Thursday, August 27, 2015

Selective Forced Feeding

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

"Do not allow yourselves to see the ox of your brother or his sheep go astray... You shall return it to him" [Devarim 22:1-2].

"How do we know that this is still valid if he is about to lose something from his own body? It is written, 'You shall return it to him.'" [Sanhedrin 73a].

The Difference between a Sick Person and a Terrorist

Here is a pronouncement made by Dr. Leonid Adelman, the head of the Israeli Medical Association: "Doctors are prohibited from participating in forced feeding of prisoners, because this is a matter of torture... This is a dangerous procedure which is forbidden according to our laws of ethics." This statement is a challenge of the "Law of Forced Feeding" for security prisoners who start a hunger strike (why only them?). The law was passed a month ago by the Knesset in the wake of a new "weapon" used by the terrorists – a hunger strike to the death, thereby calling for a "worldwide protest" against Israel. Without a doubt, this pseudo-medical ruling carries with it a number of hidden messages that are political and cultural in nature, as is plain for all to see. In principle it is similar to calls for revolt from various directions against laws of the land in the realms of settlements and security, economics and taxes, culture and education, religion and the state, and many similar issues. Can yeshiva heads who call out for their students not to report for registration with the security forces point to the worthy Dr. Adelman as a source for their advice?

On the tip of my tongue, I find it necessary to take note of something that demonstrates the political links of Dr. Adelman's declaration: Why was the voice of the Israeli Medical Association not heard when a youth recently refused chemotherapy in the Rambam Hospital? "The whole world" was called on to join in the effort to force the boy to take the treatment. Where were Dr. Adelman's ethical limits which forbid coercion? Perhaps we might try to make a difference between an adult and a child, but my heart tells me that the good doctor differentiates between a Jew and a Gentile, or more precisely – between a sick person and a terrorist. And it seems that only the latter is protected by ethical rules!

Ethics and Halacha

In my comments below I will make an effort to completely leave out my nationalistic feeling, which leads to a conclusion that we should be more stringent with terrorists than with other human beings. I will also ignore my feelings based on security issues, that we are in a war with our enemies, and that sometimes, as often happens during a war, it is necessary to take steps that are not the most ethical actions in the world. I will also ignore the strong background noise about "what the other nations will say," which we can assume echoed in the respected head of Dr. Adelson, who is so afraid of "torture." What I write below is purely from the Jewish point of view.

I am not familiar with "the laws of ethics" and with those who wrote them. One thing I do know: It is clear and definite according to the laws of our Torah, which is the basis of all of our ethical thought, that if a person is about to starve to death he must be saved even if this means to use force to make him eat. This obligation comes straight from a verse in the Torah: "Do not stand idly by when the blood of your colleague is in danger" [Vayikra 19:16] (which if anybody cares, was adopted by the Knesset). And this was expanded in the Talmud based on a verse in this week's Torah portion, quoted above, as an extension of the laws of returning a lost item.

(We might suggest that Dr. Adelman accepts that there is a difference in the need to save a life depending on whether the person is a Jew, as is written in the verse quoted above, "your colleague." After all, we have been taught that the law for a Gentile is that "he is not to be lowered into a pit, but neither is he pulled out." However, I seriously doubt that Dr. Adelman ruled on the dispute between the early commentators, whether the lack of an obligation to rescue a Gentile is only valid for the Seven Nations of Canaan or for every Gentile, or perhaps only for those who do not observe the Seven Commandments of Bnei Noach. Note that there is also a specific dispute about the status of Moslems in this case. The entire subject awaits further study in depth.)

As I have said, I am not an expert in the ethical rules of the "religion of personal rights" and European morality,but I do know that in the volumes of Techumin (the halachic series published by Zomet Institute) there have been three articles published on "forcing a sick person to be treated." This includes a responsa by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Techumin volume 5, 5756–1996, later reprinted in Igrot Moshe, volume 2, 73), where he rules that"the physicians must do what they can, including coercion," as long as the necessary treatment is not dangeous. In volume 2, Rabbi Moshe Raziel wrote an article based on a responsa of the Radbaz that "a person should be fed by force," and in volume 25 the brothers Rabbi Naftali and Dr. Yechiel Bar Ilan wrote a comprehensive review article of the entire matter. And in all cases the point of departure is the level of danger involved in the forced treatment. However, with respect to "food and drink," all the articles agree that the patient "must be stuffed." (Note that all these articles refer to Jews and not Gentiles.)

That is our ethical approach! And all the ethics committees in Europe, and in the universities, and those in Israel who let their eyes wander abroad, have no standing against the ethical Jewish halacha, which is the most moral of all, no matter what the Israeli Medical Association says.

Yisrael and the Nations

As hinted above, my heart tells me that between the lines in the declaration of the Israeli Medical Association there is a hint of another message. It is something like: We are not interested in the Torah of Yisrael! The question of security of the State of Israel is not an issue for us! We never took an oath to be loyal to the laws of the Knesset! We want to be able to visit London and Rome, Munich and The Hague, without being arrested for the silly elements of Israeli security. We see a difference between forced feeding or a medical treatmentof a Jew – which is permitted, and possibly even desired – and forced feeding to save the life of a terrorist. This is not allowed, since it is protected by the laws of international ethics...

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