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Two Minutes of Torah

>Jewish Ethics – Euthanasia

>Last night I taught the first in my 10 part series on Jewish Ethics (as voted for by the members of West London Synagogue). It was interesting to hear the diversity of opinion in the room, and to explore a subject with so many conflicting opinions.

I personally found the story of the death of Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion (Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a) to be the most interesting. As he was being burned alive with damp woolen tufts around his heart, to prolong the suffering, his students urged him to breathe in the smoke and accelerate his death. He refused, suggesting that God would determine the time for his death. But then when the executioner offered to accelerate the process by removing the wool, in exchange for a guarantee of a share in the world to come, Rabbi Hanina agreed. Following this Rabbi Hanina died quickly, followed immediately after by the executioner who jumped into the flames. The story ended with a Divine voice declaring that both had been assigned to the world to come.

Initially Rabbi Hanina appeared to reject any form of accelerated death, waiting for the fire to cause his death, but when offered an assisted suicide he accepts. I think that the maintenance of the two positions in the one story demonstrates the challenges of this issue, and recognises the fact that there are no easy answers on this subject.

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