Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Another Kind Of "Blood Libel"
Recently I was sent a link to an article on the Revach L'Neshama website discussing the "chumra" (stringency) about not taking a blood transfusion from a non-Jew, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky's defending it against the possible charge of being called a "minhag shtus" (a foolish or baseless practice).
My first reaction to this article was annoyance, anger, and disgust – but I'll get back to that. Let's start with the concept of "minhag shtus." I don't know what this really means, since any minhag practiced by respected Jewish leaders becomes legitimate by definition. Therefore, although we find the term used occasionally in Shulchan Arukh, the "minhag shtus" card is hard to play. Once we try to apply it, we are forced to qualify our words, saying that those who follow a particular custom do so "in a foolish manner," etc. I'd rather not take the bait. Rather, I try to avoid using the phrase (as much as I would like to sometimes).
The issue is not whether or not a source for such a chumra exists. (In fact, the source offered by the author of this article looks like a case of painting the target around the arrow. We have no idea if this Gemara had anything to do with the Rav's request.) The real issue comes down to an individual's hergesh, a subjective feeling – and this feeling is based on the concept of kedushah, separating between the sacred and the mundane. However, this concept, too, is not as easily understandable as it may seem at first glance, especially in this day and age.
Jews are called kadosh (translated "holy"), which actually means "removed," "distant," "separated." For whatever wondrous reason known only to G-d (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov calls it a "segula" – something that transcends human logic), the Jew was chosen, separated from all the nations, and given a specific role, as we say in davening on Yom Tov: "Atah vechartanu – You, O G-d, have chosen us / selected us from among all the nations." So, yes, we believe that we are the "chosen people" -- but what does this mean?
Rabbi Sears explains in his "Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition" (p.111): 1) The doctrine of the Divine election of Israel does not deny that any other individuals may establish a profound relationship with G-d. 2) It neither dehumanizes the "unchosen," nor does it set them up to be exploited (G-d forbid). 3) This doctrine in fact has its own universalistic implications.
It is not possible to go into these points at length here, so I will recommend the book to those who are interested, and proceed to the main point:
Judaism eschews any religion or path that rejects G-d, and takes a critical view of those who follow such doctrines. According to many authorities (among them, Rabbi Yaakov Emden), Christianity and Islam are included among the paths that accept G-d, and we therefore do not regard them in the same negative light as certain other religions. Paganism, polytheism, and atheism, on the other hand, deny the fundamentals of monotheistic faith and ARE considered illegitimate. Of course, much confusion has grown out of this general concept.
Despite all this, a moral non-Jew who believes in G-d is a respected and elevated being in the eyes of Judaism. He or she has a share in the World to Come (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13:1, Rambam: Mishneh Torah, Hil. Teshuvah 3:5; Meiri on Sanhedrin 57A; et al.). Righteous gentiles are even called "priests" (Midrash: Yalkut, Kings II, 296) and "pious ones" (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Zuta 20:6); and according to some, they will return with the resurrection (Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 34; according to the other view, they will remain in a state of bliss in the World of Souls and not return to this plane of existence). Righteous gentiles are rewarded for fulfilling G-d's commandments (Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1); G-d recalls their merits (Yalkut: Tehilim 643); they have a share in Gan Eden (Zohar, Pekudei); and all references to punishment of the nations does not apply to them (Midrash Shochar Tov , Psalm 9; a similar statement can be found in Rashi on Sanhedrin 105A).
Furthermore, the Talmud states that a non-Jew who studies Torah is comparable to the Kohen Gadol /High Priest (Avodah Zara 3A, Bava Kama 38A; this refers to the parts of Torah that apply to him, such as the Seven Noachide Laws and the basics of faith and theology). And, of course, all mankind is equally created "in the image of G-d" (Pirkei Avos 3:14), and Hashem is concerned about all people and all creation. "V'rachamav al kol ma'asav . . . His compassion is upon all of His works" (Tehillim 145:9). R' Yehoshua ben Levi (Bereishis Rabbah 26:2) states on the verse "G-d will wipe away the tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8): "This means from the faces of Jews and non-Jews alike."
There are countless quotes of this nature, and we could go on all day, but suffice it to say that the distinction between Jews and non-Jews is often oversimplified. Yes, a distinction exists – but how that distinction is defined often leads to negative consequences.
Generations upon generations – thousands of years! – of persecution, as well as the desire to avoid alien and undesirable influences has caused many Jews to lose track of the universalist side of Judaism. We are products of a galus-mentality that, combined with our inevitable human failings, can develop into subtle (or even overt) racism and disrespect for other human beings. Like many other religious Jews I know, I wish that this was not the case, but unfortunately, too often it is.
However, there always have been and still are many great leaders – for example, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England in our generation – who "hear the music" and emphasize the universalistic message of Torah; while sadly, others are tone-deaf. This article on Revach L'Neshama (with no disrespect meant to the Gedolim it mentions) is actually a reflection of this problem.
The late R' Ahron Soloveichik wrote: "From the standpoint of Torah there can be no distinction between one human being or another on the basis of race or color. Any discrimination shown to another human being on account of the color of his or her skin constitutes loathsome barbarity. It must be conceded that the Torah recognizes a distinction between a Jew and Non-Jew. This distinction, however is not based upon race, origin, or color, but rather upon Kedushah, the holiness endowed by having been given and having accepted the Torah, Furthermore, the distinction between Jew and Non-Jew does not involve any concept of inferiority but is based primarily upon the unique and special burdens that are incumbent upon the Jews (Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, Chapter 5, "Civil Rights and the Dignity of Man.") These ideas are stated repeatedly in the works of nineteenth century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as well.
I will end with a quote from a powerful section of R' Pinchos Eliyohu Horowitz of Vilna, Sefer HaBris (section II, discourse 13): "Our love of humanity should take no exception to any nation or individual. For man was not created for his own sake exclusively; rather, all men exist for the sake of one another. As a sage once said: "The world and all it contains was created for mankind, and within mankind itself, one person was created for the sake of the next, each to benefit the other." Therefore, not only does [love of one's fellow] apply to the Jewish people but to all mankind. We should love all nations and include all peoples in this universal principle, 'the stranger and native son' alike, all who inhabit the earth."
May we soon merit to see the day when all people will serve Hashem as one!