Protecting the vulnerable
Diane Richler asks where the Jewish community is in the debate on assisted suicide. The answer is that we are everywhere.
Unlike certain issues such as racism, where there is near unanimous agreement within the community, the issue of medical assistance in dying is past being a yes or no question. The court has ruled.
It is now a matter of working out details, such as who should be eligible, who should be permitted to take part, and how we can ensure access and protection for all, while protecting the rights of those who cannot take part in this process.
Many of those of us who are leading in this process are Jewish. However, because the issues are not unique to our community, we are not working in isolation, and so we just aren’t as visible. However, our voices are being clearly heard.
Hershl Berman, MD
Putting God first
Rabbi Donniel Hartman in his new book Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself (“Putting God first by putting God second”) claims that a life of faith “very often activates a critical flaw that supports and encourages immoral impulses.” One example he gives is that “it can exhaust one’s ability to see the needs of other human beings.” Hillel’s Golden Rule, “to not do to your neighbour what is hateful to you,” is brought as the panacea to Hartman’s problem with putting God first.
With all due respect, Rashi, the foremost talmudic and biblical commentator, explains the story with Hillel differently. Rashi gives two explanations for Hillel’s answer to the potential convert. The second explanation of Rashi is the well-known one quoted above. Rashi’s first explanation, however, interprets “your neighbour” (literally your friend) as referring to God. Rashi says that one shouldn’t transgress God’s words just as you wouldn’t want your neighbour to do something that is hateful to you.
Understood this way, both ritual and interpersonal commandments are given equal importance. Our sages say the Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to emphasize the equality between the ritual commandments on the first tablet and the interpersonal commandments on the second. Why then do the Ten Commandments begin with laws between man and God? The very first word of the Ten Commandments is “I” (Anochi) referring to God. The very last word is “to your neighbour” (lere’echa). God requires we accept Him, not because He needs us, but because our neighbour does. It is only a life of faith, putting God first, that engenders moral behaviour toward our neighbour in any and all situations.
Abraham said it best in his response to Avimelech, king of Gerar, who asked him why he didn’t say that Sarah was his wife. Abraham answered: “There is but no fear of God in this place, and they would have killed me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). A nation can be highly advanced with superficial geniality and manners (i.e. Nazi Germany’s gemütlichkeit) but without fear of God, anything is possible.
Rabbi Mordechai Bulua
Leave shul service alone
Yoni Goldstein wrote about stemming the decline in synagogue membership, “Even with rabbis trying just about everything, nothing seems to be working,” (“My three shuls”).
In their efforts to stem the tide of disaffection, the first thing our leaders throw out from the synagogue is the service itself. It is no longer uncommon for rabbis themselves to tell us that prayers are boring. They replace them with mindfulness sessions and Carlebach singalongs, even though most people don’t know the tunes. (And, yes, I have attended a Jewish mindfulness session – – phones rang constantly, people rattled their water bottles, and the guy on the door, who was instructed to keep people out and prevent disturbance, kept letting latecomers in.)
So here’s my suggestion: let’s try just leaving the service alone. Sing the traditional tunes and use our time-tested nusach, led by a trained prayer leader. The synagogue will become what it has always been: a place for the community to share in a celebration of time and space, with the feeling, in Chaim Grade’s words, that the clouds have been swept from the sky.