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Judaism And End Of Life Care

Star of David. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons
Star of David. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

While Judaism espouses the infinite value of human life, it also recognizes that all life is finite.

Its teachings are compatible with modern principles of palliative medicine. For terminally ill patients, treatments that are not potentially curative may be refused, especially when they may result in harm (Journal of Palliative Medicine, Barry Kinzbrunner, 2004).

Jewish law forbids euthanasia and regards it as murder; every moment of human life is considered equal in value (BBC: Religion and Ethics).

“The value of human life is infinite and beyond measure, so that any part of life – even if only an hour or a second – is of precisely the same worth as 70 years of it, just as any fraction of infinity, being indivisible, remains infinite,” said Lord Jakobovits, former U.K. Chief Rabbi.

The first examples of Jewish euthanasia occur in the Hebrew Bible. It is documented in 2 Samuel; the seriously injured King Saul orders a young Amalekite soldier to kill him rather than let him be captured alive. When King David learned of what the soldier had done, he ordered his execution. This story has been interpreted to mean that euthanasia is equivalent to murder.


JUDAISM AT A GLANCE

Judaism is the oldest of the three Abrahamic faiths, which include Christianity and Islam. There are about 14 million Jewish people in the world, and most reside in the U.S. and Israel.

Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions, with the Torah as its foundational text. The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) itself is part of a larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Supplemental oral tradition is represented in later texts, such as the Talmud and Mishnah.

Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that G_d established with the Children of Israel through Abraham (Genesis 17). G_d promised Abraham to make his offspring a great nation.

Sefer Torah at old Glockengasse Synagogue (reconstruction), Cologne. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons
Sefer Torah at old Glockengasse Synagogue (reconstruction), Cologne. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Although other ancient peoples recognized a divine presence in history, the beliefs of the ancient Israelites proved to be the most lasting and influential (Encyclopedia Brittanica). It is this particular claim—to have experienced G_d’s direct presence in human events— that is the differentiating factor in Jewish thought.

Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism (135 CE to 1750 CE). Rabbinic Judaism is based on the belief that during the Exodus from Egypt, Moses on Mount Sinai received from G_d the Written Torah and an oral explanation known as the Oral Torah, which Moses then transmitted to the Israelites.

Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning more than 3,000 years. Today, the largest movements are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism.