Monday, December 13, 2010

The Jew and the Other

It's been a long time since I was so offended by a blog post, but this somewhat recent Torah Musings discussion on blood transfusions really got to me.

Some may find this topic no different from, for example, the claim (popularized by the Baal HaTanya and pretty much accepted in all chassidic circles) that non-Jews possess only an animal soul, with Jews being the sole possessors of a Godly soul. Or the idea (also mentioned in the article) that a non-Jew in danger on Shabbat is saved only for the sake of darchei shalom, preserving the ways of peace. Such concepts need to be seen as having largely developed within a context of historical persecution by gentiles. In that respect, they are perfectly understandable - albeit outdated - beliefs.

What differs about this post is that it is largely talking about contemporary halachic authorities. I'm imagining a theoretical round table discussion in which various rabbinic "sages" are arguing the question whether Jews can donate blood to non-Jews, mustering various halachic precedent both pro and con. And totally missing the point that even posing the question suggests some lack of basic humanity.

After a self-congratulatory intro in which Jews are claimed to be a merciful, bashful and kind people, then touting the great generosity vis a vis charity and Israel's assistance in post-earthquake Haiti, Rabbi Lebowitz states that "Recently, some have questioned the halachic propriety of Jews donating blood in America." He then states what is to be his summary, viz. that "giving blood, while not always obligatory is at a minimum, permissible, and more likely a very great mitzvah."

(As an interesting aside, Lebowitz states that "the Torah [not only] values the good Samaritan who goes out of his way to save a life". He is apparently oblivious to the fact that "good Samaritan" is a phrase that originated in the New Testament (Luke 10) in a parable that derides the bad behavior of a Pharasaic priest and Levite towards a beaten robbery victim.)

First we have Rav Moshe Feinstein who - as with saving a non-Jewish life on Shabbos - states that donating blood to gentiles is necessary to avoid severe anti-semitism.

Then we have a discussion regarding the general permissibility of donating due to possible prohibitions of wounding oneself. This is largely irrelevant regarding the distinction between Jew and non-Jew vis a vis donating blood.

The second issue revolves around a prohibition to give “free gifts” to gentiles. But this isn't a problem for a number of reasons. One is donating to a blood bank and not to a specific gentile. Or that (contrary to the Shulchan Aruch) according to "many great poskim" today's gentiles are not idolators. The bottom line is that there is an assumption of a reciprocal relationship in which Jews will be able to receive blood when needed.

The third issue is that most recipients of blood will be gentiles. But because there are many Jews who may ultimately receive blood we can ignore the majority since it is a matter of life and death (for the Jew). Rabbi Michael Broyde states that there is no mechanism to designate which blood goes where and so Jews should shoulder their fair share of the donations.

Rabbi Menashe Klein has some particularly offensive objections (Jewish blood "crying out" from gentile veins) but I don't want to dwell on such lunacy.

The ultimate conclusion is that donating blood is a kiddush Hashem and refusing to donate has a great potential for chillul Hashem. Also, Orthodox blood drives now have the status of minhag Yisrael and we cannot depart from such a long-standing custom. But at no time is there any suggestion in the article that donating blood - regardless of the recipient - is simply the right thing to do. But, of course, such an assertion would be problematic as it implies that the halachic system is insufficient in framing all ethical and moral considerations.

Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (the Seridei Eish) suggested that Jews themselves shoulder at least some of the blame for anti-semitism because of their attitude towards the non-Jewish world and the discriminatory laws against gentiles described in the Talmud (and codified in later halachic works.) The Lebowitz article continues this long tradition, the "minhag Yisrael" of "us versus them", the Jew and the Other.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff as usual!

Anonymous said...

popularized by the Baal HaTanya and pretty much accepted in all chassidic circles

I dont think that's true. It's very widespread among Lubavitch chassidim, true, but among other sects it varies widely.

Frum Heretic said...

The Tanya didn't originate the idea of a superior Jewish soul. The idea that the soul of the gentile is innately inferior to the Jewish one can be found in Yehudah Halevy, the Zohar, Moshe Cordovero, Yitzchak Luria, Chayim Vital, Maharal, Ramchal, etc. And the hasidic world has largely accepted this mystical "non-rational" tradition. (And even many religious zionists have accepted the notion, as R. Abraham Kook promulgated it as well.) If you know of hasidic groups that take exception to this claimed fundamental difference between Jew and gentile, please let me know which specific groups and I will be happy to correct the post.

Pierre Sogol said...

Regarding R. Kook and non-Jewish souls;

The individual soul from Adam, is being positively asserted, shared by all - not the national spirit israel has. Granted the discussion of Zuchamot haNachash being cleansed from Israel at Sinai, Mankind can't loose something Israel was given later, at Sinai.

Given his setting, he seems to be referring in a positive sense to the anti-nationalist zeitgeist of his time as manifest in communism, socialism, etc (which of course later regained national sentiments...). R. Yoel Bin Nun explicitly connects it by name to the "New Left" in his essay.

Einstein has been quoted as saying "nations do not have souls, only people". Rav Kook and Einstein had met, and the formulation has too similar a ring for me not to think it originates from Rav Kook, given their shared concerns and i'm sure, conversation on them.

I included in that post the Tiferes Yisroel precisely because to me the language does not sound like language of inferiority - the Tiferes Yisroel esteems as an ADVANTAGE gentiles have, and very high merit of development from individual capacity, one had OVER Israel, calling it a greater achievement than Israel...Israel who *as a collective* were coerced into being Israel, having their collective relationship and consequent national ensoulment. R. Yoel Bin Nun's essay has more on his universalism and his letters where he states as he does, I can't look around it to see his nationalism quite as divisive as his son and HIS disciples do. Jews have a responsibility to be Jews, Gentiles have a responsibility to be good Gentiles - not good Navajo, Croats or Circassians as such - but good people. Provided national identity as such does not contradict the development of the individual to their fullest - esteemed by Rambam and Rav Kook.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the post. What are the Jewish views regarding heart transplants?

Frum Heretic said...

Let me refer you to a new blog by an orthodox physician, written with both intelligence and sensitivity:

Rabbi Garry said...

Just bumped into your blog - looks very interesting!

I listened to the shuir upon which the Hirhurim post was based ( It is clear that R Lebovits was attacking the position one should not donate blood.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the post you say that R' Weinberg says that Jews should shoulder some of the blame for antisemitism give our attitudes to non-Jews. Where can I find the source for that?

Frum Heretic said...

Check out Marc Shapiro's book, p 182. Also p. 183, where R. Weinberg stated that he accepts the Meira's position vis a vis gentiles and anti-gentile Talmudic laws, and that they only applied to idolators of old; also where he berated the Jewish people for fraudulence and hypocrisy, unparalleled in any other nation.

Powerful stuff indeed.

Anonymous said...

Or...the possibility exists that Jews are a classic high-IQ middleman minority, so their separation from the rest of society and their specialization in intellectual pursuits merely reinforces this semi-atavistic view. Seems to be the most parsimonious explanation for the origination of such doctrines.

More here:The Natural History of Ashkenazi intelligence.

Though truthfully, any race that's both more intelligent and less numerous within a greater population will necessarily develop the rather adversarial nature you described to varying degrees. (The Chinese in Malaysia and the Phillipines, the Indians in North and West Africa, the white people in South Africa. Actually, come to think of it, the East and North vs. West African tribes.)

The Jews, being unlucky enough to be on top of the racial intelligence heap, will thus be feared and hated to differing extents no matter where they go. And sadly, the higher the average IQ of the host nation, the greater the awareness of the difference and the direct competition between people that are very like each other create conflict. Germans aren't quite as smart as Jews, but they have the highest IQ in Europes, and are thus close enough that the end up competing in many of the same zones.

It's comparable to when Jackie Robinson faced his biggest challenges not from the white managers and owners, who were happy to welcome the greater athletic ability of America's black population, but from the lower-IQ but more athletic white players, who would be competing with him and any other black person integrating directly.

To quote GK Chesterton: "It is no sooner that men realize they're brothers that they instantly begin to fight." Neither Germans nor Ashkenazi Jews have ever competed much with low-IQ white or black Americans, and this lack of contact led to lack of conflict between them.

Anonymous said...

absurdly amusing..........