Would a Haredi government be any better?

The following was printed in the Yated paper from last week.  It caught my eye, not because I agree but because it is a different perspective of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  The author, Rabbi Dov Brezak, used his column on educating one’s children as a forum to share this story before continuing his discussion on how to make one’s Shabbat table a tranquil space for the whole family.

Last Sunday was Nakba Day. Nakba is an Arabic term that means catastrophe.  “Day of Catastrophe” is the name the Arabs have given to the day Israel declared its independence.

Thousands of Palestinians rioted and tried to cross the borders with Israel.  In Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and many other areas, they made their presence felt.  Fifteen Arabs were killed and hundreds were wounded.

It was almost 9 p.m.  I was rushing to the Beis Hamussar (instituted by Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l), where I was to give the first in a series of lectures on parenting.  As I was running a bit late, I hailed a taxi.  I was in too much of a hurry to notice who the taxi driver was, or to be concerned over the fact that he was an Arab, that it was still Nakba Day, and that the situation could be dangerous.

The driver did not speak much.  He had the radio on, tuned to Galei Tzahal, the Israeli army radio station.  The 9 p.m. news came on, and I listened to a report about the rioting across the country.  There was an interview with one of the rioters, who spoke in Arabic.  When the interview was over, I heard my driver laugh quietly.  I asked him what the young rioter had said.  “He is a Palestinian,” he told me, “and even though he personally is not against the Israelis, he feels that it’s not fair that the Palestinians’ land was taken from them.”

As it would be another few minutes before we arrived at our destination, I asked the Arab driver,”And how do you feel about it?”

He became emotional and seemed nervous as he began to speak.  “If the Israeli government were religious, there would be no problem,” he said.  “I am a Palestinian living here in Israel, and we Muslims are religious.  The Israeli government is not doing things right; they’re not going about trying to work things out in the right way.  If the government had been chareidi, even dati, we would have been able to work things out a long time ago.  But because the government is not religious, this is dragging on and we’re not able to find common ground!”

By then we had arrived, so there was no more time to discuss the issue.  I thanked him for his opinion, paid him his fare, and hurried out to give my shiur – but in my mind I couldn’t help but agree with him.

At the start of the peace process that Yitzchak Rabin initiated, Rav Wolbe said that it would not work.  The only peace that will work, he said, is the peace that has Hashem’s Name in it or part of it.

When Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower went to war against Germany, they met on a boat at sea and Tehillim was said.  Because they remembered Hashem, said Rav Wolbe, they suceeded.  But if the Name of Hashem is not relevant in a peace process, then no peace will come from the process.

The words of the Arab taxi driver ring true relative to other areas as well.  Indeed, following the Torah way is the solution to the many problems we are facing today.

Is buying or being charitable more important in fulfilling Yishuv Eretz Israel?

The following question and answer were presented in this past week’s dvar Torah sheet from Eretz Hemdah.  It caught my eye because of the dualing values of planning on moving to Israel vs. being financially capable of supporting Israel from afar.

Ask the Rabbi by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have enough money to buy an apartment in Israel but I do not plan to live there in the near future. I could also use the money to help support people or programs in Israel. Which is the preferred way to fulfill yishuv Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: According to almost all opinions, there is a mitzva in our times to live in Israel (yeshivat Eretz Yisrael), with significant discussion about whether it is from the Torah (Ramban, Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 4) or rabbinic (see discussion in Rav Yisraeli’s Eretz Hemdah I, 1:4). In all likelihood, one fulfills this mitzva by being a permanent resident of Israel, not a tourist or even a landowner who visits often (Shut Hamaharit II, 28). Some even say that the living must be a normal, healthy inhabitation (see different applications in Shut Harashbash 2, Eretz Hemdah op. cit. and Amud Hayemini 22). In any case, none of the options you mentioned would be a full-fledged mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael.

There is a second part of the mitzva, which the Ramban (op. cit.) calls kibush (conquest), i.e., to bring Eretz Yisrael under Jewish control. While doing so by military conquest in our times was hotly debated due to the Three Oaths (see Ketubot 111a and many contemporary sources), it is all but unanimous that it is a mitzva to obtain control by buying land. This is the basis for the famous leniency for yishuv Eretz Yisrael of having a non-Jew draw up on Shabbat a contract for land in Israel (Gittin 8b). However, this applies specifically when a Jew buys land in Eretz Yisrael from a non-Jew (Rashi, ad loc.; Rambam, Shabbat 4:11; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:11). Similar logic may apply to buying land or building a home in areas where Jewish settlement is not a given. However, buying a home in Rechavia is unlikely to contain that element of the mitzva. Acquiring a home from a Jew in order to enable aliya is a hechsher (facilitation of a) mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael, as are steps to strengthen the ability to remain in the Land (Shut Harashbash 1).

The matter of supporting the poor in Israel is not brought in the poskim as a mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Rather, the Sifrei derives from the pasuk dealing within the tzedaka priorities (relatives, neighbors, etc.) that the poor in Eretz Yisrael have precedence over the poor elsewhere. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3) paskens this precedence, while the Rambam does not mention it, for some reason. Thus, if one wants to give money to the Israeli poor, he may use ma’aser money, which he should not do for a personal mitzva like buying an etrog or, for that matter, a home in Israel. Helping someone else buy a home in Israel so that they could afford to make aliya is helping them with their mitzva and, according to the accepted opinions, is a legitimate use of ma’aser money (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, F-4).

Just because something is not a full-fledged mitzva does not mean that it does not have value. It is certainly laudable to want to connect oneself to Eretz Yisrael by owning a home here. It is something he does for his Jewish self and from his own funds. Supporting different projects here may be at least a partial fulfillment of yishuv Eretz Yisrael and can use tzedaka funds.

Practically, concerning your dilemma, it makes a lot of sense to combine the elements as follows. One can buy a home and hope to some day move into it (making aliya easier) or have their children move into it. It is proper to rent it out in the meantime (rental subsidies for the needy are a wonderful form of tzedaka). In this way, not only would Israeli society gain from the infusion of funds, but you would avoid the phenomenon of absentee homeowners (especially in Yerushalayim; see link-  www.lightson.jerusalem.muni.il). These fine Jews unwittingly raise housing costs and drive Jews out of town, thereby hurting the day-to-day economy, exacerbating the national housing shortage, and harming demographics (including for municipal elections).

The value of a flag

I really enjoyed the following Dvar Torah that I read on Shabbat from Zomet’s Shabbat B’Shabbato.  Pay particular attention to the story in the middle about the Holocaust survivor’s parochet.

Every Man Standing by his Banner – by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B’Yavne

“His banner expresses love to me” [Shir Hashirim 2:4]. “The Holy One, Blessed be He, declared: the idol worshippers have many different banners, but the only banner that I love is that of Yaacov, as is written, ‘Every man standing by his banner’ [Bamidbar 2:2].” [Tanchuma Bamidbar 10]. The Midrash continues, “This teaches us that the banners were objects of greatness and glory.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Rabeinu Bechayai writes, “‘Every man standing by his banner, with his symbols’ – this is a hint of the verse, ‘with all the yearning of your heart’ [Bamidbar 12:15], showing that the nation yearned for banners.” He then goes on to describe the detailed symbolism of the banners. (Yearning is “avat” and the “symbols” are “otot.”)

Some people show no respect for a flag. In a letter to Baron Hirsh, Herzl wrote: “You might well ask me, in a mocking way: What is a flag after all? Just a pole and a piece of cloth? No, my good sir, people follow a flag to the place where they want to go, even to the promised land. For a flag, people will live and die!”

In the year 5623 (1843), after the Polish people raised their national flag as a symbol of their revolution, the rabbi of Gur, the RIM, came into the Beit Midrash and declared that he is very afraid of heavenly criticism of the people of Yisrael. He said: the Polish people are giving up their lives for their freedom and to free their land from foreigners, but what about us? What do we do?

David Wolfson described the origin of the flag of Israel. He wrote that Herzl gave him the task of making preparations for the Zionist Congress. He hesitated about which flag to use to decorate the meeting. “And then, I suddenly had a thought – we already have a blue and white banner, the talit in which we wrap ourselves during prayer. The talit is our symbol. Let us take it out of its case and fly it in front of the eyes of Yisrael and in front of all the nations. I asked for a blue and white flag with a Star of David in the middle.”

Rabbi Yisrael Lau tells of a young rabbi who turned to Rabbi Ruderman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner-Yisrael. He said that his congregation refused to accept a gift from a Holocaust survivor of a parochet, a curtain for the holy ark, with a Star of David embroidered on it, because this is a symbol of the Zionist country. Rabbi Roderman was astonished to hear this: “That country rescued hundreds of thousands of homeless refugees whose entire world had been destroyed, gave them food and shelter. There are indeed things that should be fixed in the country – the people should repent, we must all repent, both those in the country and those outside. Leave the parochet as it is. Don’t remove the Star of David, and don’t hurt the feelings of this poor Jew.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote something similar. “You ask me how I, as a Jewish Talmud expert, views the flag of the State of Israel, and if it has any halachic significance. In general, I do not think that flags and symbolic ceremonies have any significance… But let us not ignore a law in the Shulchan Aruch: If a Jew is killed by Gentiles he is buried in his clothing, so that his blood will be visible, and people will avenge it… The clothes of a Jew become holy to some degree when they are stained with holy blood, and this is certainly true of the blue and white flag, which is soaked in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the defense of the land and the settlements. It has a spark of holiness which stems from dedication and self sacrifice. We are all obligated to honor the flag and to show respect for it.”

Rav Moshe Sternbuch on placing a parent in a nursing home.

The following responsa from R. Moshe Sternbuch, the author of Teshuvot V’Hanhagot and Moadim Uzmanim, was published in last week’s Yated.  The responsa was transcribed by one of his primary students, R. Daniel Yaakov Travis.  It focuses on the question of whether a child can place a parent in a nursing home.

Question:  My father is getting older and it is impossible for him to function without constant help.  We are considering a nursing home, but we feel that this is not the right thing to do.  I must add that my father has the means to pay for a nursing home or home care, but he is not willing to use his money for this.  Can the rov clarify the Torah position on this issue?

Thank you.  A concerned son

Answer:  This is a difficult question and each case must be analyzed separately, but we can give the following general guidelines.

If parents are unable to function by themselves, as long as the parent can be cared for properly, a child should try and keep his parent with him at home.  It it will hurt the parent to be sent away, then, generally, the child should not do so.  When the nursing home is the only choice, then payment depends on a number of factors.

Honoring Hashem

Chazal speak at great lengths about the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim.  When a person gives his parents the proper respect, it is as if he honored Hashem.  On the other hand, when a person does not treat his parents properly, it is as if he disgraced the Shechinah (Kiddushin 31b)

If a parent is unable to function by himself, the best solution is usually to get home care for him or to take the parent into one’s home so one can help him.  When a parent is living in one’s home, there are countless opportunities each day to perform the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim.  Therefore, even if having a parent at home will cause one great inconvenience, in most cases a concerned child should try and put all considerations aside and bring the parent into his home.  (If keeping the parent at home could cause friction between the husband and wife or the rest of the family, a rov should be consulted.

Hurting Parents

We know that the mitzvah of kibbud av is mishel av; it must be funded by the father.  Based on this halacha, someone in Eretz Yisroel once suggested that he is not obligated to spend money to call his parents overseas, and according to the strict halacha he did not even have to purchase a stamp to send a letter.  This way of thinking is completely incorrect.

Although Chazal tell us that a child does not have to pay for the mitzvos of honoring and fearing his parents, hurting one’s parents is a serious transgression.  A child must spend his own money and do whatever is in his means to avoid hurting his parents.  Furthermore, even though the mitzvah of kibbud av is mishel av, this only absolves the child from large expenses like feeding and clothing them, but a child must spend a small amount of money for a phone call of stamp.

The general rule is that a child may not do something that will cause his parents pain.  Therefore, if he will hurt his parents by sending them in a nursing home, as long as their health does not obligate them to be out of the home, he should be careful before he send his parents there.  If possible, he should find some other way to take care of his parents that will not cause them pain.

Someone once told Rav Chaim Brisker that he was exempt from visiting his parents.  They lived far away, he said, and he could not afford a train ticket.  Rav Chaim agreed with him, but added that although he did not have to buy a ticket, he was obligated to walk to visit them.

Footing the Bill

If the situation is such that a person’s parents must enter and old-age home – e.g., they need to be there for health reasons – who has to pay for this?  Although the general principle regarding kibbud av v’eim is that the costs are mishel av, in the case of a nursing home we don’t follow this rule.  Why is this case different?

Mitzvas kibbud av v’eim obligates one to take care of all of one’s parents physical needs, including food and dress.  As long as one’s parents have the means, they are obligated to pay for these items.  Only if one’s father and mother cannot afford this must the children pay.

If a parent is able to function by himself, the child can let him take care of his own needs and is not obligated to do them for him.  However, if one’s parents are unable to function in these areas by themselves, their children are obligated to make sure that they are taken care of.  Based on this, the Brisker Rov explained that since placing one’s parents in a nursing home is merely a way to fulfill the obligation to take care of one’s own responsibility to care for one’s parents’ needs, it is incumbent on the child to pay for someone to fill in for him, if he has the money to pay for it.

If neither the father nor the son has sufficient funds to pay for home care or a nursing home, the child should use his maaser money for this.  However, the Rama warns that if the son has the moeny to pay for this expense and still uses tzedakah money, he will receive severe punishment (Yoreh Deah 240:7).  In all instances, the son should definitely not tell his parents that he is using tzedakah money to take care of them.

End Of Life Spiritual Care: A Pathway to Growth and Peace

In the following online post, Rev. Dr. Walter J. Smith presents a general overview as to the power and need for spiritual care for the dying.  As he describes, spiritual care can potentially be provided by any visitor.  This concept is one that transcends time.  It is a derivative of the famous rabbinic idea that a person improves by 1/60th after being visited.  As you will notice in reading his words, the questions being asked in the three vignettes all reflect the personal crisis that we go through when we are vulnerable.  The questions are not always asked to be answered, though there are times when a person is really looking to reflect on the specific questions relating to one’s relationship with G-d.  As you read, reflect on how these stories resonate in your own life’s narrative.   

Doug, 81, recently learned that he has end-stage cancer and probably only a few months to live. He’s devastated, frightened and feels alone. His wife died two years ago, and he has missed her greatly. He has outlived his siblings and closest friends. His only daughter lives 2,500 miles away; his three adult grandchildren are scattered around the country as well.

Doug finds himself thinking a lot about what he calls “The Big Questions”: “What’s the meaning of my life? When you add up them up, do my good memories outnumber the failed opportunities and disappointments? What’s going to happens after I die? Is there a God? How will I be judged? How will I be remembered by my daughter and grandchildren?”

Larry is 42 and a Wall Street analyst. Work is his life; it’s how he defines himself. Everything else has taken a back seat to his career: marriage, family, social relationships. Larry has just learned that he has prostate cancer, and question upon question swirl unanswered in his head. “Is cancer going to cut short or radically alter my life? Will I survive this? Will it destroy my career? I went to Harvard. I’ve been killing myself on Wall Street for the past 20 years. And for what, to be facing a radical prostatectomy?”

Doug has not been a religious person. Unlike people who are rooted in a faith tradition and community, he feels adrift. He can’t turn to and rely upon prayers and rituals, clergy and fellow congregants, all of which might help him find comfort and meaning. And he does not have much of a support network either, apart from some of his Wall Street co-workers.

Samantha is a 38 year old African-American single mother of two who has been diagnosed with Mitral valve prolapse, a heart valve disease that will require surgery. She has been treated for high blood pressure for several years, and suffers from shortness of breath and dizziness. She has chronic swelling in her ankles and has gained a considerable amount of weight since the birth of her second child. Although Samantha’s doctors are optimistic about the valve repair and her long-term prognosis, Samantha is pessimistic, believing in a very fundamentalist way that her condition is God’s punishment for her free-wheeling lifestyle, which she believes contributed to her first pregnancy that resulted in a still birth. “Am I a good mother? Did I smoke and drink too much when I was younger? Will God forgive me? How will my children get along if I’m no longer here?”

Although each of these people are worlds apart in terms of their life experiences and diagnoses, what’s common to them is that a serious or life-altering illness has triggered inner questioning and a search to make sense of life. “Who am I? What’s the purpose of my life? Why was I put on this earth?” At their root, each of their questions is spiritual in nature. Spirituality touches the essence of who we are, regardless of whether or not we embrace religious faith or practice.

Spirituality, according to the 2009 consensus conference sponsored by the Archstone Foundation, is “the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature and to the significant or sacred.”

Being unable to grapple successfully with these basic questions of existence can contribute to what may be called spiritual distress. Too often, health care professionals — appropriately focused on the diagnosis and proposed treatment plans — pay insufficient attention to the spiritual questions that arise and need to be addressed. People need “spiritual care” as much as they need “medical care.”

When our bodies are under assault from disease or illness and our minds are reeling from the threat of disability or death, our spirit is there to hold it all together. And many people can play the role of a spiritual care provider. Spiritual care might come from a spouse, a doctor or nurse, a priest, minister, rabbi or imam, a trusted friend or co-worker. What is required is presence, an ability to listen and understand, and an honest attempt to help a person find meaning — real meaning — in their life circumstances.

A person in spiritual distress is usually looking for meaning. A spiritual companion, whoever that may be, must understand this universal need to find meaning and commit to accompanying a patient to find and affirm their own answers from within their own life and experience.

That is what a good spiritual companion does. He or she commits to the journey and becomes a mirror held up to their friend’s life, inviting them to look in it deeply and to express truthfully what they see. They encourage their friends to reminisce about events and relationships that have occurred throughout their life and to rediscover legacies, meaning and spiritual strength.

Astute, sensitive spiritual care helps create gentle pathways through which a person might achieve inner growth and peace during critical steps along life’s journey until it is finally completed.

If you know a Doug or a Larry or a Samantha, don’t be afraid to reach out to them in a gentle way. Recognize that people cope with health crises and grief in their own way and at their own pace. Most importantly, offer to be there for them. Listen to what they say and what they don’t say. If your friend is in a hospital, ask if they’d like for a chaplain to visit. I’ve learned from many years of observation that professional chaplains are particularly able to help people — regardless of faith or beliefs — to find meaning and comfort.

Meaning and comfort is what we all need and what we all desire.

How Language creates reality

I attended a conference in Israel last week, hosted by Tishkofet, Life’s door, an organization at the forefront of providing spiritual care to the Israeli society.   The goal is to create a profession similar to the American healthcare chaplaincy system, providing spiritual support to people facing crisis and loss during life.  I will present a couple of posts about topics discussed during the conference.  The first plenary session was given by Rabbi Benjamin Ish-Shalom, founder of Beit Morasha.  He spoke about Spirituality and Language: Between Illusion and Reality or Between Fact and Meaning.

His premise was that our reality is shaped by the language we use in describing it.  If we believe we live in a spiritual reality, then that is where we are living.  Reality is a perception and might be an illusion. He distinguishes story and narrative, arguing that a person’s story is objective reality while the narrative is the reality we create.  We know this because G-d created the world through language, as it says in Pirqei Avot regarding the Asarah Maamarot, which is what use to build the world.

Rav Ish Shalom’s example of the paradox of life is Shabbat.  On the one hand, Shabbat is a day set in stone, always on Saturday (except when one is in a desert and no longer can intercalate the calendar.  In that situation a person is to count 7 days for himself and establish Shabbat for himself, regardless of the day this 7th day begins).  At the same time, we are able to extend Shabbat and end Shabbat through our words.

The idea of language shaping our lives and our understandings is the building block of life.  The breath of life was the power of speech.  While what Rav Ish-Shalom shared in its own right is not entirely novel, it provided a good framework for a conference spiritual care for the nuance of language is what creates the greatest barrier but also the most direct way to relate to others.  Without the ability to communicate, barriers do exists.  Boundaries are important as well, placing a challenge of balance in front of us.

For the world of chaplaincy, the idea that we create our own spiritual reality through the language we use is very telling.  A theme which bears repeating over and over is that each person is unique and has a unique narrative.  While the words used might be familiar to the care providers, one must discern what each person means by even seemingly simple words such as anger, sadness, joy, etc.  Health care professionals must work hard to be active listeners and know not just what words the person said but must investigate with the person what those words mean to him/her.  We step into their realities and as such need to be conscious of the unquenesses of that realty.

You Don’t Have to Believe in Heaven to Find Life after Death

When people first think about what will happen after one dies, it is usually in relationship to the afterlife.  Is there an afterlife and what does it look like?  While this is a deeply spiritual question that much ink has been spilled over, when it comes to this search among those who are dying, it is often times more about an immediate fear.  Before a person dies, they often worry about the legacy left behind and missing the major life events in the family.  In order to combat this particular fear, professionals will suggest some form of written or graphic form of leaving a legacy.  As you can see below, I have included a recent posting about leaving behind some keepsake for the survivors. 

Legacy can refer to the totality of a person’s life, or to the impact or influence of our lives in the world. For those near the end of life — and for their loved ones — legacy building offers powerful comfort at the end of life. It provides a way to ensure a continuing presence in this world and to leave something meaningful behind.

Psychologist Erik Erikson hypothesized that a late stage of personal development is generativity: the need to create a positive legacy that lives on after death — to leave a part of the self to future generations to help guide their lives.

Legacy building provides a way to address fundamental spiritual questions: “How have I made a difference in the world?” “What is the value of my life?” “What is my place and purpose in the universe?

Typically, life after death implies going to heaven. A 2005 ABC News poll indicated that most Christians in the United States envision continued existence in a heavenly, other-worldly place after death.

However, the practice of legacy-building expands the way we think about afterlife.

For those whose spiritual worldview may not envision or emphasize a supernatural afterlife, legacy building can diminish existential anxiety about death. Legacy building provides “this-worldly” possibilities of eternal life through the indelible impact that we make on those around us. It provides hope of continuing existence through everlasting bonds or ongoing influence in the world.

In recent years, the practice of writing an ethical will has become a popular and useful tool to assure continued presence and influence after death. Ethical wills are documents prepared before death that contain reflections, blessings, instructions, personal histories, or values to be passed on to others.

Also, “living eulogies” can provide great comfort to those facing the end of life. Messages, emails and videos can be sent to people who are seriously ill. Friends and family members can share stories and reminisce about meaningful times. These testimonies of enduring connections and contributions are powerful affirmations of life and legacy.

Counselors dealing with end of life issues increasingly rely on therapies that involve legacy building. In reminiscence therapy, the counselor encourages a patient to recall and share memories and past experiences.

Dignity therapy involves life-affirmation and legacy-building. It is more directive and structured than reminiscence, as a “generativity document” is produced after sessions of recalling and discussing life experiences.

Life review therapy is deeper and more evaluative. Patients reflect on the meaning of their lives, and come to terms with difficult aspects of their past. Typically, this process involves reframing the past in order to more gracefully confront death and more effectively cope with the end of life.

Life after death is often conceived as mysterious and other-worldly, but it is not necessarily so. We create an enduring legacy through day-to-day existence — in who we are, in what we do, and in the totality of our lives. You don’t have to believe in heaven to find life after death.

(cross posted here)

Its ok for you but not for me

The following is a quote from last week’s Mishpacha magazine in an interview with the principal of the Boro Park Beis Yaakov:

In pedagogy, Rabbi Ehrenreich was profoundly influenced by his rosh yeshivah, Rav Reuven Grozovsky, one of the first mechanchim in America to guide his talmidim in the reality of daas Torah, showing them how the timeless wisdom of Torah addresses contemporary issues.

‘In 1948, when each day’s headlines brought a fresh round of questions, the rosh yeshivah would sit with a group of talmidim and explain the significance of each development, each historic breakthrough.  He would ask a bochur to read for him, since he didn’t want to read from a newspaper, but he would comment on everything.  It was a marvel to observe his acuity, his perception of mili d’alma.  That’s chinuch.

Isn’t it amazing that a Rosh Yeshivah who supposedly didn’t want to read the newspaper would have a student read from it.  If it is bad for the teacher, how much more so should it have been bad for the student.  To me, this is a clear cut example of לפני עור לא תתן מכשול, putting a stumbling block before the blind.  I often find the stories told about great rabbis are full of behaviors which are inspiring but rather head scratching.

What’s More Important to You, Quality or Quantity of Life?

Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs: What’s More Important to You, Quality or Quantity of Life?.

I have been following with interest the story of Desmond Watson, an 87-year-old who has advanced dementia and has been in the hospital in Canada for 14 months. He was admitted to the hospital in January 2010 with pneumonia. His wife of 69 years told doctors that he would want to keep living as long as possible. As a Roman Catholic, she says that he “would have wanted to be given every chance at life despite any suffering he may be enduring.”

“Desmond is suffering without any prospect of long-term improvement,” said one of Mr. Watson’s doctors. This doctor is quoted as saying: “Prolonging life and living are two totally different things … being kept alive in this way, I can’t imagine anybody would wish this … Mrs. Watson is entitled to her opinion but we need to be satisfied for ourselves that we’re doing the right thing … (We’re) not satisfied.”

In Ontario, they have a Consent and Capacity Board (CCB) that reviews cases like Mr. Watson’s. (“The CCB’s mission is the fair and accessible adjudication of consent and capacity issues, balancing the rights of vulnerable individuals with public safety.”) The CCB ruled that because Mrs. Watson (and her two daughters) expressed what she said were her husband’s beliefs, the hospital is required to continue treatment. Unfortunately, none of those caring for Mr. Watson ever asked him what his beliefs and values were even though the Consent and Capacity Board weighs the patients’ beliefs and values in their decisions.

Some of the questions that families have struggled with in situations such as this are: What is “living”? And is this a quality of life that would be acceptable to the patient? As the hospital’s doctor said, “prolonging life and living are two totally different things.”

I mentioned in my last posting that we need to determine for ourselves what our “bottom line” is. The question becomes: When is enough, enough?

And while money should not play a part in the decisions people make, we should at least be aware of the costs to our health system. For example, “Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly, spends nearly 30 percent of its budget on beneficiaries in their final year of life. Slightly more than half of Medicare dollars are spent on patients who die within two months. Forty percent of Medicare dollars cover care for people in the last month.” This is amazing considering that when asked, most people say that they would prefer to die at home and not in a hospital. And yet, 56 percent die in a hospital and 19 percent in nursing homes. (Read more.)

What is more important to you: quality of life or quantity of life? And where do your religious beliefs come into this consideration?

I am presenting the entire post above so nobody will accuse me of bias by only quoting what I agree with.  Rev. Jacobs presents a story about a religious Catholic family that has a deep belief which is being questioned by the medical establishment, thus setting up an argument about whether their belief is antithetical to good medical care.  Unfortunately, we live in a society today which is beginning to downgrade patient autonomy, even with the increased advocacy for advanced directives and living wills.

If we examine the story closely, we will also see something else which is ethically challenging.  The doctor seems to be weighing his sense of non-maleficence, his desire not to do harm, to be greater than the autonomy of the husband and his health care advocate, his wife.  This is challenging because we want our doctors to act in our best interests as we perceive them to be (which is influenced by our culture, ethnicity and religious beliefs).  A doctor should be comfortable enough to know when the right thing to do is to step away when morally and ethically opposed to a form of treatment or non-treatment, but the doctor must also recognize the patient’s autonomy.

As a chaplain, the role in such a situation would begin by investigating with the family the source of their wishes.  Often, this might entail speaking with their clergy in addition to the health care proxy.  By ascertaining the specifics of their wishes and what is driving their wishes, a chaplain will be better able to provide clarity for all those involved, as in the patient/family and the doctor.  I have often found that many requests start of a place of emotional denial rather than from a place of religious and moral conviction.  This is not to say a person can’t be both in denial and yet feel very strongly about their spiritual and religious beliefs.  Rather, often times the family is struggling with the fundamental challenge of losing a loved one and are looking for something to grasp onto.

To deal with Rev. Jacob’s question of quality vs. quantity and how religious beliefs would play a role in that discussion, I would say both are important ideally. The question of quality vs. quantity of life is completely predicated on religious belief.  If we believe the human being to be a sacred being, both in mind and in body, then we encounter a true paradox.  For most of us, the thought of living without being able to interact as we do during our formative years is frightening.  Yet, even for those who believe in life after death, there is a base fear of life ending prematurely, no matter how old one gets.  Every religion struggles with this question.  There is no right answer to this question, and again, one’s beliefs will be influenced by one’s cultural, spiritual and ethnic background.

(crosspost here)

Should we celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden and other commentary on this historic event.

  • Much has been written on the subject of celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, and by extension the death of any evil person.  See here and here for examples.  I agree with the notion of celebrating the death of evil, any amount of it.  However, to suggest that Osama’s death is worth celebrating is difficult for me.  Since the US military’s daring mission in which Osama was killed, security has been heightened and the general mood around the United States is more, not less fear.  It is too early to celebrate (and see here for Al Qaeda’s response).  When the Jewish people were celebrating at the Red Sea, singing praises to G-d, it was a moment of culmination.  The Egyptian army would no longer follow after them.  Little did they know what was in store just a short time later. 
  • Rav Yisrael Belsky of Yeshiva Torah V’Daas also shared the sentiments that it is too early to celebrate and that the Jewish community should continue to be extremely cautious.  He also warns the Jewish community to mute its celebration so as to further fuel the fires of antisemitism (Hamodia). 
  • One person shared that they felt the way people celebrated the news of Osama’s death was hypocritical.  The dancing in the streets throughout the United States reminded this person of how the Arab nations dance in the streets after a tragedy in the West. 
  • Let the prophecies begin.  It is quite interesting to see the 20/20 hindsight that occurs after major events like this.  Check out this post on Yeranen Yaakov in which he finds connections between recent events to suggest that not everything is coincidence.  Also, check out these two pieces from Kikar Shabbat, a Haredi news source. (here and here;   h/t Yeranen Yaakov). 
  • A question posed to R. Shlomo Aviner:
    Q: Is it ethical to kill a terrorist when it is logical to assume that he will no longer murder?
    A: This question can be divided into two parts: 1. From the perspective of reality, how is it possible to be certain that he has stopped murdering? It is impossible to know. 2. Even if we know that he will no longer murder, we must still kill him. But why – isn’t this the law of a “rodef” (literally “pursuer” – a case in which one is permitted to kill a pursuer so that the pursued person is saved from harm)? If he is in pursuit, we kill him and if he is not in pursuit, we do not kill him. There are three answers given by halachic authorities: a. The terrorist is not finished being a “rodef”. He is not an “individual rodef” who is angry with a particular person and wants to kill him, he is a “communal rodef” who wants to kill Jews and he does not care which Jews they are. If we capture him, put him in jail, and he is later released, as is the custom – to our great distress – he will continue to murder. The organization of parents of those murdered by terrorists has exact records which state that more than 180 Jews have been murdered by released terrorists who have murdered again. This means that when you free a terrorist with the proper goal of helping Jews, you endanger more Jews. This person is therefore not a one-time “rodef,” but a perpetual “rodef.” b. The halachic authorities also say that you should kill him in order that others will see and be frightened. This “rodef” is teaching other “rodefim” through his action. If he kills Jews and when the police approach, he gives up and we have mercy on him, we encourage others to act like him, thus endangering other Jews. Therefore, in situations like these, we must be extremely ethical. The question is, ethical to whom – the “rodef” or others Jews? Answer: to both of them. We must be ethical to the Jews who have done nothing wrong and to him, since if we kill him, we stop him from killing others and lessen his “Gehinom” (punishment in the World to Come). The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (71b) says that the “ben sorer u-moreh” (the rebellious son – see Devarim 21:18-21) is killed on account of his future. While he has done many things wrong, he has not committed a sin for which he is liable for capital punishment, but he is killed so that he will die innocent and not guilty. In our case the terrorist is already liable, but he should die liable and not even more liable. We do not use the concept “he should die innocent and not die guilty” to create new laws, but to explain them. C. These are halachot of war, and in war, we do not lock up an enemy who is shooting at us, but we fire back at him. This is similar to what King Shaul said to the “Keni” (Shmuel 1 15:6): “Go, depart, go down from among Amalek, lest I destroy you with them.” This means, even though you are my friend, if you are there, you could get hurt or killed. In the halachot of war, we do not make such calculations as it says, “The best of the non-Jews should be killed.” The Tosafot raised a major difficulty with this statement: how can we say such a thing when according to halachah it is forbidden to kill a non-Jew and all the more so the best of the non-Jews (Tosafot to Avodah Zarah 26b and see Beit Yosef Yoreh Deah 158)? Tosafot explained that this statement refers to a time of war. This non-Jew seems pleasant or, in our case, he killed but he will be pleasant. No, we did not make such calculations in a time of war; even a pleasant-seeming non-Jew is killed.
    In sum: we therefore see that killing a terrorist is ethical.