Ask the Rabbi: 06/11/2014

Ask the Rabbi: 06/11/2014

By Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet  Ask the Rabbi

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Am i obligated to face ebola?

Dear Rabbi,

Recent media reports mentioned a nurse infected by an Ebola patient. As a nurse myself, this news concerned me because, by all accounts, it is only a matter of time before Ebola hits the UK. I’m left wondering whether, from a Jewish perspective, we in the health service are obligated to expose ourselves to such risk if confronted with a similar patient.


Dear Esther,

Concerns about Ebola are very real, so I appreciate your anxiety. It goes without saying you are in a “sacred” line of work, because Judaism puts emphasises the importance of preserving and saving lives. The Biblical mandate “do not stand idly over your brother’s blood,” includes the responsibility we all have ito to what we can to save someone else’s life, were we to find ourselves in that sort of situation. Of course, that begs the question of whether such obligation extends itself to putting oneself at risk in the process. As you will appreciate, there is much discussion on the matter. Citing another verse,“You shall observe my statutes and my ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them”, the Talmud concludes that man is obligated to keep the commandments only when he is “living by them.”

So, the command to save someone else’s life is binding only when there is no risk to one’s own life. The obvious conclusion from this would be that were you as a nurse to put yourself at risk by exposing yourself to Ebola, you would not be obligated to do so. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006), one of the most renowned halachic experts of the 20th century, especially on medical ethics, writes in his treatise that the aforementioned restriction does not extend itself to healthcare professionals. They, as he puts it, “are permitted, and it is a great mitzvah, to care for those who are infected, even if it means putting oneself in harm’s way”.

Needless to say, he adds that such professionals are equally responsible to take all precautions to minimise risk to themselves. Rabbi Shmuel Wosner (1913 – present), another leading halachic authority, takes it further. He insists that since healthcare professionals enter their line of work in full awareness of their undertakings and responsibilities – notwithstanding the occasional risks involved – then not only are they permitted to engage with such risky scenarios, they are in fact obligated to do so. It is akin to having undertaken the Hippocratic Oath. This takes into account the obvious fact that health and safety will invariably put measures into place in order to minimise risks. Bottom line: If Ebola were to strike, God forbid, and it came your way, so long as the risks are managed you are certainly allowed, indeed obligated, to do that which you signed up for. Your motivation should always be to remember the words of our ancient Sages: “He who saves one life, it is as if they saved an entire world.”

Why i refuse to read this page!

Dear Rabbi,

I was an avid reader of your column, but now find many of your answers condescending and sarcastic. I think this is demeaning for a man of your stature. My friends and I have stopped reading you as a result. I doubt you’ll publish this, but wanted to express my point of view regardless.


Dear Fred,

First, I will respond relative to the particular question. Some of the questions I’m asked cry out for a sarcastic response. Second, I have spent more than 11 years writing this column and people know my style and what to expect. So when they write in, they know what they might be in for. Third, the fact you wrote in means you will check this column for my response. So you haven’t stopped reading it. Nor, I suggest, have your friends. In fact, you know you can’t help yourself and will read this every week, as you (and your friends) always have. When you look at my picture on the top left-hand corner of this page, know I’m smiling at you. And if you listen closely, you’ll hear me saying: “I told you so!”

My worry over gay teaching

Dear Rabbi,

A Jewish News report stated that Ofsted is following up its new rules that schools must proactively promote the “equalities”, i.e. positively promote gay relationships. Let’s assume for the moment that the government won’t change those rules. Does that mean that I, as a parent, must let my children be indoctrinated by their schools or perhaps take my children out of school – in so doing breaking the law? To whom should I and my children answer; to government or God? It seems I can’t do both.


Dear Mike,

Doesn’t the government, in fact, think it is God? I don’t believe for a second it will get away with implementing that. You can arguably insist that lessons are not taught that might infringe on the rights of some, i.e. don’t teach that gay marriage is wrong (just don’t broach the issue). But you cannot insist lessons should be taught that will infringe on the beliefs of others, i.e. that gay marriage is acceptable. At best, if you are going to insist on one you have to allow the other, i.e. there is this notion of gay marriage, but we consider it wrong. All I can say is: “Oi!”

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