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MAH LA’ASOT What Should I Do? A book Of ethical and Jewish responses Janice Alper & Joel Lurie Girshaver Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic Torah Aura Productions

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ISBN 10 #1-934527-38-6 ISBN 13 #978-1-934527-38-2 Copyright Š 1992 Janice Alper Second Edition Published by Torah Aura Productions All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Torah Aura Productions MANUFACTURED IN USA

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Contents Unit I: Pikuah Nefesh—The Drownings . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 1: The Drowning Person. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 2: The Old Refrigerator. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 3: The Drowning Dog . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 4: A Drowning Person and a Drowning Animal Problem 5: Shoot the Dog . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Test Cases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Drownings—A Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Unit II: Sakanah—Some Dangerous Situations. Problem 6: Angel Doom Risk . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 7: The Non-Swimmer . . . . . . . . . . Problem 8: The Suez Canal Bather . . . . . . . . Problem 9: Dr. Death. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Test Cases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dangerous Situations—Summary . . . . . . . .

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Unit III: Shmirat Shabbat—Observing the Sabbath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Problem 10: The Natural Disaster . A Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Health Care . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 11: The Muddy Horse . . . Problem 12: The Accident . . . . . Problem 13: The Power Line . . . .

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Unit IV: Nefesh Mip'nei Nefesh—Issues of Self Defense Problem 14: The Armed Burglar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 15: Are You a Hero . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 16: Go Ahead, Make My Day . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 17: One Canteen of Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . Problem 18: Kill Or Be Killed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Test Cases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Two Talmudic Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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. 5 47 49 .51 53 55 57 58

Problem 19: A Pregnant Mother . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Problem 20: Abortion Complications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 Issues of Self Defense—Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 3

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UNIT I:

 Pikuah Nefesh—The Drowinings Problem 1: The Drowning Person

You and a group of your friends have ridden bicycles to a lake that is near a friend’s house. After a while, you realize it is getting late and is time to go home. As you prepare to leave, you notice that one of your group is missing. You turn around to see him struggling in the water. He may be drowning. Mah la’asot? What should you do? _________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What is your responsibility in this matter? __________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why do you have a responsibility in this matter? ____________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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The Drowning PersonÑ the Jewish Answer Problem: If you see a person who may be hurt or killed, what should you do? Answer: If you are not putting your own life at risk, you must try to save the other person. Reason: The obligation to save another person is based on a principle in Halakhah (Jewish Law) called Pikuah Nefesh, saving a soul. Protecting a human life is a major Jewish obligation. Our rabbis learned this lesson from two different places in the Torah:

DO NOT STAND IDLY BY THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEIGHBOR. (Leviticus 19:16) The first verse (Leviticus 19:16) teaches us that as Jews we are not allowed to stand by and watch someone else be injured or killed. That would be “STANDING IDLY BY THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEIGHBOR.” If someone is going to be hurt or killed, a Jew is responsible to try to prevent this injury or death.

YOU SHALL KEEP MY LAWS AND RULES, YOU SHALL ACT ON THEM, PEOPLE SHALL LIVE BY THEM. (Leviticus 18:5) The second verse (Leviticus 18:5) teaches us a second lesson. The key words are “PEOPLE SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Even though Jews are supposed to do all the mitzvot (because they are commandments), one should not perform a mitzvah if it would mean dying. This means that if it is likely that you will die trying, you should not attempt to save another person. If you don’t know how to swim very well, you should not swim out after a drowning person.1 Why should a Jew try to save another person’s life? ________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

When should a Jew not try to save a person who is drowning? Why? ________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

A person who is drowning often panics. Sometimes, he/she can drown the person who is trying to save him/her. If you haven’t studied lifesaving and you don’t know how to approach a drowning swimmer, you shouldn’t go in after one. It is much safer to throw the person a float, push a board out to him/ her, etc. Not knowing how to help can easily put your own life at risk.

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Jewish legal texts teach: The phrase, “DO NOT STAND IDLY BY THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEIGHBOR” means “Do not watch without doing something while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” If you see someone in danger of drowning in the river, being carried away by wild beasts, or being attacked by robbers, you must try to rescue that person. (Sifra on Lev. 19:16)

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Which of these people correctly practiced Pikuah Nefesh, saving a soul? Circle their numbers.

1. Randy gave five dollars to the Cancer Society. Randy is nine years old. 2. Sam never learned CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). One day, when his little cousin fell into the pool and started to drown, Sam pulled her out. When Sam saw that she wasn’t breathing, he did his best. He blew in her mouth and pushed on her stomach the way he had seen characters on television do it. Sam is fourteen years old. 3. Twelve-year-old Erica is driving with her mother. She sees a tattered street person lying on the ground. He appears to be unconscious. She tells her mother to stop. Her mother says, “No, he’s just an old drunk.” 4. Every year the synagogue has a blood drive to collect blood for the Red Cross. Every year, Debby’s mother makes a point of being one of the first to sign up. 5. Aviva is a good swimmer. She is picnicking by the lake when she sees that Tom (who is also swimming) has a cramp and may be in trouble. Rather than jumping in to help him, she grabs the Styrofoam ice chest from the people on the next blanket, dumps out their food, runs out on the dock, and tosses the ice chest near Tom. It floats, he grabs it, and he catches his breath. Aviva is seventeen years old. 6. There is an automobile accident in front of Bob’s house. Bob is out front playing on the steps. He sees that someone is hurt. He runs inside, calls 911 and reports the accident. Then he runs to the car to see if he can help. Bob is ten years old.

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Problem 2: The Old Refrigerator We know that we are responsible to save a person who is in danger, but do we have a responsibility to prevent possible danger?

You are walking home from school one day. In the front yard of one of the houses down the street, you see an old refrigerator. The owner has not bothered to take the door off. Rather, he has just loosely tied a rope around it. You see that a bunch of little kids are playing hide-andgo-seek down the street.2 Mah la’asot? What should you do? _________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Do you have a responsibility in this matter? ________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

2 Many children have died from playing in refrigerators. When the door is closed, a refrigerator is completely airtight. There is no way of opening the door from the inside. It most states it is illegal to put a refrigerator out without removing the door.

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The Old RefrigeratorÑ The Jewish Answer Problem: An unused refrigerator, which can be dangerous to young children, is left outside by somebody else. When no one is actually at risk, do you have to do something in order to prevent possible harm? Answer: Yes! This too is a question of Pikuah Nefesh. By protecting children from the possible danger of being accidentally trapped in a refrigerator, you are avoiding “STANDING IDLY BY THE BLOOD OF YOUR NEIGHBOR,” and you may be saving a soul. Reason: The rabbis learned the concept of “prevention” as mitzvah from a rule in the Torah about making roofs.

WHEN YOU BUILD A NEW HOUSE, YOU MUST PUT A PARAPET AROUND THE ROOF. (Deuteronomy 22:8)

A “parapet” is a wall around a roof. In ancient Israel, all roofs were flat, and people used them the way we use porches and balconies. The parapets kept people from falling off. They prevented accidents. From this specific law in the Torah, the rabbis learned that it is a mitzvah to try to prevent all accidents where people could be hurt or killed. The Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is a handbook of Jewish laws. It says: Not only roofs must be made safe against danger to human life, but any place where there could be an accident....One must put a wall around an open well or a pit, and one must not leave a broken ladder standing where a person could use it, and the same can be said about keeping a vicious dog. (Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Book 4, 190:1–2) List five other things which a responsible person should do to apply the lesson taught by the parapet. 1. ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 3. ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 4. ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 5. ________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Problem 3: The Drowning Dog It is a mitzvah to save a human life, but do we have a responsibility to save an animal which is at risk?

As you leave the lake, it is not your friend you see in the lake, but his dog. The dog is obviously struggling for air and appears to be drowning. Mah la’asot? What should you do? _________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is it your responsibility to save the dog? Defend your answer. _______________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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The Drowning DogÑThe Jewish Answer Problem: Your friend’s dog is drowning. Do you have an obligation to save an animal? Answer: Here, too, the Jewish answer is exactly the same as with a person. If your own life will not be put at risk, you must save the dog. Reason: There is a Jewish value called Tza'ar Ba’alei Hayyim, preventing the pain of living creatures. The rabbis learned it from several passages they found in the Torah.

IF YOU SEE YOUR ENEMY’S DONKEY STRUGGLING UNDER A LOAD WHICH IS TOO HEAVY YOU MUST LIFT THE BURDEN FROM THE DONKEY. (Exodus 23:5) IF YOU SEE YOUR FRIEND’S DONKEY OR OX FALLEN ON THE ROAD, DO NOT IGNORE IT; YOU MUST HELP HIM RAISE IT. (Deuteronomy 22:4) One of these laws talks about the animal of an enemy. The other talks about the animal of a friend. When we put the two laws together we learn an important lesson: it is the animal which must be helped, regardless of who owns it. This is the mitzvah of Tza'ar Ba’alei Hayyim, preventing the pain of animals. Why do you think our rabbis were concerned for the welfare of animals? ____________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What is similar about rescuing a person and an animal? _____________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What responsibilities do you have when you see an animal in pain or danger? _______________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

There is an organization called the S.P.C.A. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). What is the purpose of this organization? With what Jewish value is this organization concerned?

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Here are three other laws in the Torah which have to do with Tza'ar Ba’alei Hayyim, preventing cruelty to animals. Read them.

DO NOT MUZZLE AN OX WHEN YOU MAKE IT WORK IN A FIELD OF GRAIN. (Deuteronomy 25:4) Why would muzzling an ox when it works in a field be cruel? _______________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What other rules could you write to cover other times when a person might inflict pain on an animal in a similar way? _____________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

YOU SHALL NOT PLOW WITH AN OX AND A DONKEY YOKED TOGETHER. (Deuteronomy 22:10) Why would plowing with an ox and a donkey together be cruel? ____________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What other rules could you write to cover other times when a person might inflict pain on an animal in a similar way? _____________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

WHEN YOU ARE WALKING ON THE ROAD AND YOU FIND A BIRD’S NEST…WITH EGGS OR YOUNG CHICKS AND THE MOTHER IS GUARDING THEM…DO NOT TAKE THE MOTHER AND HER YOUNG TOGETHER. LET THE MOTHER GO AND ONLY TAKE THE YOUNG. (Deuteronomy 22:6–7) Why would taking both the mother and her young be cruel? ________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why can’t you leave the young and take the mother? _______________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What other rules could you write to cover other times when a person might inflict pain on an animal in a similar way? _____________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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A Story

In the Midrash, this story is told about Rabbi Judah the Prince, the editor of the Mishnah. Once Rabbi Judah the prince sat and taught Torah before the academy in Sepphoris, Babylonia. While he was teaching, a calf who was supposed to be slaughtered came in and hid under his robes. It began to moo, seeming to say, “Please save me.” Rabbi Judah said to the calf, “What can I do for you? You were created to be eaten.” For the next thirteen years, Rabbi Judah suffered from the same toothache constantly. One day a lizard ran past his daughter. She wanted to kill it. Rabbi Judah said to her, “Let it be, because it says in the Bible, ‘God has mercy over all of God’s creations.” At that moment it was said in heaven, “Because he had pity, pity shall be shown to him.” The toothache finally stopped. (Genesis Rabbah, Noah 33:3) What is the moral of this story? ____________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why do you think the Rabbis told a story about a time when one of their heroes was cruel to an animal? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Problem 4: A Drowning Person and a Drowning Animal

It is a mitzvah to save the life of a person. It is also a mitzvah to prevent an animal from suffering. What happens if a person has to choose between these two mitzvot? You go to the lake for a third time. This time you see both a person and a dog drowning. You will only have time to save one. Mah la’asot? What should you do? _________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

On what did you base your decision? ______________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

How do you feel about the decision you made? ____________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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A Drowning Person and a Drowning AnimalÑThe Jewish Answer Problem: You see both a person and a dog drowning. You only have time to save one of them. What should you do? Answer: You must save the person (providing your own life will not be at risk). Reason: While people have an obligation to prevent animals from suffering, they have a greater obligation to save human life. Our tradition teaches us that Pikuah Nefesh is more important than Tza'ar Ba’alei Hayyim. Tza'ar Ba’alei Hayyim means that we must prevent an animal from suffering. Pikuah Nefesh means saving a soul. The Jewish tradition believes that people have souls and that animals do not. Animals are important and should be treated well; people must be saved. Do you agree with the tradition? Defend your answer. ______________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Would the situation be different if the person were someone you did not like or did not know and the dog was your friend’s pet? Explain your answer. ____________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

What if the person who was drowning was someone who was known for selling drugs or stealing, and the dog was your pet collie who once saved your life? Would the situation be different? Why? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Mah La'Asot  

Your friend is drowning in the lake. Do you go save him? What if it might be dangerous for you? Mah La’Asot—What Should I Do? is a series of...

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