Traditional Jewish text - Texts about responsibility to help people
Yerushalmi Terumot 8:10
רבי איסי [אימי] איתציד בספסופה. אמר רבי יונתן [יוחנן] יכרך המת בסדינו. אמ' רבי שמעון בן לקיש עד
דאנא קטיל ואנא מיתקטיל, אנא איזיל ומשיזיב ליה בחיילא אזל ופייסון ויהבוניה ליה
Rav Imi was captured by bandits. Upon hearing this, Rav Yochanan said, "Go purchase shrouds for him". However, Reish Lakish said, "I will kill or be killed, but I will go to save him." He went and cut a deal with the bandits and freed Rav Imi.
Talmud Sanhedrin 73a
מניין לרואה את חבירו שהוא טובע בנהר, או
חיה גוררתו, או לסטין באין עליו, שהוא חייב להצילו - תלמוד לומר לא תעמד על דם רעך.
How do we know that if one sees another person drowning, mauled by beasts, or attacked by robbers, s/he is bound to save him? From the verse, "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor!"
Ya'akov Emden (Germany, 1697-1776) She'elat Ya'betz
משא"כ באדם חשוב שמוטל עליו להציל עשוק מיד עשקו בכל אופן שיוכל, אם בגופו או בהשתדלותו, יהי' העשוק מי שהי'. כענין שאמר איוב, ואשברה מתלעות עול, וכתוב במרע"ה ויקם ויושיען, אע"פ שבנות כומר היו
A Jew who has power/authority (adam chashuv) has the obligation to rescue the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor by all means available to him, whether by direct action or through political effort, regardless of whether the oppressed is Jewish. So Job praised himself by saying "I have broken the teeth of evil", and the Torah says of Moses that "He arose and championed them", referring to the daughters of Jethro, even though they were the daughters of an idolatrous priest . . .
- What do you learn from these texts about Jewish notions of responsibility?
- The first two texts deal specifically with cases of acute attack, not ongoing oppression. What, if anything, do you think we can extrapolate from these cases about responsibility in cases of ongoing oppression?
- The third text deals specifically with the responsibilities of someone with power/authority ("adam chashuv," lit. "an important person"). Do you think this is an important distinction? Do you think people with less power (or who may themselves be oppressed or living under threat of oppression) have less responsibility to try to rescue oppressed people? Discuss the implications of this as applied to the situations in the Civil Rights Movement that you have studied.