Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jews and Gentiles on Shabbat: A Rationalist Perspective

I must sincerely apologize once again for the length of time it's been since my last post, and for leaving all of my followers hanging in the middle of an important topic last year. I have been busy with so many things, good things, that I simply haven't had the time to post the kind of quality material that I would like to post on this blog.

So many people have asked me to get writing again, so i will try, but first I would like to release in public an article that has been waiting for publication for several years.  You may remember several years back when I posted a series on treating gentile patients on Shabbat.  During the last few years I have expanded on the subject and it developed into a full fledged article, which I believe is very important and I would like to release it.

Several scholarly journals have expressed an interest in publishing it, but since I am still anonymous, many were unwilling to do so.  However, as this article has anonymously made its rounds among the various Orthodox Journals, it has already spawned some level of opposition.  So I have the dubious distinction of having my detractors already publish responses to my ideas even before my ideas have seen the light of day.

In the spirit of Lehagdil Torah, I will now release the article, and I encourage all of you to disseminate it in whatever forums you believe are appropriate. If anyone would like a pdf version, or Word version of the article sent to them by email, feel free to send me an email and I would be happy to provide. I hope you enjoy it.

So here it is:

In this article I intend to address one of the most difficult dilemmas that I have had with my faith and belief system as a Jew.  Equal rights and equal treatment for all people, regardless of race, religion etc. is a value that is the basis of the society within which we live and function.  As a physician, this value is brought to life in a very real and practical way every day and every moment of my career.    To treat everyone equally with compassion and concern is the basic value which drives any caring physician to provide care as equitably and as justly as possible.

As a Shabbat-observant Jewish physician, this value becomes especially important when caring for my patients on Shabbat.  Trying to maintain the proper reverence for the special mitzvah of Shabbat, while at the same time doing things usually prohibited on Shabbat, is not an easy task.  However, there is no question that on Shabbat, a physician must treat his/her patients with the same compassion, energy and concern that one has on an ordinary weekday.

We are all familiar with the accepted Halachic practice that for matters pertaining to life and death, one must violate the rules of Shabbat to save life.  This is true regardless of the patient’s age, race, gender, or religion.  However, I believe that it is also crucial to understand the background and rationale behind this practice.  This is where the problem begins, and this led me to the need to write this article.

The problem is one that I have discussed on many occasions with many fellow Orthodox Jewish physicians from virtually all sectors of Orthodox Jewish society, and it relates to the rationale for the treatment of non-Jewish patients on Shabbat.  My numerous conversations over the years have led me to be quite certain that I am far from alone when I express my concern regarding this matter.  I almost consistently get the same or similar response when the topic comes up.  The following is an almost direct quote from a learned Orthodox physician (not sure if this matters, but it may interest some of the readers that this physician is one who most certainly would self-identify with the “yeshivish-Chareidi” version of Orthodoxy) whom I met recently while shopping for groceries.  “It simply can’t be that the Ribbono Shel Olam doesn’t want me to treat the goy on Shabbos just like I treat a Jew,” he said, “I know what the seforim say, but I know that there must be another explanation.  The seforim don’t reflect what I know the Torah really wants.”

What is the problem this physician was referring to?  The problem is as follows:  According to virtually all mainstream Halachic authorities, Shabbat is to be violated to save a life, and that includes any human life, whether Jew or gentile [1]. However, according to these authorities, the rationale for saving a non-Jewish versus a Jewish life is very differ rent. The Jewish life must be saved because the Halacha requires it, and we will discuss the details of this rule very soon. However, the gentile life must be saved for a different reason entirely. Briefly, the reason that the modern Halachic authorities agree that we are obligated to violate Shabbat for any life on the Shabbat, is because any other approach would be devastating to our relations with the gentile world, and would arouse such hatred to Jews that it would pose a real threat to Jewish life.    For the remainder of this article, I will use the Hebrew term “Eyvah” to describe the concept that allows one to do otherwise prohibited acts on Shabbat due to the fear of raising hatred among the gentiles.  

It has always bothered me, that while the act of caring for the gentile patient is absolutely permitted and encouraged, as it clearly should be, the reasoning behind this principle seems very deeply flawed.  Is this really the value system that I believe in? Is this really what the Torah wants me to believe? I have always found this to be very hard to accept, and that is why I am writing this article[2].

This issue is a particularly timely one.  We need to face this honestly, and we need to face it directly. For starters, I sincerely believe, just like my friend the Chareidi doctor believes, that there must be another valid Torah approach to this issue.  However, in addition to the personal angst caused by the prevalent approach to fellow Jews, there are two important reasons why we need to face this issue now.

The first is very practical. Everything we say and do as Halachic Jews is scrutinized and judged by the rest of the internet-connected, news-frenzied, blog-inundated world.  Indeed, R’ Moshe Feinstein understood this problem when regarding the specific topic of this article he wrote[3]:

“…and certainly when one considers the immediate publication of the news of what happens across the entire world by the newspapers, there is certainly a problem that one place will learn from another and a terrible incitement can occur where hatred (towards the Jews) will occur and result in terrible persecution and murder (of Jews) it is therefore clear that in our times this is considered a real danger (and therefore it is permitted to treat non-Jews) …”

 …  If only he knew how prophetic his words were, which were written before the internet, cable news programs, and blogs were even invented.

In case you are naïve enough to think that we can keep Halachic discussion within the “dalet Amot Shel Halachah” and out of the hands of the anti-Semites, allow me to bring several examples that should frighten you into reality.  The most recent one just hit the press around May 17, 2012, with the screaming headline: “Rabbi Yosef: Treating gentiles Violates Sabbath”[4]. Within hours of R’ Yosef’s Hilchot Shabbat shiur, anti-Semitic websites were having a heyday with this clear evidence of a prominent rabbi and his obvious discrimination against non-Jews.  Who knows what kind of negative repercussions such statements will have in the future?

Probably the most famous such episode in the last century was the Dr. Israel Shahak affair.  Dr. Shahak was a Hebrew university professor who wrote a letter in the December 1965 Haaretz alleging Orthodox discrimination against non-Jews.  One of his primary allegations was that Orthodox Jews would not treat a gentile patient on the Sabbath.  This sparked a huge controversy, with many rabbis countering his claims[5]. Israel Shahak is still the darling of the anti-Semitic world, having gained much fame in numerous anti-Semitic forums on the world-wide web, as any Google search would reveal.

A third recent example was sparked by an article by Noah Feldman in the NY Times magazine in July 2007[6]. Feldman openly discusses his personal struggle with the double standards implicit in this Halachah.  This also generated an internet fueled media fury, and its repercussions are still reverberating throughout the world.

So practically speaking, we as Halachic Jews cannot afford to ignore this important issue.  If we ignore it, we may cause real physical danger to ourselves and the Jewish people in general.
However, the second reason why this is so important, is because of the implicit moral values that one derives from these Halachot.  One can definitely argue that the Halachah is at its core a legal system and not a set of moral principles. Therefore, one might say that it doesn’t really matter why we permit the violation of Shabbat to save the life of a gentile; the bottom line is that it is permitted. However, I do not believe that this is adequate at all.

As Orthodox Jews we profess that the Halachah is a God-given set of rules by which we are supposed to lead our lives.  It is therefore inescapable that the rules, and this includes the rationale behind the rules, have moral implications. It is hard to imagine that God would give us a set of immoral and unjust laws to live by! Today’s “medical ethics” literature is constantly blurring the line between law and ethics in areas such as patient autonomy, preservation of life, and abortion.  Try to find an article about the Halachot of end of life issues without also finding a reference to the reverence of the Halachah for life, or an article about the Halachot of abortion without a reference to the sanctity of the human being, or a discussion of patient autonomy in Jewish law without numerous references to our moral obligation to take care of our own God-given bodies. As an avid reader of this body of literature, I am quite certain that you will come up empty-handed.  It would seem obvious to anyone even slightly familiar with Halachah that the laws are meant to teach and preserve a higher ethical and moral ideal.

So what then are we to make of the fact that the Torah seems to only allow the violation of the Sabbath to save a Jewish life and not a gentile life?  It is true that the authorities today permit the violation of Shabbat to treat a gentile on Shabbat.  On a practical level this may somewhat alleviate the first problem, but it does nothing to help us with the second problem.  We are still stuck with the unfortunate impression that according to the Torah, the life of a gentile is not important enough to trump the laws of Shabbat.

I am going to propose in this article a completely different and Halachically valid approach. Let us begin by analyzing the primary sources and the approach of most Halachic authorities to date.

The Talmud in Avodah Zara[7] says:
"Rav Yosef thought to say that for a Jew (midwife) to deliver an idol worshiper’s baby on Shabbat for pay should be permitted due to eyvah (a fear of causing hatred among non-Jews towards Jews) Abaye responded, “She can say to her - for us that keep Shabbat we can desecrate Shabbat, but for you who do not keep Shabbat we do not desecrate Shabbat".

The issues relevant to our discussion in this passage can be summarized as follows:

1)      It seems that the conclusion of the Talmud is that one is NOT allowed to treat gentiles on Shabbat because of Abaye's statement that there is no Eyvah.  Can one argue that in modern times this "explanation" of Abaye won't work anymore, if so, does R' Yosef's reason for leniency, the fear of Eyvah, still apply?
2)      If Rav Yosef's leniency due to Eyvah does apply nowadays, regarding what level of severity of prohibitions does it apply? There are three possibilities.
a)                          It could be that Eyvah cannot supersede ANY prohibition, not even a Rabbinic decree.  If this is true, then Rav Yosef only meant that Eyvah allows one to treat a gentile at all.  This would be because the Talmud elsewhere prohibits a Jew from treating a gentile who worships idols.  If this is true, R’ Yosef's permission was only meant to permit transgressing this specific decree.  If so, he never meant to permit treating a gentile on Shabbat in a way that would violate the laws of Shabbat.
b)                         Alternatively, it could be that Eyvah is only meant to permit transgressing prohibitions of Rabbinic origin, but not prohibitions of D’Oraytah origin
c)                          Or, it could be that Eyvah can even allow transgressing a prohibition of D’Oraytah origin on Shabbat.

The following is a review of some of the major commentaries and their opinions:
1)      Ritva[8] and Ran[9]  take the position that the concept of Eyvah cannot even allow the transgression of a Rabbinic prohibition.  According to this opinion, the entire concept of eyvah was only used by Rav Yosef to allow the treatment of a gentile in general, but not if it involved the transgression of the Shabbat at all, as in other places the Talmud taught that a Jew should not treat an idol worshipper. R’ Yosef Karo in the Beit Yosef[10] brings a famous argument between Ramban and Rashba vs. Rabbeinu Yonah regarding the permissibility of giving infertility treatments to a gentile.  Ramban and Rashba allowed it due to Eyvah, whereas Rabbeinu Yonah was very critical.  It would seem that the argument revolved around whether or not the concept of Eyvah applies nowadays to allow the treatment of a gentile in general.  Ramban, Rashba, Ran, and Ritva would have allowed it due to Eyvah, while Rabbeinu Yonah would not allow it, presumably because of Abaye’s objection. However, none of these authorities felt that eyvah would allow the transgression of an actual prohibition, even a Rabbinic prohibition. This is also the position taken by the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Berura[11].
2)      Tosfot[12]  say that the concept of eyvah would permit someone to transgress a Rabbinic prohibition but not a D’Oraytah prohibition.  Many authorities take this position including the Tosfot Shabbat[13].
3)      No authority seriously entertains the possibility that eyvah would allow transgressing a D’Oraytah prohibition.  However,  several authorities, including the Maharik[14], and the Tiferet Yisrael[15] cleverly use the concept of Eyvah to allow transgressing a D’Oraytah prohibition through an interesting "Halachic trick".  They use the following argument.  Since the Jew is only transgressing the prohibition because  he is afraid of causing hatred (eyvah), he is not doing it because he actually needs to work done for himself. That would make the act that he is doing fit the Halachic category of a “melacha she'aynah tz'richa l'gufa” (work that is done for a purpose OTHER than accomplishing the work itself). Therefore it is not really a D’Oraytah prohibition, rather it is a Rabbinic prohibition, and therefore it can be done due to the concept of Eyvah.
4)      A detailed analysis of the opinion of Rambam regarding this sugyah is to be found in the appendix A to this article

Contemporary Halachah – the “Mainstream Approach”

The modern Halachic authorities invariably bring the sources that we just reviewed  and use them as the basis for practical Halachah.  One of the most important authorities often quoted is the Chatam Sofer[16] who in a classic responsum allows transgressing even a D’Oraytah prohibition to take care of a non-Jewish patient when there is reason to be concerned that the Jew's life would be in danger if he does not treat the gentile.  This is what I like to call "Super-Eyvah" (as we are not just worried about causing hatred, but we are also worried about an actual threat to a Jewish life).  Another important authority is the Divrei Chaim,[17]  who writes, "It is the custom of (Jewish) doctors to transgress D’Oraytah prohibitions on Shabbat. And I heard that it was a decree of the Council of Four Lands that allowed them to do this." The obvious question is, how could the Council decide to allow transgressing a D’Oraytah prohibition by decree? The answers given to this problem include (among others) the clever explanation of the Maharik[18], or the explanation of the Chatam Sofer of "super-eyvah"[19].

The Mishna Berura[20] however, clearly disagrees with the Chatam Sofer and Divrei Chaim.  In a famous remark, he sharply criticizes Jewish doctors who transgress the Shabbat to take care of non-Jewish patients.  He writes, "They are completely intentional transgressors of the Shabbat (mechallelei Shabbat gemurim hem b'mazid) May God protect us!"

Nonetheless, virtually all modern authorities agree[21] that when push comes to shove, a Jewish physician can violate even a D’Oraytah prohibition to save a non-Jewish life.  They come to this conclusion using some combination of the Chatam Sofer, Maharik, and Divrei Chaim and the principles of Eyvah, super-Eyvah, and melachah she’aynah tzerichah legufah.  Each authority has his own stipulations etc... but the bottom line is about the same.  Their advice is generally, try not to be there on Shabbat, but do what needs to be done regardless of the religion of the patient.  Almost all authorities maintain, that for the purpose of the safety of the Jewish people, it is important that Jewish doctors violate the Shabbat to save a life, regardless of whether the patient is a Jew or a gentile.

Responding to the Charges

The aftermath of the Shahak affair led to the need for the Rabbinic establishment to respond to the charges that the Halachah discriminated against non-Jews. To summarize the general response of the rabbis, it is useful to divide the answers into two categories. The first I will call the “darkhei shalom” approach (DSA), and the second I will call the “challel Shabbat achat” (CSA) approach.
The DSA can be described as follows.  Although the Halachah might seem discriminatory, the Torah also includes many areas that are non-Halachic, but equally as important.  For example, when the Torah teaches us that we must act a certain ways because of “darkhei shalom” (the ways of peace), then although it may not be Halachic, it is still the teaching of the Torah.  According to this understanding, this can also be applied when something is allowed or even required due to eyvah.  The Torah is essentially teaching us to act a certain way in order to decrease hatred, or conversely, to increase love and peace[22].

The CSA can also be described as the emphasis on the importance of Shabbat.  This approach starts with the assumption that in actuality, Shabbat is more important than saving lives.  This places Shabbat on the same level as the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and adultery, for which one is required to give up one’s life.  This is something that even non-Jews may understand and is therefore a religious value that is consistent, not a discriminatory value against any particular group of people.  However, when one is faced with saving the life of a Jewish person who keeps the Shabbat, one is only allowed to save his/her life due to the principle of Challel Shabbat achat, K’dei Sheyishmor shabbatot Harbeh” (violate one Sabbath so that he can keep many more in the future).  So by saving the life of the Jew, one is actually not violating Sabbath, but preserving it.  However, a non-Jew will not keep the Sabbath in the future,  and therefore his/her life would not be saved, as the Sabbath is worth dying for.

The Letter of R’ Unterman

The chief advocate of both the CSA and the DSA was R’ Isser Yehuda Unterman.  Among the many responses to the Shahak affair, Rav Unterman’s letter was the most prominent and most frequently quoted of the Rabbinic responses, so I will mention it in his name.

In Adar 5726 (March 1965) Rav Unterman published an article[23] responding to the Shahak affair which consisted of both the DSA and the CSA above.  The first half of the article is a strong defense of the general values of ethics of the Torah as expressed by the principles of darkhei shalom.  In the second half of the article he describes why Shabbat really should not be violated at all even to save lives, if not for the CSA principle.  However, in today’s times, he quotes the Chatam Sofer mentioned above, which supports the idea that since in our times it would be a danger to Jewish lives not to save gentile lives on Shabbat, that we must violate Shabbat for Jewish lives as well.

It is also worth mentioning the Lord Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits who wrote an article in the Tradition Journal[24] which essentially reiterated Rav Unterman’s views. The most extensive and thorough iteration of the CSA approach was an online article on the website written by R’ Gil Student[25]. This approach was also taken by R’ Shlomo Aviner[26].

There are some obvious problems however with both the DSA and CSA approaches to solving this dilemma.  The first issue is that we are still left with the uneasy feeling that we started with.  The advocates of this approach have still not answered the essential charges of their detractors. That is that the according to them, the Halachah still does distinguish between the lives of Jews and gentiles regarding the violation of Shabbat.  So if we were to accept their arguments, though we might have mitigated the objections a little bit, the essential problem still exists.

There are other problems with taking this approach, but a full analysis would be quite lengthy and beyond the scope of this article. However, I will briefly touch upon why I feel these approaches are not only inadequate due to my “uneasiness”, but also present Halachic difficulties as well.
The Halachic problem with the CSA and DSA is that the simply don’t reflect the conclusion of the Talmud.  At the conclusion of its’ discussion, the reason given for the obligation to save lives on Shabbat is because of “vachay bahem” that the Mitzvot were given to live by, not to die from their observance.  This directly contradicts the claims of the CSA advocates.  After numerous possible explanations for pikuach nefesh docheh Shabbat were proposed, Shmuel concludes the Gemara as follows[27]: “Says Rabbi Yehuda in the name of Shmuel, Had I been there, I would have said that my explanation is better than theirs, “Vachay behem – One shall live by them, not die by them. Says Rava: For all the other reasons there is a disproof, except for the reason of Shmuel for which there is no disproof.”

The only reason quoted by Rif and Ran[28] is the reason of Shmuel, the only reason quoted by Rashi in Sanhedrin . The only reason according to Rosh[29] is that of Shmuel, not any others. The Ramban whom we will quote later in this article clearly states that the reason given by Shmuel is the reason we violate Shabbat to save lives. Rambam as well, equates Shabbat with all other Mitzvot that are violated when life is threatened, as he states[30], “(the observance of) Shabbat is pushed away (dechuyah) when there is danger to life, just like all other mitzvot.” He is clearly trying to point out that life supersedes Shabbat, as he further states clearly two stanzas later[31], “One is prohibited from delaying the violation of the Shabbat when treating an ill person who is endangered, as the Torah states (the mitzvot) that people shall do and live by them, not die by them.”

The list of authorities who bring the reason of Shmuel as the final reason for pikuach nefesh docheh Shabbat is very long, but suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of the poskim assume that we violate Shabbat because of the supremacy of life, not because of CSA[32].

I would refer the reader to R’ Student’s article and the other advocates of the CSA and DSA to see in detail what their defenses are against the arguments I just presented above.  The purpose of this article is to demonstrate an entirely different approach, which assumes that saving lives does in principle supersede Shabbat, as Shabbat is not one of the three sins for which one is supposed to give his/her life.

A Different Halachic Approach – Meiri

So far, we are unfortunately left with the conclusion that indeed, according to the letter of the law, one really should violate the Shabbat only to save a Jewish life.  Even the saving of the gentile life is only permissible because one is indirectly saving Jewish lives as well, as we are preventing the  spread of anti-Semitic hatred of Jews.  However, there is a different understanding of the law, which I will describe in the remainder of this article. The basis and starting point to understand this different  approach is the famous opinion of Meiri. 

Many people who have studied Talmud in depth are familiar with Meiri's opinions as they relate to the Halachic status of non-Jews. However, the full extent of his opinions, and the extent to which many later authorities have subscribed to his opinions is not well known.  When I was exposed to Meiri in yeshiva, I was under the impression that his words were just apologetics that were meant to calm relations with the gentiles, but that in reality they were not Halachically important and that they were not meant (even by Meiri himself) to be taken seriously[33].

However, the truth is  that Meiri's opinions are not apologetics at all, but they are a comprehensive and complete philosophy of how to understand the attitude of the entire Talmud and Halachah as it relates to the treatment of non-Jews.

To summarize; according to Meiri, the contemporary gentiles of his day (basically Muslims and Christians) are all considered "Baalei haDat" - people of religion.  Meiri considered these Baalei haDat to be different from the non-Jews referred to by Chazal – as they were pagans who had no religion at all (at least not what the Rabbis of the Talmud would have considered a religion).
Meiri’s comments are extensive and spread throughout his commentary on the Talmud.  For the sake of brevity, I chose to summarize his opinions in the following three categories.  The quotations from Meiri that support each of these categories and all the assertions I attribute to Meiri, are to be found in the footnotes for those interested in reading Meiri’s own words. Please keep in mind that my footnotes, although they are thorough, only represent a small selection of Meiri’s words on each topic.
1)      The first category regards the laws of business interaction with non-Jews.  This refers mostly to things that are prohibited due to fear that the gentile would use the profits for idol worship.  This category Meiri held did not apply at all to his contemporary gentiles[34]
2)      The second category deals with all Halachic distinctions between Jews and non-Jews. This includes the obligation to save a non-Jewish life (including on Shabbat[35]), the obligation to return his lost object[36], the death penalty for killing a human being[37] (which the Meiri held applied to non-Jews as well), to give him charity and free gifts[38], the laws of damages[39], and many more such laws.  In this category, the Meiri held that his contemporary gentiles were equal to Jews on all levels. 
3)      The third category deals with Halachot meant to keep Jews from intermingling (and intermarrying) with gentiles.  This includes things like a Gentile's wine, milk, bread and so on.  In these Halachot, the Meiri did not distinguish between his contemporary gentiles, and those that lived in the time of the Talmud[40].

Contrary to what is often claimed, Meiri’s opinions were far from simple apologetics, as his comments are wide ranging and consistent throughout his commentary on Shas.  Repeatedly his points are emphasized and reiterated, and he clearly developed his approach thoroughly and comprehensively. For example,  R’ Eliezer Waldenberg writes in a letter[41] that it is implausible to argue that his entire approach to an enormous portion of the Talmud was simply constructed out of fear of the censors.  He also states that we should use the Meiri as a "Makor Beit Av" (roughly translated as - "a primary conceptual building block" - my translation) when considering questions for dealing with gentiles in our times.

To assume that it was simply fear of the censors that drove the Meiri to formulate his extensive theories will becomes less and less plausible as one studies his commentaries on the Talmud.

Much of my understanding of Meiri comes from a book called "Bein Torah leChochmah" by Moshe Halbertal.  It is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in learning more about Meiri and his opinions[42].

Probably the most interesting finding of Halbertal's study, is how he describes the reasoning behind Meiri ‘s approach.  It is clear from Meiri that he felt that anyone who did not have a "Dat" (religion)was certainly someone who would not be bound by basic morality and justice. Halbertal proves that according to the Meiri, a society of Ba'alei Dat (people of religion) is a society of morals and justice, whereas a society without "Darchei HaDat" is one that is evil and corrupt.  This is a very important point, and it is one that we will come back to later. Any society that is moral and just according to the Meiri would have the same status as Jews regarding these types of laws.  It is important to recognize that in the middle ages, most philosophers believed that religion was the basis of morality.  Although today many philosophers might argue that a society can be atheistic and still moral, this was not an accepted position in the time of Meiri.

For example, Meiri goes as far as saying that those that are "gedurim beDarchei Hadat” (subjected to the laws of religion) would be  considered "Im She'Itcha BeTorah uveMitzvot" (a people that is your kin in Torah and righteous ways).  The Talmud derives[43] that one is only obligated to return the lost object of someone included in the verse,” lo Tonu Ish et Amito”[44] - Im She'Itcha B'Torah UVe'Mitzvot, which Meiri learns explicitly includes non-Jews; as opposed to learning that it is excluding them! (The logic is that anyone who observes the seven Noahide laws and lives a moral life, is considered a brother in keeping Torah and Mitzvot with the Jewish people.)
The important lesson we learn from Meiri is that there is a Halachic distinction between different types of gentiles.  That is for gentiles who are moral and not idol worshippers (which for Meiri an idol worshipper was synonymous with someone who lacked morals) one may transgress Shabbat to save their life, because they are gedurim bedarchei haDat, and thus they are not included in the restrictions placed against amoral idol worshippers.

The Ger Toshav Approach

There are other Halachic authorities that have proposed ideas that are very similar to the opinion of the Meiri, but with a little different “twist”.  The most common theme is to apply the concept of a Ger Toshav to our modern day gentiles.

R’ Nachum Rabinovich[45] deals with the question of what a Jewish Israeli soldier should do if he/she confronts an enemy soldier wounded on the battlefield on Shabbat.  He differentiates between an injured terrorist and an ordinary non-Jewish soldier.  According to R’ Rabinovich, an ordinary non-Jew who is a Christian or Muslim would be considered a ger toshav.  He establishes in the responsum that there is a mitzvah to save the life of a ger Toshav even on Shabbat, at the same level as there is a mitzvah to save the life of a Jew.

R’ Rabinovich cites several important sources for his contention that a modern day Christian or Muslim is considered a ger toshav.  First, he brings proof from Ramban[46] that saving the life of a ger Toshav would supersede Shabbos. He then brings R’ Tzvi Hersh Chajes (the "Maharatz Chajes"), who held that modern day Christians and Muslims have the status of Gerei Toshav[47].  According to R' Rabinovich, the terrorist would not be considered a ger Toshav, by virtue of the fact that he is not a moral human being.  This is because a primary requirement to attain the status of Ger Toshav a gentile must accept to live by basic moral laws.  Therefore the terrorist should only be saved on Shabbat due to Eyvah. An ordinary enemy soldier though, would be considered a Ger Toshav, and one must violate the Shabbat for him because saving his life supersedes the Shabbat.

This is a different angle then Meiri.  According to Meiri, non-Jews who live in a moral and just society are considered “baalei dat” and we are therefore obligated to save their lives on Shabbat[48].  According to R' Rabinovich though, we save their lives due to the concept of Ger Toshav.  Once we give contemporary gentiles the status of Gerei Toshav, we are obligated to save their lives on Shabbat in accordance with the opinion of Ramban (and other Rishonim as well, as we shall discuss later in this article).

R’ Rabinovich was not alone among modern poskim in his contention that contemporary gentiles should be considered gerei toshav and thus one should violate the Shabbat to save their lives. R’ Yehuda Gershuni [49] also argues at length that contemporary gentiles should have the Halachah of gerei Toshav and thus one should violate the Shabbat to save their lives.  R’ Aryeh Leib Braude[50], Rav of Lvov, Poland also presents the same argument.  We will present summaries of some of their most important arguments in the following discussion.

This teshuva of R’ Rabinovich opens up an entirely new idea regarding saving the lives of gentiles on Shabbat.  We will now examine this possibility in depth.  We will begin with R’ Rabinovich’s assertion that one may violate Shabbat in order to save the life of a Ger Toshav.

Pikuach Nefesh Docheh Shabbat, Can it Really apply to a Ger Toshav?

The opinion of Ramban that saving the life of a Ger Toshav supersedes Shabbat will strike many of the readers of this article as quite revolutionary.  Therefore I believe it is important for us to analyze Ramban and where this assertion comes from, so that the readers of this article have a deeper understanding of this opinion.  I believe that this will also shed significant light on our understanding of the opinion of Meiri as well, which according to many authorities is based on the principle of Ger toshav, or according to our analysis may be based on a different principle of “Gedurim BeDarchei Hadatot”.

We will start with the following verse[51]:

“And if thy brother be waxen poor, and his means fail with thee; then thou shalt uphold him: as a stranger and a settler (Ger VeToshav Vachai Imach)  shall he live with thee”
“Take thou no interest of him or increase; but fear thy God;(VeChai Achicha Imach) that thy brother may live with thee.”

The Torat Kohanim (Sifra) on the first verse states as follows:

“Ger – this refers to a ger tzedek (a righteous full convert to Judaism), Toshav – this refers to a Ger that eats (non-kosher slaughtered) carcasses (a common Rabbinic term for a ger toshav), Vachai Imach – Your life precedes his life (chayecha Kodmin LeChayav)”

The Torat Kohanim (Sifra) on the second verse expounds further in the meaning of “your life precedes his life”

“that thy brother may live with thee - Ben Peturi explained this verse that if two people were travelling in the desert and one of them has a jug of water, if one of them will drink it he will make it to a settled place, but if they both share it and drink they will both die of thirst, they should both drink it and die as it states “that thy brother may live with thee” (this infers that people should live equally together) Rabbi Akiva responded to him “that thy brother may live with thee” Your life precedes the life of your friend (chayecha kodmin lechayei chaveircha)”

Ramban, in his Peirush al HaTorah on this verse, understands this pasuk to be a specific “Mitzvat Aseh” – a positive commandment to save the life of a fellow Jew, Ger Tzedek, and ger Toshav.  In fact, according to Ramban, this is the specific Mitzvat aseih of Pikuach Nefesh.  The following are the words of Ramban:

… “Vachai Imach” that he shall live with you, this is a specific positive commandment to help him live, from this verse we are commanded on (the mitzvah of) pikuach nefesh as a mitzvat aseih, and using this verse chazal taught, “from here Ben Peturi explained that if two people … (see above quote from the Sifra)” and then the Torah repeats and states Vachai Achichah Imchah, to strengthen and warn us further of (the importance of) this mitzvah …

Ramban then repeats this assertion in his commentary to Rambam’s sefer HaMitzvot, where Ramban counts as Mitzvat Aseih # 16 this mitzvah, in the following language:

“Mitzvah 16: That we are commanded to support the life of a Ger Toshav, to save him from evil that may befall him, that if he is drowning in a river or if he is buried under rubble that we should try with all our energy to save him, and if he is ill, we should involve ourselves in healing him. And certainly this also would apply to a fellow Jew or a ger Tzeddek that we are also obligated to him in all of these matters. And for them this is the pikuach nefesh which supersedes the Shabbat, as the pasuk states “then thou shalt uphold him: as a stranger and a settler (Ger VeToshav Vachai Imach)  shall he live with thee…”

The Ramban’s intention is crystal clear, that the mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh which supersedes Shabbat is derived from this verse, and this verse is referring to a Ger Toshav[52].

Rabbeinu Hillel[53], also quotes this verse and understood that the verse vachai Imach is referring to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh for a Ger toshav.   R’ Shimon b Tzemach Duran, also known as Rashbatz[54] also understood the verse this way, and writes clearly that this is a mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh for a ger Toshav that supersedes Shabbat.

So now we understand the Torah origin and Rabbinic origin of this Halachah according to the Rishonim that we just mentioned.

As I suggested before, this may help us understand the basis for Meiri’s position that those gentiles who are gedurim bedarchei hadattot warrant chillul Shabbat to save their lives. As we have seen before, Meiri understands the terms of the Torah such as “Reyachah, Akhicha, Amitecha” as including those who are “Gedurim beDarchei Hadatot”, as opposed to excluding them[55].  It is therefore quite possible to suggest that Meiri understood the verse “veChay Achicha imach” to be coming to include all people in the category of “achicha “, meaning all those who are gedurim bedarchei haDatot.  This would be consistent with Meiri’s opinions as we have found in other places.
So what then do the other Rishonim, do with the Torat Kohanim we just mentioned? Fortunately, Ramban helps us out by explaining the opinion of Rambam, which is likely the opinion of the majority of other Rishonim who do not agree with Ramban on this point.

The conclusion of Ramban’s words that we quoted above is as follows[56]:

“…But this Mitzvah (the mitzvah to support the life of a Ger Toshav) the “Rav” (the Rambam) included in the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) which is mitzvah # 195 from the verse “and thou shalt open your hand” but in truth they are two separate mitzvoth”

So the opinion of Rambam is clear, the mitzvah referred to in this verse has nothing to do with pikuach nefesh at all, but rather it is a mitzvah to support the life of a ger toshav by helping him, through charity, loans, and other means of support.  However, it has nothing to do with Pikuach Nefesh.  This is consistent with the Rambam’s words in Hilchot Shabbat as follows[57]:

“…However, we do deliver the baby of the daughter of a “ger toshav” because we are commanded to help him live (“leHachayoto”) but we cannot violate the Shabbat even for her”

So Rambam clearly disagrees with Ramban on two counts.  He disagrees regarding the special mitzvah of pikuach nefesh for a ger Toshav, so he does not count it in his sefer HaMitzvot, and he disagrees with Ramban’s assertion that this mitzvah would supersede Shabbat.

Rashi in his comments on the same verse seems to agree with Rambam, as he comments on the words “thou shalt uphold him (Vehechezakta bo)” as follows[58]:

“Do not allow him to fall, but give him strength at a time when he needs an outstretched hand, this can be compared to a load on a donkey that is falling while it is still loaded on the donkey, one hand can upright it and it will stay, but once it falls, five people together may not be able to reload it”

Clearly, Rashi also understood that this mitzvah was referring to charity, not to saving his life.
So we have established the basis of the machloket Rishonim regarding saving the life of a Ger Toshav on Shabbat.  The Rambam, Rashi, and most other Rishonim seem to hold that it would not supersede the Shabbat, while Meiri, Ramban, Rashbatz, and Rabbeinu Hillel would hold that saving the life of a ger Toshav would supersede Shabbat.

Contemporary Gentiles, Can they have the Halachic Status of a Ger Toshav?

In order to apply the principle of Ger Toshav to contemporary gentiles, as R’ Rabinovich did in his teshuva, we need to overcome a significant hurdle.

The Talmud states:

“Who is considered a Ger Toshav? Anyone who accepts in front of three Chaveirim (a Halachic bet din) not to worship idols” this is the opinion of R’ Meir, The Chachamim state “Anyone who accepts upon himself to keep the seven mitzvoth that were accepted by the sons of Noach”[59]
“The Ger Toshav is only done during times when yovel is in effect”[60]

The obvious conclusion would be that the entire concept of Ger Toshav cannot be applied to modern gentiles for two reasons.  First because they never formally accepted in front of a qualified bet din to keep the seven noahide laws, and second because the Yovel is not kept in our times.  This is codified by Rambam[61], and is accepted as practical Halachah. So how could we even discuss this possibility, and how could R’ Rabinovich apply this concept to modern gentiles?  In the following discussion, we will bring numerous authorities and opinions, and demonstrate how we can apply the Ger Toshav concept even despite the lack of formal acceptance, and despite the fact that Yovel is not in effect in contemporary times.


R’ Yehuda Loewe of Prague, better known as the “Maharal”, in his Be’er Hagolah[62] writes a detailed response to those who claim that Chazal discriminate against non-Jews.  It is worthwhile for the reader to read Maharal’s words in their entirety, as this sefer is readily available to all.  I will summarize here his basic thesis, which is strikingly similar to that of Meiri in many ways.
Maharal divides humanity into three basic groups; Jews, non-Jewish monotheists, and idol worshippers.  Maharal, like Meiri, claims that the discriminatory laws of Chazal toward non-Jews only refer to those who do not keep the basic rules of morality.  Maharal equates those who are not monotheists with those who lack basic morals.  In this he also reflects Meiri’s belief that morality is dependent upon the belief in one God.  This is a common theme in medieval philosophy in general and should not be surprising.  In reference to the second group of human beings, the monotheists (which is clearly referring to his contemporary Christians), he applies all of the rules of a Ger Toshav as follows[63]:

“…This second group includes the remainder of people that are not of the Bnai Yisrael, that are not included in the Torah of Moshe, but none-the-less they have not left the path to “flip the plate upside down” and worship gods other than God Himself who is Everything, rather they only worship the Primary Cause Unto whom Everything belongs…and when he accepts upon himself to worship the Primary Cause he is called a Ger Toshav … and this is mentioned in many places in the Torah …”

According to Maharal, all of the positive references in the Talmud to non-Jews, such as those stating that the righteous gentiles merit the world to come, refer to this monotheistic group, clearly referring to Christians and Muslims.  The Maharal, similar to Meiri’s understanding of “Im sheitcha beTorah U’Vemitzvot”, learns from the Torah’s language “re’ehu” roughly translated as “kin” or “friend” that the Torah meant to include those who are also moral and ethical people, even though they are not Jews. Here are Maharal’s words[64]:

“And behold those gentiles who worship God have a partnership and togetherness with us as they also have One God, this is the primary factor that binds them together (with us) and unites them (with us) … Therefore the Torah states[65] “and when the ox of one man gores the ox of his kin (re’ehu)…” The language “re’ehu” connotes togetherness … and since they are friends together, they should not damage one another, and they should pay each other for damages… however, one who takes himself outside of the group to another side as he does not worship The Creator of all things, rather he worships something else, he is called by the Torah a “nochri” (stranger or gentile) and the Torah does not obligate one to pay him (for damages)…”

 Maharal slightly veers from Meiri’s understanding when he equates the second group of monotheists with the concept of the Ger Toshav.  Meiri never invoked this principle, but Maharal clearly understood that his contemporary Christians and Muslims had the Halachic status of gerei toshav.  Although he extends all of the Halachic privileges of Gerei toshav to his contemporary mono theists, he does not explicitly state that one would violate the Shabbat to save their lives.  He does however use the language “She’metzuvah aleinu le’hachayoto” which is the same language that the Ramban and the Rashbatz used in reference to the Ger Toshav when they permitted violating the Shabbat to save his/her life.  Maharal though was not directly referring to Shabbat when he used that language.

R’ Yechiel Heller

While discussing my ideas with some friends, someone brought to my attention a teshuva written by the well-known R’ Yechiel Heller, author of the Teshuvot Amudei Ohr[66].

Rav Heller’s essay is probably the most extensive treatment of the subject from a renowned and respected posek, and he takes the same position as Maharal, that contemporary monotheists have the Halachic status of gerei toshav.  R’ Heller during his lengthy discussion goes through several steps.
  1. He establishes that when an entire community lives by the principles of the seven noahide laws and basic morality, that they have the status of Gerei Toshav[67]even without a formal acceptance of the seven laws and even in modern times.
  2. He establishes that modern day Christians do keep the Noahide laws and basic morality (He establishes that even those who believe in the divinity of Jesus are guilty only of “shituf”, which is not one of the seven laws)
  3. He applies all of the positive references in Chazal to the righteous gentiles to modern day Christians, similar to Maharal
  4. He demonstrates that during the time of Chazal most nations were morally corrupt in addition to worshipping idols
  5. Interestingly, R’ Heller argues that Rambam also agreed that entire nations do not require a formal acceptance and would apply even today[68]
Rav Heller goes on to write page after page of practical Halachic implications of his ideas.  These include all laws of business, charity, and more.  There is a further recurring theme which is reminiscent of the words of Meiri and Maharal.  Here is a quote[69]
“…I also felt it appropriate to explain that which we often find in the words of our Rabbis in the Talmud, as in many places derived from the Torah’s words such as “Achicha” (your brother) and “amitecha” (your kin) and “re’echa” (your friend) that many of these languages exclude the idol worshipper. In all of this words it is obvious that they only meant to exclude the idol worshippers, who are evil and sin towards God and against the rest of humanity, as we explained, but a Ger Toshav, (such as those we are discussing) was never excluded from the category of “Achicha” and certainly not from the category of “Re’echa”  (friend)…”

R’ Meir Dan Plotzki

Another authority who applies the laws and privileges of Ger Toshav to all moral human beings who keep the seven Noahide laws is R’ Meir Dan Plotzki.  In his work Chemdas Yisrael, R’ Plotski establishes several important points:
  1. That any gentile who lives a life committed to keeping the seven Noahide laws is considered a Ger Toshav with all its privileges, even without a formal acceptance.  This is because a formal acceptance is only necessary for those who have been idol worshippers and immoral, but now they want to repent and become a Ger Toshav.  Only for such people is a formal acceptance necessary.  However, someone who has never been an idol worshipper who has been keeping the seven noahide laws all of his/her life would have the Halachah of a Ger Toshav even without a formal acceptance.
  2. That even in our times, any gentile who keeps the seven laws is considered a Ger Toshav[70].
  3. That according to Ramban, saving the life of a Ger Toshav supersedes Shabbat, because of the positive commandment of “Le’hachayoto”[71].  R’ Plotski has a lengthy discussion regarding this opinion of Ramban.  His discussion goes well beyond the scope of this article, but it is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in studying the Ramban in depth.

R’ Tzvi Hersh Chajes

R’ Tzvi Hersh Chajes also writes that modern Christians and Muslims have the Halachic status of Gerei Toshav[72].  He also discusses at length why they don’t require a formal acceptance of the Seven Noahide laws in front of a panel of three.  Unlike Maharal and R’ Heller who learned that entire nations do not require a formal acceptance, and unlike R’ Plotski who held that a formal acceptance is only required of someone who once was an idol worshipper, R’ Chajes had a different explanation[73].

According to R’ Chajes, anyone who keeps the seven Noahide laws out of a tradition that he accepted from his ancestors, and that tradition is based in a belief in monotheism and God-given laws, would be considered a Ger Toshav.  This tradition acts in place of a formal acceptance. R’ Chajes argued that contemporary Christians and Muslims do keep the basic laws of morality and monotheism precisely because of such a tradition, and therefore they should be considered Gerei Toshav.

R’ Aryeh Leib Braude

The Maharal, R’ Heller, R’ Plotzki and R’ Chajes all laid the foundation for the Halachic basis of considering contemporary gentiles to be Halachic Gerei Toshav.  However, they did not make the explicit statement that we should therefore violate Shabbat to save their lives.  R’ Aryeh Leib Braude was the first to explicitly state that this principle should practically apply to contemporary gentiles, and that Jewish physicians should violate the Shabbat to save gentile lives based on the principle of Ger Toshav.

In his sefer Mitzpeh Aryeh[74] R’ Braude in a lengthy teshuva describes how we derive from the pasuk vechai imakh the principle that pikuach nefesh supersedes Shabbat for all human beings, even gentiles, as long as they are moral and keep “denim u’mishpatim”.  He essentially concludes exactly like Meiri did, but never actually quotes Meiri.  He does quote the Ramban though, and he indicates that he is applying the same principle of Ger Toshav to all moral and ethical gentile nations.

Rav Yehuda Gershuni

Rav Yehuda Gershuni gives perhaps the most thorough treatment of this topic of all contemporary poskim, and it is worthwhile to summarize his ideas[75].  His teshuva addresses three basic questions.
  1. Do contemporary Christians and Muslims have the Halachah of idol worshippers, or do they have the Halachah of a Ger Toshav (or some type of intermediate status)?
  2. Is it possible for the concept of Ger Toshav to apply in contemporary times?
  3. Does the command “Le’hachayoto” include only financial support of the Ger Toshav, or does it also include saving his life, and does that include violating Shabbat as well

To answer his first question, R’ Gershuni primarily relies upon Meiri and R’ TH Chajes and brings many of the sources which we have already discussed.  He thus concludes that contemporary monotheists would be considered either as gerei toshav, or as Meiri describes them, gedurim bedarchei hadatot.

To answer his second question, he makes two interesting arguments. He begins by quoting an interesting language from the Ran:
“Although Bnei Noach are already warned (forbidden) to worship idols, because they are not careful to keep this rule, we require them to accept it (in front of bet din), therefore anyone who hasn’t formally accepted it is assumed to be an idol worshipper”[76
It seems clear that the Ran understood that the formal acceptance was only required because of the rampant nature of idol worship during the times of the Talmud.  However, R’ Gershuni argues, when entire nations are adherent to religions that are not idol worship, such acceptance would not be required.

He then presents a lengthy discourse to prove that the concept of Ger Toshav actually does apply in contemporary times.  However, it is only during the times of Yovel that we proactively accept such converts (“lechatchila”).  Since these nations accepted it upon themselves, and this is as valid as a Bet Din, they therefore can still achieve that status on their own (“B’Dieved”).

In dealing with his third question, he brings the Ramban and Meiri that support the notion that the mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh applies to a Ger toshav, even as it applies to violating Shabbat to save their life.

More on the Ger Toshav Approach

As we have seen, the differentiation between the Halachic status of gentiles who are moral and keep the noahide laws, vs. those who are immoral and do not keep the laws, has a long and well-established  Halachic history.  In order to lend further support to the thesis of this article, I will briefly summarize several more prominent authorities that should be mentioned.

R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman[77] writes that contemporary gentiles (he is referring to Christians) are Halachically considered Gerei Toshav.  R’ SR Hirsch[78] writes similar ideas in many places. While Rav Hirsch does not explore in detail the practical Halachic ramifications of this approach,  R’ Hoffman does invoke the clearly defined Halachic category of Ger Toshav.

R’ Hirsch also discusses the commentary of R’ Yaakov Emden[79] , which strongly supports the argument that Christians and Muslims are moral and just and therefore should be considered Gerei Toshav. However, he does not actually take the plunge and explicitly write that they would have that Halachic status.  His words are stirring though, and certainly offer our approach some strong backing. However, although it is possible that he would agree, I don't think there is enough evidence to claim that R’ Emden actually held that they would have the Halachic status of Gerei Toshav.

Many authorities argue that the actual basis of Meiri's position is the principle of Ger Toshav.  
However, especially after Halbertal's study, it seems to me that this is not an accurate description of Meiri’s opinion[80].  Prominent among the authorities who believed that Meiri’s opinion was based on the principle of Ger Toshav was none other than R’ AY Kook[81].

R’ Kook utilizes an arresting choice of words, which lends very strong support to our approach. In reference to the opinion of Meiri as compared with the majority of other authorities, he uses the language "HaIkkar K’HaMeiri" (“the “primary” or “correct” position is like the Meiri”). R’ Kook clearly supports the opinion of Meiri for practical Halachic practice that all societies that are just and moral are considered Geirei Toshav. R’ Isaac Herzog takes this approach as well[82], equating modern gentiles with Geirei Toshav.

R’ Ahron Soloveitchik[83], also invokes the Meiri when discussing treating gentiles in our time.  He uses the Meiri to develop his approach that differentiates between gentile societies based on their morality and behavior. This is very similar to the approach of R' Rabinovich, and clearly R’ Soloveitchik was relying on the opinion of Meiri.

Another important authority who must be mentioned is the now famous remark of the Seridei Aish, R’ YY Weinberg[84], who stated in one of his letters to Professor Atlas that the opinion of the Meiri should be adopted as normative Halachah.

With our analysis so far, we have established a completely different Halachic basis from that found in the “mainstream” Halachic literature for the obligation to save the lives on non-Jews on Shabbat.  We will assume that contemporary gentile society is moral and just, or in the words of the Meiri, “gedurim Bedarchei HaDatot venimusim”.  We are therefore, according to Meiri, obligated to save their lives on Shabbat just as we are obligated to save the lives of Jews.

Alternatively, we can assume that contemporary gentiles that keep the seven noahide laws are considered Gerei Toshav, based on the other authorities we have just reviewed.  This would follow the opinions of Maharal, R’ Heller, R’ Plotski, R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, R’ Kook, R’ Herzog, R’ YY Weinberg, R’ Ahron Soloveitchik, and R’ Rabinovich.  If we then apply the opinions of the Ramban, Rashbatz, Meiri, and Rabbeinu Hillel, one would be obligated to violate the  Shabbat in order to save the life of a contemporary gentile.

What about Non-Christian and Non-Muslim Gentiles?

We have thus far identified two basic approaches with which many Halachic authorities differentiate between “our” modern gentiles and the idol worshippers of the time of the Talmud.  Both according to  Meiri's opinion that gentiles are included in "Im 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 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 idol worship.  For the purpose of our discussion, we will assume that both Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions. (The question of Christianity and idol worship is a major issue, but not one that we will deal with in detail in this article, as almost all of the authorities that we have mentioned until now do not consider Christianity to be idol worship, at least for gentiles.  For some authorities, this is due to their understanding of Christianity itself[85]. For others, it is because belief in some other godly entity in addition to God Himself (i.e. Jesus) may not be prohibited for a non-Jew or some other rationale - otherwise known as “shituf”. Although this can be hotly debated, we cannot deny the fact that Meiri and the other authorities explicitly considered Christianity to be a monotheistic faith).

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

There are two ways we can deal with this issue.

For the first approach I must give credit to a very thorough article available online by Rabbi David Berger[86]. R’ Berger presents Moshe Halbertal’s analysis of Meiri and argues as follows.  It is clear from Halbertal's study of Meiri that the reason why Meiri felt that monotheism was necessary in order to treat gentiles equally was because non-monotheistic societies were by definition corrupt and immoral.  There are references in Meiri that suggest that he agreed that philosophers, even if they may not believe in God, may also be considered equal to Jews in the same way as monotheistic gentiles that do profess belief in monotheism.  This would be true if their philosophical beliefs led them to lead moral and just lives[87].

It is important to recall that according to our understanding of Meiri, he did NOT base his opinion 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, that Meiri would not have required monotheism for a gentile to get the privileges that he extended to monotheists.  Let me reiterate, that 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 a belief in monotheism.  Had 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, R’ Berger brings some strong support for this idea from an essay by R’ Ahron Soloveitchik.

Let me quote from Rabbi Berger's article[88]:

“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 which gentiles 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)

Here we have none other than R’ Ahron Soloveitchik saying exactly what we had just thought might be too much of a stretch to attribute to Meiri.  He clearly divorces the requirement of the seventh of the Noahide laws, the requirement to believe in One God from the equation necessary to be considered a good as opposed to an evil person.  According to R’ Soloveitchik, any gentile who is not evil, whether or not he is a monotheist, warrants equal Halachic treatment.  This makes our approach to Meiri a more palatable and real.
Indeed, I do believe that I can prove from the words of Meiri himself that he would have agreed that even pagans who are not monotheists can be considered among the “gedurim bedarchei haDat, and therefore would be accorded the same privileges.  In Avodah Zarah[89], Meiri discusses the laws of gift giving to non-Jews.  He brings a Tosefta[90] which explicitly permits gift giving to a non-Jew who is one’s neighbor or friend.  The Meiri is apparently bothered by the fact that in the days of the Talmud, this should have been prohibited, as the gentiles of the time (at least the overwhelming majority of gentiles with whom Chazal had contact) were “worshippers of the stars and constellations” as we have seen throughout his writings.  So in explanation of the Tosefta, the Meiri writes that the Tosefta was referring to those gentiles  in the time of Chazal (R. Shimon ben Gamliel in this case) were gedurim beDarchei haDat.
So Meiri clearly understood, even in the days of the pagans, that some gentiles had taken themselves out of the category of idol worshippers, and placed themselves among the category of gedurim bedarchei haDat!  I don’t think anyone would reasonably claim that the Meiri thought R. Shimon ben Gamliel was referring only to Christians and Moslems! Obviously Meiri knew that the gentile neighbor or friend of R. Shimon ben Gamliel was most likely a pagan!
This clearly supports the claims we made in the name of R. Ahron Soloveitchik.  That according to the Meiri, theological belief in monotheism is NOT a prerequisite to deserving the privileges accorded by Meiri to all moral and ethical people, regardless of their faith.
It also supports the contention of Halbertal, that according to Meiri, religion is only important because that is the only basis of a moral and ethical society.  However, should such a society exist among philosophers or even pagans, even without the belief in One God, then such people would still be due the privileges of those who are “Gedurim beDarchei haDat”. 
 In summary, according to this approach, any society that is just and moral, even if the society is not based on monotheism, would be considered equal to Jews and among other things, saving their lives would be permitted on the Shabbat.
A second possible approach would be that of R’ TH Chajes, the "Maharatz Chajes".  In his essay entitled Tiferes L'Yisrael he tackles this problem in a different manner.
Remember that R’ Chajes held that today's gentiles are considered Gerei toshav, and therefore we are obligated to save their lives, even on Shabbat.  But how could someone who worships Avodah Zarah (assuming that the gentile were non-Muslim and non-Christian – R’ Chajes explicitly does not consider Christianity to be avodah zarah for a gentile) be considered a Ger toshav?  So R’ Chajes explains (my own translation):
"See 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 R’ 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 R’ Y Emden that Rabbi Berger and R’ Soloveitchik cited, you will find that he seems to be endorsing the position of R’ Chajes, and he explicitly extends this to "full-fledged idolaters", and he applied the same principle of "minhag avoseihem b'yedeihem".
Another simple way of explaining R’ Chajes’ opinion would be to say that no society today is really an idol worshipper anymore.   “Real” idol worship is thus a thing of the past.

This approach leaves some lingering questions which I will choose not to deal with.  R’ Chajes contention that no societies today are really idol worshippers can obviously be rigorously contested. However, a full analysis of contemporary religious practices and beliefs, which would be required to fully test R’ Chajes idea, is well beyond the scope of this article.

In summary thus far, we have demonstrated a completely different, but Halachically valid approach to the violation of the Shabbat laws to treat patients.  According to our analysis, any human being who is a member of a just and moral society deserves equal compassionate treatment, even on Shabbat, whether or not he/she is a Jew or a gentile.  Based on the understanding of R’ Soloveitchik, R’ Chajes, and the other authorities we mentioned, there is no questionnaire required to make sure the patient is a true monotheist.

In the unlikely event that a contemporary Orthodox physician is confronted with the need to save someone’s life who is known to be immoral, unjust, and not worthy of either the title of “Ger toshav” or “Ben Dat”, then and only then does it become necessary to invoke the principle of eyvah.  Such an example would be the suicide bomber of R’ Rabinovitch’s discussion.  He clearly has demonstrated his immoral and unjust character, and he is clearly a member of a society that is dedicated to murder and destruction.  None the less he would still be saved on Shabbat, but only because of eyvah, not because the laws of Shabbat are truly suspended for his/her benefit.

In an article by Rabbi Dov Karrol[91], he briefly touches upon the ideas expressed in this article, and he quotes, R’ Ahron Lichtenstein, as follows:

“My teacher and rosh yeshiva Rav Ahron Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etzion explain to me that while the views that take the first approach (that treating a non-Jew is only permitted due to eyvah) address the practical issue, justifying saving the life of a gentile under certain conditions, they sidestep the fundamental issue. Rav Lichtenstein said that were he to be confronted with a case of violating Shabbat to save the life of a gentile, he would act to save the life of the gentile on principle, relying on those views that allow for it in principle, not based on societal concerns alone. Rav Lichtenstein also mentioned that his rebbe and father-in-law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, ruled that this was permissible even in cases where there would be no problem of negative results, independent of such issues…”

This brings further support to our ideas, as according to R’ Lichtenstein, even in a hypothetical case where the principle of eyvah would not apply (say for example if one is alone on a desert island with a gentile and there is no possibility of negative repercussions) one would still be obligated to violate the Shabbat to save the life of a gentile, not because it is practical, but because it is Halachically the right thing to do.


There are several objections that I anticipate many will have to my thesis.

The first objection is that my suggestion conflicts with the opinion of the majority of the Halachic authorities, both the Rishonim and the contemporary authorities.  I freely admit that this is true, as I said several times in the article.  However, this issue is extremely important, and numerous well known Rabbinic authorities have recognized the same issues that I have raised.  I believe that under these circumstances it is necessary for us to rule in favor of the minority.

Another objection that some may raise is that I am guilty of applying my modern egalitarian sensitivities to the Torah, instead of learning from the Torah directly the values I should hold.  Indeed, one may claim that I predetermined what I believe, then searched the Torah for a justification of my beliefs.  In a sense, we all must admit that we are affected by our surroundings and the value systems of the societies within which we live.  The Meiri himself was affected by the attitudes prevailing in medieval Provence[92], but then so was Rabbeinu Yonah influenced by the extreme racial and religious discrimination that was common in the society within which he lived. How are we to judge between these influences to decide which one is right?  We can only study the sources and do our best to identify Torat Emet.  That was my goal in this study.

Some may claim that I still have not found full equality among people of all kinds, as according to my thesis, people who are members of corrupt and amoral societies would not warrant violation of Shabbat to save their lives, if not for the concept of eyvah.  This still may not be acceptable to those who would argue that all people are created equal …  However, I would counter that this itself a lesson of the Torah.  All people DO have the right to life, and that life supersedes the restrictions of Shabbat.  However, should you choose to be immoral, corrupt, violent, and choose to profess this as a way to live among others, such as the suicide bomber of R’ Rabinovich’s responsum, then you have given up that right to have your life saved on the Shabbat.  That is a choice made by this particular society, not a choice we as Jews have forced upon them.

Others may claim that all of the writings of Meiri and the authorities I mentioned were simply apologetics, but deep down even they believed that the Torah differentiates between the lives of Jews and gentiles on Shabbat.  I have already responded to this claim several times regarding some of these authorities, but I would like to add one more point.  It is time for us to follow in practice what R’ YY Weinberg and R’ Kook and the others told us.  It is time to take the Meiri and those that followed him seriously as the foundation for modern Halachic practice as it pertains to our relationships with gentiles.  They told us this wise advice because they knew it was time for this to happen, and we have waited too long to implement their advice in practice.

Another objection I have heard was that these debates should not be made public, and it is wrong to publish such articles in Journals that are available online to the entire world.  They claim that the anti-Semites might pick up on these debates and therefore the publication of this article will cause hatred against Jews.  To this I respond that for precisely this reason it is crucial that we publicize to all Jews what the Halachic attitude towards gentiles is supposed to be.

Only by openly discussing these issues in these types of forums will challenge all of us to seriously and honestly contemplate what our true beliefs are regarding how we are supposed to relate to the rest of the world. 

I emphasized several times in the article that there are no real practical implications of my ideas regarding the practice of caring for gentile patients on Shabbat.  As we quoted from the great poskim of our generation, virtually all agree that a Jew is obligated to save the life of a gentile on Shabbat, even if it involves a D’Oraytah prohibition.  However, I also realize that the implications of my ideas are far reaching, and they potentially may involve practical Halachic matters regarding how we relate to our gentile neighbors.  Even if there were no practical implications, accepting my suggestions would certainly represent a paradigm shift in the way Halachic Jews view the status of gentiles in Halachah.

I have listed many leading Orthodox thinkers who either have taken this step themselves, or at least considered it as a possible solution to a difficult conundrum.  However, I recognize that I can only make suggestions, while the current Torah leadership needs to determine if this is going to become a valid and accepted Halachic approach. To the extent that the ideas I expressed may have some practical Halachic ramifications, one should of course discuss such real situations with their Rav before making decisions based on this article.

We all should be familiar with our God given mission to work towards the goals so eloquently taught to us by our holy prophets.  As Yeshayahu foretold, in Yeshayahu 2:3 “And many peoples shall go and say: 'Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”  Think for a moment, the goal of our entire existence as a people is to bring the message of the Torah to the entire world.  This is where we are going, this is our holy mission.  How then does the master of the universe want us to treat all of His children?  How does he want us to teach the nations of the world to love and respect the God-given Torah and the people of Israel who practice and live by its’ teachings?  What attitude should we have towards our neighbors?  These are the thoughts I want everyone to ponder, and I believe that at least some of the readers of this article will understand how important it is that the Halachah we live by reflects the true values of the Torah.


The following is an analysis of the opinion of Rambam regarding the comments of Rav Yosef and Abaya in Avodah Zarah 26a.  Rambam brings this Gemara in two places, in Hilchot Avodah Zarah, and in Hilchot Shabbat.

In Hilchot Avodah Zarah[93] he writes as follows:

“A Jewish Woman should not nurse the child of a gentile because she is raising a child for idol worship, and she should also not deliver a gentile baby. However, she can deliver the child for pay because of eyvah”

In this chapter, Rambam is dealing specifically with gentiles who are idol worshippers.  Rambam states unequivocally earlier in this same chapter that contemporary Christians are considered idol worshippers [94].  One is therefore left to wonder exactly what he held one should do in a similar situation involving Moslems, amongst whom Rambam actually lived. It is well known that Rambam considered Islam to be a monotheistic religion and not idol worshippers at all. Exactly how these rules might apply to gentiles who are mono theists is somewhat unclear, as the problem of raising child for idol worship ostensibly should not exist .

However, it is clear from the quote above that Rambam agreed that the concept of eyvah was only meant to permit the delivery of an idol worshipper’s child, but not in order to permit violation of Shabbat.  This brings us to the second instance that Rambam brings this Gemara, in Hilchot Shabbat[95].

“One may not deliver the baby of a gentile on Shabbat, even for pay and we are not concerned with “eyvah” even if there is no violation of Shabbat. However, we do deliver the baby of the daughter of a “ger toshav” because we are commanded to help him live (“leHachayoto”) but we cannot violate the Shabbat even for her.”

Rambam clearly holds that Abaye’s explanation of why we do not deliver gentile babies on Shabbat would apply even in contemporary times.  Therefore eyvah would not be applicable in our times at all when the delivery takes place on Shabbat.  It is also certain that Rambam felt that one cannot violate Shabbat to save the life of a Ger Toshav.  But the words of Rambam require some clarification.  The problem is as follows:

In Hilchot Avodah Zarah, it was clear that the reason one may not deliver the baby of a gentile was because of the concern that one is bringing into the world a child who will be an idol worshipper.  However, if one is being paid for this service then one is allowed to deliver the child due to Eyvah, so the concern of raising an idol worshipper is overridden by eyvah.  However, in Hilchot Shabbat, Rambam states that one may not deliver such an infant on Shabbat as the concept of eyvah is not a concern due to Abaye’s explanation.  The obvious inference is that although eyvah can supersede the prohibition of delivering an idol worshipper’s baby, it cannot supersede the transgression of Shabbat, due to Abaye’s explanation. If there was no transgression of Shabbat, then Eyvah would apply, and one could deliver the baby of an idol worshipper, due to eyvah.

But then Rambam states that on Shabbat one may deliver the baby of a Ger Toshav, although not if it involves the violation of Shabbat!  If so, then exactly what is Rambam permitting us to do for a Ger Toshav which was not already permitted for an idol worshipper? On one hand, we cannot violate Shabbat either for a Ger Toshav, or for a true idol worshipper. On the other hand, we can deliver the baby of an idol worshipper when chillul Shabbat is not involved, and similarly we can deliver the baby of the ger Toshav if chillul Shabbat is not involved, so wherein lies the difference?

Therefore, one must understand that in the first statement of Rambam, contrary to what is allowed by the ger toshav, for an idol worshipper one is not even allowed to deliver their baby on Shabbat, even if it does not involve any violation of Shabbat! So how then does Abaye’s explanation work, if there is no violation of Shabbat, one cannot explain that we only violate Shabbat for those that keep Shabbat, it is irrelevant!

One possible explanation, and it seems that this is how Chazon Ish[96] understood Rambam, is as follows: Rambam held like Tosfot that the concept of Eyvah would allow transgression of Rabbinic prohibitions.  Therefore, on a weekday, one may transgress the Rabbinic prohibition of “bringing into the world an idol worshipper” due to fear of eyvah.  However, on Shabbat, if Rabbinic prohibitions are involved one may not transgress them due to Eyvah because Abaye’s explanation eliminates the concern for eyvah.  According to Chazon Ish, Rambam agrees with Tosfot that once the process of labor begins, the baby is considered “ne’ekar latzet” and therefore no D’Oraytah prohibitions are incurred by delivering the baby.  These Rabbinic prohibitions then DO NOT apply to a Ger Toshav, as we have the positive Torah commandment of “Le”hachayoto” which supersedes the Rabbinic prohibition, so we are obligated to deliver the baby of a Ger Toshav.  However,  if it would involve a D’Oraytah prohibition,  we may not violate the Shabbat for her.

Another understanding of Rambam is the Chatam Sofer[97]. Chatam Sofer understands that the reason why one may not deliver the baby of an idol worshipper in Shabbat, despite the fear of eyvah, applies even where no Shabbat transgressions occur at all.  The Chatam Sofer derived this from the words of the Maggid Mishna who stated that the reason why she may not deliver the baby on Shabbat is because she can “slip out of the situation (“lehishamet ve”lomar lah”)and state that there is Chillul Shabbat here and therefore we only violate Shabbat for those who keep the Shabbat.”[98] 
According to Chatam Sofer then, the conclusion of Rambam’s words regarding a Ger Toshav, is simply meant to state that one should not claim that chillul Shabbat is involved when it isn’t actually involved, as we are obligated to help the Ger Toshav.  However, even Rabbinic prohibitions would not be transgressed for a Ger Toshav.

This analysis may help us understand what Rambam might have held regarding gentiles who are not idol worshippers. If the reason why one is prohibited to treat a gentile is out of concern for the violation of a Rabbinic prohibition associated with the delivery, as the Chazon Ish understood, then Rambam in Hilchot Shabbat was not only referring to idol worshippers, he was referring to ALL gentiles.  Therefore, one would conclude that as long as no chillul Shabbat was occurring at all (even Rabbinic prohibitions), one may deliver the baby of a non-idol worshipper, monotheistic gentile even on Shabbat.  But if a Rabbinic prohibition were involved, then one can only deliver the baby of a ger toshav (but no other gentile – even a monotheist would have this leniency, unless one considers them a ger toshav), because of the mitzvah of lahachayoto.  Whereas if a D’Oraytah prohibition was involved, one may not deliver any gentile on Shabbat.

But if the reason why one may not treat the gentile on Shabbat is out of concern for bringing an idol worshipper into the world, as Chatam Sofer understood it, then this entire law would only apply to idol worshippers.  The ger Toshav’s baby though, one would be allowed to deliver, because they are not idol worshippers.  Presumably, one could deliver the baby of any monotheist as well. However, no violation of Shabbat would be allowed at all, even Rabbinic prohibitions, as one can use Abaye’s explanation.

In summary, Rambam’s opinion is as follows:
  1. One may not deliver the baby of an idol worshipper during the week, except for pay due to eyvah
  2. Chazon Ish - One may not deliver the baby of an idol worshipper on Shabbat if one is transgressing a Rabbinic decree, and one cannot apply the concept of eyvah
  3. Chatam Sofer – One may not deliver the baby of an idol worshipper on Shabbat, even if there is absolutely NO Shabbat violation at all, due to the explanation of Abaye
  4. Chazon Ish – One may deliver the baby of a Ger Toshav on Shabbat as long as no D’Oraytah violation occurs
  5. Chatam Sofer – One may deliver the baby of a Ger Toshav on Shabbat as long as NO violation of Shabbat occurs, even Rabbinic decrees

Is it possible that according to Rambam, that contemporary monotheistic gentiles can be considered a Ger Toshav? The simple answer to this question has to be that no, it is not possible. That is because according to Rambam[99], in order for a person to be considered a ger toshav, he must accept upon himself  to keep the seven Noahide laws in front of a Beit Din of three people.  Furthermore, we also only accept people to this status during a time that the laws of Yovel are in effect  [100]. So it would seem clear that according to Rambam, contemporary mono theists, even if they keep the noahide laws, cannot be considered Gerei Toshav with all of the Halachic privileges that are given to Gerei Toshav.

[1] R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe vol. 4:79; R. Yitzhak Ya'akov Weiss, Responsum Minhat Yitzhak, vol. 1 53, vol. 3 20, vol. 10 31:14; R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenburg, Responsum Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 8 15:6; R. Ovadia Yosef, Responsum Yabia Omer, vol. 8 Orah Hayim 38; R. Shlomo Zalman Braun, She'arim Metzuyanim Bahalakhah, 92:1; R. Zvi Hirsch Shapira, Darkhei Teshuvah, 158:3; R. Yehoshua Yishayahu Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah ch. 40 n. 42; R. Simhah Benzion Rabinowitz, Piskei Teshuvot, 390:2
[2] See “Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orhodoxy:The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg by Marc Shapiro Portland, Oregon 2002 page 182 footnote 47, where he quotes a conversation between Gerald Blidstein and R Joseph B. Soloveitchik, where Gerald Blidstein recalls as follows: ‘I remember that in Israel there was a real problem, do you save a gentile on the Sabbath? One evening during this time (I presume this was during the prominent “Shahak affair”) I was with the rav, and he said, “I have been in Boston many years and I always rule that one saves the lives of gentiles, because if we don’t permit this, they won’t treat our sick ones.” I asked him if this reason satisfied him from a moral standpoint, and he replied, “No, from a moral standpoint it does not satisfy me.” ‘  We can infer from this conversation that R’ Joseph B Soloveitchik indeed shared our moral concerns regarding this Halachah.  This may be what led the Rav to rule that even when no eyvah applied that we should save the lives of Gentiles, as we quote in the name of R’ Ahron Lichtenstein at the end of this article
[3] Iggerot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:79
[5] See The late Lord Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits  for one example. 
[7] Avodah Zarah 26a
[8] Chiddushei HaRitva Avodah Zarah 26a
[9] Rabbeinu Nissim on the Rif 7b
[10] Beit yosef bedek habayis 154:2
[11] Shulchan Arch Orach Chaim 330:2, Mishna Berura 330:8
[12] Tosfot Avodah Zarah 26a D’H “Savar”, see analysis of Tosfot in Tzitz Eliezer Chelek 8 Siman 15 Perek 6:2
[13] Tosfot Shabbat OC 330:5
[14] Shut Maharik 137
[15] Avodah Zarah Perek 2, Mishna 1:6
[16] YD 131
[17] OC 2:25
[18] See  R’ Ovadiah Yosef in Halachah U’Refuah Chelek 1 page 147 who explains the Divrei Chaim this way
[19] See R’ Eliezer Waldenburg in Tzitz Eliezer Chelek 8 Siman 15 Perek 6:10 who explains the Divrei Chaim this way
[20] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 330:2, Mishna Berura 330:8
[21] See footnote 1
[22] Among others, the DSA was also taken by R’ Dr Yaakov Avigdor in Ohr HaMizrach. Interestingly, an article by Dr Ellman in     R’ Shimon Shkop
[23] See the Kol Torah Journal Adar 5726, Jerusalem,  Shana 37, Choveret 6 Pages 95-99
[24] Available here online: Tradition Journal, Summer 1966 Volume 8 Number 2, pages 58-65 “A Modern Blood Libel – L’Affaire Shahak”
[25] see R’ Student here 
[26] Shut She’elat Shlomo 3:105
[27] Yoma 85a
[28] See Rif and Ran in Yoma 5a
[29] See Rosh Yoma Chapter 8 # 16
[30] Hilchot Shabbat 2:1
[31] Hilchot Shabbat 2:3
[32] The argument that R’ Student mentions that one does not violate Shabbat to save a non-Observant Jew, is also questionable, as this Halachah was only stated regarding one who is a Mumar L’Challel Shabbat B’Farhesyah, which is a very different concept from an average Jew who may or may not keep Shabbat. See Pri Megadim 328 MZ 6
[33] See R’ Dovid Z Hillman in TZEFUNOT; I,1 (1988) page 65 for an extensive reworking of the Meiri that follows this approach
[34] Meiri mentions this in numerous places, however, it is most explicit in his introductory comments to the first perek of avodah zarah D’H “Yesh makshim” where he writes (in reference to the laws restricting business with gentiles prior to their holidays, which he notes that the practical custom of Jews in his day was not to adhere to these restrictions) as follows:

“..and behold the custom of today is to permit business even on the day of their festival itself, therefore, the real explanation seems to me that these restrictions were only stated in regards to the worshippers of idols and the forms and shapes, however in our days (with modern Christians) it is completely permitted. And that which the Gemara states “Notzri L’Olam Assur” I explain that it refers (not to Christians) but to the Notzrim who come from faraway lands as it states in Jeremiah 4:16, …”

Two important points are evident from the Meiri:
1)       That he does not consider modern Christians to be idolaters
2)       That all business restrictions against “idol worshippers” do not apply to modern Christians

[35] See Meiri’s comments in Yoma 84a, quoted in full in footnote #80
[36] See Meiri Bava Kama 113b where he states as follows:

“[regarding one who finds the lost object of an idol worshipper] returning it to him is  derech Chassidut, and we are not obligated to act in the way of chassidut for someone who has no religion and similarly to cause him to err … there is no obligation to return it however anyone who comes from the nations that are gedurim bedarchei haDat and the worship of god, even if their faith is very different from ours, they are not included in this rule but rather they are like a full Jew for these matters whether for his lost object or for causing him to err and for all other things without any difference…”

[37] See Meiri Sanhedrin 57b where he writes explicitly as follows:

“…and a Jew who kills a gentile, any gentiles who does not keep the seven noahide laws, is not liable for the death penalty because he is an idol worshipper, although it is none the less prohibited to do so … but if they are of those gentiles who abide by the seven noahide laws, he is considered among the baalei hadat (and thus the Jew would be liable for the death penalty .. and even though the simple reading of this sugya seems to say something else be careful not to make a mistake and explain it any other way (than I just explained it)

[38] See Meiri Avodah Zarah 20a where he writes as follows:

“[regarding the law not to give a matnat chinam (free gift) to an idol worshipper] the Tosefta explains that this rule only applies to a gentile who is not an acquaintance of his or a traveler, but if he was his neighbor or his friend than he is allowed to give him gifts because it is similar to a sale, however anyone who is a member of one of the nations that is gedurot bedarchei hadatot and they believe in God, there is no doubt that even if he is not his acquaintance and he does not know him, it is permitted, and even appropriate …”

[39] See Meiri Bava Kama 37b where he writes as follows:

“According to what is said in the Gemara, this law (the law that when the ox of a Jew gores the ox of a gentile that he is not obligated to pay) applies only to the nations which are not restricted by ways of religions and customs, as the Gemara said of them, "[God] saw that the Sons of Noah [non-Jews] were not fulfilling the Seven Commandments they accepted upon themselves, so He permitted their property to the Jews," as long as they are obliged by these commandments -- therefore, those [non-Jews] who fulfill the Seven Commandments should be treated by us as we are treated by them, and we should not favor ourselves in judgment; now it is unnecessary to specify that this is also the case concerning the nations restricted by ways of religions and customs.”
[40] See Meiri Avodah Zarah 26a where he writes as follows (commenting on the mishnayot that list numerous Halachot regarding idol worshippers including not leaving animals under their care out of suspicion of bestiality, not delivering their infants, not getting a haircut from an idol worshipper and more, see Mishna Avodah Zarah Perek 2):

“I have seen many people puzzled by the fact that nowadays nobody is careful to observe these laws. But I have already explained which Gentile nations are meant in this tractate; and the names of their holidays will also testify to it: for, as I mentioned above, they all are feasts of ancient nations, not restricted by the ways of religions, but practicing fervently and persistently worship of idols, stars and talismans, which -- and all things like them -- are essentials of idolatry, as has been already explained. But in any event, with regard to [avoiding] the possibility of violation of the prohibitions concerning Sabbath and the prohibitions concerning food and drinks [of non-Jews] -- e. g. [the ban] on wine of libation, and on their wine per se, and all those type of bans, whether it is only consuming something [of theirs] in food which was banned, or getting any advantage of it, or if the bans were made in order to prevent intermarriages -- all the [non-Jewish] nations come under these prohibitions... From now on, let these things be settled on your mind, so that it will not be necessary to clarify them specifically on each and every occasion, but you should be able to analyze on your own whether in any particular case the ancient nations are meant or the non-Jews in general; examine things, and you will know them.”

Here Meiri lays out clearly his rule differentiating between those laws which are designed to keep Jews from intermarrying with gentiles, which he believes applies to all gentiles, and the laws that are based on their immorality, which he believes did not apply to modern gentiles.
[41] Introductory letter to Hayyim David Halevi, Bein Yisrael la-Ammim (Jerusalem, 1954), pp.16-17
[42] The extent to which Meiri’s Halachic opinions differed from his predecessors and contemporaries , and the extent to which Meiri believed in this seemingly revolutionary philosophy, is a subject of intense scholarly discussion.  While this is beyond the scope of this article, I will at least guide you to some of the most important sources on this subject:

  1.  Jacob Katz, Beyn Yehudim le-goyim: Yahas ha-Yehudim li-shekheneyhem bi- Yemey ha-Beynayim u-bi-tehillat ha-Zeman he-Hadash (Jerusalem, 1960); see esp. pp.35–56.
  2.  Ephraim E. Urbach, “Shittat ha-sovlanut shel R. Menahem ha-Me’iri: Mekorah u-migbaloteha,” in Studies in the History of Jewish Society in the Middle Ages and in the Modern Period Presented to Professor Jacob Katz on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, ed. I. Etkes and Y. Salmon (Jerusalem, 1980), 34–44 [reprinted in Ephraim E. Urbach, Mehkarim be-madda‘ey ha-Yahadut, ed. Moshe David Herr and Yonah Fraenkel, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 1996), 366–76].
  3.  R’ David Berger “Jews, gentiles, and the Modern Egalitarian Ethos Some Tentative Thoughts” at this link: 
  4.  Moshe Halbertal, Beyn Torah le-hokhmah: Rabbi Menahem ha-Me’iri u-ba‘ale ha-Halakhah ha-maimoniyyim bi-Provence (Jerusalem, 2000).
  5. Meiri and the non-Jew: A Comparative Investigation by Dr. Yaakov Elman Published by Brill Publishing 2011 “New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations” p.263-296
  6. Gregg Stern, Philosophy and Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Interpretation and Controversy in Medieval Languedoc (London, 2009).

To summarize, Jacob Katz presented the Meiri as an innovative and original thinker who developed a unique and almost modern philosophical framework of a new Jewish attitude towards Gentiles.  Urbach sharply criticized Katz and pointed out numerous inconsistencies within the Meiri, and Halbertal demonstrated that Katz’s view was much closer to the truth. Stern and Berger agreed with Halbertal’s view and supported Katz.

I will admit that I have been heavily influenced by Halbertal, and this article reflects my feelings on this issue.  I must refer the reader though to Dr. Elman’s work, who, like Urbach, points out numerous inconsistencies in the Meiri.  This led Dr. Elman to propose that the Meiri did not quite have such a consistent philosophy regarding the proper attitude towards non-Jews.  In all fairness, I must recommend that the interested reader should read Dr Elman’s article in its’ entirety and decide for themselves.  However, I would like to mention here some of my own thoughts regarding the “inconsistencies” of the Meiri raised by Urbach and Elman.

Three key “inconsistencies” were the following:

  1.  The Meiri's comment that it would be Middat Chasidut not to allow one's child to nurse from a gentile nurse "because a child's food plays a large role in the child's moral formation" (see footnote 3 on page 266)
  2. The Meiri's understanding of the laws of Tumah regarding a non-Jewish corpse and that they do not transmit tumat ohel because they are not included in the category of "adam" (see section III of his article started on page 278)
  3. The Meiri's acceptance of the Halachah that a non-Jew cannot serve as a "shaliach" (agent) for a Jew, not only in religious matters such as terumah, but even in civil matters, because they are not included in the verse "atem - gam atem". 
Elman sees all of these as contradictory to the Meiri's seemingly liberal views regarding nations that are "gedurim bedarchei hadat" and demonstrate that the Meiri was conflicted about this position.

Personally, I believe that the Meiri was actually quite consistent in his views nations that are gedurim bedarchei haDat.  However, the Meiri also acknowledged that although the nations that are “gedurim bedarchei haDatot” are in many ways equal to Jews, the Torah is still a superior system of morality and leads to a superior development of spirituality than the other religions.  For this reason, when Jews keep the Torah, there is something special about the Jewish people that no matter how spiritual and moral a gentile is, he/she is still not a Jew who adheres to the Torah.  This is something so obvious from so many areas of the Torah and Chazal that it cannot be disputed.  All of the examples mentioned reflect the Meiri's understanding of this fundamental difference between Jews and Gentiles. The nursing issue, the Tumah issue and not being included in the category of "Adam", and the inability to serve as an agent due to being excluded from the category "atem", all of these are true only because even the Meiri acknowledges that on a certain spiritual level, there is something special that is unique to the Jewish people which even the most moral gentile cannot attain (without converting to Judaism of course).  this does not seem inconsistent to me at all.  Please see footnote 92 for more discussion of the Meiri and the origin of his opions.

The Meiri clearly did not mean to equate Jews and non-Jews in every way possible, as we can see that he clearly upheld the restrictions that discouraged intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.  He simply developed a philosophy that accorded significant respect and humanity to societies of gentiles that upheld moral and ethical systems of belief and behavior.
[43] Bava Metziah[43] 59a
[44] Vayikra 25:17
[45] Rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Birkat Moshe in Maaleh Adumim, in Shut Melumdei Milchamah Hilchot Shabbat:43
[46] in his comments on The Rambam Sefer HaMitzvot 16, also Rashbatz in Zohar HaRakia Azharot 39 states that saving the life of a Ger Toshav supersedes Shabbat, and he brings Ramban as his source, Also see Ramban in his commentary on the Torah VaYikra 25:35 where he derives the mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh from the words “vechay Imach” which refers to a ger toshav
[47] See his essay titled “Tiferes L’Yisrael”
[48] This important distinction between Meiri’s category of nations that are “gedurim bedarchei hadatot” and the idea that the concept of Ger Toshav can be applied to contemporary gentiles as R’ Rabinovich is arguing, is elaborated in detail by Halbertal.  It was also recognized by R’ Yehuda Gershuni in the article quoted in the next paragraph
[49]  “Or HaMizrach” Volume 16, p. 34.  I found this source through the generous help of Prof. Marc B. Shapiro.
[50] Shut Mitzpeh Aryeh Tinyana Chelek 1 Siman 10 Lvov, 1912 .  I found this source through the generous help of Prof. Marc B. Shapiro.

[51] Vayikra 25:35,36 (JPS translation)
[52] It may be possible to suggest that while the verse in Vayikra 18:5 “ve-chai bahem” teaches us that one may violate a commandment of the Torah to save one’s own life, it may not be enough to teach us that one must also violate the Torah to save someone else’s life. For this reason the Sifra according to the Ramban requires an additional pasuk of “ve-chai akhikha imakh” to tell us that one is also obligated to violate the Torah to save other’s lives as well.  This understanding of the Ramban is also to be found in the Sefer Mishnat Avraham by R’ Avraham Ahron Preis, Pomer Publishing, Toronto, Canada 1950. I found this source through the generous help of Prof. Marc Shapiro.
[53] See Peirush Rabbeinu Hillel on Sifra on this verse,  and one of the earliest Peirushim of the Sifra
[54] Rashbatz in Zohar HaRakia Azharot 39
[55] See Meiri’s comments in bava Metziah 59b for one important example, and see Halbertal p. 88 for more details on this approach of Meiri
[56] See his comments in Sefer HaMitzvot Mitzvat aseih :16
[57] Mishna Torah Hilchot Shabbat 2:12
[58] Rashi Vayikra 25:35
[59] Avodah Zarah 64b
[60] Eruchin 29a
[61] Hilchot Issurei Biah 14:7,8
[62] See Be’er hagolah, Be’er 7
[63] See page 144 in the paragraph which begins “Ve’od Amru” in the popular Hoenig edition Bnei Brak 1980
[64] See page 145 in the paragraph which begins “Nimtzah” in the popular Hoenig edition Bnei Brak 1980
[65] Shemot 21
[66] This essay was printed in a work entitled “Sheni Perakim'al Davar haHov l'Ohev haKaisar” and it was published in St. Petersburg in 1852.  It was a challenge to find, but I was able to secure a copy of the book from a friend in Silver Spring MD Dan Rabinowitz.  This teshuva is discussed in the Journal Yeshurun Volume 4 5759 (1998) pages 655-663 in an article by R’ Eliezer Katzman.  He describes the interesting circumstances behind the publishing of this teshuva under the auspices of the Czarist Government. One might question the sincerity of Rav Heller’s teshuva on the grounds that it might have been coerced and not truly reflective of his Halachic opinions. There are several scholars who have described the circumstances of the writing and publication of this work, and I will refer the reader here to two of these. I highly recommend that the interested reader see these articles for him/herself.
1)       A. Shochet "Mashehu 'al HaSefer 'Shnei Perakim' SINAI 102 (1988) PP. 63-71
2)       Eliezer Katzman, “L’Demuto shel R”Y Heller Ba’al Amudei Ohr” Yeshurun Volume 4, p.655-663

There are several reasons why I believe that this teshuva represents the genuine Halachic position of Rav Heller. I will summarize these reasons as follows:

1)       Rav Heller’s Teshuva was written in response to a query by his cousin R’ Avraham David Strashun of Vilna, there is no indication that this teshuva was coerced any more than any of the other teshuvos R’ Heller write to this very same family member. It may be true that the publisher Mendelstam published this teshuva in order to ingratiate himself with the authorities, but there is no reason to believe that this influenced R’ Heller when he wrote it.
2)       Rav Heller wrote a lengthy teshuva of almost 40 pages, including almost 20 pages full of Halachic conclusions that could be made based on his basic chiddush that entire nations that accept the sheva mitzvos are considered gerei toshav.  If it was simply an apologetic nod to the Czarist government, there would have been no need to discuss the Halachic ramifications regarding yayin Nesech and stam yaynam, Hilchos yichud, the issur to sell weapons to a gentile, beyomo titeyn secharo, Hilchot ona'ah, hashavat aveidah, tzedakah and many more.
3)       Rav Heller makes many of the same arguments that are also made by the others mentioned in this article, many of whom were writing Halachic opinions and not apologetics. This includes the Mitzpeh Aryeh, the Maharal, and numerous others quoted in this article
4)       R’ Heller’s basic argument is used by other major poskim in determining Halachah. Most important of which is R AYH Kook (see the following footnote) who uses the same argument as part of the reasoning that allowed the sale of EY during shemittah. Rav Herzog also used the same argument as well. Neither of these authorities quoted R’ Heller, though it is unlikely that they would have had access to his sefer which was rare and only published once. If they took this position as a serious Halachic possibility why shouldn’t we assume that R’ Heller meant it as well?
5)       R’ Katzman has in his possession a teshuva written by another great 19th century Lithuanian posek that responded to and refuted the arguments of R’ Heller.  This manuscript has not yet been published, but it is unlikely that the other Rabbinic leaders would have needed to write Halachic responses to R’ Heller if his teshuva was never serious in the first place and his only purpose was to placate the Czarist government.
6)       In a conversation with R’ Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (Executive VP Emeritus of the Orthodox Union and Editor in Chief of the Koren Talmud Bavli) he also added the following point. Every teshuva that is written is influenced by the circumstances surrounding it, but we don’t dismiss the teshuva just because it was influenced by its circumstances! We still need to take what R’ Heller said seriously, as it still remains valid as an opinion.
7)       I discussed this as well with Prof. Marc Shapiro who concurred that the teshuva did not follow the usual pattern of apologetic literature that consists of a several sentence disclaimer claiming that all references to gentiles only refer to the idol worshippers of Talmudic times, not our contemporary gentiles.  Instead, he wrote an entire teshuva demonstrating this idea.
8)       Neither of the articles I referenced above (The Katzman article or the Shochet article), provides any evidence that the actual teshuva of Rav Heller was written under pressure.  Although it is clear that the publication of the book, and other material (especially the German translation) was written mostly to appease the authorities, the teshuva of Rav Heller seems genuine for the reasons which I stated.

[67] Interestingly, R’ AYH Kook in Shut Mishpat Kohen Laws of Shemittah and Yovel 58 seems to take this position as well.  He says there that the laws of “Lo Techaneim” do not apply to Muslims because they accepted the worship of One God as a nation.  R’ Y Herzog in “Nochrim BeMedinah Yehudit” published by “Beit Reuvein Mass” Jerusalem 2008 understood R’ Kook to be saying that since they accepted monotheism as a nation that they have the laws of Gerei Toshav, see his words on the top of page 59, “as my predecessor (R’ Kook) determined that an entire nation that accepts upon itself the seven laws has the status of Geirim toshavim”
[68] See R' Heller pages 50,51 paragraphs 3 and 4
[69] See R’ Heller page 69 paragraph 44
[70] See Chemdas Yisrael Pietrikov 5687, Kuntrus Ner Mitzvah p 202 number 35, also note that according to R’ Plotski’s this is actually the opinion of Rambam regarding contemporary monotheistic gentiles!
[71] See Chemdas Yisrael Pietrikov 5687, Kuntrus Ner Yisrael, p 27 number 52, it is worthwhile to review there his lengthy analysis of Ramban’s opinion
[72] See “Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes” Jerusalem 5718, page 489
[73] See the final paragraph of the “Kuntrus Acharon” of his work “Minchat Kenaot” published by Meyerhoffer in 1849 available online here 
[74] Shut Mitzpeh Aryeh Tinyana Chelek 1 Siman 10 Lvov, 1912 .  I found this source through the generous help of Prof. Marc B. Shapiro.
[75] “Or HaMizrach” Volume 16, p. 34.  I found this source through the generous help of Prof. Marc B. Shapiro.
[76] Pirush HaRan al HaRif Avodah zarah 1b D.H. “Dinra”
[77] See chapter 8 of the book “Fundamentals of Judaism” published by Feldheim, NY edited by Jacob Breuer
[78] See Hirsch in “The Collected Writings”, volume 7, the essay titled “Talmudic Judaism and Society”
[79] See his commentary on Pirkei Avot 4:13
[80] The Meiri himself, when discussing the laws of violating Shabbat to save a life, in Yoma 84a states, “Pikuach Nefesh Eyn holchin Bo Achar rov – How is this? In a courtyard where there are present Jews and worshippers of the stars and constellations (ovdei kochavim umazalot) for whom we are not obligated to violate the Shabbat for them [to save their lives] because they have no religion and they don’t even care for the general obligations of civilized living among others (Sh’eyn lahem shum dat vegam eynam chosheshim lechovat chevrat ha’adam)”

Several points are clear from this statement of the Meiri.
1)       He clearly states that we are obligated to violate Shabbat to save the life of a gentile who is a ben dat, consistent with our thesis
2)       It is clear that the reason why we are obligated is because they are included in the category of benei dat, and not because of the concept of ger toshav
3)       We get another hint as to why he feels that being a “ben dat” is so important, because only people with a religion are moral and civilized.  This lends strong support to what we claim later in this article that had the Meiri been aware of moral societies that are not religious, he would probably have agreed that they too would warrant chillul Shabbat to save their lives.  There are many other such references in the Meiri, but this one was written specifically regarding chillul Shabbat, so I felt it was important to mention here. 
[81] see Iggrot Reiyah vol. 1 page 99
[82] Techukah L’Yisrael Al Pi HaTorah vol 3 p. 278 (Jerusalem , 1989)
[83] See his book “Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind”  pages 139, 151
[84] see Torah Umaddah Journal 7 - 1997)
[85] See J. David Bleich, “Divine Unity in Maimonides, the Tosafists and Me’iri,” in Neoplatonism
and Jewish Thought, ed. Lenn E. Goodman (Albany, 1992), 237–254 who argues that Meiri had a mistaken view of Christian theology
[86] See “Jews, Gentiles, and the Modern Egalitarian Ethos: Some Tentative Thoughts” by David Berger Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age, ed. by Marc Stern (Lanham, 2005), pp. 83-108 also available at this link: (see pages 26, 27)
[87] See Halbertal in Bein Torah le Chokhmah p. 101 note 35
[88] Page 26 of the above article
[89] Avodah Zarah 20a
[90] Tosefta Avodah Zarah 3(4):14, ed. M. S. Zuckermandel
[91] See “Laws of medical Treatment on Shabbat” by R’ Dov Karrol available here
[92] Exactly what influenced the Meiri to develop a Halachic philosophy that was so different from most other authorities is a fascinating question. I would point anyone interested in learning more about the influences that caused the Meiri to develop his philosophy to footnote # 42, and especially to Dr Elman’s article.  While Halbertal and others claimed that it was the unique intellectual and religious environment that existed in Provence that led to the Meiri’s departure from Halachic norms, Dr. Elman has a much more interesting explanation for the Meiri’s unique attitudes.  He claims that the Meiri had a special emotional relationship with a Christian scholar whom he respected and dealt with as a close friend and confidant.  Dr Elman believes that it was this deep emotional connection which led the Meiri to develop a philosophy that justified fostering respectful and meaningful interpersonal relationships with people of other faiths.

This idea is carried much further in another article by Israel ben Simon,"The Origins of the Meiri’s Commentary on the book of Proverbs and the Concept of 'Nations Bound by the Ways of Religion'" (JSIJ - Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal available here).  Ben Simon argues that the Meiri was heavily influenced by the writings of R’ Jacob Anatoly, the son-in-law of the famous R’ Shmuel ibn Tibbon, translator of many of the works of the Rambam.  Anatoly is the author of a work called “Melmad HaTalmidim” and in it there are many references to his opinions regarding the status of non-Jews.  Ben Simon points out many parallels between the thoughts of the Meiri and the writings of Anatoly, in some cases even using almost identical language.  It is well known that Anatoly was a close friend of the Christian scholar Michael Scots.  This leads one to wonder what kind of influence the friendship of Anatoly and Scots, and Meiri and his Christian friend had on their thoughts regarding the status of gentiles.

To carry this thinking further, it is worthwhile considering the article by Professor Menachem Kellner, “We are not alone”.  In this article he discusses the idea that the difference between Jews and Gentiles can be understood in two ways.  One is what he attributes to R’ Yehuda HaLevi, and that is that there is an ontological difference between the Jew and gentile, something totally independent of the Torah how the person behaves and/or believes.  The second, and according to Kellner the more ancient and authentic approach is that the entire difference between Jew and Gentile is simply based on the Torah and the moral lifestyle that a Torah observant nation adheres to.  In this scheme, a gentile who is moral and ethical would be on a “higher” level than a Jew who disregards the Torah.

Kellner traces this idea through the thinking of the Rambam and the Maimonideans who followed in his footsteps.  If one puts all of this together, one finds a clear path from the Rambam, through R’ Shmuel ibn Tibbon and Anatoly, to the Meiri.  When thought of in this way, the Meiri’s thoughts are not quite as revolutionary as we thought.  They merely are the halachic application of ideas that had been around for centuries. 
Dr Elman's idea is also very relevant to those of us who live in contemporary society and interact regularly with many fine and moral gentiles who often personify the values that we consider to be “darchei datot venimusim” the ways of religion and ethics.  Our personal relationships with members of other faiths have led us to realize that they can often be intelligent, spiritual and deeply moral people just like Jewish people can be. The opinions of Meiri are therefore quite understandable to the 21st century Modern Orthodox Jew.
[93] Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 9:18
[94] Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 9:4
[95] Hilchot Shabbat 2:12
[96] See Chazon Ish OC 59:5, it seems clear from his words that he understood that Rambam held like Tosfot that only Issurei deRabbanan were permissible due to eyvah, but that Abaye’s explanation still stands today, therefore, for a ger Toshav, Issurei deRabbanan would be permitted.
[97] See Chatam Sofer  YD 131,
[98] (Though this is certainly not the only possible interpretation of the Maggid Mishna’s words, this is how Chatam Sofer understood them; that she is able to claim that there is Chillul Shabbat, even though in actuality there may not actually be any Chillul Shabbat. An alternate understanding of the Maggid Mishna would be as follows: “Le’Hishamet” - that she may slip out of the sticky situation by saying … “Velomar lah”  -and say to her etc… This understanding would not support the Chatam Sofer at all.)
[99] Hilchot Melachim 8:10
[100] Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:6


  1. Welcome back! Great post.
    I wrote a bit about this issue lately as well:

    See R. H.D.Halevi's article from Tehumin I cited.

  2. Thank you for such a well written discussion of the subject. I found that as I was reading, I thought of several problems only to discover that you address them in subsequent sections and provide what I think is a good answer.

  3. Welcome back. Thanks for the wonderful article. R. Eitam Henkin hy"d pointed out that including contemporary nokhrim in the category of "ger toshav" likely creates more halachic problems than it solves:

    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I personally like the Meiri's approach better than the Ger Toshav approach, for many of the same reasons. and I made it very clear in the article that the Meiri's opinion is not based on the concept of Ger Toshav.

  4. The footnote hyperlinks don't work here...

  5. thank you for a very well written article we need to figure out how to get this more circulated, are there any frum doctor forums or FB groups in usa/israel that you can post a link to this there? also i think you should think about putting your name on this as it would give it wider wiegth and exposure and also help to allow such ideas to gain acceptance as normative

    1. You are very welcome! I am so happy that you Enjoyed the article. Please feel free to disseminate the article in any forum you like. As far as my anonymity is concerned, I will remain anonymous. The article will have to stand on its own merits.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. What are your feelings about the Meiri's position on the Gemarah concerning Notzrim. In his treatment on the subject he says that the Notzrim were people who worshiped the sun during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Any thoughts on this?

  8. What do you think of the following argument: The population of the Roman Empire at its height was about 25% of the total population of the world. About 10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish. So at least 2.5% of the population of the world 2000 years ago was Jewish, and that's not counting the Jews outside the Roman Empire and the 10 lost tribes. So by matrilineal descent, at least 2.5% of the present world population is halachically Jewish; just that neither they nor we know who they are. So because of this safek, all people must be treated as Jews.

    1. It is interesting, and I would add that many people argue that a significant percentage of the Hispanic population may be descended from Jews as well. However, I don't believe this is relevant. The point I am trying to make is that one is obligated to save the life of a gentile on Shabbat period, not because he/she might be a Jew.

    2. The Chasam Sofer writes explicitly that someone whose Jewish genealogy is totally unknown and unknowable is not Jewish, even if their matrilineal line are all Jews.


    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I hadn't seen this specific post, but I did quote R' Karroll and Rav Lichtenstein Z'L in my post.

  10. The blog and post are appreciated, however the focus seems to be exclusively on doctors giving medical treatment for humans in life threatening situations on Shabbos. I'd appreciate replies to a few basic questions:

    Could the Medical Halachic Rationalist and/or other knowledgeable readers please share some enlightenment regarding the treatment on Shabbos of non-life threatening and non-limb threatening illnesses or injures, for Jews and gentiles?

    What about for pets and other animals in various levels of distress or illness, whether life threatening or non-life and non-limb threatening situations?

    Are there any differences between treatment on Shabbos and treatment on Yom Tov?

    Are there any differences whether one is a professional, a doctor or veterinarian, or whether one is simply a layperson who may be in a position to give aid and healing?

    1. The questions you ask are very important, and all require thorough treatment on their own. I can give very general, non specific, and broad answers to your questions now, but I apologize in advance that they will not fully satisfy your intellectual curiosity. Also, each question deserves treatment from a rationalist perspective, and I haven't yet seen someone tackle these issues from and RMH perspective in a complete way.
      In terms of non life threatening injuries, in general, these are not permitted on shabbat or yom tov. However, this prohibition has so many caveats that in most cases such injuries can be treated on shabbat, either with a "shinuy" or often because they may turn into more threatening injuries if not treated, or because of other reasons. This is a very broad topic, and I would refer you first to the many contemporary books available on the topic (though none that I am.aware of use the RMH approach).

      As for animals, there is much less literature, and once again, the starting line position is that it is prohibited. Once again, their may be many mitigating factors which could allow it, and relieving pain and suffering would certainly create a "malacha sha'ayna tzericha legufa" situation which could help allow some interventions. Once again, this would require a very lengthy analysis.

      As for non professionals, there is no difference at all in what a non professional is allowed to do on shabbat. There may be differences regarding what he/she is obligated or responsible to do. However a non professional has the same permission to save lives as a professional. I can think of a difference according to today''s mainstream approach, that possibly the argument of eyvah might be a stronger argument for a professional than a layperson. But a layperson is still given the same permission to violate shabbat to save life.

      I hope this helps a little.

    2. Thanks for your reply. As you write with regard to treating non-life threatening injuries, and for treating animals, the straightforward Halacha appears to be that “the starting line position is that it is prohibited." It seems to me however that perhaps it is possible that over time the Halacha, as outlined in the Gemorah and elucidated by the codifiers of Jewish law, became more restrictive than necessary with regard these issues. Why would our benevolent G-d insist that we suffer, or see other people suffer, or even animals suffer, just because it is Shabbos or Yom Tov? Somehow it just doesn’t seem to compute, and I have growing doubts about whether or not these are the exact same laws that were originally given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu.

      Meanwhile, regarding non-life threatening injuries you state, "However this prohibition has so many caveats that in most cases such injuries can be treated on shabbat, either with a "shinuy" or often because they may turn into more threatening injuries if not treated, or because of other reasons. This is a very broad topic, and I would refer you first to the many contemporary books available on the topic (though none that I am.aware of use the RMH approach)." --- Please give the titles and authors of some of these books that you mention. Thanks again.

    3. Thanks so much for your comments. The concerns that you raise are very valid, and it is precisely these type of doubts that led to my writing this blog. While I am FAR from answering these difficulties, I chose to deal with them head on, and unapologetically.
      Regarding references for dealing with non life threatening injuries and illnesses, it would suffice to read through the classic "Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchatah" by Rav Neuworth. especially Chapters 33 and 34. This is by far and away the most authoritative halachic guide accepted in all Orthodox circles. Everyone else follows in his footsteps.

      Regarding the permisibility of treating animals in pain, check the index of the same work, under "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim" and you'll see his several discussions on the issue.

    4. To clarify, previously I wrote, “…I have growing doubts about whether or not these are the exact same laws that were originally given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu.” Actually, as well known, many of the restrictive laws involved definitely do date from a very long time after Moshe Rabbeinu, including numerous Rabbinic enactments and decrees. What I meant was, as you probably realized, that certain things that are generally considered to be Biblical prohibitions, perhaps in reality may themselves also be only of later Rabbinic origin.

      B”N I’ll review the Halochos in Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchatah as you suggest, however I do not expect it will satisfy me. Although it is clear that the Halacha requires us to be very careful when it comes to cases of potential danger to human life, and for many patients and conditions the evaluation of what this means is enormously expanded, nevertheless my impression at this point is that Halacha does not go far enough to allow medical treatment for people in non life threatening situations, and especially for pets and animals, where the standard Halacha seems to state that even treatment to save an animal’s life is forbidden.

      Regarding humans, an article “Medicine on Shabbos” by Gil Student – and – discusses the Rabbinic prohibition on taking medication on Shabbos for non life threatening situations, and whether or not, since in our days medicine is generally not made in the home but almost universally purchased from pharmacies, it may be time to rethink the prohibition. Can you provide any feedback about this?

      Regarding pets and animals, an article “Tzaar Baalei Hayim and Shabbat: A Teshuvah for Our Time” by Asher Shasho-Levy – - linked to at - discusses the question: Is one allowed to break Shabbat in order to alleviate the suffering of or save the life of a pet animal? The article concludes that indeed “it is every Jew’s Torah obligation to alleviate animal suffering, whether on a weekday or on Shabbat.” Can you provide any feedback about this too?

      Hope you have an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

  11. I think that your arguments for not having this discussion in English in an open forum are much better than your reasons for doing so. as such I don't want to comment on the substance of your argument. a couple of side points though;
    1. you might want to consider getting a gmail address that is not associated with your real name. that way people could respond privately without you sacrificing your anonymity.
    2. you work in the US, so for your argument to be meaningful (in your professional life) you would have to argue that currently American society is more "moral" than the pagan societies of Talmudic times. you made a strong effort to eliminate theology from the assessment of morality, but as far as I can tell ignored other major issues. abortion on demand is actual murder (for benie noach) according to many poskim, and at least abizrayhu dretzicha according to virtually everyone. likewise societal endorsement of marriage between 2 men, and the legal allowance of all arayot (between consenting adults) undermines at least 2 of the 7 MB"N, even leaving theology out of it. on what basis do you believe that the meiri would consider this a "moral society" more so than the Talmudic era pagans (as opposed to the meiri's contemporary Christians/moslems, who were careful about these things).
    3. you acknowledge that to some degree your questions are influenced by contemporary mores, but you then impugn similar motives to the rishonim (and presumably chazal as well). to believe that men such as r' yona had not managed to perfect their character enough to rise above such influence is factually wrong, but in any case I wonder why you think that the environment that r"y lived in was any worse than that of the meiri? have you investigated if that was historically true?
    you clearly put a lot of time and effort into this essay (not easy on a physician's schedule), so you deserve to be complimented on that.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and your interest. I obviously disagree with your opinion that we should not be having this discussion in an open forum in English, but that's cool. It's what life is all about, I understand where you're coming from and I get it.
      As for your three point:
      1) regarding the email address, I use the email address linked to this account which should not have my name attached to it. If you somehow know who I am (and I don't know who you are, which is totally fine with me, after all, I ask for anonymity as well) than I request that you respect my desire to remain so.
      2) I do work in the US, and my argument does rest on the assumption that for the most part, most societies in the world today fall into the Meiri's category of being moral and just. While it is true that there are many aspects of modern society which would not be approved by the Meiri (to say the least!) I don;t believe this would take modern society out of the category of ba'alei hadat.
      This would require a very lengthy argument, and I'm sure there would be many counterarguments between us back and forth.I would rather not do that right now.
      3) What I wrote in the article was clear, as you point out as well. However, influences upon people can be different even when they grow up in the same town, on the same block, even next door to each other. To be sure, both the Meiri, and Rabbeinu Yona experienced both positive and negative experiences with their gentile neighbors. What led one to rect one way, and the other to react differently would require not just an understanding of the community and historical circumstances of their lives, but also a detailed personal history of their close family influences, friends, and teachers. I did not make assumptions about why RY and Meiri came out with such different attitudes, I only pointed out that they did. I did however (in the footnotes mostly) suggest some possible explanations as to what influenced Meiri to take the path that he did. I have no idea of these suggestions are correct, and I was quoting other scholars who made these points - they were not my own ideas. See Footnote # 92 for the details and you can feel free to check those sources for their ideas.

      I happen to suspect, and this is totally a personal feeling and NOT a scholarly claim, that it has to do with personal relationships with a contemporary gentile, or more likely, several contemporary gentiles. I say this simply because I know that when one is in close contact, and more so when one has close friendships with intelligent and morally admirable non Jews, one is MUCH more likely to have a positive view, than when one has no such contact, or very limited contact.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Shalom, Rav,

    Reading this excellently researched and tightly argued article, I felt that we must live on different planets entirely. The crux of the argument is that the Christians and Muslims are monotheists and should be treated like Jews WRT violating Shabbat to save their lives, because their monotheism makes them basically moral, they obey the Noachide Laws by default, and should be treated like Gerei Toshavim. And most of the atheists in Western societies are also basically moral and keep the Noachide Laws. And even the idolaters who don't keep the Noachide Law prohibiting idolatry still keep the other ones, and anyway they're idolaters out of tradition, not conviction.

    But when I look at Western society, I see Christians who have basically become atheists. Even the ones who go to church mostly don't really believe in what they're hearing there. And they do NOT keep the Noachide Laws in any sense-for instance, the widespread adulation of homosexuality and transsexualism, mass abortion with sales of fetal flesh and the common operating procedure in their abbatoirs where animals are frequently processed while still alive and partially conscious-not intentionally, just because the captive bolt gun doesn't kill them immediately, but they get hung up and processed anyway. Pretty soon euthanasia is going to be widespread, as well, which transgresses the prohibition on murder.

    As for Muslims, rape, robbery and murder are widespread among them, places like Iran have widespread abortion and so forth.

    I won't even get into the idolaters.

    So how can you claim that these people, who violate the Noahide Laws as a matter of course and who turn against those among them who would suggest this is wrong, are like a Ger Toshav? Perhaps Meiri could, in his day, see the basically decent Christians among whom he lived as such, but in our day?

    And as for the distinction between the Muslim soldier and terrorist we find on the battlefield, this is extremely contrived. The terrorist sees himself, rightfully, as no different than a soldier, given the mission to attack the enemy. He attacks women, children and civilian men, but so does the bomber pilot, and the special operations soldier blowing up a dam. He's not doing this out of any personal bloodthirst, but rather because it supports the national mission. Why make a distinction?

  13. Dr.

    I am new to your blog, I got here from Rabbi Slifkin's blog. I too am a physician and work on Shabbat is something I have had to contend with for many years.

    I am impressed by the depths of analysis but there are two points I wish to make.

    The first is to emphasize that although you admit at the end that a criticism of your work may be that your secular American surroundings have affected, you then go on to say that your motives are the search of emet. Sadly your own words at the beginning of the article imply otherwise. Your langauge suggests, and at times explicitly states, that your distaste for mainstream opinion is what made you look for alternatives. As a physician you must know this represents signficant bias and warrants more than a short disclaimer at the end. You have made it clear that you are noge'a bedavar and so not fit to judge the case. You may have stumbled on emet but to know that we would need to see haskmamot by people not so deeply biased by the religion of liberalism. That said, should more objective people show support for your very detailed analysis I would welcome such a position as it would be a tremendous alleviation of the guilt and stress many doctors that have to work on Shabbat suffer from.

    The second point is a more positive disagreement. You state at the end that there is absolutely no practical implication to your position. Apart from the above mentioned alleviation of the feeling that one is doing something be'diavad, there is the very real practical implication that if saving a non Jewish life is le'chatchila the same as that of a Jew then one would not be obligated to try and get out of Shabbos work to the same degree that one would otherwise.

    And that brings me to a question. If everyone is lechatchila the same then does the same din that allows one to volunteer for, as an example, Hatzolah, allow one to volunteer for the local fire dept an Shabbat? Both are saving lives and you have the skills to do so. Or can a doctor do shifts in the hospital on Shabbat that he is not absolutely required to do?

    1. I was very upfront about my biases and feelings on this matter. My "disclosures" are obvious, and therefore there is no reason why I shouldn't be allowed to study, learn, and then express to others my findings and opinions. A "Noge'ah bedavar" is only prohibited from being a dayan in a din torah. I am not aware of any reference in the Torah or any scientific or ethical prohibition which prohibits a Noge'ah bedavar from writing a dissertation on a topic that interests them.

      Regarding Shabbat work, there are many reasons to avoid it when possible", and the permissive attitude I have presented toward treating gentiles only mitigates some of them. In my mind, the most important is the positive aspect of spending Shabbat with our families, with our communities, and most importantly with God that is missed when one spends it in the hospital. But there are many other B'Dieved's that one should avoid if he/she can. On the other hand, it is so important to keep in mind the holiness of what we do when we are doing it. This is obviously a big subject, maybe I will one day address it in greater detail.

      On your last point, if you want to volunteer for the local fire department, Kol Ha'Kavod! please do so! I happen to know someone extremely close to me who was turned down as a volunteer for our local Hatzalah, not because she wasn't qualified, but because they don't want women EMT's! Given the dominance of women in the US in the many medical support roles in the US, our community is forcing these women into volunteering for the general community instead. What a loss to the Jewish community. :-( Maybe it's not so bad after my article. If a Jewish man God-forbid is dying a heart attack, and he really cares if it is a man or a woman who comes to rescue him, then our problems are WAY more serious than any of us could've imagined. Hashem Yerachem.

  14. I question whether an atheist or idolater can be a moral person. At most he can act in a moral manner when he thinks that it is to his advantage. Both Avraham and Yitzchak feared that they would be murdered for their wives because there was no fear of Gd in that place.

  15. Very fascinating, important and erudite essay.

    I want to focus for a moment not on the substance of your argument per se, but on the moral dilemma that precipitated it. While I fully appreciate the difficulty that any compassionate human being would be sure to feel if presented with the (theoretical) dilemma you address, I don't understand the inherent moral issue. There are situations in which halacha would not allow treating any patient, Jewish or otherwise, and would instead require the physician to stand by and watch the patient die a painful death. You don't seem to be disturbed by the idea that some things outweigh the value of human life. Now, the Torah "could have" told us that the observance of Shabbos similarly outweighs human life. Instead, it permitted the violation of Shabbos, for the sake of a Jewish life. Is the idea that members of the Jewish People should have any special rights among fellow Jews inherently abhorrent? Why must we look at our situation as one in which a Gentile is being denied a certain right, instead of looking at it from the perspective that Jews have special rights, namely that their lives outweigh the observance of Shabbos?

    1. Your argument is essentially the same as R' Gil Student, a person I respect very much , though I disagree with for the reasons I stated in the article. see footnotes 25-32

    2. Thanks for your response. Actually, I am in full agreement with you that the CSA approach of Rabbi Student, et al, is halachicaly incorrect.That is not the argument I am offering. In fact, I am not offering an argument at all. I am merely trying to get at what it is that is bothering you (and me, and others).

      I think the question is whether you think the idea that the Torah should assign greater value to the life of a Jew than to the life of a non-Jew is inherently problematic. If it is not, than at least from a purely intellectual level, there should not be a problem here, if we understand that Shabbos (as well as, for that matter, any other Biblical commandment or injunction) is assigned a higher value than human life, but a Jewish life is assigned a higher value than Shabbos. Not because the Jewish person will end up keeping more Shabboses; simply because his life is assigned more value.

      It seems, rather, that you object to the very idea of assigning higher value to the lives of one group of people over another. I can understand that sentiment, and it is certainly one that is shared by many people in today's world. Yet I question whether there is any objective moral sensitivity compelling this assumption. The concept that the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - together with anyone who chooses to join them - are God's chosen people and "treasure" is axiomatic to all of Torah. Frankly, I would find it surprising if members of God's covenant did not have any special rights! In today's politically correct climate, nothing is absolute, so there is no room for this idea. But if we believe Torah to be true, is this inherently objectionable?

      Let me reiterate that I totally agree that from a gut emotional perspective, this wouldn't satisfy me. But I distinguish between emotion and morality. So the question I would ask you is: is your issue with the main-stream position a moral one, or an emotional one?

    3. Thank you for clarifying your point. You are forcing me to be more specific about what my moral dilemma truly is, and I think it is fair to do that, so I will try to answer.
      I generally lean much closer to the approach that Menachem Kellner so eloquently explains according to the Rambam regarding what it means to be a chosen people. He wrote a book called "Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism" which I found very influential to my thinking. Basically, according to Kellner, the Rambam did not believe that there is any inherent specialness that Jews share over any other human beings. The concept of being chosen is that we have the responsibility to make ourselves special by keeping the Torah and God's laws. So being special is totally up to us.
      The idea that all lives are equal before God does appeal to me, and does seem to me much more morally defensible than positing that the lives of one group are somehow more important than the lives of another.
      Obviously, this is a VERY long subject, but that is the very brief version of what I believe.
      To be even more specific, whether or not my issue is moral or emotional, I do believe it is both. I morally believe that the Torah actually teaches something that has unfortunately not become "mainstream" in today's world (not to say that my detractors don't have genuine Torah support for their approach. I only mean that my approach also has genuine support which i find to be much more palatable and meaningful). I also emotionally find myself drawn to this approach as opposed to the approach that makes one category of human being more valuable than the other.
      I hope that answers your question.

    4. I am familiar with Menachem Kellner's work. I don't think the issue here hinges on the rationalist/mystical divide on what it means to be a Jew. Even if there is no intrinsic difference between the spiritual DNA of a Jew and a Gentile, the fact is that the Jewish people have been chosen as God's people. What their mission might or might not be is similarly not necessarily germane. The fact remains that we are God's people and stand for something. Certainly, that comes with - or even consists primarily of - obligations, but might it not confer added value by dint of membership within that people?

    5. If I can add another point: In an earlier post, you expressed discomfort with another halacha, one stated in a Mishna, regarding the issue of triage. A kohen's life takes precedence over that of a levi, etc. I understand the discomfort, but that is a halacha accepted even by Meiri... Clearly, the Torah does assign different value levels to different lives, at least when it comes to taking precedence. So long as we haven't found a way to wiggle out of that halacha, aren't we forced to face up to this fact? If so, how do we use our moral sensitivity that says to the contrary to propel us in Meiri's direction?

      In a future comment, I hope to reformulate what I think the moral problem might be here even if we do accept that different lives have different value levels.

    6. Regarding your comment about added value of being God's people, I am not sure that this value would translate into privileges related to violating shabbat to save a life, for example. I think according to Kellner, it is more about challenges and responsibilities than about privileges.
      I appreciate your raising the issue of triage and my earlier post. I plan ion dealing with that issue in depth and will reserve comment until I begin the thread that I promised so long ago. I apologize for taking so long to fulfill that promise.
      I am looking forward to your future comments, and thank you so much for your interest in my blog and for enhancing it with your thoughts.

  16. Two minor quibbles. 1- I believe the proper pronunciation should be "am she'itcha" not "im she'itcha". 2- the translation of nimusim is not ethics but norms or societal norms

    1. Sorry for the delay in response. I will agree with #2, and my translation of nimusim was a very loose one, maybe too loose. But as for #1, I always understood that the entire point of the drasha (Shavuot 30a) was that the "ayin"of "amitekha" was meant to suggest that the verse is referring to those people who are "with" us, which would be "IM" not "AM". I don't believe that the reading "AM" makes any sense at all. I am currently looking for more sources to back up my reading, but I stand by my reading for now. Incidentally, the Artscroll Talmud agrees with you and uses a Patakh, not a Chirik, but I still disagree until more evidence can be gathered. I put out some inquiries with some experts and I hope to report back to you with my findings on this one.

  17. Regarding the comments here on bias and a pre-existing desire to arrive at a certain conclusion, I would reframe the issue. It is not just about being influenced by society around us, but about using our moral intuitions (which, it is true, are also societally influenced). I would argue that our moral intuition is a God given gift that we are meant to use, and we can and should use it in our quest to understand halacha. I think Avraham's question "השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט" teaches us very clearly that we can hold God - and halacha, by extension - to a moral standard. That kind of thinking is of course not new, and the attempt to understand and interpret halacha in a way that conforms to our moral intuition is not a novel exercise.
    In this regard, see the end of R. Yaakov Medan's article on Amalek in "Al Derech HaAvot" (Tvunot, 5761, Hebrew). The article clearly tries to find a moral explanation for the mitzvah to kill Amalek. At the end, the author engages in a powerful moment of reflection and writes that he feels as though in writing the article he was sitting in judgment and judging God, and asks himself if that is proper. His answer is a resounding yes.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! I really appreciate these words, they certainly are encouraging, and supportive.

  18. Dear RMH,

    Many thanks for this very erudite article. Medical practice on Shabbat outside Israel remains a very difficult topic; I do practice on Shabbat (based on a psak from a leading European posek) but feel increasingly uneasy with it. Although your articles of course does not address practical implications, it is a very valuable contribution to the topic. Should a paradigm shift occur in this regard this will surely find expression in halachic debates/literature as well.

    Perhaps off topic but extending your initial moral dilemma further, I keep wondering about another question:
    Much of contemporary medical practice is based on evidence-based protcols and guidelines. This means that individual procedures or formalities are undertaken because they have shown to work better when applied to many patients, eg in a hospital or a whole health system. Halacha (specifically relating to Shabbat) generally does not use those categories; but would Halacha, in case of a clash, mandate to practice bad medicine?

    As an aside, what is the commonly done thing among Orthodox physicians in the US? Do you all work on Shabbat?


  19. I wonder if we can turn the DSA argument around: perhaps medical treatment on Shabbat would be always and everywhere prohibited for both Jews and for non-Jews, except for the arguments of "mishum eivah" and "darkhei shalom". However, these arguments are insufficient when it comes to treating religious Jews, who are hypothetically not going to hate other Jews and who would hypothetically acknowledge that a risk to their life does not warrant chilul shabbat. For these patients we need a second answer, which is CSA. In other words, DSA is more fundamental than CSA.

    As a practical matter, CSA is only a justification for critical care on Shabbat, while DSA warrants even non-critical care... which is more consistent with halacha than the supposition that medical care for Jews is clearly warranted, and medical care for non-Jews requires a "kvetch". Also, DSA seems to be a good example of "halacha v'ein morin kein": even if there were a hypothetical situation (such as the patient on a deserted island) when DSA could not apply, *teaching* that it could not apply would itself violate DSA ... which means that people must be taught to follow the DSA always and everywhere, even when discussing the hypothetical deserted island. It's a bit of a paradox.