The Bible Says What? ‘Rabbi was helped to die’

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

The Bible Says What? ‘Rabbi was helped to die’

Rabbi Danny Rich takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a Liberal response

Stock image of a hospital bed (Credit: Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash)
Stock image of a hospital bed (Credit: Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash)

Judaism is life affirming and has at its core the concept of pikuach nefesh – making questions about the end of life more difficult than they might otherwise be.

Although the majority of the Jewish community does now support assisted dying – 71 percent being in favour in a recent survey – there is a split along our usual fault line of ‘traditional’ against ‘liberal’.

This debate goes back as far as the Babylonian Talmud and the story of the death of the famous Rabbi Judah HaNasi, the Prince, who died in circa 200CE. 

Judah is dying of a painful illness, but his disciples gather around his bed praying that he may live.

His devoted handmaid, seeing there is no pain like that of her master, ascends to the roof, takes a pitcher and throws it to the ground. Its smashing distracts the disciples from their prayer and in that moment the rabbi dies. In throwing the pot, she interrupted the prayers and effectively killed him.

Was this an act of compassion by a woman who was able to comprehend that the disciples had lost sight of their master’s needs, were consumed by their own and were, in practice, carrying out an extraordinary method of artificial life support? We know the sources are agreed on only one thing: there is no disapproval of the handmaiden or her action.

Judaism has, for much of its history, taken the view that a human being is made up of the physical and the spiritual, the soul and the body. If it is our goal to ensure everyone lives well, then we have an equal responsibility to see that they die well: empowered, as free as possible from pain and
discomfort and with their souls as comforted as it is possible to be.

  •  Rabbi Danny Rich is a vice president of Liberal Judaism

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: