Torah For Today: Helping other nations

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Torah For Today: Helping other nations

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt takes a topical issue and offers a response from Jewish texts

There has been much ado recently about wealthy nations such as the UK ‘greedily’ grabbing vaccines. Indeed, the UK has ordered 400 million vaccines for its 67 million citizens. That’s three times as much as we need. Rwanda, on the other hand, has one million vaccines ordered for its
12 million citizens. It doesn’t sound equitable.

Indeed, it is not. But, in my mind, the Torah would agree with this approach. ‘Fair’ and ‘right’ are not always synonymous. While we would all love to live in an ideal world, there are practicalities to consider. The rabbis tell us that ‘your life comes before the life of your friend’. You save yourself before you save someone else. Your family comes before strangers and your city comes before foreign cities. While it is not stated, it is an obvious extension that your nation should come before others.

However, I want to point out that the language is ‘before’, not ‘instead of’. It is common sense that you save yourself first. Your life is no less valuable than the life you might save and, given a binary choice, it would be overly self-righteous to choose a stranger over yourself, Sydney Carlton in A Tale of Two Cities notwithstanding. Moreover, if you are not alive, how can you help someone else? 

So, the policy of UK first, in this circumstance, is entirely a Torah policy. 

Of course, UK first implies there are seconds and that is important not to forget. The UK has pledged its over-order of vaccines to developing countries and seems committed to using its time and money to help others once its own programme is complete.

This is reasonable, fair and within the guidelines of Torah. Kudos to our government for getting it right.

  • Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt is founder of Tikun UK 

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