Valuing Human Life

Judaism values human life. The Talmud says that saving even one soul is like saving an entire world. According to Maimonides, included in the Seven Noachide Laws regarding murder, is the prohibition to perform an abortion on an unborn child. Volumes have been written on the subject of euthanasia mainly because of the issue of sanctifying human life.

It is our duty to not only save lives whenever possible, but also to prevent endangering the lives of our people. This certainly holds true in a wartime situation as it does on a daily basis. Every loss of life is a human tragedy but our first responsibility is to our families and the extended Jewish nation.

The Torah is filled with references to the importance of saving another Jew. The verse that stands out is the commandment to live by the commandments and not die by them. Therefore, in a life and death situation, one may violate certain commandments for the sake of preserving human life. The exception is in situations where G-d’s name will be desecrated. Only then are we supposed to sacrifice our lives rather than violate the Law.

To my knowledge, the preservation of democratic principles, or feeling sorry for the enemy, or looking good in the eyes of a biased media, do not fall under the category of sacrificing a Jewish life. It seems that basic Jewish principles need to be reiterated for fear of making dangerous misguided decisions.

It is hard to believe that families who have suffered the loss of a loved one, find consolation in knowing that the deceased gave his life trying to avoid hurting civilians. Or, the family is proud that their loved one acted so kindly to the nice Arab who transformed into his barbaric murderer. If we open our eyes, we must accept that there has been a declaration of war against us and in war, we do everything possible to preserve all that we cherish. Specifically, it means cherishing human life.

Golda Meir once said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” This quote seems to have more relevance today than when she originally made it.

We have been hearing so much about how we must avoid collective punishment.  We feel sorry for the “good Arabs” who are humiliated by being searched aggressively or even thrown off planes. But haven’t we suffered enough with stabbings, suicide bombings, and rockets aimed at our metropolitan areas? This is war, and I for one, would rather risk looking bad and protecting all that is dear to me, than trying to live up to standards that are far from Judaism.

Traditionally, Judaism welcomes the convert regardless of where he is from. In the time of the Bible, it was made clear that those who embraced the Seven Noachide Laws and accepted Israel’s sovereignty, were welcome and allowed to own property in Israel. The demand of Prime Minister Netanyahu for the Arab population to pledge allegiance to the Jewish State and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, goes as far back as Joshua.

These are amazing times that we live in. With all of our achievements, we must be constantly aware that there are many that wish to destroy us. We must remain loyal to one another and to truly Jewish principles. When the Talmud says that when one comes to slay you, slay him first, this is the credo that we must live by. We must value human life and live!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.