Friday, December 3, 2010

So What About Everyone Else?

Please allow me to briefly interrupt this series with a tefillah for the safety of our fellow Jews and human beings that are in harms way in the Haifa area as a result of this terrible forest fire.  May the Ribbono Shel Olam comfort the grieving families of those who have perished, may He restore to good health those that have been injured, may He restore the lives of those who have lost their homes, property, and possessions, and may He give strength to those heroic people who are working to control the blaze, and restore life to the Haifa region.  May all of us accept upon ourselves, in the zechus of the many victims of this fire, to be more compassionate in all of our dealings with all fellow human beings.

We are now going to continue with our analysis to the next obvious question.  In our last post we essentially extended the obligation to save life on shabbos to non-Jews by two halachic mechanisms.  However, both of these opinions are based on the assertion that today's gentiles are to be contrasted with the idol worshippers of the time of the Chazal.  Whether we take the Meiri's approach that they are included in "Am Sheitcha beTorah uveMitzvos, or the approach of the other authorities that they are considered gerei toshav, our obligation to save their lives is dependent upon the fact that today's gentiles are part of a just and moral society.

This leads to the following question.  According to the Meiri, a just and moral society is by definition a monotheistic society. According to the other authorities, to give a gentile the status of a ger toshav, he would need to keep the seven Noahide laws, including the Laws concerning Avodah Zarah.  Let us assume that Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions. (The question of Christianity and avodah zarah is a major issue, but not one that i plan on dealing with here in this blog, as almost all of the authorities that we have mentioned until now do not consider Christianity to be avodah Zarah, at least for gentiles.  This can be due to their understanding of Christianity itself, or because Shituf is not prohibited for a non-Jew or some other rationale. In an article by David Berger, he has much difficulty accepting this, but we cannot deny the fact that the meiri and the other authorities explicitly did not consider Christianity to be avodah zarah).

So what about Hindus, Buddhists, other religions, and indeed even outright atheists that may still believe in and establish what we would otherwise consider moral and just societies?  Can we desecrate the Shabbos to save their lives as well?  After all, isn't belief in One God one of the seven basic Noahide Laws?

There are several ways to deal with this issue.

For the first approach I must give credit to a very thorough article by Rabbi David Berger, that you can access here.  See page 26 and 27 of his article where he presents Moshe Halbertals analysis of the meiri as follows.  It is clear from Halbertal's study of the Meiri that the reason why the Meiri felt that monotheism was necessary in order to treat gentiles equally was because non-monotheistic societies were corrupt and immoral.  There are references in the Meiri that suggest that he held that philosophers, who may not believe in God, but whose philosophical beliefs lead them to lead moral and just lives, that they would also be considered equal to Jews in the same way as monotheistic gentiles that do profess belief in monotheism.

Remember that the Meiri himself did NOT base his shita on the principal of Ger Toshav (despite the fact that many authorities might have understood the Meiri that way).  The principal of Ger Toshav would require the gentile to accept the idea of One Deity.  However, it is plausible, based on Halbertals extensive research, that the meiri would not have required monotheism for a gentile to get the privileges that he extended to monotheists.  Let me reiterate, that the Meiri did not believe that there could be such a thing as a society of simple masses that could be moral without a fundamental belief in a God that judges our actions and rewards and punishes our behavior accordingly.  He did however allow for the possibility of individual philosophers that may lead moral lives despite a lack of monotheism.  Had the Meiri been aware of modern non-Monotheistic societies that are moral and just, it is entirely plausible that he would have considered them to be worthy of all the privileges that he extended to the Muslims and Christians of his time.

I admit that this may seem at first glance to be a bit of an unjustified stretch of the Meiri's opinion. However, Rabbi Berger brings some strong support for this idea from an essay by HaRav Ahron Soloveitchik ZT'L.

Let me quote from Rabbi Berger's article:

The view that gentile behavior rather than theology determines how Jews should treat them is at least implicit in a relatively recent English essay by R. Ahron Soloveichik. He argues that love of other Jews must be blind, but love of gentiles, which he sees as an obligation expressed in the Rabbinic principle called “love of people” (ahavat ha-beriyyot), is grounded in the intellect and varies with the degree to whichgentiles lead moral lives and treat Jews decently. This position is spelled out more rigorously in his novellae to Sefer ha-Madda. Here he maintains that the discriminatory laws against non-Jews result only from their status as evildoers (their shem rasha). Non-Jews who behave righteously by following the six Noahide laws other than the prohibition against avodah zarah are not considered evil as long as their theological error was inherited, as the Talmud suggests about pagans in the diaspora, from their parents and is thus considered inadvertent or even a result of compulsion. It is worth quoting more fully R. Jacob Emden’s application of this talmudic dictum in a responsum to which R. Soloveichik alludes. “The Sages,” says the responsum, “declared, ‘The gentiles outside the Land of Israel are not worshippers of avodah zarah; rather, they follow the customs of their ancestors.Therefore their blood is precious in our eyes and would remain so even if we were ruling over them so that they were conquered under our control in our own land. After all, the Sages said—even with respect to full fledged idolaters--that one does not lower them into a pit. How much more is this so in the diaspora where we take refuge under their protection; we are, then, obligated to protect them with all our ability and save them from death and from any loss or damage to the point where even guarding their money should be a labor of love."(all italics are my own)
I will get back to Rav Y Emden in a minute, but here we have non other than HaRav Ahron Soloveitchik saying exactly what we had just thought might be too much of a stretch to attribute to the Meiri.  He clearly divorces the requirement of the seventh mitzvah (I do not mean to suggest that monotheism is the least important of the seven, just the seventh because according to haRav Soloveitchik's this approach it is not required for the purposes of being considered a moral person) of believing in One God from the equation necessary to be considered a good as opposed to an evil person.  According to HaRav Soloveitchik, any gentile who is not evil, whether or not he is a monotheist.  This makes our approach to the Meiri a little more palatable and real.

A second possible approach would be the approach of HaRav TH Chajes, the "Maharatz Chajes" ZT'L.  In his essay entitled Tiferes L'Yisrael he takes on this problem in a different way.  Let me digress for a second to encourage anyone who believes strongly in the imperative to treat all human beings equally to \please read this essay in its original.  If you ever wanted validation that your beliefs are well founded and well grounded in true Torah ideals - this essay will give you all the satisfaction that you need.

Remember that Rav Chajes held that today's gentiles are considered Gerei toshav, and therefore we are obligated to save their lives, even on shabbos.  But how could someone who worships Avodah Zarah (assuming that the gentile were non Muslim and non Christian - Rav Chajes explicitly does not consider Christianity to be avodah zarah for a gentile) be considered a Ger toshav?  So HaRav Chajes explains (my own translation):

See the Ramban in Parshas Acharei on the pasuk "VeLo Taki HaAretz...." who writes that [worship of other gods]  in conjunction ("beshituf") for non-Jews was only prohibited within the land of Israel ... and see Mor Uketziah by the Gaon R Y' Emden OC 224 the "shituf" is permitted to non-Jews ...and according to my opinion, This is what Chazal meant when they stated in Chulin 13b "The non Jews of outside Israel are worshipping "avodah zarah" in purity, as they are only following the customs of their forefathers (minhag avoseihem b'yedeihem") and see the Rambam in Peirush HaMishnayot first perek of Chulin on the Mishnah regarding ritual slaughter performed by a non-Jew who writes that there are two categories of Idol worshippers - those that are truly serving forms and talismans, and those that are simply following the customs of their forefathers ... and the intent of the Rambam is to say that [the second category of idol worshippers] truly intend to worship the God of Gods (Elokei Ha'elokim) but they simply mix into their worship other concepts...  
So according to HaRav Chajes, most other religious people today would really be considered monotheists for our purposes here, although they themselves may mix other foreign concepts into their worship.  I am not an expert in comparative religion, so i do not know how far it is realistic to extend this concept in contemporary times.  However, this is another way that this halachic authority extended the privileges of gerei toshav to all moral human societies.

If one carefully examines the words of Rav Y Emden that Rabbi Berger and Rav Soloveitchik brought, you will find that he seems to be saying exactly the same thoughts as HaRav Chajes, and he explicitly extends this to "full fledged idolators", and he applied the same principle of "minhag avoseihem b'yedeihem".

Let me add one more point, before I leave this post.  Regardless of which of the above approaches we take, even if it can be argued that there may still be some individuals or societies "out there" in today's world who would not qualify for this protection, we would still be allowed to save their lives on shabbos due to Eyvah.

So we can safely conclude that the Torah teaches us that even on shabbos we are obligated to save the life of any human being that is part of a society that is moral and just. However societies that are evil and corrupt we are only obligated to save their lives due to Eyvah. I think that sounds a lot different than what we thought the Torah taught us before we embarked on this mission.

In my next post, I will handle the following question: How important is this obligation to save non-Jewish lives?  As a physician, I am often told that I really should not be in the hospital on shabbos in the first place. In fact, some argue that it may not even be advisable to become a physician as it may one day require you to be in the hospital on shabbos.  Is this true?  Should I feel guilty about being there in the first place?  Have a great shabbos, and I will IY'H return next week with more.


  1. This series of posts have been excellent. These are issues that I have always struggled with and you did a beautiful job handling them. Toda Raba and keep it coming!!

  2. See the Biur Halacha on Siman 330 O"C who paskins that you may not desecrate Shabbos with a D'oraissa even for a Ger Toshav. Your theory that all civilized nations have the status of a Ger Toshav goes against the thrust of the great majority of Poskim. See for example the Bais Yosef's comments on the Tur C"M 249. See also the M"B O"C 330 number 8.

  3. R' Moshe;

    I know that most poskim do not agree with my approach. See earlier in the blog where I wrote:

    .."Virtually all important modern poskim agree (Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTL, Rav SZ Aurbach ZTL, Rav Waldenberg ZTL, Rav O Yossef Shlita and numerous others) that when push comes to shove, a Jewish physician can violate even an issur de'Oraysah to save a non-Jewish life. They come to this conclusion using some combination of the Chassam Sofer, Maharik, and Divrei Chaim......"

    Those opinions, as I explained in that post here, base the heter of treating a goy on eyvah. The entire purpose of my blog is to demonstrate a legitimate alternate halachic path. Although this is obviously not conventional, I exlain my reasoning clearly why I feel this approach is necessary, and why I felt a need to depart from the majority of poskim.

  4. Kol Kakavod! Immensely life/Torah affirming! Question: How do we define a "moral" society? The Greeks, for example, engaged in Euthanasia, along with being the source of Ethics. Follow-up question: Wouldn't allowing, in theory/philosophically, the death of such an "evil" person to die, itself be engaging in a kind of immoral behavior? Is death a viable or lechatchila consequence for these "evildoers?" Should we not save them and attempt some kind of rehabilitation? Thanks again for this blog- awesome!