From the Desk - Assisted Dying
Shalom Friends! I hope this email finds you well. Sadly, this has been another difficult week for our people, with nearly 500 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. We pray for the safety of our people and for the speedy recovery of those who were injured. Honouring Our Veterans and Volunteers Last week, we enjoyed another wonderful Shabbat as we honoured our veterans and synagogue volunteers. This was yet another opportunity for us to come together to celebrate our shared values. In my sermon, I discussed how the veterans set an example for all of us in caring about the well-being of others and the future of our society. It is this ethos which drives so many of our wonderful volunteers in Beth Ora who, each in their own way, bring us closer to our vision. Last Shabbat was a wonderful opportunity to honour our heritage (not just the living veterans but also those who are no longer with us) and to celebrate the Jewish values of giving and responsibility which are so indispensable for the future of our community. Winter has arrived and the snowbirds are starting to make their way over to Florida. For those of you who are still here, let's keep up the momentum that has been achieved in the wonderful communal spirit we have experienced over these last few Shabbats. We promise you some wonderful programs and innovations in synagogue in the weeks and months ahead and look forward to continuing our journey with you! Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... Assisted Dying? Nadine Anders asked me about the sensitive question of Judaism's position regarding assisted dying where the patient, with the assistance of a doctor, performs the final act of taking his or her life. In this answer, I will address assisted dying specifically. I will not address the withholding of aggressive life-sustaining treatments, the receiving of narcotic medication to alleviate pain where there is a possibility that it will hasten death, undergoing a life-threatening procedure in the hope of cure, praying that a person die, discontinuing life-sustaining treatment or passive euthanasia. All of these would require separate discussion. Assisted dying is antithetical to Jewish values and is strongly prohibited by Jewish law. While we cannot personally condemn those who in the midst of unbearable pain and suffering take their own lives, we cannot encourage, condone, or participate in the commission of such an act. There are many dangers entailed in the acceptance of assisted dying. One can easily envisage, in a society in which assisted dying is legal and accepted, that people who would want to live given the chance and encouragement will instead opt for death, viewing their lives as worthless, non-productive and a drain on their family. The most fundamental reason for Judaism's opposition to assisted dying is that life is regarded as a sacred trust, given to us by G-d, and only G-d can take it away. Indeed, all life is regarded as being of infinite value, regardless of its quality. It is not for us to judge one human life as being of less value than others. For that reason, in Jewish law, hastening death is considered murder, even if the victim is about to die anyway. This is true even if a person wants their life taken from them. This worldview has impacted on the traditional Jewish character. It is remarkable that, even during the Holocaust, suicide was rare (and among observant Jews, virtually non-existent). Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz has written eloquently: "It was always the Jewish way to affirm life, to seek the glimmer of hope within the darkest gloom, and while none of us may dare stand in judgment and condemn personally those who could not withstand the awful vicissitudes of life, neither can we condone or encourage that which is regarded as a desecration and a profanation of the Divine. As the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Chananya Ben Teradyon was being burned at the stake by the Romans for the "crime" of teaching Torah and was suffering excruciating pain, his students urged him to open his mouth and let the flames enter so that he could die more quickly. He responded, "Let He who gave me life take it."" It is important to stress that a non-judgmental, supportive approach is often the best way to allow patients to consider alternatives, and to ultimately change their minds. For sure, it is important to have compassion for the suffering of terminally ill individuals contemplating assisted dying, while not endorsing or even condoning it. Studies show that often simply listening to the patients' concerns helps to mitigate many of them. Those close to such individuals are advised to seek to address the patient's specific concerns and determine if there is a way to meet them. I am always available to discuss and advise any individuals who are dealing with this issue.