Monday, June 1, 2009

From Torah Tidbits

Sacrificing One to Save Another  Last week we started discussing the case of the woman who is pregnant with a multi-fetal pregnancy and we are concerned that she will not be able to carry the pregnancy and may lose all of the unborn children. In this case the doctors suggest that she reduce some of the embryos in order to save the others.
The question is whether this is permitted by the halacha?
Rav Zilberstein quoted the section of Talmud that we are not allowed to sacrifice the life of one Jew by giving him over to the gentiles who will kill him, even if they will then kill all of the others. However we mentioned the case of Yonah where the sailors do "kill" Yonah in order to save themselves and they are not punished for this.
There are opinions (such as the Tiferet L'Moshe quoted in the Pitchei T'shuva) that if the gentiles will kill everyone then they are permitted to draw lots and to give over the person who was picked by the lottery to save the others. He brings Yonah as an example that this is permitted.
Many disagree with this, and Rav Zilberstein quotes from the Sefer Chasidim that they cannot draw lots to "sacrifice" one of them as was done in the case of Yonah.  However in another place the Sefer Chasidim writes "if people were in a ship and a great storm came against them to drown them, but all the other ships are sailing safely, then we know that there must be someone on their ship who is liable and they are permitted to draw lots and throw him into the sea." As happened to Yonah. These two quotes seem to contradict each other, however, a close reading reveals that they are dealing with different scenarios. In the second case all of the other ships pass safely and so the indication from heaven is that there must be a person on this specific ship who is the cause. The Midrash does say that in the case of Yonah the sailors saw that all the other ships passed by safely, and only the ship that Yonah sailed on was threatened by the storm. So here we see that there are cases in which we can permit killing one person to save others. However this still seems to be only in very specific cases where there is a Divine indication that this is what should be done. More on this next week.  The Puah Institute for Fertility and Gynecology in Accordance with Halacha is based in Jerusalem and helps couples from all over the world who are experiencing fertility problems. Puah offers free counseling in five languages, halachic supervision, and educational programs. Puah has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. To contact the Puah Institute please call 1-800-071111 in Israel or in the US 718-336-0603. website:

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