Friday, January 8, 2010

Refusing Orders

"Senior ranking retired military rabbis have called on Israel Defense Forces soldiers to refuse orders that go against Halacha. In an unprecedented statement released Wednesday,"  See the story at Ynet News...Military rabbis: Refuse orders that go against Halacha - Israel Jewish Scene, Ynetnews

Such articles always go for a misleading headline, but essentially most Americans and many Liberal Jews do not understand Jewish Legal principles Jewish Law is Halakhah [hah-lah-CHAH (with ch as in loch or Bach)]. Halakhah restricts what a Jew can do in certain circumstances just as the speed limit on the road restricts how fast a driver can run his car. If you exceed the speed limit, you are breaking the law. However, people in an emergency situation or civic service personal in the course of their duties can violate the speed limit. Thus if my mother becomes sick, I can load her in the car and speed to the hospital, breaking the speed limit and within reason running stop signs. Will the police object? Yes, but once I present my case to the judge I will be absolved. I did right by violating the speed limit because in an emergency (within reason) there is no speed limit.

The same goes for civil and military people. In the course of their duties, they can also violate the speed limit or stop signs, but if all a policeman is doing is making a donut run, running stop signs and violating the speed limit is against the law even if he is on duty... even if his captain ordered him to do it. So if his captain tells him to make a donut run and violate the speed limit, it is the duty of any police officer to question his orders. Once it is explained to him that the captain is a diabetic and needs quick sugar or he will pass out, then yes. He ought to rush. Otherwise.... no.

Now we come to the statements of the rabbi who suggested that observant military should question the orders if they violate Halakhah (Jewish Law). If there is a good reason, such as an emergency or security issues within the scope of duties then they can violate Halakhah, but if the captain orders a private to pick up the trash in the yard on Shabbat (Sabbath) then it seems reasonable for the private to ask the captain why he is being ordered to violate Halakhah. (The violation is the prohibition on doing certain types of work on the Sabbath.)

From the prepper perspective in an emergency one is allowed to violate normative Halakhah within reason, but an emergency does not become blanket permission. Once the immediate danger has passed, one is then bound by the Law again. Like the man who speeds to the hospital to save a life, he is forgiven for breaking the law while performing a live-saving task, but once he reaches the hospital, he is not allowed to break the traffic laws while heading home. Once the immediate danger is over, the law kicks back in. I am willing to listen to an argument where one would suggest that a few laws could be violated after the immediate emergency was over so as to not discourage taking care of the basic emergency itself. Too much thinking may cause hesitation and thus a life might be lost. I'm not sure, but clearly during an emergency, in order to save a life, one is allowed to violate Halakhah.

The principle for this is "pekuach nefesh" [peh-KOO-ach NEH-fehsh (with ch as in loch or Bach)] (פיקוח נפש, "saving of human life"). This applies in all sorts of situations such as when flying in an airplane. If ten or more Jewish males are in the airplane we are obligated to gather for prayer at the proper times, but obviously in such a confined area, it becomes a serious safety issue. Many a stewardess at El Al will whisper "pekuach nefesh" into the ear of a man who attempts to organize such a prayer group while the plane is preparing to land. Once she says that (as a designated flight official) the man is thereafter obligated to sit down and pray at his seat. Saving a life (including his own whether he likes it or not) supercedes the religious obligation.

There are exceptions to the rule where one must be willing to die rather than violate the law, but frankly it is rare and obvious. For example... if someone forces you to murder someone else, you are obligated to die rather than violate the prohibition against murder. Why? It is the principle of no man's blood is redder than another's. You cannot take someone else's life in order to save you own.

As always... seek a competent Halakhic authority for a proper opinion. I'm just a guy on the Internet shooting his mouth off. I'm bringing up ideas to think about and prepare for.

Alex Shrugged.

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