In this week’s Torah for Today, Rabbi Zvi Solomons asks ‘what does the torah say about …ebola’?
In 1967 Israel won a wonderful victory over the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians, following which the army stationed troops on the Suez Canal to ensure there would be no more incursions from the other side.
The Israelis soldiers must have been very bored, because some of them even went swimming in the canal.
This was not a very clever thing to do, as the Egyptian troops over the way shot at them. Several Israelis were injured and other soldiers had to risk their lives rescuing them. The question was asked of the army’s rabbi at that time, Rabbi Gershuny, was whether one should risk one’s life to save others who have intentionally put themselves in danger.
The answer was that one can do so because the risk is a safek sakana. In other words, you can risk your life if there is a chance you can save another life, because there is a good chance you will live. Similarly, Rabbi Jonathan Emden wrote that although God gives you your body and you are obligated to look after it, being His gift, you are not absolved from rescuing someone else from danger.
The principle voiced in Leviticus of not standing by the blood of your fellow is an essential Ethos of the Torah, and indeed one which every society should encourage.
In the past few months, we have seen a terrible epidemic in western Africa with thousands of deaths from the Ebola virus. At the same time, we heard of the hundreds of general practitioners in the UK who are about to retire from practice
. If a nice Jewish doctor were to come to the rabbi asking whether he should go to West Africa to combat the Ebola virus, what answer would the rabbi give?
While the immediate danger to the lives of westerners in Europe or the USA is not necessarily extreme, we have to balance the dangers against the benefits.
An experienced health professional present in West Africa would doubtless be able to train many people in handling virus-infected victims and casualties. Moreover, western doctors, in their retirement, often go abroad to help people in less privileged societies. In such a case, although we would of course be concerned for people going out to West Africa, it would also be a most fulfilling thing for them to do.
The risks are quantifiable, reasonably limited, and the amount of good – saving lives – is enormous. Let them go.
• Zvi Solomons is rabbi of Reading Hebrew congregation
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