he simply hungers for publicity, and this explains his willingness to be “megalah panim b’Torah shelo k’halacha” (misinterpret basic Jewish beliefs and practices) in order to ingratiate hinmself with contemporary secular society. I apologize to the readership for not keeping my comment within the bounds of civil debate, but Boteach is an embarrasment to Chabad, and to Orthodoxy in general.

  • Charles B. Hall

    Regarding Mr. Mann’s comment: It is true that a huge fraction of American Buddhists are halachically Jewish. A major teaching of Buddhism, one that attracts many, is its admonition to follow a middle path in most aspects of life. I have enjoyed showing many Jewish Buddhists Rambam’s Hilchot De-ot in which he says almost exactly the same thing, and every single one has expressed surprise that this is not only a part of the Jewish tradition. It is indeed not just a part of the tradition but a central teaching according to the most important Jewish philosopher since the giving of the Torah, brought down as absolute halachah in his law code. Would that they had heard about it from their teachers when they were young!

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Statues of Buddha (for example) represent idolatry

    I don’t think so. Buddhists don’t really pray to Buddha, nor believe that his spirit is responding to their activities. They revere someone who once lived for pointing out the way to live. To the best of my knowledge, such a belief is not halachically avodah zarah, especially according to the criteria of the Chazon Ish.

    There are forms of Buddhism that combine Chinese spirit worship with Buddhism, and they likely do fall under the rubric of avodah zarah. I figure of the four-headed Buddha is more likely an avodah zarah icon than the familiar one-headed variety.

    OTOH, most Buddhists whom I have enountered don’t believe in any god, R”L. I think more Jews should take seriously the notion (found in seforim for many hundreds of years) that atheism is worse than idolatry.

  • Jew

    I am in the situation you discuss on a regular basis. You are absolutely crazy to discuss this in an open forum, as are the other people who have commented on the subject in the media. The holocaust was not so long ago. I would write more, but it’s best not discussed.

  • Jew

    You are making a huge mistake in treating a visceral topic as an intellectual one.

  • mycroft

    I think more Jews should take seriously the notion (found in seforim for many hundreds of years) that atheism is worse than idolatry

    Maybe for a non Jew-but not for a Jew.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    While I do think that it would be in the best interests of all concerned for a clarification to be made in an appropriate forum(perhaps people should discuss it privately with Rabbi Lamm), one needs to appreciate the difficulty and responsibility of explaining such halachos for a general audience. I did prefer Rabbi Shalom Carmy’s article in the Kol Hamevaser blog, which seems to be similar, or the same, as the thrust of the contemporary rosh yeshivah’s comments quoted in Jonathan Rosenblum’s Yated article.

    I hope that leaders from all parts of the Orthodox world will come together to examine the Feldman Affair for any darchei shalom aspects that need to be addressed, as well as for our own meaningful avodas Hashem, for example, the fulfillment of the mandate of “sh’yhei sheim shomayim misahiev al yadecha”, as a manifestation of Jewish universalism.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    yy, would you desecrate the Shabbat to save a non-observant Jew? If so, would you do it in the hope that the Jew would become a Ba’al Teshuva and start observing Shabbatot? By the same token, the gentile might decide to convert, and thus contribute to Shabbat.

  • Doron Beckerman

    R’ Eytan writes:
    “Briefly, I don’t believe that the notion that “scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities to preserve the text of the original law in its essence, and yet make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities” accords with normative Orthodox Jewish belief.”

    Well, it sure wasn’t the belief of the Chazon Ish. In his letter (Igros Chazon Ish I:96) to R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer, regarding a suggestion to institute a Takanah (based on Hefker Beis Din Hefker, no doubt) that males and females should inherit equally, he writes:

    “It is my wish here to inform you of my great distress of an alien thought which hovers in the air of our Land to make new Takanos which are in opposition to the Torah which is in our hands now, and my heart dictates that this is a cause for the destruction of Emunah in the hearts of the believers of Israel, since Kefirah and Minus in the Ikvesa D’Meshicha are rampant…

    The weak ones (in Emunah) of our generation surrender to the heretics and enjoy finding favor in the eyes of the heretic, with an attendant weakness of Emunah, for he is not a zealot, and not an idler; he knows that one needs to concede prohibitions in vital matters, and to find Hetterim when present life dictates it, and the heretic rejoices over his victory, and indeed scorns in his heart this phony believer.

    It is proper, rather, for every believer to return to his faith when he hears a demand of complete Kefirah that they should say that a daughter should inherit with a son, which the Sages already fought with the Sadducees about, and to our amazement the hearts are sealed, and instead of forcefulness of mind and courage of spirit to stand as an upright rock, with a firm faith that justice is unto the L-rd, and that so we have received from the A-mighty, Ruler of all Creation, Master of the earth, we find those whose minds are meek, and they seek contrivances to prostrate before this heresy and to leave justice in Choshen Mishpat, but, in practice, to act as all the Nations that a daughter and son shall inherit alike, and to give glory to our enemies that, indeed, the law of inheritance in the Torah is not appropriate for an enlightened Nation, a complete admission to the abomination of heresy, woe to ears that hear such.”

  • Moshe Hillson

    About 20 years ago, I heard a lecture from a prominent pediatrician in Jerusalem dispelling the myth that Torah supposedly contradicts Science. He showed that, in each issue, there was either a misresentation of the Torah’s view, or that the issue was in hot dispute among scientists themselves.

    He then continued: “There is an issue that no one raises, but in which the Halacha does go against contemporary conventional thought…”
    Guess which issue it was – the issue of this thread.

    The lecturer said (and I unfortunately don’t remember in whose name) that in each realm of science or thought, there must always remain least one issue in which the Torah’s view remains transcendent of human concepts – to remid us that the Torah is G-dly, and not human wisdom.

    The most noteworthy aspect of this story is – that this pedictrician is a Ger Tzedek (Gentile convert to Judaism).

  • Harry Maryles

    One elephant that hasn’t left the room, …the halacha that requires suspension of melacha proscriptions on Shabbos to save the life of a Jew but not that of a non-Jew.

    You want to make sure based on this essay that the world knows that we Jews only value our own lives enough to violate the Sabbath. And you do your level best to dismiss any argument to the contrary.

    What you do with this article is make a mockery of Judaism and make its morals seem inferior to that of our secular hosts whom Rabbi Feinstein who has called America a Medina Shel Chesed… a compassionate country. Your rhetoric makes the Torah look like an inferior moral document. Non Jews do not consider themselves to be superior to Jews or anyone else. They will treat all of mankind equally. To them all human life is treated the same. The vast majority of medical professionls look blindly at the religious faith of their patients. But Jews only look at other Jews that way. And you want to make sure anyone who reads your blog knows that!

    And that’s the truth isn’t it? How many Jews would have acted like the Chasidei Umos HaOlam during the holocaust? How many of them would have risked their lives and those of their families to save a non Jew? Indeed, would have even been permitted for a Jew to do so? We would be forbidden to do so, wouldn’t we! Yet if a non Jew does it we praise him. And those who did not risk their lives for us are accused of complicity for just standing idly by while our people were systematically slaughtered.

    How is your post enlightening the nations? What exactly have you contributed to the public discourse? …or to your people Israel?

    Instead of writing words that will enlighten and inspire the nations to the word of God you are making a mockery of the Torah with essays like this.

    Look at Bava Metzia in the Talmud Yerushalmi and see what Shimon Ben Shetach said with respect to the Halacha of Hashavas Aveida to a Pagan merchant.

    He was unconcerned with the letter of the law that would have benefited him financially to a great extent. He was far more concerned that complying with the letter of the law would be looked at as an act of barbarism! He taught his students wisely. He wanted the nations to say ‘Blessed is the God of the Jews! Instead of making sure that the nations will praise God through His people as Shimon Ben Shetach admonished his Talmidim to do, you have done exactly the opposite!

    Dr. Lamm’s approach is one valid one and Rabbi Boteach’s is another. You say you have problems with their approach? Perhaps the problem is with you.

  • Raphael Kaufman

    YY’s logic is faulty. It is a both a positive commandment and a benefit to Klal Yisrael for a non-observant Jew to do teshuvah. There is no requirement nor any benefit that accrues to a Gentile upon conversion.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Raphael Kaufman, I think the logic you fault is mine in my reply to yy. The point I was making is that a non observant Jew is unlikely to do teshuvah and start observing Shabbat, just as a gentile is unlikely to become a Ger Tzedek. The fact that there is a commandment for the non observant Jew to do teshuvah is irrelevant, since s/he does not accept the commandments.

    Therefore, if you save the life of a Jew only because s/he will be able to keep Shabbat, it doesn’t make sense to save the lives of somebody non observant like me who is unlikely to do it. If you would save me because I might do teshuvah, you should also save the gentile who might convert. Both are unlikely events.

  • Chaim Wolfson

    Ori,
    Unlikely event? Hardly! You are the last person we’d give up on. I look forward to hosting you and your family for Shabbos in the not-to-distant future. The guest rooms are ready and waiting.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Chaim Wolfson, thank you – but given what a wonderful blessing my wife (a gentile) has been in my life, it would be really hard to convince me that G-d wants me to observe Halacha.

    BTW, where are you and how much room do you have? With the kids there are six of us.

  • Shaya Karlinsky

    In comment 5, JosephW quotes Shmuely Boteach:
    “we do not believe that a non-Jew upgrades his existence by becoming a Jew”
    and comments:
    “seems to me to be totally off base, and I would appreciate anyone who can cite sources concerning it.”

    After reading the mind-numbing quantity of absolute distortions that SB has written, I agree with many writers on this forum that even responding to his nonsense — and referring to him as a “Rabbi” — creates some level of credibility that is not appropriate. However, “Torah hee, v’lilmod anu tzrichim” so the request for sources shouldn’t be left unanswered.

    There are many, and I would suggest that our learned moderator, Rabbi Adlerstein, catalog them. But here are a few that are immediately available to me.

    Ramchal in Derech HaShem Section 2, Chapter 4 discusses the issue of the differences between the Jewish nation and the other seventy nations. The entire chapter should be studied, but in paragraph 5 he discusses the chance given to the nations to accept the Torah, as did the Jewish nation, thereby elevating itself from the lower spiritual state caused by Adam’s sin. After all other nations rejected this last opportunity, “It still remained possible for any individual… to convert and enter, through his personal free choice, under the ‘tree’ of Avraham Avinu,” which enables ones descendants to be part of the elevated level discussed in the first part of that chapter.

    You should also see paragraph 7, about the difference between the Jewish souls and non-Jewish souls in the World To Come, as well as paragraph 9. (I refraining from providing direct quotes on a google-searchable blog :-).)

    The Maharal in Netzach Yisrael is “peppered” with sources to refute SB. I will list a few, which also reference explicit verses in the Torah. (These verses are one of the reasons that X-tian theology, which believes in the Divinity of the Torah, needed to render the Jewish people “unchosen, ” and in fact Netzach Yisrael was written to refute that claim.)

    Entire Ch. 2, Ch. 10 (paragraph beginning “vod tavin”), Ch. 11 fist part, and also the last part of the chapter. (For verses in the Torah, see Devarim 7:6, 14:1,2; Shemot 4:22, and commentaries.) There are many other sources in Netzach, as well as in Gevuros HaShem.

    The thesis is fundamental to Judaism and what our sources teach us is clear. (In stating otherwise, SB reveals either his complete ignorance, or his willingness to lie in order to find favor in the eyes of his readers.) However, we need to think carefully about how to present this core belief in an egalitarian world. While I don’t have an answer, I am sure that the pages of the popular press is NOT the forum.

  • Bob Miller Fan

    “How is your post enlightening the nations? What exactly have you contributed to the public discourse? …or to your people Israel?

    Instead of writing words that will enlighten and inspire the nations to the word of God you are making a mockery of the Torah with essays like this.”

    Apparently we are living in a post-enlightenment age.

  • Bob Miller

    Regarding “Comment by Bob Miller Fan — August 28, 2007 @ 7:26 am”

    As part of my spiritual housecleaning this month, I hereby give my absolute and total forgiveness to anyone who has claimed to be my fan.

    Such people’s misplaced priorities in becoming my fans must have been due to factors outside their control.

  • Tal Benschar

    Apparently, some here think that ziuf ha Torah is permitted so that some will think well of us. I think the Yam Shel Shlomo thought otherwise. (And even those who hold it is not yehareg v’al ya’avor do not hold it is permitted!)

    What next? Are we now going to censor the gemara in Avodah Zara that discusses mishum eivah? Sorry, not very enlightened.

    Harry, when you have calmed down, could you please explain the Gemara in Sanhedrin I cited above? As a Jew I feel discriminated against. Is my life less valuable than a goy? Why must I give up my life to avoid idolatry, when he does not? Really, you think God cares so much? Especially when a coerced act of idolatry is really an empty exercise (which is why in fact Rava holds one is patur, but that is another story).

  • Mark

    Mr. Marylis,

    Perhaps you missed where Eytan wrote, “In my intended Part II of this post, I hope to share a differing perspective on the subject.” How do you know what he’ll say that caused you to make all these allegations against him?

    Furthermore, someone as opinionated and thoughtful as you ought to know better than to merely state: “Dr. Lamm’s approach is one valid one” and refuse to explain why. I believe Mr. Kobre deserves a bit more respect than you’ve shown him.

  • Steve Brizel

    Tal-Like it or not, the Talmud offers both rationales with respect to Pikuach Nefesh and Gdolim such as RYBS and the SE in different contexts expressed their discomfort with the rationale of Mishum Aivah. WADR, one cannot invoke Ziuf HaTorah to deny the fact that botb rationales exist. However, whatever the rationale is, that offers no practical halachic ramifications today.

  • Tal Benschar

    Steve — could you give a citation from the Talmud that has any rationale other than mishum eivah? Not acharonim, the Talmud.

    Your argument that “whatever the rationale, that offers no practical halakhic ramification today” is simply incorrect. There are many scenarios one can imagine (one of which I even discussed on a prior thread — the issue of organ donation, which involves other issurim) which do not involve eivah.

    RSZA’s psak related to Shaarei Tzedek Hospital — a world famous institution located in the capital of Israel. That does not exhaust the possible scenarios that are halakha le maaseh.

  • Tal Benschar

    “WADR, one cannot invoke Ziuf HaTorah to deny the fact that botb rationales exist.” Comment by Steve Brizel

    That was not why I invoked Ziuf ha Torah. I was negating apologetics which often descend into Ziuf ha Torah.

    And BTW, can you offer any justification for this thought:

    “Why, then, can you not be as generous to Jewish law, and appreciate that certain biblical laws are unenforceable in practical terms, because all legal systems — including Jewish law — do not simply dump their axiomatic bases but develop them. Why not admire scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities to preserve the text of the original law in its essence, and yet make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities?”

    Assuming the writer really meant what he wrote (which some have claimed otherwise), is this Orthodoxy?

    And BTW, apart from whatever hashkafic problems there are with this, as an analogy it is dead wrong.

    The U.S Constitution originally provided for slavery. Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person, and the right to import slaves was protected until a certain date. (1820 I believe.) In retrospect, quite embarassing, morally speaking.

    Yet how was this changed? Through scholarly sophistry? No, through a Constitutional Amendment (or perhaps Amendments).

    Makes the asserted process of “scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities” to ” make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities” seem rather intellectually dishonest, no?

  • yy

    ORI — sorry for the delay in responding (tech. glitch).

    Let me stress from the outset that your interest in what *I* would do is a quite seperate issue from appreciating the integrity of Torah law. We are complex beings, with many experiences that obstruct our ability to act on the truth we know. As “Jew” noted (#14, 15), this is indeed one topic that gets into everyone’s craw. So in all honesty, let us distinguish between what we MIGHT do vs. what is the truly CORRECT thing to do.

    As a little example, I was once teaching high level English to a group of secular Israeli teenagers, discussing an article about the morality of a mother carrying a fetus that was expected to die within 2 weeks. Should she be able donate the live, severely deformed newborn to science? The class was divided. So we began to consider the issue on a scale of higher lifespan expectation; like 6 months, a year, 2 years, etc. EVERYone conlcuded that it all boils down to when we fix that actual human life takes place. Once that pt is reached, all agreed that an inestimable Gift had been given that no human has the right to forfeit, no matter how lofty the theoretical alternative.

    Still — go and say that to a mother (like the one in the article was about to be) who gave birth to a terribly deformed “vegatable” who has convinced herself that giving his eyes, kidneys and heart to science somehow makes the whole ordeal worthwhile!!

    So too, I can tell you that I have had the honor of knowing and loving many wonderful gentiles and respectively do not know how I’d react at the moment of seeing one of them struggling underneath a pile of rubble on Shabbos. Yet I do know — as a faithful and somewhat learned Jew — that it would not be right, in the ultimate scheme of things, for me to use the intervening medicine, as it were, of desecrating Shabbos to save them (i.e. 2000 yrs ago when that Halacha had yet to recieive political emmendations).

    Ultimately, of course, this really only works if one truly believes what that Rav told me about trusting that it is G-d and only G-d who takes lives. Certainly when no human being intervenes.

    As to how a non-Shabbos committed Jew qualifies for being saved vs. a gentile who might be contemplating conversion, I can only repeat what others have tried to share with you on a Hlachic plane about the mystically wondrous power of the Jewish soul to truly want Mitzvos even as he conciously fights them. That does NOT mean H’ necessarily loves him more. To die under a Shabbos rubble as a faithful goy might earn a far greater Eden than a rebellious Jew will get.

    Hence, once again, the issue is not about evaluating the ultimate worth of lives, but about honoring Shabbos.

  • Rabbi Zvi

    It seems to me that many people are taking R’ Lamm’s words out of context. His wording was chosen in order to couch his argument in legalistic terms, not to give an halachic explanation. He was pointing out Mr. Feldman’s inconsistency in his treatment of legal systems regarding the development and application of law.

    I wonder about the Eytan Kobre’s judgment however, when he criticizes R’ Lamm as not according “with normative Orthodox Jewish belief.” and yet allowing that Boteach does accord with normative belief.

  • Mark

    Rabbi Zvi,

    Where did you read that Eytan allowed that “Boteach accords with normative belief?” I don’t believe he said any such thing? Did I miss those words in his post or do believe that he inferred it?

  • Ori Pomerantz

    yy, thank you for your answer.

    yy: We are complex beings, with many experiences that obstruct our ability to act on the truth we know.

    Ori: I think this is the point I’m having such difficulty with – having rules that contradict normal human morality (which I think is innate, we can argue about that if you disagree), and believing that those rules are the true morality and everything else is only good as much as it conforms to them.

    Logically, I understand that this is implicit in believing that:

    1. G-d exists.
    2. G-d is good.
    3. You have a copy of the rules G-d gave.

    Emotionally, this concept is so foreign to me it’s hard to even think about its implications.

    yy: Ultimately, of course, this really only works if one truly believes what that Rav told me about trusting that it is G-d and only G-d who takes lives. Certainly when no human being intervenes.

    Ori: Yet if the same rubble pile happened on Sunday, we wouldn’t think for a moment that G-d wanted to kill the gentile – we’d all be there with our shovels, digging him/her out.

  • Steve Brizel

    Tal-the constitutional amendments ( 13th-15th Amendments) that you refer to were and remain evidence of how America wrestled with slavery at the Constitutional Convention, endured debate and a bloody Civil War and then recognized that slavery was immoral. I don’t see an analogy at all with a sugya in which multiple rationales are offered and which have zero practical halachic ramifications.

  • yy

    … QUALITY of what he gave, in moral terms. That is, the Alm-ghty picked up an ulterior motive in his sacrifice and respectively instructed him to try again. Yet Cain was offended. How dare ANYone judge the quality of his sacrifice! Didn’t the fact that it was a sacrifice speak for itself? It certainly FELT right to him and thus, he reasoned, it SHOULD be so! Abel paid the price…

    Next, as far as big dramas go,comes Noach (not Feldman!). There are a number of fascinating Rashy’s that reveal that Noach wasn’t so pure after all. A few times he didn’t 100% heed to G-d’s instructions, but factored in his own morality. Like when he was supposed to reproach the rabble rousers and enter the Ark. Then there was the way he reacted to the family member who maimed him during his drunkeness by cursing him. Mankind, Noach’s children, have never stopped paying the price for that egregarious act of doing one’s OWN morality.

    Then comes Avraham. His WHOLE life was about learning morality — *on G-d’s terms* and, slowly but surely, adapting his sensitivities to it. You thought this only began when he argued about the Destruction of Sdom and lost? Or when he tried to fulfill that terrible, horrible Command to sacrifice Isaac? Nope. It actually began with his very first Mitzvah: Lech-lcha. G-d tells him to pilgrimage, to leave “home” forever, and he’ll be rewarded accordingly. Yet the verse tells us he did what G-d said not out of any interest in that reward but merely because it was “as G-d Commanded.”

    The rest is history.

    Yes, Ori, on Sunday every faithful Jew would do his very best to save every single human being. Asumming, that it is, it wan’t Yom Kippur!

  • Doron Beckerman

    Yes, Ori, on Sunday every faithful Jew would do his very best to save every single human being. Asumming, that it is, it wan’t Yom Kippur!

    No need for that assumption. Yom Kippur can’t fall out on a Sunday :)

  • yy

    ORI — re. my last comment, the first part got somehow obliterated in bloggerspace! I tried to continue in a second comment, thinking both would appear together. I hope you can make sense of it. Email me if you’d like to do this exchange more thoroughly (nbelieve@zahav.net.il)

    yy

  • Chaim Wolfson

    “No need for that assumption. Yom Kippur can’t fall out on a Sunday”.
    Rabbi Beckerman, Yom Kippur could (maybe) fall out on Sunday in Shanghai, no (or is it Friday)? Then again, so could Shabbos.

    Ori (re: #25),

    Of course G-d wants you to observe Halachah! The question is if you want to observe Halachah, and I’m far from convinced that the answer is no.

    I live in the Northeast, by the way, and space is not a problem. It would do my kids good to sleep on the floor and learn to appreciate the mitzvah of “hachnasas orchim”.

  • Tal Benschar

    Ori: There is a straightforward halakhic answer to your question. Safeik pikuach nefesh does not mean that sheer speculation about a slight possibility of saving a life is sufficent to set aside prohibitions of Shabbos.

    A non-Jew is not only not obligated to keep Shabbos, he is forbidden to do so. Furthermore, he can keep the 7 mitzvos bnei Noach and be considered one of the Chassidei Umos ha Olam — he can be completely righteous in God’s eyes without keeping Shabbos. So there is no particular reason to believe that a non-Jew might one day convert and keep Shabbos. Might happen, might not.

    Not so a “non-religious” Jew, who is obligated to keep Shabbos, and we can always hope that deep down he may be inspired to return to the Torah which is the heritage of the Jewish people.

  • Tal Benschar

    Steve Brizel:

    It is not I who analogized the halakhic process to development of other legal systems, it was Dr. Lamm.

    My point is that the analogy is a false one. When secular legal systems want to change, they are straightforward about it. No legal scholar is going to deny that slavery was a legal institution in America circa 1787 (or for that matter 1860). The country changed its mind — in this particular case with tremendous upheavel leading to civil war. But there was no pretense of using legal technicalities to update the law in light of new moral sensitivities.

    You ipse dixit that there is no nafka mina I do not accept — there are plenty of them.

    And I am still waiting for a Talmudic source as the alternative to mishum eivah.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Chaim, I’m not so sure what G-d wants. I know what the Torah says, but I do not know that the Torah, as we have it, is all Divine Revelation (the Rambam’s 8th principle). I know people who claim it is, but I also know people who claim that that it is distorted (= Muslim), or out of date (= Christians). I have yet to see any side show very strong evidence.

    It would be a relief in many ways to know what G-d wants me to do, it would help me guide my life. However, wanting to know an answer does not mean that you know it. And in this case, I really don’t want to lose my wife. I’d need very strong evidence to change my mind about that.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    PS, thank you for your offer of hospitality, but we live in Texas. It’s a long drive to the Northeast, especially for the babies and toddler.

  • JosephW

    I asked earlier in the comments for sources disproving Boteach’s statement “we do not believe that a non-Jew upgrades his existence by becoming a Jew”. Thank you Rabbi Karlinsky for responding. And in the meantime I noticed a passuk while doing shnayim mikra: “u’lsitcha elyon al kol hagoyim” (26;19), translate it however you’d like. It’s Boteach’s exact words – inverted.

  • Avi

    I’d like to offer an original take on this problem. Perhaps the value of Sabbath is greater than any person, even a Jew. We desecrate the Sabbath to save a Jew only becasue he will observe other Shabbosos (Shabbos 151b; Yoma 151a). A gentile, however, will not observe other Shabbosos and thus is not saved. This in effect levels the playing field and removes the racist aspect. [Even those who offer other reasons for desecrating the Sabbath may agree to this principle philosophocally.]

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Avi, what does Halacha tell us about desecrating the Shabbat to save the life of a Jew who is condemned to death and scheduled to be executed on Thursday? Such a Jew will not keep any more Shabbats.

  • Avi

    [It really is Yoma 85a-b.] If this is the reason, then one in fact would not save the life. See Halachos Katanos 2:38. Biur Halachah 329:4 ["ela lefi sha'ah"], however, cites meiri who says that the same applies in any case because he might be mekayeim any mitzvah. hence it is the possibility of kitum mitzvos that overrides Shabbos – not the Jewish soul per se. [See however Biur halachah there who argues with meiri. At any rate, this answer is much better than the aforementioned apologetics.]