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Jewish Bioethics byYechiel Michael Barilan;“Poles Rescued Too Few Jews” Hypocrisy. Medical-School Cadaver Affair in 1920s Poland—Driven By Stubborn Rabbis

jan peczkis|Thursday, November 16, 2017

Yechiel Michael Barilan is professor of medical education at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. Nowadays, the once-militant Polish opposition to 1920s Jewish medical students freely dissecting the cadavers of Poles, but rarely the cadavers of Jews, is customarily blamed exclusively on (what else?) Polish anti-Semitism. The author provides valuable information that soundly debunks this blame-it-all-on-Poles standard narrative. He also includes other insights into rabbinical literature.




I encourage the reader to look up the passages in the online Babylonian Talmud (halakhadotcom), as I did. It is a rewarding experience.

PERENNIAL JEWISH COMPLAINTS ABOUT POLES NOT SAVING MORE JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST--WHY?

In Nazi-German occupied Poland, there was the death penalty for the slightest Polish aid to fugitive Jews. In the light of this fact, consider Barilan’s statements, “According to the Palestinian Talmud, there is a duty to self-risk for the sake of saving another person’s life. This view is close to Christian ethics, which also originated in Palestine Jewry. However, according to the Babylonian Talmud, there is no such duty [BAVA METZI'A 62a]. As a legal principle, when the two corpi of Talmud differ, HALAKHAH follows the Babylonian Talmud whose reduction was of a higher quality.” (p. 120).

In other words, Jews complain about Poles not doing something that Jews themselves would not feel compelled to do, even theoretically. Hypocrisy?

THE GOYIM ARE FULLY HUMAN…OR ARE THEY?

Yechiel Barilan provides a good introduction to the heart of the matter, as he writes, “Jewish theology has considered all humans as created in the image of God, but only the Israelites are the Chosen People. Kabbalah has taught that Jews are also blessed with a unique kind of soul, but rarely has the universality of Imago Dei ever been touched. However, some kabbalist and Hasidic sources refer to Imago Dei as a special trait of Jews. In a limited sense, this idea has also found its way into HALAKHAH.” (p. 113).

A DUAL MORALITY ON THE SANCTITY OF CORPSES

Ideas have consequences. Barilan comments, “In 1931, Chief Rabbi of Palestine Avraham Isaac HaCohen Kook wrote that the taboo on the violation of the dead is unique to the Jews, owing to ‘the Image of God in man, which is a special trait of the nation of Israel’ and cannot be alienated at will. He recommended that Jewish doctors and students buy cadavers from gentiles who do not mind the use of their own bodies and whose dignity is alienable at will…Kook was the first rabbinic authority to rule that non-Jewish cadavers are inferior in dignity.” (pp. 112-113).

However, the dual morality that at once affirmed the inviolability of the Jewish cadaver and the violability of the gentile cadaver did not begin with Rabbi Kook. It goes back many centuries. See my review of Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Vol. 4 (Library of Jewish Law and Ethics).

POLAND’S RABBIS STERNLY RESIST THE DISSECTION OF JEWISH CORPSES IN MEDICAL SCHOOLS

Barilan continues, “In 1924, two years after the end of the Polish-Soviet war, when Poland was becoming a democracy, community leaders from Cracow [Krakow] faced pressure to supply Jewish bodies to medical schools. The majority of Polish rabbis leaned against participation in anatomical dissection. This position threatened to close the doors of the faculties of medicine on Jewish students, whose number had already been limited by the 1923 NUMERUS CLAUSUS law, which instituted a system of ethnic quota.” (p. 113).

Individual permissive rabbinical opinions, on the dissection of Jewish cadavers, did not change the overall picture, and, in the end, Poland’s Jews entered the 20th century because they were dragged into it. Barilan writes, “But the mainstream of the rabbinic establishment of Warsaw represented a uniform opposition to the practice.” (p. 114). He continues, “When pressure mounted, and it became clear that Jewish attendance at medical schools was at stake, the rabbinic committee of Warsaw signed a document acknowledging humanity’s indispensable dependence on anatomical study. Yet, these rabbis did not give permission for dissection. Only because the authorities had already mandated the consignment of Jewish bodies to such study would the rabbis tolerate the anatomical study of ‘the scum of the earth,’ meaning prostitutes, brothel keepers, and criminals.” (p. 114). Finally, “The debate on the use of Jewish cadavers in Poland ended with permissive opinions outside of Poland and staunch rabbinic opposition within.” (p. 116).

The position of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Graubart (the rabbi of the Polish Jews of Toronto) is revealing, particularly its Judeocentric selfishness and its in-your-face policy towards Poland. (pp. 115-116). He suggested that Jewish refusal to allow the medical-school dissection of cadavers “might denigrate the name of Israel in the eyes of [what he calls] the progressive nations”, for which reason Jews should allow dissection of their cadavers in the western nations. On the other hand, he said that “Polish anti-Semitism was rife and Jewish participation in anatomical study was not likely to boost the dignity of the [Jewish] nation, there should be no permission given to hand over bodies to anatomical study.” (p. 116). So Jews think that they are entitled to be choosy about how they will act in the nations in which they live! And to top it all off, Jews whine about Polish anti-Semitism, while they are clearly the ones that are keeping it going.

TALMUDIC ANTIGOYISM

The racist aspects of Jewish religion are outside the scope of this book. However, with reference to T. BAVA KAMMA 113b, Barilan comments, “The Talmud rules that there is no duty to return the lost goods of a non-Jew unless such behavior defames Judaism.” (p. 65).

THE GROWING SELF-ATHEIZATION OF POLAND’S JEWS

Ironically, the belated and forced Jewish concession, on cadaver dissection, largely confirmed Polish Cardinal August Hlond’s much-condemned but true 1936 statement on Jews as freethinkers. Barilan quips, “Staunch rabbinic resistance did not help much. It actually reflected the waning political power and moral authority of the Orthodox rabbis over the rapidly secularizing Polish Jewry, which numbered over 3 million people strong.” (p. 114).

THE TALMUD DOES NOT ALLOW MEN TO HAVE RELATIONS WITH YOUNG GIRLS

As a Judeorealist, I criticize Jews when it is well-deserved, but also repudiate unsupported and false statements about Jews, such as the one about the Talmud allowing pedophilia. Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) did endorse the practice of marrying daughters off before they are twelve. But here he was going against the Talmud (KIDUSHIN 41a), which expressly forbade marriage to minors owing to the fact that girl-brides lack the capacity to consent. (p. 131).
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