I am really sorry that I have not posted in the last few weeks, but I want the readers of the blog to know that I have been working hard on this next topic. This is a subject that has been bothering me for quite some time. Let me share with you my personal history of my quest for an understanding of the halachos of treating non-Jews on shabbos. I am sharing this with you only because I believe that it will help you appreciate the full force of my arguments that I intend to put forth.
As a yeshiva graduate, newly armed with semicha and a few years of kollel behind me, I decided to go to medical school. I knew that treating patients on shabbos was going to be an important halachic issue so I made it my business to study the topic thoroughly so I would be ready to handle whatever situations I would encounter.
So I started by reading some articles and teshuvos, mostly in the Tzitz Eliezer and Igros Moshe to familiarize myself with some of the basics. I threw in a little bit of Nishmas Avrohom, Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, and other seforim, and reviewed a few contemporary halacha books that were available then. This was the beginning. I also had some long conversations with some contemporary poskim, who shall remain nameless only because I don't want it to sound like I am claiming that any of them would endorse my ideas that I will be expressing in this blog.
In my final year of medical school I had the opportunity to take off a few months to do some "electives", so i chose to learn in kollel (under the guise of studying "Jewish medical ethics") for a few months to study the relevant sugyos in shas, the rishonim, acharonim, and ultimately the shulchan aruch and acharonei haposkim on the topic of treating gentiles on shabbos. So I thought that I at least had a handle on the relevant issues, i had poskim to call if I needed help, and I was ready to go.
However, I wasn't really prepared at all for what eventually became the real issue for me. Stepping out into the "real world" forced me to think seriously about what moral and ethical messages the Torah had to teach me, my colleagues, my patients and indeed the entire world about what it means to be responsible to take care of people's lives.
There is SO much in the Torah to draw strength from, and starting with Verapo yerapey, veahavta lereiachah kamocha and on down, there was so much in the Torah for me to draw strength from and teach others. But I kept on hitting a big bump, nay, a big brick wall. Everywhere I turned, I hit a brick wall. what I believed in my heart, and what I learned in shulchan aruch kept on crashing into each other like a game of chicken where both contestants "win".
In my heart I knew that treating and saving a human life is the highest calling. In my heart I knew that Hashem wants me to do everything I can to take care of all human beings with equal compassion, equal concern, and treat everyone appropriately no matter who they may be. I knew it in my bones, I knew it in my heart. So why then does halacha distinguish between caring for a Jew and a non-Jew on Shabbos?
The more I spent my life caring for others, doing what i know Hashem wants from me, the less I was able to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory lessons that the Torah was teaching me.
Let me now be really honest. I have went through many stages before I came to the conclusions that i will be arguing in this series of blog posts.
Stage One) Not willing to God forbid throw out the Torah, I first thought that maybe my priorities were messed up. If the Torah teaches me something, then my set of values must be wrong! Maybe I am just absorbing foreign non_Torah values, and I need to learn the Torah-true values and accept them as the word of God. But I couldn't accept it. Sure, on many levels I know that we cannot accept every whim of modern society as a proper value system. Things like premarital sex, abortion on demand, and other issues shouldn't become acceptable to me just because modern society says so! But this issue was different. Something deep down inside of me told me that this value system was right. God would not want me to treat a goy or jew differently on shabbos.
Stage two) So maybe the Torah is wrong? Maybe i should get with the program and join the modern world! As scary as this thought was to me, I would be dishonest if I claimed that such thoughts never entered my mind. If God were to ask me why I rejected the Torah, my answer would be, because I believed that all of your children were created equal! If I burn in hell for that conviction, then go ahead and let me burn! As such thoughts percolated in my head, I was disgusted. It can't possibly be that the Torah really believes this way! It is too beautiful, too wonderful, too peaceful, too loving, and I just KNOW that what Hashem wants from me is to treat everyone with the same respect.
Stage three) So I spoke with people to whom I could trust my inner thoughts, and I studied numerous seforim which entertained these types of doubts. I turned to thinkers that I knew had grappled with these issues honestly, and remained faithful to the Torah. Thinkers like the Rambam in the sefer Moreh Nevuchim. Thinkers like Rav Kook and Rav SR Hirsch. Poskim like the Seridei Aish. I spoke with people who dealt with these issues openly and honestly, and eventually I realized that with study, discussion, honesty, and openness, the true beauty of the Torah will always shine forth.
Armed with this new approach, I learned something both wonderful and scary. I learned that what shines forth from the Torah may be something new and refreshing to me, but others often seem to find it difficult to accept. The famous "Slifkin Affair" was a watershed event for me. That is because R' Slifkin was a person who also was grappling with the same difficulties that I was, and he seemed to find a path that both satisfied his rationalistic personality , and remained faithful to the Torah. His area may have been zoology, the age of the universe and so on, while my area was medical halacha, but the issues were the same to me. When he got "shot down" by the chareidi establishment, I was "shot down" as well.
I have made it clear in this blog that I have set out to revisit the entire field of medical halacha in a rationalist way, and I have determined to do this unapologetically, and rely on the research that I have conducted. I will do this because I am a frum Jew, and i will always love the Torah. For the sake of God, for the sake of my children, and for the sake of every Jew and every human being who uses his or her own head when they think about these issues, I will offer a way to deal with these very difficult subjects. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In the upcoming posts i will attack the following fundamental question. Despite the fact that all contemporary poskim DO allow chillul shabbos to save ANY life, we know that this is generally considered a heter due to fear of reprisal, mishum ayvah or some other heter. If the halacha is an ethical guide to life in addition to just being a book of rules, how could it be that the fundamental principles that underlie the halacha are so contrary to what most of us would consider to be basic ethics? How could it be that the halacha only allows chillul shabbos to save the life of a Jew but not a gentile? Does this not run counter to our basic ethical instincts?
If you are not bothered by this ethical problem, then you probably should not be reading this blog. If it doesn't bother you, then our perspectives are so different from each other, that further dialogue will probably not be very productive. However, if this problem bothers you, then please read it, listen, and tell me what you think.