|| As explained
in Chapter 3, the Halakhah, that is the legal system of classical
Judaismas 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
Judaismis 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 law 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 that meaning.
The earliest code of talmudic law which is still of major importance is the
Mishneh Torah 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 Beyt 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 Berurah. Finally, the Talmudic Encyclopediaa modern
compilation published in Israel from the 1950s and edited by the country's
greatest Orthodox rabbinical scholarsis a good compendium of the whole
Murder and Genocide
According 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 all.2
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 directly." 3 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 Jews.4
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 punished.5
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 at war," various
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
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 ostensibly good.7
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
the soldier Moshe to Rabbi Shim'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 menor
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 Amelekites,
meaning that one is permitted to murder [sic] them until their remembrance
is blotted out from under 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 happened.
I conclude with a warm greeting to the rabbi and all his family.
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
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 Gentileskill him;
the best of snakesdash 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 Tosafot.12
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 Gentileskill 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 them. [. . .]
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 Halakhahand 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 lifelikeand
also painfulway 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.
Reply of Moshe
to R. Shim'on Weiser
To His Honor, my
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].
Of course, this
doctrine of the Halakhah on murder clashes, in principle, not only with Israel's
criminal law but alsoas hinted in the letters just quotedwith
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-combatantsincluding cases of mass murder such as that in Kafr Qasim
in 1956the murderers, if not let off altogether, received extremely
light sentences or won far-reaching remissions, reducing their punishment
to next to nothing.13
Saving of Life
This subjectthe supreme value of human life and the obligation of every
human being to do the outmost to save the life of a fellow humanis
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
hasin some cases justly, in others unjustlycondemned "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
paramount.14 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. The Talmud
itself15 expresses this in the maxim "Gentiles are neither to be lifted [out
of a well] nor hauled down [into it]." Maimonides16 explains:
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"
17but [a Gentile] is not thy fellow.
a Jewish doctor must not treat a Gentile patient. Maimonideshimself
an illustrious physicianis quite explicit on this; in another passage18
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 Jewparticularly a Jewish doctorto 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
paymentpresumably in order to make sure that the act is not one of
human charity but an unavoidable dutyis 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 doctrinethe ban on saving a Gentile's life or healing him,
and the suspension of this ban in cases where there is fear of hostilityis
repeated (virtually verbatim) by other major authorities, including the 14th
century Arba'ah Turim and Karo's Beyt Yosef and Shulhan 'Arukh.19 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
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 'Arukh, who
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
This passage, dating
from the second half of the 17th century, is a favorite quote of apologetic
scholars.21 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
Desecrating the sabbaththat is, doing work that would otherwise be
banned on Saturdaybecomes a duty when the need to save a Jew's life
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 connections.
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 'Arukh22 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
tenit is not known which oneis 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 oneagain, it is not known which
oneis 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 Talmud 24
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 decrees
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 dangerous.
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 importance.26
Hokhmat Shlomoh, 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 all." 27 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
The whole subject is extensively discussed in the responsa of R. Moshe
Soferbetter known as "Hatam 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 Halakhah." 28 The
particular question asked of Hatam 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 responsum,29 Hatam Sofer first concludes, after careful investigation,
that the Gentiles concernedthat is, Ottoman Christians and
Muslimsare 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 weekdays. 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 formerwhich 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 Soferlike other authoritiesmakes 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 responsum of Hatam Sofer30 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 averted.31
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 creditto abide by the Hippocratic oath rather than
by the precepts of their fanatic rabbis.32 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 Law.33 This book, which
bears the imprint of the prestigious Israeli foundation Mossad Harav Kook,
is based on the responsa 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 the sabbath.
As for Gentiles: "According to the ruling stated in the Talmud and Codes
of Jewish Law, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbathwhether violating
Biblical or rabbinic lawin 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 Sabbath." 35
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 Gentile." 36
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 wellbut 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 difficulty.
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 statusit is still
forbidden, to be sure, but only by the sages rather than by the Torah itself.
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 law.37
substitute for the Hippocratic oath is also proposed by a recent authoritative
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
Sexual 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
horses"40 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 Talmud41 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 wife' 44 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
This does not imply that sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile
woman is permittedquite 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 daybecause he had willful coitus with
her, she must be killed, as is the case with a beast, because through her
a Jew got into trouble." 45 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
According 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 Gentilenever.
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 widowand hence free to remarryonly 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 tummo") 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 lie.47 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
1. 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, manythough not allrabbinical authorities,
including Maimonides, consider it mandatory to exact as much usury as possible
on a loan to a Gentile.
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 it.48 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 statebut not as a religious
duty, that is without making a positive effort to discover the owner if it
is not probable that he is Jewish.
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 brother' 49 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 case]." 50
6. Theft and robbery. Stealing (without violence) is absolutely
forbiddenas 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: it was backed by overwhelming
Gentiles in the Land of lsrael
In 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 Turkey.51 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
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 quite apparent.
The Halakhah forbids Jews to sell immovable propertyfields and
housesin 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 temporary." 52 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 seven Noahide precepts,53 for
it is written: "they shall not dwell in thy land" 54 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 thatexactly as the leaders and
sympathizers of Gush Emunim saythe 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 pronouncementswhich do in fact state correctly the position of
the Halakhahare 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 breatheth"
56 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 the Midianites 57 were
solemnly quoted by an important Israeli rabbi in justification of the Qibbiya
massacre,58 and this 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.
Under 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 Gentile.59 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 help." 60 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 prayerthe "eighteen
blessings"there is a special curse, originally directed against Christians,
Jewish converts to Christianity and other Jewish heretics: "And may the
apostates61 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 heretics62 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 down63 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 houses.) 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 Islam).64 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 regret.65 Sometimes insulting biblical verses were also added.66
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 allowed.
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
idolators 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 atheists.
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 "soul" is interpreted to mean "Jew,"
and "Gentiles and dogs" are explicitly excluded.67 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 lawsquite apart from their application
in practiceis 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," and explains:
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
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. And 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
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.
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
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 Jews.
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. In principle, however, virtually all Zionistsand in
particular "left" Zionistsshare the deep anti-Gentile attitudes which
Orthodox Judaism keenly promotes.
Attitudes to Christianity and Islam
In the foregoing, several examples of the rabbinical attitudes to these two
religions were given in passing. But it will be useful to summarize these
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
literaturewhich 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 Christianity.
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 accountswhich were nevertheless taken quite
seriouslysuch as the notorious Toldot Yeshu 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 persists.70 The Gospels are equally detested, and they are
not allowed to be quoted (let alone taught) even in modern Israeli Jewish
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 Men."
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'anunlike the
New Testamentis 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.
1. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, "Laws on Murderers" 2, 11; Talmudic Encyclopedia,
2. 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.
4. Web Editor's notethis footnote was omitted in the original.
5. Talmudic Encyclopedia, "Ger" (= convert to Judaism).
6. 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 Gentileskill
him!'" Siftey Kohen and Turey Zahay (see note 3) are the two major classical
commentaries on the Shulhan 'Arukh.
7. Colonel Rabbi A. Avidan (Zemel), "Tohar hannesheq le'or hahalakhah" (=
"Purity of weapons in the light of the Halakhah") in Be'iqvot milhemet yom
hakkippurimpirqey hagut, halakhah umehqar (In the Wake of the Yom Kippur
WarChapters 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 rabbimilitary or civiltaken exception
to what he had written.
8. R. Shim'on Weiser, "Purity of weaponsan 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.
10. "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."
11. 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 11th-13th centuries.
13. 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.
18. 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.
21. 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, "Orah Hayyim"
23. 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 'Avoda Zarah, p. 26.
25. 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, sinceas we shall see belowIslam is regarded in
a more favorable light than Christianity. See also the responsa of Hatam
Sofer quoted below.
26. 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 FreHbÉtù
27. Hokhmat Shlomoh on Shulhan 'Arukh, "Orah Hayyim" 330, 2.
28. R. Unterman, Ha'aretz, 4 April 1966. The only qualification he
makesafter having been subjected to continual pressureis 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, Responsa 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.
32. R. Yisra'el Me'ir Kaganbetter known as the "Hafetz
Hayyimcomplains 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 sagesand 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.
33. 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 and Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem and California, 1980.
34. Op. cit., p. 39. Ibid., p.41.
35. Ibid., p. 41.
36. 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.
38. Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical Halakhic Research at Sha'arey
Tzedeq Hospital, Sefer Asya (The Physician's Book), Reuben Mass, Jerusalem,
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
46. 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
47. Characteristically, an exception to this generalization is made with
respect to Gentiles holding legal office relating to financial transactions:
notaries, debt collectors, bailiffs and the like. No similar exception is
made regarding ordinary decent Gentiles, not even if they are friendly towards
48. Some very early (1st century BC) rabbis called this law "barbaric" and
actually returned lost property belonging to Gentiles. But the law nevertheless
49. 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.
51. 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.
57. 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
58. R. Sha'ul Yisra'eli, "Taqrit Qibbiya Le'or Hahalakhah" ("The Qibbiya
incident in the light of the Halakhah"), in Hattorah Wehammedinah, vol 5,
59. 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."
60. 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.
61. 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.
65. 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.
66. 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 custom.
67. Talmud, Tractate Beytzah, p. 21a, b; Mishnah Berurah on Shulhan 'Arukh,
"Orah Hayyim" 512. Another commentary (Magen Avraham) also excludes Karaites.
68. 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.
70. The Hebrew form of the name JesusYeshuwas 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."