Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Judaism acknowledges sanctity of life and the rabbis must not confuse halachic justification with reasons

Why does saving a life go before keeping the Shabbat? Desecrating the Shabbat is a very serious offense. More than Jews have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Shabbat. Not keeping Shabbat is like national suicide.

Jews, different from all other Peoples, form a Nation with a higher calling. There is a reason for the existence of the Jewish People. And if Jews would abandon their calling, there is no reason for them to continue to exist as a People. Jews should then live on as everyone else, mingling and intermarrying, because what is greater than love than spans gaps between cultures? What an enrichment.

But as long as Jews need to abide by their Mission, we must be a Nation that dwells alone. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have or don’t need Gentile friends. But we should be distinct and guard ourselves against watering down our Program by assimilation and intermarriage.

Keeping Shabbat (and for men learning Torah) is indicative of a Jew. Violating Shabbat is a serious thing. But (even possibly) saving a life still takes precedence. Almost no principle in life is worth losing one’s life for, or it must be to guard the sanctity of life.

If two Jews find themselves in the desert with one just having enough water to drink for one to survive, what to do? Are they going to drink each half, to die in solidarity? Can the more generous one give it to the other? That would be self-defeating, to let the stingy one live. Is the smarter, wiser, nicer, holier, fitter then getting the privilege? No, the Sages teach us that the one who has the water keeps it for himself. Who is anyone to decide that someone else’s life is better? Even if you have the water and you think that the other is the Redeemer.

If you have a slight change to save someone’s life, but almost certainly would lose your own doing so, you don’t. Let G-d be in change about things you cannot rectify.

But if mean people say: You kill him or we will kill you for refusing, you refuse to murder. Is your blood redder than the other’s? If someone must be murdered, better to end life as a victim than a murderer.

But if someone sets out to kill you, (if you need to,) you kill him before he can. Don’t be so soft on murderers that you promote murder.

Yet, 2000 years ago, Jews abandoned capital punishment when it stop deterring people from murdering. When life gets so cheap, we don’t want to add to this degeneration by also killing – even proved murderers.

In fact, the Sages call a Holy Great Rabbinic Court that executes for murder twice within seven years a bunch of murderers. Or even twice in seventy years! They are meant to search like crazy for reasons not to execute. Capital punishment is there for deterrence, but execution makes little sense. G-d wants us to not execute guilty ones, as much as possible. He can deal with them perfectly well Himself.

In fact, we see Abraham argue with G-d (argue!) in order to save the lives of even the wicked.

So we see how precious human life is in the eyes of Judaism.

But we said before, that violating the Shabbat is like national suicide. So how can the Rabbis permit us to transgress Shabbat Laws to save a life? The argument for it is: one can throw away one Shabbat in order to (hopefully) acquire many more after that. Jews are mutually responsible for each other keeping the Commandments, so the Shabbattot saved for someone else can enable us to violate one of our own.

However, that doesn’t work for saving a Gentile’s life. Gentiles are not even allowed to keep Shabbat – unless they study its Laws and a rabbinic court gives them to them as a life-long obligation. So how could we save a Gentile’s life on Shabbat? The Sages, of course, found a reasoning. To prevent Gentiles getting angry with us and refusing to save Jews’ lives.

However, the real reason for saving a life, even if one has to violate the Shabbat for it, is of course not so that the saved may keep Shabbat – or the Gentiles won’t be angry. The real reason is that nothing in the whole universe is as precious as a human being. When we save a life, we’re as if we saved the whole world. Every person is a world on his/her own. We are each completely unique.

Any over-principledness leads to absurdity. A code of life, that Judaism is, must guard against extremism and fanaticism. In fact, Jews are taught that we should almost in all cases try to walk the middle road. A philosophy of life (!) that puts central not to murder should not lead to bloodshed. Most principles are not worthy to die for and not to kill for. The whole to Torah is given so that we may live.

The Sages even teach us – far-out! – that in the End of Days, G-d will slaughter the Satan, the Angel of Death. Death is the enemy.

Therefore, when Israeli soldiers (most of them Jewish, no doubt) set out to try to save lives of people in Mexico (most of them not Jewish, no doubt), hit by two earthquakes, on the Festival and Shabbat, we don’t say that they can do so to show that Jews are decent people. Rather, the rabbis should say: Go save lives – that’s what anyone decent person should do, that’s how precious every life is, and Jews must take the lead.

On Rosh haShannah and Yom Kippur we plead for our very lives – that we all may live another year. What better way to deserve that than saving lives in real time.

That we all may live. Lechayim!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is (partly) generated by AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * If you don't know the Dutch, get an American peek behind the scenes here: * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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