Editor’s note: JewishPress.com took down this article last week, following complaints from the editor of Ami Magazine, Rabbi Yitzchak Frankfurter, who said we failed to mention that he had apologized for the offending cover in discussion in the second paragraph. We now re-publish, with the understanding that, according to Rabbi Yitzchak Frankfurter, “The White House was used as a symbol of the U.S. and not to suggest anything about the present administration or its occupants.” Therefore, when you read the second paragraph below, do keep in mind that the editor of Ami magazine in discussion is saying that he was misunderstood.
Respectfully expressing different religious viewpoints is virtuous and contributes to public discourse and honest and authentic arguments made l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven) are a sign of a dynamic Judaism. However, declaring that you would not save someone’s life on Shabbos because they have different religious views is morally, spiritually and physically dangerous. Recently, in another attack on Modern Orthodoxy from Centrist and Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, one rabbi essentially suggested that because some Orthodox rabbis embrace values promoting women’s spiritual participation and leadership, those rabbis are to be considered heretics and their lives should not be saved, if they are in danger, on Shabbat.
This hyper-reaction to alleged deviations from one person’s view of the Torah could lead to insensitive behavior and harmful activities. In January 2012, for example, the magazine Ami printed a cover depicting the White House covered with three Nazi flags, and Nazi soldiers walking across its front lawn. While any degree of neo-Nazi activity in America is worthy of coverage, the cover was correctly deemed inappropriate for its trivial exploitation of the Holocaust and its attendant horrors. The Jewish people regularly urge politicians and media outlets to not exploit the Holocaust for political purposes or any other irrelevant causes. The hypocrisy demonstrated by Ami’s magazine cover was damaging to our credibility and continuing efforts. Nevertheless, we do not condemn the publisher and/or editor to be an “evil” person or assert that he is not a Jew. Rather, we offer constructive, honest, and dignified criticism in responsible and generative ways.
We must all distance ourselves from the explosive and vitriolic rhetoric espoused from ideologically obdurate radicals who care more about the political strength of their own religious camp than they do about following the compassionate ways of God and Torah. We should have an understanding that no Jew (including the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who attacked so many others) is a “heretic” worthy of condemnation, and, perhaps more importantly, that no one should be allowed to die in the street without being offered assistance.
Let us turn to our tradition and text.
Shabbos and (most) other mitzvahs are superseded when a human life is in danger. Therefore, if a person is dangerously ill – even a day-old baby – it is a mitzvah to disregard Shabbos to assist the child. If the sick person doesn’t want us to ignore Shabbos for him, we do so anyway because it would be a great sin for him to be foolishly pious and not be saved. Regarding such a person, the Torah tells us, “surely I will hold you responsible for the blood of your own lives” (Genesis 9:5). One who hastens to disregard Shabbos for a sick person in danger is considered praiseworthy, (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 92:1).
Furthermore, it was clear to great Orthodox rabbis over a century ago that we no longer treat anyone like a “heretic.” Consider the position of the Chazon Ish (Commentary on Yoreh De’ah, 13:16), who understood that we live in a different time:
It seems to me that the law of throwing (the heretic) into a pit (to be left to die) applies only to those periods when God’s Providence is apparent, such as when miracles took place, or the Heavenly Voice functioned,…. At such times, those who commit heresy are acting with deliberate perversity…. It was at periods such as these that the destruction of the wicked was a salutary measure to save humanity, for all know that were the generation to be led astray, world catastrophes, such as plagues, wars, and famines would result. But when Divine Providence is concealed, when the masses have lost their faith, throwing (heretics) into a pit is no longer an act against lawlessness…. since our entire purpose is to remedy the situation, the law does not apply to a period when no remedy would result. Rather, we must bring them back through the bonds of love and enlighten them to the best of our abilities.
The Chazon Ish teaches that we must take a loving approach to engage with others that we disagree with and not treat them as “heretics” that we must combat. Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, taught a similar value (Iggerot haRe’iya, Volume I, no. 138).
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”
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