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June 22, 1990 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-06-22

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Editor Emeritus

AJCommittee, ADL And Now There IS Israel


n 1903, resulting from
the Kishinev pogrom, the
American Jewish Com-
mittee was organized to
mobilize American Jewry for
action in the battle against
In 1911, the Anti-
Defamation League was form-
ed by B'nai B'rith to expose
the lies against Jewry
resulting from the spread of
the outrageous blood libel in
the Mendel Beilis case in
The continued need for
movements to battle bigotry,
especially in the worldwide
struggle to fight anti-
Semitism, is uninterrupted.
Why? Is it because world
Jewry is so helpless that its
protests fall on deaf ears? Are
the Christians, in their
evidenced silence and in the
present-day attitude towards
the rescue needs involving the
priority for Israel, to be blam-
ed for failure to erase hatreds?
The duty to keep asking for
action, often pleading for it,
goes on and on. This
necessitates a return to the
first of the two questions. Is it
because Jewry is so helpless?
The answer is a definitive



lways the subject of
concern, family-wise
and therefore com-
munally, suicides continue to
arouse disputes. There are
frequent occurrences of much
misery, with increasing agony
when there is loss of memory
leading to total helplessness.
Yet, even in the extremest
cases there is need to avoid
substituting the word ap-
proval for the concept of
The production of a suicide
machine was circulated into
global sensationalism, and all
the accumulated doubts
developed into a challenging
problem. The fact that a
customer was secured for the

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Vol. XCVII No. 17 June 22, 1990


FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 1990

YES, and all of us are called
upon to strive for as much of
an end to helplesness for
fellow Jews as we can possibly
The struggle went on, with
defense mechanisms under
numerous designations. It was
the difficult road to life and
security because when there
was the urgent cry for rescue,
as under Nazism, there were
the cruelties that dominated
because of inaction.
Even now there are the
heartlessly prejudiced who
plot interference with migra-
tion of Jews from the Soviet
Union. The Soviet leader, who
is hailed as a new messiah for
peace in the Western world,
has become a victim of the
elements organized to prevent
the rescue of Jews from the
threats of pogroms in Russia,
the continuation of hatreds ex-
perienced there for the past
two centuries. But even the
Mikhael Gorbachev endorse-
ment of the few forms of anti-
Semitism cannot prosper
when there is a determined
will for freedom stemming
from redeemed Israel.
This is really the new lesson
of the libertarianism which

spells out the peoplehood in-
spired by Israel. It is the rep-
ly that declares to the world
that now there IS an Israel
available for the rescue; that
the previous failures are
defied by the instrument of
statehood; there is a welcome
mat for the escapees from
threatened brutalities.

There are not enough voices
for freedom to applaud the
newly perfected power for
freedom in the restored

Is world Jewry so
helpless that its
protests fall on
deaf ears?

homeland for the persecuted.
There is the encouragement
from the humanists in non-
Jewish ranks like Steven
Emerson of the Wall Street
Journal editorial staff. There
is the syndicated columnist
and Republican diplomat
Jeanne Kirkpatrick. There
are the courageous Jewish
columnists, A.M. Rosenthal
and William Safire. There is
the Jewish leadership that
will not yield to panic. To all

them, our salute for their
Hopefully President George
Bush will not be influenced by
the prejudiced attitude of
Soviet Chief Gorbachev.
Hopefully not too many will
be influenced by the venom
that stems from the Russian
anti-Semites and the Arab
propagandists in their aim to
destroy Israel.
The need on this score to
keep exposing the venomous
new anti-Semitism is as
William Safire asserted in his
column, "Power of Weakness:"
Has the declining super-
power yet learned to stop
issuing ultimatums to
smaller nations? A pro-
Arab advocacy journalist
asked: "Beyond words,
what guarantees can you
give the Palestinians that
decisions you made on
emigration will not result in
the further usurpation of
their lands?
"Either . . . our concern
will be heeded in Israel,"
warned Mr. Gorbachev, ". .
or else we must give further
thought to . . . issuing per-
mits for exit."
How's that for arrogance?

Either Israel makes the
disputed territories off-
limits to all Soviet refugees,
in effect giving up claim to
its West Bank, or Mr. Gor-
bachev will slam the gates
shut on a million Jews
seeking freedom. (Hawks
suggest he get his trade bill
from Saddam Hussein.)
No NATO troops in East
Germany, no Jews in the
West Bank — where else
does the loser's writ run?
The Safire assertion as a
call for justice is a plea to
President Bush not to fall prey
to Gorbachev's bias.
But there is another
reminder to Gorbachev of ap-
peals made to him which have
fallen on deaf ears. The
reminder by N.Y. Times A.M.
Rosenthal is about an appeal
made to him by the eminent
Nobel Prize winner Elie
Wiesel. It is an accusation
that Gorbachev refuses to res-
pond to appeals for justice for
the persecuted Jewish citizens
who are seeking to emigrate
from the land of oppression.
Rosenthal reminds Gorbachev
of that failure in this column
in which he declares:
Continued on Page 38

the Torah. Thus, the sages
comment on the verse in
Leviticus 18:5, "You shall
live by them (the com-
mandments) and not die by
them:' Only in three cases
is the rule that one must be
willing to die rather than
violate the law; when forc-
ed into idolatry, murder, or
sexual immorality.
Although there have
been cases of mass suicide,
such as following the fall of
Masada to the Romans in
73 CE, the Halachah does
not approve of this step,
regardless of the

appointed this day to be
witness against you, I have
set life and death before
you, the blessing and the
curse, choose therefore life
that both thou and thy
descendants may live.
Perhaps there is a more
popularized treatment of the
suicide theme in the Treasury
of Jewish Quotations by Leo

Always Prohibited

machine's operation aroused
the suspicion that it was a
business scheme. The addi-
tional news that many
customers applied to the
creator aroused the question
of morality.
There is reason to believe
that the ruling by Judge
Alice Gilbert will receive
universal acclaim.
We have much to learn from
the Jewish ruling on this
issue. In his "Jewish Con-
cepts," Philip Birnbaum ex-
plains why suicide is declared
prohibited. He draws upon
the scriptural and the factual
aspects of his definition,
which declares:
The Jewish prohibition
of suicide is based on the
traditional interpretation
of Genesis 9:5 ("Surely I
will require an account of
your life's blood"). Rabbi
Bahya ibn Pakuda, in his
Hovoth ha-Levavoth,
points out that the nearer
the relation to the
murdered person, the
more horrible the crime,
and man is closest to him-
self. A suicide is a sentinel
who deserted his post. It
has been noted that a per-
son is considered a suicide
only when there is ab-
solute certainty that he

premeditated and commit-
ted the act with a clear
mind, not troubled by
some great fear or worry
which might have caused
him temporarily to lose his
mind (Hatham Sofer; Yorch
Deah 326).
The laws of mourning are
suspended in the case of a
suicide: no keri'ah, no
eulogy, no shiv'ah, unless it
is evident that the act was
prompted by madness or
fear of torture, as in the
case of king Saul.
More enlightenment of the
Jewish reactions to suicide is
an essay in The Encyclopedia
of Judaism, edited by Geof-
frey Wigoder:
Judaism regards all life
as given by God and
sacrosanct. Man is not the
absolute owner of his life,
but is its guardian. As
such, he has no right to
dispose of it as he sees fit,
and suicide is considered
as murder. The verse, "But
for our own life-blood I will
require, a reckoning" (Gen.
9:5) is regarded by the rab-
bis as forbidding suicide.
Generally, as human life
is considered of para-
mount value, one may not
forfeit his life in order to
avoid breaking the laws of

According to Halachah, a
suicide is to be buried in a
separate part of the
cemetery, and is not to be
mourned by his next-of-
kin. Generally, rabbis seek
to mitigate the severity of
these provisions, by ruling
that the deceased took his
own life while in an
unstable state of mind, and
is therefore technically not
a suicide.
Now we turn to what may
truly be judged as a motto in
our spiritual adherence, the
proclamation to choose life, in
Deuteronomy 30:19.
Heaven and earth have I

"Choose therefore
life that both thou
and thy
descendants may

Rosten. The author, whose
Jewish interpretations have
attained great acclaim, has
important references as well
as commentaries.
Suicide is a crime, like
murder, in traditional
Judaism; and suicides
were denied proper mour-
ning and burial rites. Yet
the rabbis realized that
many (if not most) of those
who took their lives were
mentally sick — and not
responsible for their deeds,
hence could not rightly be
Continued on Page 38

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