However, because of the unwieldy complexity of the legal disputations recorded in the Talmud, more manageable codifications of talmudic laws 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 Misbneh Tarab 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 Beys 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 Berurab.
Finally, the Talmudic Encyclopedia - a modern compilation published in Israel from the s and edited by the country's greatest Orthodox rabbinical scholars - is a good compendium of the whole talmudic literature. 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.
However, if the victim was Gentile and the murderer converts to Judaism, he is not punished. 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. 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 writes: 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.
I hope all is well. I am, thank God, feeling well. A long time I have not written. Sometimes I recall the verse "when shall I come and appear before God? I must do so. 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 Amalekites, 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?
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. But according to the sayings of our sages, of blessed memory, [ On the one hand But we find in the very same authorities in another place [ 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 Tosalot. And the Tosafot write as follows: 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 Halakhah - and 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 lifelike - and also painful - way how this "purity of weapons" has caused deaths. This subject was being discussed even without your letter, but your letter caused me to write up the whole matter. Reply of Moshe to R. 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.
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-combatants - including cases of mass murder such as that in Kafr Qasim in - the murderers, if not let off altogether, received extremely light sentences or won far-reaching remissions, reducing their punishment to next to nothing.
It is also of particular interest in a Jewish context, in view of the fact that since the Second World War Jewish opinion has - in some cases justly, in others unjustly - condemned '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. As for Gentiles, the basic talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved, although it is also forbidden to murder them outright.
Maimonides - himself an illustrious physician - is quite explicit on this; in another passage 18 he repeats the distinction between 'thy fellow' and a Gentile, and concludes: Where such danger exists, the obligation to avert it supersedes the ban on helping the Gentile. His insistence on demanding payment - presumably in order to make sure that the act is not one of human charity but an unavoidable duty - is 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 doctrine - the ban on saving a Gentile's life or healing him, and the suspension of this ban in cases where there is fear of hostility - is repeated virtually verbatim by other major authorities, including the 14th century Arba'ah Turirn and Karo's Beyt Yosef and Shulhan 'Arukh.
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 writes. 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 their safety.
This passage, dating from the second half of the 17th century, is a favorite quote of apologetic scholars. 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. 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: There is an extensive discussion of such cases.
Following earlier authorities, including Maimonides and the Talmud itself, the Shulhan Arukh 22 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 ten - it is not known which one - is 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 one - again, it is not known which one - is 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.
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: 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: 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. 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': 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.
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. The whole subject is extensively discussed in the responsa of R. Moshe Sofer - better known as 'Ilatam Sofer' - the famous rabbi of Pressburg Bratislava who died in His conclusions are of more than historical interest, since in one of his responsa was publicly endorsed by the then Chief Rabbi of Israel as 'a basic institution of the Halakhah'.
Some of these midwives were Jewish; should they hire themselves out to help Gentile women on weekdays and on the sabbath?