Sanctity of Life – A core value to the Jewish Religion

August 18, 2016 Joshua Pomerance
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One of the core values in Judaism is the sanctity of life. The Torah tells us (Vayikra 18:5) ‘V’Chai B’Hem – And you shall live by them’. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) understands from this that the Torah is telling us that the sanctity of human life comes before the Mitzvot in the Torah, ‘you shall live by them’ – and not die by them. The Rambam (Mamrim 2:4) explains that ‘a court may rule temporarily to violate some of the commandments so that they will later keep all the commandments. In this vein the previous generation saw fit to say that it is ok to violate one shabbat for Pikuah Nefesh (in order to save a life) so that that person will go on to keep more Shabbatot in the future. It is this logic that we can learn from the Torah, committing one sin in order to save a life allows more Mitzvot to be kept in the future.

This central principle guides Judaism in all areas of life. It is for this reason that on November 4 1995 at 21:30 the Jewish world was shocked in to silence. Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a top student at a Hesder Yeshiva, a shining example for the Religious Zionist World. How could this happen? He must have been crazy. It couldn’t really have been a Jew? Could it? These are just some of the questions asked silently by each and every individual that appreciates the value that Judaism places on human life. These are the questions that I ask every time I delve in to that piece of dark history. However, as part of the Religious Zionist camp there are deeper questions that we ask about this heinous crime. Taken from a Sicha given by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein nine days after the assassination, this excerpt explains the deeper questions and pain that we, Religious Zionists, feel.

Here was a man who grew up in the best of our institutions. A day before the murder, he could have been cited as a shining example of success and achievement, and a source of communal pride…Can we honestly say that what the murderer did was “despite” his education, in the same way that some yeshiva graduates are no longer Shabbat observers? In that case it is clear that the choice is “despite” the education. Is not here the choice, at least partly, not “despite” but “because?”

A badge of shame was worn for months, if not years, after the Prime Minister’s assassination, by the Religious Zionist camp. This badge was worn because we were responsible for the upbringing and education of someone who could commit such a crime that is goes against the core value of the sanctity of human life that the Torah holds dear.

It is said that time heals. Well time went on and the Jewish people worldwide came to terms with the reality that the we produced a terrorist (I am not claiming he was the first but when I first learnt about Yigal Amir, he represented something which I had not seen before amongst the Jewish people). Years went by and lessons were learnt. Dati Leumi schools and Yeshivot accepted responsibility and focused their energies in ensuring it didn’t happen again. The Religious Zionist world picked itself up and rebuilt it’s shattered reputation and nothing of the sort ever happened again…

That is what we all wish we could say. Unfortunately this is not the case. Over the past two decades there have been a number of people who have committed acts of terror in the name of G- d, Religious Zionism, Judaism or some other warped version of our religion. Two weeks ago two people showed that we have not learnt. We, the Jewish People, still wear that same badge of shame that we wore in 1995 when Yigal Amir pulled the trigger.

Two individuals brought complete and utter shame to the Jewish People. One week after we cried ‘Eicha’ – ‘How could it be so’ to Hashem for the destruction brought upon our people over thousands of years, we now cry ‘Eicha’ – ‘How could it be so’ to ourselves. How can we have let these people reach such levels of extremism? How can we allow such feelings of hatred towards other human beings, Jewish or not, fester in our people? How can we still not learn from our mistakes of the past.

Lots of people have being shouting out, whether on the internet, at national rallies, or elsewhere, that ‘These people don’t represent me’, ‘This is not the Jewish way’, ‘That is only one sect of Judaism’. However, whether you like it or not, these people do represent you. They are part of the Jewish nation, they have been educated in our schools and they claim to be a part of our nation. Don’t get me wrong, national rallies denouncing these despicable acts of terror, whether it’s acts of terror through Price Tagging or acts of Homophobic terror, are absolutely the right thing to do. Nevertheless, we should not fool ourselves, we, the Jewish People, bare all the responsibility for these two people committing these two acts.

One of the core values in Judaism is the sanctity of life, and it is about time we started educating this to our nation.

May the souls of the departed be bound in eternal life and may we learn the lessons of the past in order to educate correctly for the future.



Mizrachi UK