The haredi-Christian tragedy and the idol worship of Talmud Torah

Date18 March 2021
Published date18 March 2021
It seems to me that part of the haredi community has adopted an idea that is totally foreign to Judaism but is, strangely enough, fundamental to classical Christianity.

This is a typical example of how – probably because of the experience of exile – Christian ideas have infiltrated several dimensions of haredi Judaism through the back door. This may be true even of other segments of religious Judaism that are not at all haredi.

Saving one's soul

Classical Christianity teaches that under all circumstances one must "save one's soul," and must even sacrifice life itself for the sake of the salvation of one's soul. This means that one has to live a life of total religious devotion even when it would result in death. And it is exactly against this point of view that the Jewish tradition adamantly protests.

For Judaism, to live is more important than "to be saved."

The argument that if we don't live a religious life of shemirat hamitzvot (observance of the commandments), our souls are, by definition, contaminated, and we won't inherit Olam Haba (the World to Come) is totally rejected within the Jewish tradition.

It is only after we have secured our physical existence that we are obligated to observe the commandments, and it is only then that we have lost out on real life if we did not observe them.

This doesn't mean that we should violate the commandments so as to live a comfortable life. It just means that we must make sure that we can at least live a simple life that allows us to breathe; that we don't become deathly ill or completely unable to live a human life.

Why? Because nothing is holier than life itself, not even when we would combine all the divinely-given commandments. Compared to life itself, they are all secondary.

To live is the greatest mitzvah of all

To put it differently: The most important biblical commandments are "U'vacharta ba'chayim" – "And you shall choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19) and "V'chai bahem, v'lo she'yamut bahem" – "And you shall live by them [the mitzvot] and not die because of them" (Leviticus 18:5; Tractate Yoma 85b).

Only three prohibitions override this obligation to preserve life: When one is forced to kill an innocent person in order to save one's own life; when one is forced to have sexual intercourse with somebody with whom one, by biblical law, it is not allowed to have relations; and when one is forced to worship idols (Yoma 82a). Only in these three cases are we commanded to die rather than transgress.

This is true...

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