Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

From Our Archives: Saving Lives on Shabbat

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under From Our Archives, Halakha, Tradition

In light of Rabbi Rothstein’s most recent post, I have featured online two important articles from Tradition’s archives regarding saving the life of  non-Jews on shabbat.  These articles responded to the infamous Shahak affair, in which a prominent radical Israeli leftist thinker alleged (without a shred of evidence) witnessing Orthodox Jews refusing to violate shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew. (For more information on the specific affair, click here for the brief Wikipedia history.)

The first article, “A Modern Blood Libel – L’Affaire Shahak (Tradition 8:2, Summer 1966) by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits (who would later become the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth), accuses Shahak of launching a modern blood libel.  More significantly, however, he analyses and seemingly approves the response to the affair of Israel Chief Rabbi Unterman, who promoted the halakhic notion of “to prevent enmity” as an integral element to Jewish ethics.

The second article, “A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew” (Tradition 8:3, Fall 1966) by Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch (who later became Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Birkat Moshe in Ma’ale Adumim, Israel), was written as a follow-up to Rabbi Jakobovits’ article and tried to place Rav Unterman’s responsum in historical and theological context.  In his conclusion, Rabbi Rabinovitch writes,

The more they suffered, the deeper did Jews penetrate to the meaning of the Halakhah about man and the more truly did their day-to-day practice reflect the highest response to God’s imperative. Compassion and mercy for all men are the mark of the Jew, just as they are of God. As Rabbi Akiva said, “Beloved. is man for he was created in the image of God. . . . Beloved is Israel for they are called ‘children of God.’ “

Readers are invited to respond to these fascinating articles (as well as Rabbi Rothstein’s post) in our comments section.  As always, featured archive articles are accessible to the wider public. (I would remind everyone, however, tha now is a great time to get complete access to our archives through our special subscription offer, which will expire soon.) 

For more on the broader topic, see Rabbi Gil Student’s response to the Shahak affair (written after Shahak’s death) and Rabbi Binyamin Lau’s article in Akdamot 13. 

- Shlomo Brody

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