Author Topic: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?  (Read 4596 times)

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At the end of the day most debates about lockdown policy boil down to the value of absolute quantity of people dying from virus, vs the value of the quality of life of those impacted by the lockdown, from mental health to finance and impended life pursuits. In Judaism, the purpose of life can be defined as Avoidas Hashem, so a primary cost of lockdown is the diminished quality of Avoidas Hashem without shuls/minyan.

The question is also very relevant to the State Of Israel. Approximately 50,000 Jews have been killed by Arabs since 1948. Putting aside the practical question of whether or not those could have been avoided without having the state, is it permissible to die for Jewish control of Israel? By and large religious Zionism & Rav Kook held it is worthwhile, and Charedim & Rav Shach held that it isn't.

Is there any earlier source in rabbinical literature that discusses scenarios where Jewish lives can be sacrificed?

I am aware of 2 halachos:

1) Milchama, which requires at least some of מלך / סנהדרין / אורים ותומים.
2)  'רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה ה׳ ה

Quote
נשים שאמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחת מכן ונטמא אותה ואם לאו נטמא את כולכן יטמאו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל וכן אם אמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחד מכם ונהרגנו ואם לאו נהרוג כולכם יהרגו כולם ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל ואם יחדוהו להם ואמרו תנו לנו פלוני או נהרוג את כולכם אם היה מחוייב מיתה כשבע בן בכרי יתנו אותו להם ואין מורין להם כן לכתחלה ואם אינו חייב מיתה יהרגו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל.

Which is a Machlokes in Yerushalmi & some Rishonim pasken unlike the Rambam that we can pass over the Jew they request, but it's only because he is bound to die either way.



Therefore, it is my understanding thus far that according to Halacha, we would indeed close all shuls every winter to save a single elderly flu victim, if not for the fact that we assume people will go out anyways, and so closing the shuls will no reduce the overall infection rate. It is worth noting the entire concept of transmittable sickness was only discovered by Ignaz Semmelweis in the mid 1800s, and prior to that it was not known that one can become sick by contacting a sick person.

Quote
לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי, ללמדך, שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא.
וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו קיים עולם מלא....
לפיכך כל אחד ואחד חייב לומר, בשבילי נברא העולם.

״וזה כלל גדול: שישנא אדם כל דבר שקר. וכל מה שיוסיף שנאה לדרכי השקר – יוסיף אהבה לתורה.״ - אורחות צדיקים

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2020, 01:30:33 PM »
Surprised nobody has any input. People are so fast to condemn Cuomo for trying to keep things closed & save lives, yet don't actually have a real opinion...
״וזה כלל גדול: שישנא אדם כל דבר שקר. וכל מה שיוסיף שנאה לדרכי השקר – יוסיף אהבה לתורה.״ - אורחות צדיקים

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2020, 01:38:11 PM »
At the end of the day most debates about lockdown policy boil down to the value of absolute quantity of people dying from virus, vs the value of the quality of life of those impacted by the lockdown, from mental health to finance and impended life pursuits. In Judaism, the purpose of life can be defined as Avoidas Hashem, so a primary cost of lockdown is the diminished quality of Avoidas Hashem without shuls/minyan.

The question is also very relevant to the State Of Israel. Approximately 50,000 Jews have been killed by Arabs since 1948. Putting aside the practical question of whether or not those could have been avoided without having the state, is it permissible to die for Jewish control of Israel? By and large religious Zionism & Rav Kook held it is worthwhile, and Charedim & Rav Shach held that it isn't.

Is there any earlier source in rabbinical literature that discusses scenarios where Jewish lives can be sacrificed?

I am aware of 2 halachos:

1) Milchama, which requires at least some of מלך / סנהדרין / אורים ותומים.
2)  'רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה ה׳ ה

Which is a Machlokes in Yerushalmi & some Rishonim pasken unlike the Rambam that we can pass over the Jew they request, but it's only because he is bound to die either way.



Therefore, it is my understanding thus far that according to Halacha, we would indeed close all shuls every winter to save a single elderly flu victim, if not for the fact that we assume people will go out anyways, and so closing the shuls will no reduce the overall infection rate. It is worth noting the entire concept of transmittable sickness was only discovered by Ignaz Semmelweis in the mid 1800s, and prior to that it was not known that one can become sick by contacting a sick person.

Take a time out and read your post several times over.

Keep in mind ספק, ספק ספיקא, mortality rate of various activities, mortality rate at various ages.

Take some time to chew it over, possibly sleep over it, and let us know if you have anything to enlighten us with.
I've been waiting over 5 years with bated breath for someone to say that!
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Offline S209

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2020, 01:41:03 PM »
Surprised nobody has any input. People are so fast to condemn Cuomo for trying to keep things closed & save lives, yet don't actually have a real opinion...
Aren’t you overlooking the fact that many claim extended shutdowns cost lives as well? If that’s true, then by shutting things down you would be actively causing deaths (similar to handing someone over) while allowing the virus to spread is passively causing deaths (similar to refusing to hand someone over).

Also, Halacha very much takes into account whether the danger is lefonov or not.

ETA: Read the analysis on Page 64. You can navigate there quickly using the bottom arrow.
http://thevoiceoflakewood.com/3dissue/050720/index.html
« Last Edit: June 09, 2020, 01:54:39 PM by S209 »
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Offline Redbull3

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2020, 01:59:32 PM »
Not a posek and not even super learned but if you are asking for opinions... from halachic perspective my understanding is there is a threshold of sakana where an action becomes assur due to sakanas nefashos. Like I have never heard a rabbi outlawing driving cars or riding on a bus even though there is "some" sakana, assuming because it doesn't reach that threshold. So the Rabbis job as ever is to measure the sakana and determine if it reaches the proper shiur.
And yeah, there is undoubtedly sakana considerations to both staying out and staying in.
I would even argue it's a case by case thing, for some people it could be more dangerous to stay in and vice versa.

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2020, 02:02:30 PM »
Take a time out and read your post several times over.

Keep in mind ספק, ספק ספיקא, mortality rate of various activities, mortality rate at various ages.

Take some time to chew it over, possibly sleep over it, and let us know if you have anything to enlighten us with.
You make a very valid point.

I was posing more of an academic question, but the mortality rate is defined with absolute certainty as 0.5-1%, based on countless professional broad seroprevalence surveys. I believe Yoledes is 1/1000 and still considered Pikuach Nefesh.

Not a posek and not even super learned but if you are asking for opinions... from halachic perspective my understanding is there is a threshold of sakana where an action becomes assur due to sakanas nefashos. Like I have never heard a rabbi outlawing driving cars or riding on a bus even though there is "some" sakana, assuming because it doesn't reach that threshold. So the Rabbis job as ever is to measure the sakana and determine if it reaches the proper shiur.
And yeah, there is undoubtedly sakana considerations to both staying out and staying in.
I would even argue it's a case by case thing, for some people it could be more dangerous to stay in and vice versa.
I agree. What resources would the rabbi consult with in determining that?
״וזה כלל גדול: שישנא אדם כל דבר שקר. וכל מה שיוסיף שנאה לדרכי השקר – יוסיף אהבה לתורה.״ - אורחות צדיקים

Offline S209

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2020, 02:04:43 PM »
Not a posek and not even super learned but if you are asking for opinions... from halachic perspective my understanding is there is a threshold of sakana where an action becomes assur due to sakanas nefashos. Like I have never heard a rabbi outlawing driving cars or riding on a bus even though there is "some" sakana, assuming because it doesn't reach that threshold. So the Rabbis job as ever is to measure the sakana and determine if it reaches the proper shiur.
I’ve heard (but not seen) that R’ Moshe held you are not allowed to drive a car for pleasure, only for a need. See the article I linked above. It’s a fascinating article, though there are opinions of the author in there that I disagree with and some facts that are wrong.
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2020, 02:08:08 PM »
I was posing more of an academic question, but the mortality rate is defined with absolute certainty as 0.5-1%, based on countless professional broad seroprevalence surveys. I believe Yoledes is 1/1000 and still considered Pikuach Nefesh.

I think you need to chew this over and sleep over this a little more. All you seem to have given it was a quick catnap at most.
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2020, 02:09:59 PM »
I’ve heard (but not seen) that R’ Moshe held you are not allowed to drive a car for pleasure, only for a need. See the article I linked above. It’s a fascinating article, though there are opinions of the author in there that I disagree with and some facts that are wrong.
Havent had a chance to read your article yet, but another time this question comes up is when a city/community is in distress. Many hold one cannot leave אסור לפרוש מן הציבור even in the face of safety. It was a big question during the gulf wars when foreign bochurim considered leaving Israel, and before the holocaust.
״וזה כלל גדול: שישנא אדם כל דבר שקר. וכל מה שיוסיף שנאה לדרכי השקר – יוסיף אהבה לתורה.״ - אורחות צדיקים

Offline avromie7

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #9 on: June 09, 2020, 02:11:16 PM »
Not a posek and not even super learned but if you are asking for opinions... from halachic perspective my understanding is there is a threshold of sakana where an action becomes assur due to sakanas nefashos. Like I have never heard a rabbi outlawing driving cars or riding on a bus even though there is "some" sakana, assuming because it doesn't reach that threshold. So the Rabbis job as ever is to measure the sakana and determine if it reaches the proper shiur.
And yeah, there is undoubtedly sakana considerations to both staying out and staying in.
I would even argue it's a case by case thing, for some people it could be more dangerous to stay in and vice versa.
R' Reuven Feinstein doesn't allow riding buses in Israel unless you live there (boys and girls studying in Israel do not live there). I don't remember the exact reasoning, but I believe the idea is someone who lives in Israel needs it to live properly. Maybe @yungermanchik can chime in with some more details.
I wonder what people who type "u" instead of "you" do with all their free time.

Offline S209

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2020, 02:14:36 PM »
R' Reuven Feinstein doesn't allow riding buses in Israel unless you live there (boys and girls studying in Israel do not live there). I don't remember the exact reasoning, but I believe the idea is someone who lives in Israel needs it to live properly. Maybe @yungermanchik can chime in with some more details.
Because of the danger of bombings/terrorists?
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2020, 02:17:30 PM »
Because of the danger of bombings/terrorists?
Yes, the reason I mentioned this is to show there are times we allow a greater level of danger when it's necessary to live properly.
I wonder what people who type "u" instead of "you" do with all their free time.

Offline yungermanchik

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2020, 02:39:35 PM »
See baba meztia 112a that the reason for lo salin is so bad is because he's moser nefesh by doing work hanging on trees and "scaffolding" for his work. So, I would assume that such a level of risk is permitted for parnassah.
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2020, 02:41:17 PM »
See baba meztia 112a that the reason for lo salin is so bad is because he's moser nefesh by doing work hanging on trees and "scaffolding" for his work. So, I would assume that such a level of risk is permitted for parnassah.
Nice example
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2020, 03:39:41 PM »

Therefore, it is my understanding thus far that according to Halacha, we would indeed close all shuls every winter to save a single elderly flu victim, if not for the fact that we assume people will go out anyways, and so closing the shuls will no reduce the overall infection rate. It is worth noting the entire concept of transmittable sickness was only discovered by Ignaz Semmelweis in the mid 1800s, and prior to that it was not known that one can become sick by contacting a sick person.
I think there is one additional point - that things which are considered normal have a different hanhagah than a passing danger.
Quote from: Rav Mayer Twersky
Halacha distinguishes between a passing danger and an abiding one which
creates a “new normal.” The transitory nature of a passing danger allows for, and
thus obligates us, to take all necessary measures to completely avoid sakanah.
However, when a danger becomes embedded in the fabric of life (similar to
childbirth, for example) we must, to the best of our ability, design a modus
vivendi that deals with the ever-present danger so as to sustain basic Torah
practices and institutions within the “new normal.”
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2020, 03:44:21 PM »
I think there is one additional point - that things which are considered normal have a different hanhagah than a passing danger.
Very interesting, do you have a source for this?

Also, how long is passing and how long is normal? This can last to some extent for months or years.
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #16 on: June 09, 2020, 03:55:33 PM »
I think there is one additional point - that things which are considered normal have a different hanhagah than a passing danger.
It sounds right, but what is the source?

Additionally, I think some posts in this thread are conflating the issur מכניס עצמו לסכנה, to the din of פיקוח נפש דוחה. Just to use an example, according to some תנאים, a person is allowed to injure himself, and remove a limb, but he would still be allowed to be מחלל שבת to avoid losing a limb.
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2020, 04:01:37 PM »
You make a very valid point.

I was posing more of an academic question, but the mortality rate is defined with absolute certainty as 0.5-1%, based on countless professional broad seroprevalence surveys. I believe Yoledes is 1/1000 and still considered Pikuach Nefesh.
The mortality rate is higher and lower for different age groups obviously.

Giving birth can be different because she is already in that situation, vs COVID-19 where you are not sure you'll catch it.

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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2020, 04:02:42 PM »
It sounds right, but what is the source?
My understanding is that is the דין of שומר פתאים השם
Quote
Additionally, I think some posts in this thread are conflating the issur מכניס עצמו לסכנה, to the din of פיקוח נפש דוחה. Just to use an example, according to some תנאים, a person is allowed to injure himself, and remove a limb, but he would still be allowed to be מחלל שבת to avoid losing a limb.
agreed
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Re: Does Judaism place an upper-limit on the value of a single life?
« Reply #19 on: June 09, 2020, 04:07:14 PM »
My understanding is that is the דין of שומר פתאים השםagreed
Very interesting, thank you.

https://www.yeshiva.org.il/wiki/index.php/שומר_פתאים_ה%27
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