The laws of Judaism place a great emphasis on the value of human life. As a general rule, the Jew would violate any of the commandments in order to save somebody’s life. Take Yom Kippur as an example. On Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world gather in the synagogues for a day of solemn prayer. The Jewish people abstain from food and drink, and avoid any type of labor on this holy day of Yom Kippur. Now imagine the following scenario; a large synagogue filled with hundreds of men women and children, are fasting and praying on this solemn day. A building near the synagogue collapses, and no one knows if anyone is trapped beneath the rubble. Even if someone would be trapped in the fallen building, there is no way of knowing if he is still alive. Judaism teaches that we are to cast those doubts aside. The people of the synagogue should forget about their praying and fasting. They should all mobilize in the most efficient manner possible in the effort to rescue someone who may perhaps still be alive under the rubble.
This is not to say that Yom Kippur is not important. It is of far greater significance than we can even begin to imagine. But the value of a human life is even greater.
This brings the question of Jewish history in to sharper focus. Why were Jews willing to die in order to avoid converting to Christianity? Throughout the ages, Jews have often been confronted with the choice; worship Jesus, or die. Invariably the Jews chose death. They went with their wives and little children, old grandfathers and grandmothers together with young men and women. They were burned, beheaded, drowned, and tortured. But they were not converted.
Why? All of these human lives could have been preserved by uttering a simple declaration of devotion to Jesus. Is worship of Jesus so bad that death should be the favorable alternative?
The answer is; YES!
These Jews recognized that;
WORSHIP OF JESUS IS IDOLATRY!
The Torah commands the Jew to give his life rather than to commit himself to idolatry. Throughout history, the Jew equated the deification of Jesus, with idol-worship.
How is the Jew so confident that devotion to Jesus is devotion to an idol? The Christians have been arguing since time immemorial, that Jesus is “one and the same” with the God of Israel. What gave the Jew the rock solid conviction that Jesus was not the God of Israel? From where did the Jew draw the certainty and the fortitude to sacrifice his life in order to avoid conversion to Christianity?
In order to appreciate the answer to this question, we must understand the underlying principle of the sanctity of human life.
If the human soul would be of lesser significance than the value of human choice, then we would be entitled to make choices to terminate human souls. But the soul is above the realm of our preferences. Our free-will was given to us by God, we make our own choices. But our souls belong to God. Every individual soul is precious to God, and no two souls are the same before God. God values His relationship with every single human soul, and God did not authorize humanity to tamper with that relationship. When the people are running out of the synagogue to try to save a human soul, they are not working to preserve human property. They are not even striving to save the most valuable possession of man. They are abandoning everything in order to preserve a unique relationship with God. A relationship that God could find nowhere else, but in this particular soul.
When the Jew faced the choice; to commit his soul to someone other than the God who breathed it into him in the first place, or to return it to Him unsullied by spiritual adultery – the Jew had no choice. The Jew recognized that the most important entity in the universe is the relationship between his soul and its Creator. And the Jew appreciated that he was not authorized to tamper with the most sacred bond, that of the soul and her God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal