Kedushat ha-Hayyim (responses) also Living in Israel

Kedushat ha-Hayyim (responses) also Living in Israel

Rabbi Michael Graetz

I received several responses to TMS#108 which dealt with the usage of the phrase “kedushat ha-hayyim”. I want to expand that essay to relate to some of the responses, and to add a dimension to the subject which was lacking in the first version.

My friend and teacher Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman sent me a bibliographical note:

An article about the holocaust by Shalom Rosenberg, whose translation I just completed, contains the following note:

<<In the Warsaw Ghetto, Zionist leader Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum coined the term “sanctity of life”:  “Previously our enemies demanded our soul, and the Jew sacrificed his body to sanctify the holy Name;  now the enemy demands the Jewish body, and the Jew is required to protect it, to defend it.”

See G. Eck,  Ha-to’im bedarkei hamavet;  havai vehagut beyemei hakilayon  (Jerusalem, 1960), p. 73.>>

Indeed, what prompted my search for the phrase in the first place was this assertion. I had quoted the same source in the Yom Ha-Shoah Home Gathering Ceremony which was developed here at Mercaz Shiluv. Many people refer to R. Nissenbaum as the author of this phrase in the context of the Holocaust, and fix its meaning in relation to the holiness of the physical body of the Jew. I wanted to see for myself if, indeed, this phrase did not appear in earlier literature. Of the sources I mentioned, only R. Ouziel’s usage is earlier.

Michael, Shalom –

Re the concept – qedushat ha-chayyim – perhaps you are aware of the volume “Qedushat Ha-Chayyim ve-Cheruf Nefesh” – a memorial collection of essays edited by I. Gafni and A. Ravitsky, Merkaz Zalman Shazar, Also, in Fall, 1993 Tradition, R. Moshe Tendler and Dr. Fred Rosner wrote an article “Qualty and Sanctity of Life in the Talmud and Midrash.” Interestingly, their article prompted a letter (Summer, 1994) from a Dr. Yoel Jakobovits (Immanuel’s son?) in which, inter alia he writes: “I am puzzled by the term ‘sanctity of life.’ Though this term is often used today, I wonder where this term, which I would translate as kedushat hahaim, appears in early Jewish literature. The term ‘sanctity of life’ has a foreign, almost Christian ring to it.” etc. To this the authors responded – “The term ‘sanctity of life,’ which Dr. Jakobovits correctly translates as kedushat hahaim, is a uniquely Jewish concept and does not in any way, as Dr. Jakobovits suggests, have ‘a foreign, almost Christian ring to it.’ Kedushat hahaim is one of the Torah’s great contributions to Western civilization.” So much for sources.

Anyway, what that article posits is a tension between the sanctity of life – its infinite worth no matter what, even in the face of suffering and pain – and quality of life , which can be subject to increase or decrease, specifically with regard to suffering and pain.

I suspect that that conflict is what R. Lau is also referring to when he writes, ” a path that takes into account “kedushat ha-hayyim” and the prolonged suffering of the patient”. Therefore I would question your statement –  “In this context “kedushat ha-hayyim” is life which is sanctified by minimizing the suffering which a person undergoes while alive.” On the contrary, qedushat ha-chayyim as traditionally understood is impervious to challenge from any considerations,

whether of utility or pleasure and pain. I do not mean to have this read as a rejection of your view of qedushah – only to say that it exists in tension with this other understanding. I tried to set some of this out in the kashrut article, especially in the re-written form.

kol tuv,