I was deeply disturbed by a video shown on the news in Israel earlier this week. A rabbinic colleague on Ravnet (the email discussion group for Conservative rabbis) first alerted me to this horrific video. It shows a motorcyclist killed after crashing into a large truck in the Israeli metropolitan city of Tel Aviv. Not only does the traffic camera capture this man’s tragic death, but it also shows that forty motorists neglected to stop for this fallen human being. Forty cars drove around this man lying in the middle of the street.
There is now a debate ensuing in Israel about whether people have stopped caring for each other (anyone heard of “kol yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh“: All Jews are responsible for each other?). This also brings up questions of whether any of these individuals considered the mitzvah (commanded law) from Leviticus 19:16 of lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha (do not stand idly by the suffering of your fellow human). To some extent, “lo ta’amod” is the halakhic equivalent of the “Good Samaritan Law.”
Israel even has a “Lo ta’amod al dam re’ekha” Law (passed in 1998 by the K’nesset). Aaron Kirschenbaum, in an article titled “The Bystander’s Duty to Rescue in Jewish Law,” published in ASSIA-Jewish Medical Ethics writes about the following story: “In the early hours of the morning of March 14, 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked on her way home in Queens, New York. The unknown assailant made several separate attacks on her over a period of about forty minutes, and she finally died of the stabs he had inflicted on her. As the police subsequently ascertained, at least thirty-eight neighbors had heard her screams for help, some may have also seen her struggle, yet no one intervened – not even to call the police.”
Eliezer Ben-Shlomo, in his article “The Duty to Save Life in Jewish Law and the Rulings of the Supreme Court of Israel,” explains, “As far as normative criteria are concerned, the obligation to save life is established in the codex of Jewish law as a legal obligation which obligates whoever happens to chance upon a situation where he can intervene and save life.”
I personally don’t believe that all forty individuals, on their way to work, who drove around the 63-year-old man lying in the street knew he was unable to be saved.
After seeing the video and reading the accompanying articles as well as the thread of postings on Ravnet, I decided to deliver a sermon this coming Shabbat about this troubling event. I had planned to talk about the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 since next week is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Perhaps now I will have to talk about how different things were forty years ago when all Israelis came together in unity and celebrated at the Kotel (Western Wall) after the holy city of Jerusalem was reclaimed.
When I did a Web search to again find this shocking video in preparation for my sermon, the first video I encountered was a diametrically opposite video although it was also filmed in Tel Aviv. Both videos are below:
“FOR 2 MINUTES NO ONE STOPPED”
“FREE HUGS IN TEL AVIV”
As we celebrate forty years of the reunification of Jerusalem, may we also learn a lesson about the forty cars that didn’t stop for the human being lying in the street. Forty years ago Israelis paused to celebrate the return of a wall and of a walled city from their people’s history. They paused to pay respect to their fallen brothers who died fighting to protect the country. Forty years later they failed to pause for the sake of a fallen brother. I pray for a return to the ethic that we are all responsible for each other… no matter how rushed we are to get to work.