This is the 5th chapter of "Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand
Years", a book first published in 1994 by Pluto Press,
London U.K. For full text of
Titles of this chapter:
EXPLAINED in Chapter 3, the Halakhah, that is the legal system of
classical Judaism - as practiced by virtually all Jews from the 9th
century to the end of the 18th and as maintained to this very day in the
form of Orthodox Judaism - is based primarily on the Babylonian Talmud.
However, because of the unwieldy complexity of the legal disputations
recorded in the Talmud, more manageable codifications of talmudic laws
became necessary and were indeed compiled by successive generations of
rabbinical scholars. Some of these have acquired great authority and are
in general use. For this reasons we shall refer for the most part to
such compilations (and their most reputable commentaries) rather than
directly to the Talmud. It is however correct to assume that the
compilation referred to reproduces faithfully the meaning of the
talmudic text and the additions made by later scholars on the basis of
The earliest code of talmudic law which is still of major importance
is the Misbneh Tarab written by Moses Maimonides in the late 12th
century. The most authoritative code, widely used to date as a handbook,
is the Shulhan 'Arukh composed by R. Yosef Karo in the late 16th
century as a popular condensation of his own much more voluminous Beys
Yosef which was intended for the advanced scholar. The Shulhan 'Arukh is
much commented upon; in addition to classical commentaries dating from
the 17th century, there is an important 20th century one, Mishnab
Berurab. Finally, the Talmudic Encyclopedia - a modern compilation
published in Israel from the 1950s and edited by the country's greatest
Orthodox rabbinical scholars - is a good compendium of the whole
Murder and Genocide
TO THE JEWISH religion, the murder of a Jew is a capital offense and
one of the three most heinous sins (the other two being idolatry and
adultery). Jewish religious courts and secular authorities are commanded
to punish, even beyond the limits of the ordinary administration of
justice, anyone guilty of murdering a Jew. A Jew who indirectly causes
the death of another Jew is, however, only guilty of what talmudic law
calls a sin against the 'laws of Heaven', to be punished by God rather
than by man.
When the victim is a Gentile, the position is quite different. A Jew
who murders a Gentile is guilty only of a sin against the laws of
Heaven, not punishable by a
court.1 To cause indirectly the death of a Gentile is no sin at
Thus, one of the two most important commentators on the Shulhan Arukh
explains that when it comes to a Gentile, 'one must not lift one's hand
to harm him, but one may harm him indirectly, for instance by removing a
ladder after he had fallen into a crevice .., there is no prohibition
here, because it was not done
He points out, however, that an act leading indirectly to a Gentile's
death is forbidden if it may cause the spread of hostility towards
A Gentile murderer who happens to be under Jewish jurisdiction must
be executed whether the victim was Jewish or not. However, if the victim
was Gentile and the murderer converts to Judaism, he is not
All this has a direct and practical relevance to the realities of the
State of Israel. Although the state's criminal laws make no distinction
between Jew and Gentile, such distinction is certainly made by Orthodox
rabbis, who in guiding their flock follow the Halakhah. Of special
importance is the advice they give to religious soldiers.
Since even the minimal interdiction against murdering a Gentile
outright applies only to 'Gentiles with whom we [the Jews] are not
rabbinical commentators in the past drew the logical conclusion that
in wartime all Gentiles belonging to a hostile population may, or
even should be killed.6
Since 1973 this doctrine is being publicly propagated for the guidance
of religious Israeli soldiers. The first such official exhortation was
included in a booklet published by the Central Region Command of the
Israeli Army, whose area includes the West Bank. In this booklet the
Command's Chief Chaplain writes:
When our forces come across
civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid,
so long as there is no
certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our
forces, then according to the Halakhah they may
and even should be killed ... Under no circumstances should an Arab be
trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilized ... In war,
when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by
the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are
The same doctrine is expounded in the following exchange of letters
between a young Israeli soldier and his rabbi, published in the yearbook
of one of the country's most prestigious religious colleges,
Midrashiyyat No'am, where many leaders and activists of the National
Religious Party and Gush Emunim have been
Letter from the soldier Moshe to Rabbi Sbipn 'on Weiser '
With God's help, to His Honor, my dear Rabbi,
'First I would like to ask how you and your family are. I
hope all is well. I am, thank God, feeling well. A long time I have not
written. Please forgive me. Sometimes I recall the verse "when shall I
come and appear before
God?'9 I hope, without being certain, that I shall come during one of the leaves. I must do so.
'In one of the discussions in our group, there was a
debate about the "purity of weapons" and
we discussed whether it is
permitted to kill unarmed men - or women and children? Or perhaps we
should take revenge on the Arabs? And then everyone answered according
to his own understanding. I could not arrive at a clear decision,
whether Arabs should be treated like the Amalekites, meaning that one is
permitted to murder [sic ] them until their remembrance is blotted out
heaven,10 or perhaps one should do as in a just war, in which one kills only the soldiers?
'A second problem I have is whether I am permitted to put
myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been
cases when women threw hand grenades. Or am I permitted to give water to
an Arab who put his hand up? For there may be reason to fear that he
only means to deceive me and will kill me, and such things have
'I conclude with a warm greeting to the rabbi and all his family. - Moshe.'
Reply of Shim'on Weiser' to Moshe
'With the help of Heaven. Dear Moshe, Greetings.
'I am starting this letter this evening although I know I
cannot finish it this evening, both because I am busy and because I
would like to make it a long letter, to answer your questions in full,
for which purpose I shall have to copy out some of the sayings of our
sages, of blessed memory, and interpret
'The non-Jewish nations have a custom according to which
war has its own rules, like those of a game, like the rules of football
or basketball. But according to the sayings of our sages, of blessed
memory, [ ... ] war for us is not a game but a vital necessity, and only
by this standard must we decide how to wage it. On the one hand .... ]
we seem to learn that if a Jew murders a Gentile, he is regarded as a
murderer and, except for the fact that no court has the right to punish
him, the gravity of the deed is like that of any other murder. But we
find in the very same authorities in another place [ ... that
Rabbi Shim'on used to say: "The best of Gentiles - kill him; the best of
snakes dash out its brains."
'It might perhaps be argued that the expression "kill" in
the saying of R. Shim'on is only figurative and should not be taken
literally but as meaning "oppress" or some similar attitude, and in this
way we also avoid a contradiction with the authorities quoted earlier.
Or one might argue that this saying, though meant literally, is [merely]
his own personal opinion, disputed by other sages [quoted earlier]. But
we find the true explanation in the
There [ .... ] we learn the following comment on the talmudic
pronouncement that Gentiles who fall into a well should not be helped
out, but neither should they be pushed into the well to be killed, which
means that they should neither be saved from death nor killed directly.
And the Tosafot write as follows:
"And if it is queried [because] in another place it was
said The best of Gentiles - kill him, then the answer is that this
[saying] is meant for wartime." [ ... ]
'According to the commentators of the Tosafot, a
distinction must be made between wartime and peace, so that although
during peace time it is forbidden to kill Gentiles, in a case that
occurs in wartime it is a mitzvah [imperative, religious duty] to kill
'And this is the difference between a Jew and a Gentile:
although the rule "Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first" applies to
a Jew, as was said in Tractate Sanhedrin [of the Talmud], page 72a,
still it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he
is coming to kill you. But a Gentile during wartime is usually to be
presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent.
This is the rule of "purity of weapons" according to the Halakhah - and
not the alien conception which is now accepted in the Israeli army and
which has been the cause of many [Jewish] casualties. I enclose a
newspaper cutting with the speech made last week in the Knesset by Rabbi
Kalman Kahana, which shows in a very lifelike - and also painful - way
how this "purity of weapons" has caused deaths.
'I conclude here, hoping that you will not find the length
of this letter irksome. This subject was being discussed even without
your letter, but your letter caused me to write up the whole matter.
'Be in peace, you and all Jews, and [I hope to] see you soon, as you say. Yours - Shim'on.
Reply of Moshe to R. Shim'on Weiser
'To His Honor, my dear Rabbi,
'First I hope that you and your family are in health and are all right.
'I have received your long letter and am grateful for your
personal watch over me, for I assume that you write to many, and most
of your time is taken up with your studies in your own program.
'Therefore my thanks to you are doubly deep.
'As for the letter itself, I have understood it as follows:
'In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to
kill every Arab man and woman whom I chance upon, if there is reason to
fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly. And
as far as I am concerned I have to kill them even if that might result
in an involvement with the military law. I think that this matter of the
purity of weapons should be transmitted to educational institutions, at
least the religious ones, so that they should have a position about
this subject and so that they will not wander in the broad fields of
"logic", especially on this subject; and the rule has to be explained as
it should be followed in practice. For, I am sorry to say, I have seen
different types of "logic" here even among the religious comrades. I do
hope that you shall be active in this, so that our boys will know the
line of their ancestors clearly and unambiguously.
'I conclude here, hoping that when the [training] course
ends, in about a month, I shall be able to come to the yeshivah
[talmudic college]. Greetings - Moshe.'
Of course, this doctrine of the Halakhah on murder clashes, in
principle, not only with Israel's criminal law but also - as hinted in
the letters just quoted - with official military standing regulations.
However, there can be little doubt that in practice this doctrine does
exert an influence on the administration of justice, especially by
military authorities. The fact is that in all cases where Jews have, in a
military or paramilitary context, murdered Arab non-combatants -
including cases of mass murder such as that in Kafr Qasim in 1956 - the
murderers, if not let off altogether, received extremely light sentences
or won far-reaching remissions, reducing their punishment to next to
Saving of Life
SUBJECT - the supreme value of human life and the obligation of every
human being to do the outmost to save the life of a fellow human - is of
obvious importance in itself. It is also of particular interest in a
Jewish context, in view of the fact that since the Second World War
Jewish opinion has - in some cases justly, in others unjustly -
condemned 'the whole world' or at least all Europe for standing by when
Jews were being massacred. Let us therefore examine what the Halakhah
has to say on this subject.
According to the Halakhah, the duty to save the life of a fellow Jew is
It supersedes all other religious obligations and interdictions,
excepting only the prohibitions against the three most heinous sins of
adultery (including incest), murder and idolatry.
As for Gentiles, the basic talmudic principle is that their lives
must not be saved, although it is also forbidden to murder them
outright.15 The Talmud itself expresses this in the maxim 'Gentiles are neither to be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down [into it]'.
"As for Gentiles with whom we are not at war ... their death must not
be caused, but it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of
death; if, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he
should not be rescued, for it is written: 'neither shalt thou stand
against the blood of thy
fellow'17 - but [a Gentile] is not thy fellow."
In particular, a Jewish doctor must not treat a Gentile patient.
Maimonides - himself an illustrious physician - is quite explicit on
this; in another
he repeats the distinction between 'thy fellow' and a Gentile, and
concludes: 'and from this learn ye, that it is forbidden to heal a
Gentile even for payment...'
However, the refusal of a Jew - particularly a Jewish doctor - to
save the life of a Gentile may, if it becomes known, antagonize powerful
Gentiles and so put Jews in danger. Where such danger exists, the
obligation to avert it supersedes the ban on helping the Gentile. Thus
Maimonides continues: ' ... but if you fear him or his hostility, cure
him for payment, though you are forbidden to do so without payment.' In
fact, Maimonides himself was Saladin's personal physician. His
insistence on demanding payment - presumably in order to make sure that
the act is not one of human charity but an unavoidable duty - is however
not absolute. For in another passage he allows Gentile whose hostility
is feared to be treated 'even gratis, if it is unavoidable'.
The whole doctrine - the ban on saving a Gentile's life or healing
him, and the suspension of this ban in cases where there is fear of
hostility - is repeated (virtually verbatim) by other major authorities,
including the 14th century Arba'ah Turirn and Karo's Beyt Yosef and
Beyt Yosef adds, quoting Maimonides: 'And it is permissible to try out a
drug on a heathen, if this serves a purpose'; and this is repeated also
by the famous R. Moses Isserles.
The consensus of halakhic authorities is that the term 'Gentiles' in
the above doctrine refers to all non-Jews. A lone voice of dissent is
that of R. Moses Rivkes, author of a minor commentary on the Shulhan
Our sages only said this about heathens, who in their day worshipped
idols and did not believe in the Jewish Exodus from Egypt or in the
creation of the world ex nihilo. But the Gentiles in whose [protective]
shade we, the people of Israel, are exiled and among whom we are
scattered do believe in the creation of the world ex nihilo and in the
Exodus and in several principles of our own religion and they pray to
the Creator of heaven and earth ... Not only is there no interdiction
against helping them, but we are even obliged to pray for their safety.
This passage, dating from the second half of the 17th century, is a favorite quote of apologetic
Actually, it does not go nearly as far as the apologetics pretend, for
it advocates removing the ban on saving a Gentile's life, rather than
making it mandatory as in the case of a Jew; and even this liberality
extends only to Christians and Muslims but not the majority of human
beings. Rather, what it does show is that there was a way in which the
harsh doctrine of the Halakhah could have been progressively
liberalized. But as a matter of fact the majority of later halakhic
authorities, far from extending Rivkes' leniency to other human groups,
have rejected it altogether.
Desecrating the Sabbath to Save Life
THE SABBATH - that is, doing work that would otherwise be banned on
Saturday - becomes a duty when the need to save a Jew's life demands it.
The problem of saving a Gentile's life on the sabbath is not raised
in the Talmud as a main issue, since it is in any case forbidden even on
a weekday; it does however enter as a complicating factor in two
First, there is a problem where a group of people are in danger, and
it is possible (but not certain) that there is at least one Jew among
them: should the sabbath be desecrated in order to save them? There is
an extensive discussion of such cases. Following earlier authorities,
including Maimonides and the Talmud itself, the Shulhan Arukh
decides these matters according to the weight of probabilities. For
example, suppose nine Gentiles and one Jew live in the same building.
One Saturday the building collapses; one of the ten - it is not known
which one - is away, but the other nine are trapped under the rubble.
Should the rubble be cleared, thus desecrating the sabbath, seeing that
the Jew may not be under it (he may have been the one that got away)?
The Shulhan 'Arukh says that it should, presumably because the odds that
the Jew is under the rubble are high (nine to one). But now suppose
that nine have got away and only one - again, it is not known which one -
is trapped. Then there is no duty to clear the rubble, presumably
because this time there are long odds (nine to one) against the Jew
being the person trapped. Similarly: 'If a boat containing some Jews is
seen to be in peril upon the sea, it is a duty incumbent upon all to
desecrate the sabbath in order to save it.' However, the great R. 'Aqiva
Eiger (died 1837) comments that this applies only 'when it is known
that there are Jews on board. But ... if nothing at all is known about
the identity of those on board, [the sabbath] must not be desecrated,
for one acts according to [the weight of probabilities, and] the
majority of people in the world are
Gentiles.23 Thus, since there are very long odds against any of the passengers being Jewish, they must be allowed to drown.
Secondly, the provision that a Gentile may be saved or cared for in
order to avert the danger of hostility is curtailed on the sabbath. A
Jew called upon to help a Gentile on a weekday may have to comply
because to admit that he is not allowed, in principle, to save the life
of a non-Jew would be to invite hostility. But on Saturday the Jew can
use sabbath observance as a plausible excuse.
A paradigmatic case
discussed at length in the
is that of
a Jewish midwife invited to help a Gentile woman in
childbirth. The upshot is that the midwife is allowed to help on a
weekday 'for fear of hostility', but on the sabbath she must not do so,
because she can excuse herself by saying: 'We are allowed to desecrate
the sabbath only for our own, who observe the sabbath, but for your
people, who do not keep the sabbath, we are not allowed to desecrate
it.' Is this explanation a genuine one or merely an excuse? Maimonides
clearly thinks that it is just an excuse, which can be used even if the
task that the midwife is invited to do does not actually involve any
desecration of the sabbath. Presumably, the excuse will work just as
well even in this case, because Gentiles are generally in the dark as to
precisely which kinds of work are banned for Jews on the sabbath. At
any rate, he decrees: 'A Gentile woman must not be helped in childbirth
on the sabbath, even for payment; nor must one fear hostility, even when
[such help involves] no desecration of the sabbath.' The Shulhan 'Arukh
Nevertheless, this sort of excuse could not always be relied upon to
do the trick and avert Gentile hostility. Therefore certain important
rabbinical authorities had to relax the rules to some extent and allowed
Jewish doctors to treat Gentiles on the sabbath even if this involved
doing certain types of work normally banned on that day. This partial
relaxation applied particularly to rich and powerful Gentile patients,
who could not be fobbed off so easily and whose hostility could be
Thus, R. Yo'el Sirkis, author of Bayit Hadash and one of the greatest
rabbis of his time (Poland, 17th century), decided that 'mayors, petty
nobles and aristocrats' should be treated on the sabbath, because of the
fear of their hostility which involves 'some danger'. But in other
cases, especially when the Gentile can be fobbed off with an evasive
excuse, a Jewish doctor would commit 'an unbearable sin' by treating him
on the sabbath. Later in the same century, a similar verdict was given
in the French city of Metz, whose two parts were connected by a pontoon
bridge. Jews are not normally allowed to cross such a bridge on the
sabbath, but the rabbi of Metz decided that a Jewish doctor may
nevertheless do so 'if he is called to the great governor': since the
doctor is known to cross the bridge for the sake of his Jewish patients,
the governor's hostility could be aroused if the doctor refused to do
so for his sake. Under the authoritarian rule of Louis XIV, it was
evidently important to have the goodwill of his intendant; the feelings
of lesser Gentiles were of little
Hokhrnat Shloinoh, a 19th century commentary on the Shulhan 'Arukh,
mentions a similarly strict interpretation of the concept 'hostility' in
connection with the Karaites, a small heretical Jewish sect. According
to this view, their lives must not be saved if that would involve
desecration of the sabbath, 'for "hostility" applies only to the
heathen, who are many against us, and we are delivered into their hands
.. But the Karaites are few and we are not delivered into their hands,
[so] the fear of hostility does not apply to them at
In fact, the absolute ban on desecrating the sabbath in order to save
the life of a Karaite is still in force today, as we shall see.
The whole subject is extensively discussed in the responsa of R.
Moshe Sofer - better known as 'Ilatam Sofer' - the famous rabbi of
Pressburg (Bratislava) who died in 1832. His conclusions are of more
than historical interest, since in 1966 one of his responsa was publicly
endorsed by the then Chief Rabbi of Israel as 'a basic institution of
The particular question asked of Ratam Sofer concerned the situation in
Turkey, where it was decreed during one of the wars that in each
township or village there should be midwives on call, ready to hire
themselves out to any woman in labor. Some of these midwives were
Jewish; should they hire themselves out to help Gentile women on
weekdays and on the sabbath?
In his Tesponsum,29
Hatam Sofer first concludes, after careful investigation, that the
Gentiles concerned - that is, Ottoman Christians and Muslims - are not
only idolators 'who definitely worship other gods and thus should
"neither be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down",' but are likened by
him to the Amalekites, so that the talmudic ruling 'it is forbidden to
multiply the seed of Amalek' applies to them. In principle, therefore,
they should not be helped even on week- days. However, in practice it is
'permitted' to heal Gentiles and help them in labor, if they have
doctors and midwives of their own, who could be called instead of the
Jewish ones. For if Jewish doctors and midwives refused to attend to
Gentiles, the only result would be loss of income to the former - which
is of course undesirable. This applies equally on weekdays and on the
sabbath, provided no desecration of the sabbath is involved. However, in
the latter case the sabbath can serve as an excuse to 'mislead the
heathen woman and say that it would involve desecration of the sabbath'.
In connection with cases that do actually involve desecration of the
sabbath, Hatam Sofer - like other authorities - makes a distinction
between two categories of work banned on the sabbath. First, there is
work banned by the Torah, the biblical text (as interpreted by the
Talmud); such work may only be performed in very exceptional cases, if
failing to do so would cause an extreme danger of hostility towards
Jews. Then there are types of work which are only banned by the sages
who extended the original law of the Torah; the attitude towards
breaking such bans is generally more lenient.
Another response of Hatam Sofer deals with the question whether it is
permissible for a Jewish doctor to travel by carriage on the sabbath in
order to heal a Gentile. After pointing out that under certain
conditions traveling by horse-drawn carriage on the sabbath only
violates a ban imposed 'by the sages' rather than by the Torah, he goes
on to recall Maimonides' pronouncement that Gentile women in labor must
not be helped on the sabbath, even if no desecration of the sabbath is
involved, and states that the same principle applies to all medical
practice, not just midwifery. But he then voices the fear that if this
were put into practice, 'it would arouse undesirable hostility,' for
'the Gentiles would not accept the excuse of sabbath observance,' and
'would say that the blood of an idolator has little worth in our eyes'.
Also, perhaps more importantly, Gentile doctors might take revenge on
their Jewish patients. Better excuses must be found. He advises a Jewish
doctor who is called to treat a Gentile patient out of town on the
sabbath to excuse himself by saying that he is required to stay in town
in order to look after his other patients, 'for he can use this in order
to say, "I cannot move because of the danger to this or that patient,
who needs a doctor first, and I may not desert my charge"
With such an excuse there is no fear of danger, for it is a
reasonable pretext, commonly given by doctors who are late in arriving
because another patient needed them first.' Only 'if it is impossible to
give any excuse' is the doctor permitted to travel by carriage on the
sabbath in order to treat a Gentile.
In the whole discussion, the main issue is the excuses that should be
made, not the actual healing or the welfare of the patient. And
throughout it is taken for granted that it is all right to deceive
Gentiles rather than treat them, so long as 'hostility' can be
Of course, in modern times most Jewish doctors are not religious and
do not even know of these rules. Moreover, it appears that even many who
are religious prefer to their credit - to abide by the Hippocratic oath
rather than by the precepts of their fanatic
However, the rabbis' guidance cannot fail to have some influence on
some doctors; and there are certainly many who, while not actually
following that guidance, choose not to protest against it publicly.
All this is far from being a dead issue. The most up-to-date halakhic
position on these matters is contained in a recent concise and
authoritative book published in English under the title Jewish Medical
This book, which bears the imprint of the prestigious Israeli
foundation Mossad Harav Kook, is based on the response of R. Eli'ezer
Yehuda Waldenberg, Chief Justice of the Rabbinical District Court of
Jerusalem. A few passages of this work deserve special mention.
First, 'it is forbidden to desecrate the sabbath ... for a Karaite.'34
This is stated bluntly, absolutely and without any further
qualification. Presumably the hostility of this small sect makes no
difference, so they should be allowed to die rather than be treated on
As for Gentiles: 'According to the ruling stated in the Talmud and
Codes of Jewish Law, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath - whether
violating Biblical or rabbinic law - in order to save the life of a
dangerously ill gentile patient. It is also forbidden to deliver the
baby of a gentile women on the
But this is qualified by a dispensation: 'However, today it is
permitted to desecrate the Sabbath on behalf of a Gentile by performing
actions prohibited by rabbinic law, for by so doing one prevents ill
feelings from arising between Jew and
This does not go very far, because medical treatment very often
involves acts banned on the sabbath by the Torah itself, which are not
covered by this dispensation. There are, we are told, 'some' halakhic
authorities who extend the dispensation to such acts as well - but this
is just another way of saying that most halakhic authorities, and the
ones that really count, take the opposite view. However, all is not
lost. Jewish Medical Law has a truly breathtaking solution to this
The solution hangs upon a nice point of talmudic law. A ban imposed
by the Torah on performing a given act on the sabbath is presumed to
apply only when the primary intention in performing it is the actual
outcome of the act. (For example. grinding wheat is presumed to be
banned by the Torah only if the purpose is actually to obtain flour.) On
the other hand, if the performance of the same act is merely incidental
to some other purpose (melakhah seh'eynah tzrikhah legufah) then the
act changes its status - it is still forbidden, to be sure, but only by
the sages rather than by the Torah itself. Therefore: In order to avoid
any transgression of the law, there is a legally acceptable method of
rendering treatment on behalf of a gentile patient even when dealing
with violation of Biblical Law. It is suggested that at the time that
the physician is providing the necessary care, his intentions should not
primarily be to cure the patient, but to protect himself and the Jewish
people from accusations of religious discrimination and severe
retaliation that may endanger him in particular and the Jewish people in
general. With this intention, any act on the physician's part becomes
an act whose actual outcome is not its primary purpose' ... which is
forbidden on Sabbath only by rabbinic
This hypocritical substitute for the Hippocratic oath is also proposed by a recent authoritative Hebrew
Although the facts were mentioned at least twice in the Israeli press,39 the Israeli Medical Association has remained silent.
Having treated in some detail the supremely important subject of the
attitude of the Halakhah to a Gentile's very life, we shall deal much
more briefly with other halakhic rules which discriminate against
Gentiles. Since the number of such rules is very large, we shall mention
only the more important ones.
INTERCOURSE between a married Jewish woman and any man other than her
husband is a capital offense for both parties, and one of the three most
heinous sins. The status of Gentile women is very different. The
Halakhah presumes all Gentiles to be utterly promiscuous and the verse
'whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue [of semen] is
like the issue of
is applied to them. Whether a Gentile woman is married or not makes no
difference, since as far as Jews are concerned the very concept of
matrimony does not apply to Gentiles ('There is no matrimony for a
heathen'). Therefore, the concept of adultery also does not apply to
intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman; rather, the
equates such intercourse to the sin of bestiality. (For the same
reason, Gentiles are generally presumed not to have certain paternity.)
According to the Talmudic Encyclopedia:
42 'He who has carnal knowledge of the wife of a Gentile is not liable to the death penalty, for it is written: "thy fellow's
wife"43 rather than the alien's wife; and even the precept that a man "shall cleave unto his
which is addressed to the Gentiles does not apply to a Jew, just there
is no matrimony for a heathen; and although a married Gentile woman is
forbidden to the Gentiles, in any case a Jew is exempted.'
This does not imply that sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a
Gentile woman is permitted - quite the contrary. But the main
punishment is inflicted on the Gentile woman; she must be executed, even
if she was raped by the Jew: 'If a Jew has coitus with a Gentile woman,
whether she be a child of three or an adult, whether married or
unmarried, and even if he is a minor aged only nine years and one day -
because he had willful coitus with her, she must be killed, as is the
case with a beast, because through her a Jew got into
The Jew, however, must be flogged, and if he is a Kohen (member of the
priestly tribe) he must receive double the number of lashes, because he
has committed a double offense: a Kohen must not have intercourse with a
prostitute, and all Gentile women are presumed to be
TO THE HALAKHAH, Jews must not (if they can help it) allow a Gentile to
be appointed to any position of authority, however small, over Jews.
(The two stock examples are commander over ten soldiers in the Jewish
army' and 'superintendent of an irrigation ditch'.) Significantly, this
particular rule applies also to converts to Judaism and to their
descendants (through the female line) for ten generations or 'so long as
the descent is known'.
Gentiles are presumed to be congenital liars, and are disqualified
from testifying in a rabbinical court. In this respect their position
is, in theory, the same as that of Jewish women, slaves and minors; but
in practice it is actually worse. A Jewish woman is nowadays admitted as
a witness to certain matters of fact, when the rabbinical court
'believes' her; a Gentile - never.
A problem therefore arises when a rabbinical court needs to establish
a fact for which there are only Gentile witnesses. An important example
of this is in cases concerning widows: by Jewish religious law, a woman
can be declared a widow - and hence free to remarry - only if the death
of her husband is proven with certainty by means of a witness who saw
him die or identified his corpse. However, the rabbinical court will
accept the hearsay evidence of a Jew who testifies to having heard the
fact in question mentioned by a Gentile eyewitness, provided the court
is satisfied that the latter was speaking casually ('goy mesiah left
tummd) rather than in reply to a direct question; for a Gentile's direct
answer to a Jew's direct question is presumed to be a
If necessary, a Jew (preferably a rabbi) will actually undertake to
chat up the Gentile eyewitness and, without asking a direct question,
extract from him a casual statement of the fact at issue.
Money and Property
Gifts. The Talmud bluntly forbids giving a gift to a Gentile. However,
classical rabbinical authorities bent this rule because it is customary
among businessmen to give gifts to business contacts. It was therefore
laid down that a Jew may give a gift to a Gentile acquaintance, since
this is regarded not as a true gift but as a sort of investment, for
which some return is expected. Gifts to 'unfamiliar Gentiles' remain
forbidden. A broadly similar rule applies to almsgiving. Giving alms to a
Jewish beggar is an important religious duty. Alms to Gentile beggars
are merely permitted for the sake of peace. However there are numerous
rabbinical warnings against allowing the Gentile poor to become
'accustomed' to receiving alms from Jews, so that it should be possible
to withhold such alms without arousing undue hostility.
(2) Taking of interest. Anti-Gentile discrimination in this
matter has become largely theoretical, in view of the dispensation
(explained in Chapter 3) which in effect allows interest to be exacted
even from a Jewish borrower. However, it is still the case that granting
an interest-free loan to a Jew is recommended as an act of charity, but
from a Gentile borrower it is mandatory to exact interest. In fact,
many - though not all - rabbinical authorities, including Maimonides,
consider it mandatory to exact as much usury as possible on a loan to a
(3) Lost property. If a Jew finds property whose probable
owner is Jewish, the finder is strictly enjoined to make a positive
effort to return his find by advertising it publicly. In contrast, the
Talmud and all the early rabbinical authorities not only allow a Jewish
finder to appropriate an article lost by a Gentile, but actually forbid
him or her to return
In more recent times, when laws were passed in most countries making it
mandatory to return lost articles, the rabbinical authorities
instructed Jews to do what these laws say, as an act of civil obedience
to the state - but not as a religious duty, that is without making a
positive effort to discover the owner if it is not probable that he is
(4) Deception in business. It is a grave sin to practice any
kind of deception whatsoever against a Jew. Against a Gentile it is
only forbidden to practice direct deception. Indirect deception is
allowed, unless it is likely to cause hostility towards Jews or insult
to the Jewish religion. The paradigmatic example is mistaken calculation
of the price during purchase. If a Jew makes a mistake unfavorable to
himself, it is one's religious duty to correct him. If a Gentile is
spotted making such a mistake, one need not let him know about it, but
say 'I rely on your calculation', so as to forestall his hostility in
case he subsequently discovers his own mistake.
(5) Fraud. It is forbidden to defraud a Jew by selling or
buying at an unreasonable price. However, 'Fraud does not apply to
Gentiles, for it is written: "Do not defraud each man his
but a Gentile who defrauds a Jew should be compelled to make good the
fraud, but should not be punished more severely than a Jew [in a similar
Theft and robbery. Stealing (without violence) is
absolutely forbidden - as the Shulhan 'Arukh so nicely puts it: 'even
from a Gentile'. Robbery (with violence) is strictly forbidden if the
victim is Jewish. However, robbery of a Gentile by a Jew is not
forbidden outright but only under certain circumstances such as 'when
the Gentiles are not under our rule', but is permitted 'when they are
under our rule'. Rabbinical authorities differ among themselves as to
the precise details of the circumstances under which a Jew may rob a
Gentile, but the whole debate is concerned only with the relative power
of Jews and Gentiles rather than with universal considerations of
justice and humanity.
This may explain why so very few rabbis have
protested against the robbery of Palestinian property in Israel:
backed by overwhelming Jewish power.
Gentiles in the Land of
ADDITION TO THE GENERAL anti-Gentile laws, the Halakhah has special
laws against Gentiles who live in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisra'el)
or, in some cases, merely pass through it. These laws are designed to
promote Jewish supremacy in that country.
The exact geographical definition of the term 'Land of Israel' is
much disputed in the Talmud and the talmudic literature, and the debate
has continued in modern times between the various shades of zionist
opinion. According to the maximalist view, the Land of Israel includes
(in addition to Palestine itself) not only the whole of Sinai, Jordan,
Syria and Lebanon, but also considerable parts of
The more prevalent 'minimalist' interpretation puts the northern border
'only' about half way through Syria and Lebanon, at the latitude of
Homs. This view was supported by Ben Gurion. However, even those who
thus exclude parts of Syria-Lebanon agree that certain special
discriminatory laws (though less oppressive than in the Land of Israel
proper) apply to the Gentiles of those parts, because that territory was
included in David's kingdom. In all talmudic interpretations the Land
of Israel includes Cyprus.
I shall now list a few of the special laws concerning Gentiles in the
Land of Israel. Their connection with actual zionist practice will be
The Halakhah forbids Jews to sell immovable property - fields and
houses - in the Land of Israel to Gentiles. In Syria, the sale of houses
(but not of fields) is permitted.
Leasing a house in the Land of Israel to a Gentile is permitted under
two conditions. First, that the house shall not be used for habitation
but for other purposes, such as storage. Second, that three or more
adjoining houses shall not be so leased.
These and several other rules are explained as follows: ... 'so that
you shall not allow them to camp on the ground, for if they do not
possess land, their sojourn there will be
Even temporary Gentile presence may only be tolerated 'when the Jews
are in exile, or when the Gentiles are more powerful than the Jews,' but
when the Jews are more powerful than the Gentiles we are forbidden to
let an idolator among us; even a temporary resident or itinerant trader
shall not be allowed to pass through our land unless he accepts the
for it is written: 'they shall not dwell in thy
that is, not even temporarily. If he accepts the seven Noahide
precepts, he becomes a resident alien (ger toshav) but it is forbidden
to grant the status of resident alien except at times when the Jubilee
is held [that is, when the Temple stands and sacrifices are offered].
However, during times when Jubilees are not held it is forbidden to
accept anyone who is not a full convert to Judaism (ger tzedeq).55
It is therefore clear that - exactly as the leaders and sympathizers
of Gush Emunim say - the whole question to how the Palestinians ought to
be treated is, according to the Halakhah, simply a question of Jewish
power: if Jews have sufficient power, then it is their religious duty to
expel the Palestinians.
All these laws are often quoted by Israeli rabbis and their zealous
followers. For example, the law forbidding the lease of three adjoining
houses to Gentiles was solemnly quoted by a rabbinical conference held
in 1979 to discuss the Camp David treaties. The conference also declared
that according to the Halakhah even the 'autonomy' that Begin was ready
to offer to the Palestinians is too liberal. Such pronouncements -
which do in fact state correctly the position of the Halakhah - are
rarely contested by the Zionist 'left'.
In addition to laws such as those mentioned so far, which are
directed at all Gentiles in the Land of Israel, an even greater evil
influence arises from special laws against the ancient Canaanites and
other nations who lived in Palestine before its conquest by Joshua, as
well as against the Amalekites. All those nations must be utterly
exterminated, and the Talmud and talmudic literature reiterate the
genocidal biblical exhortations with even greater vehemence. Influential
rabbis, who have a considerable following among Israeli army officers,
identify the Palestinians (or even all Arabs) with those ancient
nations, so that commands like 'thou shalt save alive nothing that
acquire a topical meaning. In fact, it is not uncommon for reserve
soldiers called up to do a tour of duty in the Gaza Strip to be given an
'educational lecture' in which they are told that the Palestinians of
Gaza are 'like the Amalekites'. Biblical verses exhorting to genocide of
were solemnly quoted by an important Israeli rabbi in justification of the Qibbiya
pronouncement has gained wide circulation in the Israeli army.
There are many similar examples of bloodthirsty rabbinical
pronouncements against the Palestinians, based on these laws.
THIS HEADING I would like to discuss examples of halakhic laws whose
most important effect is not so much to prescribe specific anti-Gentile
discrimination as to inculcate an attitude of scorn and hatred towards
Gentiles. Accordingly. in this section I shall not confine myself to
quoting from the most authoritative halakhic sources (as I have done so
far) but include also less fundamental works, which are however widely
used in religious instruction.
Let us begin with the text of some common prayers. In one of the
first sections of the daily morning payer, every devout Jew blesses God
for not making him a
The concluding section of the daily prayer (which is also used in the
most solemn part of the service on New Year's day and on Yom Kippur)
opens with the statement: 'We must praise the Lord of all ... for not
making us like the nations of [all] lands ... for they bow down to
vanity and nothingness and pray to a god that does not
The last clause was censored out of the prayer books. but in eastern
Europe it was supplied orally, and has now been restored into many
Israeli-printed prayer books.
In the most important section of the
weekday prayer - the 'eighteen blessings' - there is a special curse,
originally directed against Christians, Jewish converts to Christianity
and other Jewish heretics:
'And may the
have no hope, and all the Christians perish instantly'. This formula
dates from the end of the 1st century, when Christianity was still a
small persecuted sect. Some time before the 14th century it was softened
into: 'And may the apostates have no hope. and all the
perish instantly', and after additional pressure into: 'And may the
informers have no hope, and all the heretics perish instantly'. After
the establishment of Israel. the process was reversed, and many newly
printed prayer books reverted to the second formula, which was also
prescribed by many teachers in religious Israeli schools. After 1967,
several congregations close to Gush Emunim have restored the first
version (so far only verbally, not in print) and
now pray daily that the
Christians may perish instantly'. This process of reversion happened in
the period when the Catholic Church (under Pope John XXIII) removed
from its Good Friday service a prayer which asked the Lord to have mercy
on Jews, heretics etc. This prayer was thought by most Jewish leaders
to be offensive and even antisemitic.
Apart from the fixed daily prayers, a devout Jew must utter special
short blessings on various occasions, both good and bad (for example,
while putting on a new piece of clothing. eating a seasonal fruit for
the first time that year, seeing powerful lightning, hearing bad news,
etc.) Some of these occasional prayers serve to inculcate hatred and
scorn for all Gentiles, We have mentioned in Chapter 2 the rule
according to which a
pious Jew must utter curse when passing near a
Gentile cemetery, whereas he must bless God when passing near a Jewish
cemetery. A similar rule applies to the living; thus, when seeing a
large Jewish population a devout Jew must praise God, while upon seeing a
large Gentile population he must utter a curse.
Nor are buildings
exempt: the Talmud lays
that a Jew who passes near an inhabited non-Jewish dwelling must ask
God to destroy it, whereas if the building is in ruins he must thank the
Lord of Vengeance. (Naturally, the rules are reversed for Jewish
This rule was easy to keep for Jewish peasants who lived in
their own villages or for small urban communities living in all-Jewish
townships or quarters.
Under the conditions of classical Judaism,
however, it became impracticable and was therefore confined to churches
and places of worship of other religions (except
In this connection, the rule was further embroidered by custom: it
became customary to spit (usually three times) upon seeing a church or a
crucifix, as an embellishment to the obligatory formula of
Sometimes insulting biblical verses were also
There is also a series of rules forbidding any expression of praise
for Gentiles or for their deeds, except where such praise implies an
even greater praise of Jews and things Jewish. This rule is still
observed by Orthodox Jews. For example. the writer Agnon, when
interviewed on the Israeli radio upon his return from Stockholm, where
he received the Nobel Prize for literature, praised the Swedish Academy,
but hastened to add: 'I am not forgetting that it is forbidden to
praise Gentiles, but here there is a special reason for my praise' -
that is, that they awarded the prize to a Jew.
Similarly, it is forbidden to join any manifestation of popular
Gentile rejoicing, except where failing to join in might cause
'hostility' towards Jews, in which case a 'minimal' show of joy is
In addition to the rules mentioned so far, there are many others
whose effect is to inhibit human friendship between Jew and Gentile. I
shall mention two examples: the rule on 'libation wine' and that on
preparing food for a Gentile on Jewish holy days.
A religious Jew must not drink any wine in whose preparation a
Gentile had any part whatsoever. Wine in an open bottle, even if
prepared wholly by Jews, becomes banned if a Gentile so much as touches
the bottle or passes a hand over it. The reason given by the rabbis is
that all Gentiles are not only idolaters but must be presumed to be
malicious to boot, so that they are likely to dedicate (by a whisper,
gesture or thought) as 'libation' to their idol any wine which a Jew is
about to drink. This law applies in full force to all Christians, and in
a slightly attenuated form also to Muslims. (An open bottle of wine
touched by a Christian must be poured away, but if touched by a Muslim
it can be sold or given away, although it may not be drunk by a Jew.)
The law applies equally to Gentile atheists (how can one be sure that
they are not merely pretending to be atheists?) but not to Jewish
The laws against doing work on the sabbath apply to a lesser extent
on other holy days. In particular, on a holy day which does not happen
to fall on a Saturday it is permitted to do any work required for
preparing food to be eaten during the holy days or days. Legally, this
is defined as preparing a 'soul's food' (okhel nefesh); but
interpreted to mean 'Jew', and 'Gentiles and dogs' are explicitly
There is, however, a dispensation in favor of powerful Gentiles, whose
hostility can be dangerous: it is permitted to cook food on a holy day
for a visitor belonging to this category, provided he is not actively
encouraged to come and eat.
An important effect of all these laws - quite apart from their
application in practice - is in the attitude created by their constant
study which, as part of the study of the Halakhah, is regarded by
classical Judaism as a supreme religious duty.
Thus an Orthodox Jew
learns from his earliest youth, as part of his sacred studies, that
Gentiles are compared to dogs, that it is a sin to praise them, and so
on and so forth.
As a matter of fact, in this respect textbooks for
beginners have a worse effect than the Talmud and the great talmudic
codes. One reason for this is that such elementary texts give more
detailed explanations, phrased so as to influence young and uneducated
minds. Out of a large number of such texts, I have chosen the one which
is currently most popular in Israel and has been reprinted in many cheap
editions, heavily subsidized by the Israeli government. It is The Book
of Education, written by an anonymous rabbi in early 14th century Spain.
It explains the 613 religious obligations (mitzvot) of Judaism in the
order in which they are supposed to be found in the Pentateuch according
to the talmudic interpretation (discussed in Chapter 3). It owes its
lasting influence and popularity to the clear and easy Hebrew style in
which it is written.
A central didactic aim of this book is to emphasize the 'correct'
meaning of the Bible with respect to such terms as 'fellow', 'friend' or
'man' (which we have referred to in Chapter 3). Thus §219, devoted to
the religious obligation arising from the verse 'thou shalt love thy
fellow as thyself', is entitled: 'A religious obligation to love Jews',
To love every Jew strongly means that we should care for a Jew and
his money just as one cares for oneself and one's own money, for it is
written: 'thou shalt love thy fellow as thyself' and our sages of
blessed memory said: 'what is hateful to you do not do to your friend'
... and many other religious obligations follow from this, because one
who loves one's friend as oneself will not steal his money, or commit
adultery with his wife, or defraud him of his money, or deceive him
verbally, or steal his land, or harm him in any way. Also many other
religious obligations depend on this, as is known to any reasonable man.
In §322, dealing with the duty to keep a Gentile slave enslaved for
ever (whereas a Jewish slave must be set free after seven years), the
following explanation is given:
And at the root of this religious obligation [is the fact that] the
Jewish people are the best of the human species, created to know their
Creator and worship Him, and worthy of having slaves to serve them.
if they will not have slaves of other peoples, they would have to
enslave their brothers, who would thus be unable to serve the Lord,
blessed be He. Therefore we are commanded to possess those for our
service, after they are prepared for this and after idolatory is removed
from their speech so that there should not be danger in our
houses,68 and this is the intention of the verse 'but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with
rigor',69 so that you will not have to enslave your brothers, who are all ready to worship God.
In §545, dealing with the religious obligation to exact interest on
money lent to Gentiles, the law is stated as follows: 'That we are
commanded to demand interest from Gentiles when we lend money to them,
and we must not lend to them without interest,' The explanation is:
And at the root of this religious obligation is that we should not do
any act of mercy except to the people who know God and worship Him; and
when we refrain from doing merciful deed to the rest of mankind and do
so only to the former, we are being tested that the main part of love
and mercy to them is because they follow the religion of God, blessed be
He. Behold, with this intention our reward [from God] when we withhold
mercy from the others is equal to that for doing [merciful deeds] to
members of our own people.
Similar distinctions are made in numerous other passages. In
explaining the ban against delaying a worker's wage (§238) the author is
careful to point out that the sin is less serious if the worker is
Gentile. The prohibition against cursing (§239) is entitled 'Not to
curse any Jew, whether man or woman. Similarly, the prohibitions against
giving misleading advice, hating other people, shaming them or taking
revenge on them (§§240, 245, 246, 247) apply only to fellow-Jews.
The ban against following Gentile customs (§262) means that Jews must
not only 'remove themselves' from Gentiles, but also 'speak ill of all
their behavior, even of their dress'.
It must be emphasized that the explanations quoted above do represent
correctly the teaching of the Halakhah. The rabbis and, even worse, the
apologetic 'scholars of Judaism' know this very well and for this
reason they do not try to argue against such views inside the Jewish
community; and of course they never mention them outside it. Instead,
they vilify any Jew who raises these matters within earshot of Gentiles,
and they issue deceitful denials in which the art of equivocation
reaches its summit. For example, they state, using general terms, the
importance which Judaism attaches to mercy; but what they forget to
point out is that according to the Halakhah 'mercy' means mercy towards
Anyone who lives in Israel knows how deep and widespread these
attitudes of hatred and cruelty to towards all Gentiles are among the
majority of Israeli Jews. Normally these attitudes are disguised from
the outside world, but since the establishment of the State of Israel,
the 1967 war and the rise of Begin, a significant minority of Jews, both
in Israel and abroad, have gradually become more open about such
matters. In recent years the inhuman precepts according to which
servitude is the 'natural' lot of Gentiles have been publicly quoted in
Israel, even on TV, by Jewish farmers exploiting Arab labor,
particularly child labor. Gush Emunim leaders have quoted religious
precepts which enjoin Jews to oppress Gentiles, as a justification of
the attempted assassination of Palestinian mayors and as divine
authority for their own plan to expel all the Arabs from Palestine.
While many zionists reject these positions politically, their
standard counter-arguments are based on considerations of expediency and
Jewish self-interest, rather than on universally valid principles of
humanism and ethics. For example, they argue that the exploitation and
oppression of Palestinians by Israelis tends to corrupt Israeli society,
or that the expulsion of the Palestinians is impracticable under
present political conditions, or that Israeli acts of terror against the
Palestinians tend to isolate Israel internationally.
however, virtually all zionists - and in particular 'left' zionists -
share the deep anti-Gentile attitudes which Orthodox Judaism keenly
Attitudes to Christianity and Islam
THE FOREGOING, several examples of the rabbinical attitudes to these
two religions were given in passing. But it will be useful to summarize
these attitudes here.
Judaism is imbued with a very deep hatred towards Christianity,
combined with ignorance about it. This attitude was clearly aggravated
by the Christian persecutions of Jews, but is largely independent of
them. In fact, it dates from the time when Christianity was still weak
and persecuted (not least by Jews), and it was shared by Jews who had
never been persecuted by Christians or who were even helped by them.
Thus, Maimonides was subjected to Muslim persecutions by the regime of
the Almohads and escaped from them first to the crusaders' Kingdom of
Jerusalem, but this did not change his views in the least. This deeply
negative attitude is based on two main elements.
First, on hatred and malicious slanders against Jesus. The
traditional view of Judaism on Jesus must of course be sharply
distinguished from the nonsensical controversy between antisemites and
Jewish apologists concerning the 'responsibility' for his execution.
Most modern scholars of that period admit that due to the lack of
original and contemporary accounts, the late composition of the Gospels
and the contradictions between them, accurate historical knowledge of
the circumstances of Jesus' execution is not available. In any case, the
notion of collective and inherited guilt is both wicked and absurd.
However, what is at issue here is not the actual facts about Jesus, but
the inaccurate and even slanderous reports in the Talmud and
post-talmudic literature - which is what Jews believed until the 19th
century and many, especially in Israel, still believe. For these reports
certainly played an important role in forming the Jewish attitude to
According to the Talmud, Jesus was executed by a proper rabbinical
court for idolatry, inciting other Jews to idolatry, and contempt of
rabbinical authority. All classical Jewish sources which mention his
execution are quite happy to take responsibility for it; in the talmudic
account the Romans are not even mentioned.
The more popular accounts - which were nevertheless taken quite
seriously - such as the notorious Toldot Yesbu are even worse, for in
addition to the above crimes they accuse him of witchcraft. The very
name 'Jesus' was for Jews a symbol of all that is abominable, and this
popular tradition still
The Gospels are equally detested, and they are not allowed to be quoted
(let alone taught) even in modern Israeli Jewish schools.
Secondly, for theological reasons, mostly rooted in ignorance,
Christianity as a religion is classed by rabbinical teaching as
idolatry. This is based on a crude interpretation of the Christian
doctrines on the Trinity and Incarnation. All the Christian emblems and
pictorial representations are regarded as 'idols' - even by those Jews
who literally worship scrolls, stones or personal belongings of 'Holy
The attitude of Judaism towards Islam is, in contrast, relatively
mild. Although the stock epithet given to Muhammad is 'madman'
('meshugga'), this was not nearly as offensive as it may sound now, and
in any case it pales before the abusive terms applied to Jesus.
Similarly, the Qur'an - unlike the New Testament - is not condemned to
burning. It is not honored in the same way as Islamic law honors the
Jewish sacred scrolls, but is treated as an ordinary book. Most
rabbinical authorities agree that Islam is not idolatry (although some
leaders of Gush Emunim now choose to ignore this).
Therefore the Halakhah decrees that Muslims should not be treated by Jews any worse
than 'ordinary' Gentiles. But also no better. Again, Maimonides can
serve as an illustration. He explicitly states that Islam is not
idolatry, and in his philosophical works he quotes, with great respect,
many Islamic philosophical authorities. He was, as I have mentioned
before, personal physician to Saladin and his family, and by Saladin's
order he was appointed Chief over all Egypt's Jews.
Yet, the rules he
lays down against saving a Gentile's life (except in order to avert
danger to Jews) apply equally to Muslims.
(Click # to
go back to referring text)
1 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, 'Laws on Murderers' 2, 11; Talmudic Encyclopedia, 'Goy'.
R. Yo'el Sirkis, Bayit Hadash, commentary on Beyt Josef, 'Yoreh De'ah'
158. The two rules just mentioned apply even if the Gentile victim is
ger toshav, that is a 'resident alien' who has undertaken in front of
three Jewish witnesses to keep the 'seven Noahide precepts' (seven
biblical laws considered by the Talmud to be addressed to Gentiles).
3 R. David Halevi (Poland, 17th century), Turey Zahav" on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Yoreh De'ah' 158.
5 Talmudic Encyclopedia, 'Ger' (= convert to Judaism).
For example, R. Shabbtay Kohen (mid 17th century), Siftey Kohen on
Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Yoreh De'ah, 158: 'But in times of war it was the
custom to kill them with one's own hands, for it is said, "The best of
Gentiles -- kill him!"' Siftey Kohen and Turey Zahay (see note 3) are
the two major classical commentaries on the Shulhan 'Arukh.
Colonel Rabbi A. Avidan (Zemel), 'Tohar hannesheq le'or hahalakhah' (=
'Purity of weapons in the light of the Halakhah') in Be'iqvot milhemet
yom hakkippurim -- pirqey hagut, halakhah umehqar (In the Wake of the
Yom Kippur War - Chapters of Meditation, Halakhah and Research), Central
Region Command, 1973: quoted in Ha'olam Hazzeh, 5 January 1974; also
quoted by David Shaham, 'A chapter of meditation', Hotam, 28 March 1974;
and by Amnon Rubinstein, 'Who falsifies the Halakhah?' Ma'ariv", 13
October 1975. Rubinstein reports that the booklet was subsequently
withdrawn from circulation by order of the Chief of General Staff,
presumably because it encouraged soldiers to disobey his own orders; but
he complains that Rabbi Avidan has not been court-martialled, nor has
any rabbi -- military or civil -- taken exception to what he had
R. Shim'on Weiser, 'Purity of weapons -- an exchange of letters' in
Niv" Hammidrashiyyah Yearbook of Midrashiyyat No'am, 1974, pp.29-31. The
yearbook is in Hebrew, English and French, but the material quoted here
is printed in Hebrew only.
9 Psalms, 42:2.
'Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven',
Deuteronomy, 25:19. Cf. also I Samuel, 15:3: 'Now go and smite Amalek,
and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay
both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'
We spare the reader most of these rather convoluted references and
quotes from talmudic and rabbinical sources. Such omissions are marked
[. . .]. The rabbi's own conclusions are reproduced in full.
12 The Tosafot (literally, Addenda) are a body of scholia to the Talmud, dating from the 1 lth-13th centuries.
Persons guilty of such crimes are even allowed to rise to high public
positions. An illustration of this is the case of Shmu'el Lahis, who was
responsible for the massacre of between 50 and 75 Arab peasants
imprisoned in a mosque after their village had been conquered by the
Israeli army during the 1948-9 war. Following a pro forma trial, he was
granted complete amnesty, thanks to Ben-Gurion's intercession. The man
went on to become a respected lawyer and in the late 1970s was appointed
Director General of the Jewish Agency (which is, in effect, the
executive of the zionist movement). In early 1978 the facts concerning
his past were widely discussed in the Israeli press, but no rabbi or
rabbinical scholar questioned either the amnesty or his fitness for his
new office. His appointment was not revoked.
14 Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Hoshen Mishpat' 426.
15 Tractate 'Avodah Zarah', p. 26b.
16 Maimonides, op. cit., 'Murderer' 4, 11.
17 Leviticus, 19:16. Concerning the rendering 'thy fellow', see note 14 to Chapter 3.
Maimonides, op. cit., 'Idolatry' 10, 1-2.
19 In both cases in section 'Yoreh De'ah' 158. The Shulhan 'Arukh repeats the same doctrine in 'Hoshen Mishpat' 425.
20 Moses Rivkes, Be'er Haggolah on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Hoshen Mishpat' 425.
Thus Professor Jacob Katz, in his Hebrew book Between Jews and Gentiles
as well as in its more apologetic English version Exclusiveness and
Tolerance, quotes only this passage verbatim and draws the amazing
conclusion that 'regarding the obligation to save life no discrimination
should be made between Jew and Christian'. He does not quote any of the
authoritative views I have cited above or in the next section.
22 Maimonides, op. cit., 'Sabbath' 2, 20-21; Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Orab Hayyim' 329.
R 'Aqiva Eiger, commentary on Shulhan 'Arukh, ibid. He also adds that
if a baby is found abandoned in a town inhabited mainly by Gentiles, a
rabbi should be consulted as to whether the baby should be saved.
24 Tractate Avodah Zarah, p. 26.
Maimonides, op. cit., 'Sabbath' 2, 12; Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Orah
Hayyim' 330. The latter text says 'heathen' rather than 'Gentile' but
some of the commentators, such as Turey Zahav, stress that this ruling
applies 'even to Ishmaelites', that is, to Muslims, 'who are not
idolators'. Christians are not mentioned explicitly in this connection,
but the ruling must a fortiori apply to them, since -- as we shall see
below -- Islam is regarded in a more favorable light than Christianity.
See also the responsa of Hatam Sofer quoted below.
These two examples, from Poland and France, are reported by Rabbi I.Z.
Cahana (afterwards professor of Talmud in the religious Bar-Ilan
University, Israel), 'Medicine in the Halachic post-Talmudic
Literature', Sinai, vol 27, 1950, p.221. He also reports the following
case from 19th century Italy. Until 1848, a special law in the Papal
States banned Jewish doctors from treating Gentiles. The Roman Republic
established in 1848 abolished this law along with all other
discriminatory law against Jews. But in 1849 an expeditionary force sent
by France's President Louis Napoleon (afterwards Emperor Napoleon III)
defeated the Republic and restored Pope Pius Ix, who in 1850 revived the
anti-Jewish laws. The commanders of the French garrison, disgusted with
this extreme reaction, ignored the papal law and hired some Jewish
doctors to treat their soldiers. The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Moshe Hazan,
who was himself a doctor, was asked whether a pupil of his, also a
doctor, could take a job in a French military hospital despite the risk
of having to desecrate the sabbath. The rabbi replied that if the
conditions of employment expressly mention work on the sabbath, he
should refuse. But if they do not, he could take the job and employ 'the
great cleverness of God-fearing Jews.' For example, he could repeat on
Saturday the prescription given on Friday, by simply telling this to the
dispenser. R. Cahana's rather frank article, which contains many other
examples, is mentioned in the bibliography of a book by the former Chief
Rabbi of Britain, R. Immanuel Jakobovits, Jewish Medical Ethics, Bloch,
New York, 1962; but in the book itself nothing is said on this matter.
27 Hokhmat Shlomoh on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Orah Hayyim' 330, 2.
R. Unterman, Ha'aretz, 4 April 1966. The only qualification he makes --
after having been subjected to continual pressure -- is that in our
times any refusal to give medical assistance to a Gentile could cause
such hostility as might endanger Jewish lives.
29 Hatam Sofer, Response on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Yoreh De'ah' 131.
30 Op. cit., on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Hoshen Mishpat' 194.
31 R. B. Knobelovitz in The Jewish Review (Journal of the Mizrachi Party in Great Britain), 8 June 1966.
R. Yisra'el Me'ir Kagan -- better known as the 'Hafetz Hayyim' --
complains in his Mishnah Berurah, written in Poland in 1907: 'And know
ye that most doctors, even the most religious, do not take any heed
whatsoever of this law; for they work on the sabbath and do travel
several parasangs to treat a heathen, and they grind medicaments with
their own hands. And there is no authority for them to do so. For
although we may find it permissible, because of the fear of hostility,
to violate bans imposed by the sages -- and even this is not clear; yet
in bans imposed by the Torah itself it must certainly be forbidden for
any Jew to do so, and those who transgress this prohibition violate the
sabbath utterly and may God have mercy on them for their sacrilege.'
(Commentary on Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Orah Hayyim' 330.) The author is
generally regarded as the greatest rabbinical authority of his time.
Avraham Steinberg MD (ed.), Jewish Medical Law, compiled from Tzitz Eli
'ezer (Responsa of R. Eli'ezer Yehuda Waldenberg), translated by David
B. Simons MD, Gefen & Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem and California,
34 Op. cit., p. 39. Ibid., p.41.
35 Ibid., p. 41.
The phrase 'between Jew and gentile' is a euphemism. The dispensation
is designed to prevent hostility of Gentiles towards Jews, not the other
37 Ibid.,p.412; my emphasis.
Dr Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical Halakhic Research at Sha'arey
Tzedeq Hospital, Sefer Asya (The Physician's Book), Reuben Mass,
39 By myself in Ha'olam Hazzeh, 30 May 1979 and by Shullamit Aloni, Member of Knesset, in Ha'aretz, 17 June 1980.
40 Ezekiel, 23:20.
41 Tractate Berakhot, p. 78a.
42 Talmudic Encyclopedia, 'Eshet Ish' ('Married Woman').
43 Exodus, 20:17.
44 Genesis, 2:24.
45 Maimonides, op. cit., 'Prohibitions on Sexual Intercourse' 12; 10; Talmudic Encyclopedia, 'Goy'.
Maimonides, op. cit., ibid., 12, 1-3. As a matter of fact, every
Gentile woman is regarded as N.Sh.G.Z. -- acronym for the Hebrew words
niddah, shifhah, goyah, zonah (unpurified from menses, slave, Gentile,
prostitute). Upon conversion to Judaism, she ceases indeed to be niddah,
shifhah, goyah but is still considered zonah (prostitute) for the rest
of her life, simply by virtue of having been born of a Gentile mother.
In a special category is a woman 'conceived not in holiness but born in
holiness', that is born to a mother who had converted to Judaism while
pregnant. In order to make quite sure that there are no mix-ups, the
rabbis insist that a married couple who convert to Judaism together must
abstain from marital relations for three months.
Characteristically, an exception to this generalization is made with
respect to Gentiles holding legal office relating to financial
transactions: notaries, debt collectors, bailiff and the like. No
similar exception is made regarding ordinary decent Gentiles, not even
if they are friendly towards Jews.
Some very early (1st century BC) rabbis called this law 'barbaric' and
actually returned lost property belonging to Gentiles. But the law
Leviticus, 25:14. This is a literal translation of the Hebrew phrase.
The King James Version renders this as 'ye shall not oppress one
another'; 'oppress' is imprecise but 'one another' is a correct
rendering of the biblical idiom 'each man his brother'. As pointed out
in Chapter 3, the Halakhah interprets all such idioms as referring
exclusively to one's fellow Jew.
50 Shulhan 'Arukh, 'Hoshen Mishpat' 227.
This view is advocated by H. Bar-Droma, Wezeh Gvul Ha'aretz (And This
Is the Border of the Land), Jerusalem, 1958. In recent years this book
is much used by the Israeli army in indoctrinating its officers.
52 Maimonides, op. cit., 'Idolatry' 10, 3-4.
53 See note 2.
54 Exodus, 23:33.
55 Maimonides, op. cit., 'Idolatry' 10, 6.
56 Deuteronomy, 20:16. See also the verses quoted in note 10.
Numbers 31:13-20; note in particular verse 17: 'Now therefore kill
every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known
man by lying with him.'
R. Sha'ul Yisra'eli, 'Taqrit Qibbiya Le'or Hahalakhah' (The Qibbiya
incident in the light of the Halakhah'), in Hattorab Wehammedinah, vol
This is followed by a blessing 'for not making me a slave'. Next, a
male must add a blessing 'for not making me a woman', and a female 'for
making me as He pleased'.
In eastern Europe it was until recent times a universal custom among
Jews to spit on the floor at this point, as an expression of scorn. This
was not however a strict obligation, and today the custom is kept only
by the most pious.
The Hebrew word is meshummadim, which in rabbinical usage refers to
Jews who become 'idolators', that is either pagan or Christians, but not
to Jewish converts to Islam.
62 The Hebrew word is minim, whose precise meaning is 'disbelievers in the uniqueness of God'.
63 Tractate Berakhot, p. 58b.
64 According to many rabbinical authorities the original rule still applies in full in the Land of Israel.
This custom gave rise to many incidents in the history of European
Jewry. One of the most famous, whose consequence is still visible today,
occurred in 14th century Prague. King Charles IV of Bohemia (who was
also Holy Roman Emperor) had a magnificent crucifix erected in the
middle of a stone bridge which he had built and which still exists
today. It was then reported to him that the Jews of Prague are in the
habit of spitting whenever they pass next to the crucifix. Being a
famous protector of the Jews, he did not institute persecution against
them, but simply sentenced the Jewish community to pay for the Hebrew
word Adonay (Lord) to be inscribed on the crucifix in golden letters.
This word is one of the seven holiest names of God, and no mark of
disrespect is allowed in front of it. The spitting ceased. Other
incidents connected with the same custom were much less amusing.
The verses most commonly used for this purpose contain words derived
from the Hebrew root shaqetz which means 'abominate, detest', as in
Deuteronomy, 7:26: 'thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly
abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.' It seems that the insulting term
sheqetz, used to refer to all Gentiles (Chapter 2), originated from this
Talmud, Tractate Beytzah, p. 21a, b; Mishnah Berurah on Shulhan 'Arukh,
'Orah Hayyim' 512. Another commentary (Magen Avraham) also excludes
According to the Halakha, a Gentile slave bought by a Jew should be
converted to Judaism, but does not thereby become a proper Jew.
69 Leviticus, 25:46.
The Hebrew form of the name Jesus -- Yeshu -- was interpreted as an
acronym for the curse may his name and memory be wiped out', which is
used as an extreme form of abuse. In fact, anti-zionist Orthodox Jews
(such as Neturey Qarta) sometimes refer to Herzl as 'Herzl Jesus' and I
have found in religious zionist writings expressions such as 'Nasser
Jesus' and more recently 'Arafat Jesus.'