Wednesday, November 09, 2011

do ethics and law always coincide?

You and a friend are trapped in the desert and you only with one jug of water between you.  Do you split the water, in which case neither one of you will have enough to make it out of the desert, or do you keep the jug for yourself and leave your friend to perish?  The gemara (B"M 62) has a machlokes: Ben Petura holds that loving your neighbor as yourself means splitting the water.  R' Akiva, however, holds that "chayecha kodmin", a person's own life takes precedence.   

Superficially understood, the central point under dispute is what the ethical solution to this dilemma is.  However, and I'm not sure who he is quoting, Rav Moshe Kasher in his Perakim b'Toras haChassidus (p. 5-6) learns otherwise.  In his interpretation, everyone agrees that the ethical ideal is to split the water -- the sevara of ben Petura is accepted as valid.  R' Akiva's argument is that in spite of the ethical ideal, there is a gezeiras hakasuv of chayecha kodmin that determines how to act.   

I thought this was a fascinating approach to the sugya in that it puts the din, the legal solution, at odds with (and in fact superior to) the moral ideal.  I'm not sure what to make of seperating the two -- food for thought. 


  1. great unknown10:06 PM

    What we call morals is an amalgamation of our emotional concepts and what we understand of the Ratzon of HKB"H. However, once the Ratzon is clearly defined by a gzeiras hakasus or by chazal, our emotions and understanding become irrelevant.
    Nevertheless, the original understanding of what is ethical remains in the sense of how we are supposed to respond to other, undefined circumstances. This is an aspect of eilu v'eilu.

    Was it ethical for Avrohom to shecht Yitzchok? Before the tzivui, obviously not. After the tzivui, obviously yes. But the general approach of before the tzivui was still the correct, ethical one in general.

  2. Anonymous10:33 PM

    did ben Petura apply "your neighbor
    as yourself" here, or did he propose
    a shield from seeing the other die?

    it's hard to see anything "ideal"
    about 2 corpses in the sand, or to
    call a single survivor a "legal" construct!

  3. I believe a posek makes that diyuk in a case where there is no chayacho kodmin. For example, a third person who has a spare bottle of water meets these two. He must share the water between them, even though both will die (all other things being equal both talmidei chachomim etc)

  4. Anonymous2:33 PM

    if ben Petura would but shield the
    watered individual from the experience of his friend's anguished death, why doesn't he learn from Hagar, who sat at a distance so as not to see the death of her child (21:16)? perhaps the Jews ben Petura knew would never separate from a suffering fellow?

    sb-- why not give Hashem a means to
    distinguish between the 2, a coin on which to act (toss it, call it,
    cruelly reductive though it seem)?
    or draw hairs, or whatever, such that G-d could trip the outcome in favor of long-term life?

  5. >>>Was it ethical for Avrohom to shecht Yitzchok?


  6. great unknown8:39 PM

    I checked my library of seforim, and couldn't find any by this "Kiergaard". Was he a rishon, an acharon, a ba'al halacha, a ba'al mussar? In my yeshiva we never spoke him out.

    Just joking. However, I confine my secular philosophy studies to the comic pages. A "modern" Jew once took me to task for not having studied spinoza. I mollified him somewhat by telling him that I often quoted augustine. I didn't tell him that the quote was, "Oh lord, make me pious; but not just yet."

    My makor is the Bartenura and others on the first mishna in Avos.