Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ethical Risk

After Shabbat dinner with my Israeli aunts, uncles and cousins (and assorted children), we had a lively conversation on a variety of topics, ranging from politics to child rearing, from gluten-free cooking to history and speculations about Armageddon.

One of my cousins was recounting his personal experience in the Israeli army, hunting down terrorists who were using "human shields".   That is, instead of protecting civilians from the risk of being caught in the crossfire by providing shelters away from the fighting, they shoot at the Israeli soldiers from populated civilian homes and neighborhoods, often specifically surrounding themselves with civilians. My cousin explained that any other army in the world would consider it acceptable wartime ethics to call out on a loudspeaker that all civilians should evacuate the premises, and then bomb the $#%& out of the buildings involved.  Not so the IDF. My cousin and his peers were required - by Israeli rules of engagement - to enter the buildings and pick out the targeted individuals while sparing civilians.  Mind you that these targeted terrorists are not uniformed soldiers, but guerrillas who are dressed in civilian attire (except for the automatic weapons they are carrying), and often wear masks or keffiyehs over their faces to obscure their identities.  Fighting under these circumstances inevitably results in greater Israeli casualties, but the Israeli army considers this risk worth the civilian lives which are saved - even enemy civilians!

Once again: Standard Israeli policy is that saving enemy civilian life warrants risking the lives of Israeli soldiers.


How many children with disabilities are dying of malnutrition and lack of medical care around the world, not because they have ever threatened anyone, but merely because their lives are not considered valuable by the societies into which they were born?

Is there a risk associated with adopting such children? Is there a risk associated with volunteering with organizations that seek to improve conditions in the orphanages?  Is there a risk associated with working to bring about social change, so that people with disabilities are seen as equal members of the human race?

Yes, there are risks associated with taking a stand for something.  That risk may be as mild as the foregone opportunities for personal advancement, or as severe as long-term negative impact on one's family.  Yes, these are risks, which must not be ignored!  But can they be compared to the risk an Israeli soldier assumes when he goes into battle, putting his own life on the line to protect, not just his own countrymen, but the civilians on the other side, who are (voluntarily or under duress) harboring the very terrorists he is fighting? Not even remotely!

Now I am certainly not saying that we should seek to live our lives on the level of heroism practiced by Israeli soldiers (who, after all that, are almost universally vilified as war criminals!).  But the ethical principles which drive the policy of putting vulnerable lives ahead of our own, taking on risks when we are able to in order to save those who are not able to save themselves, are ones which we can and should apply to our civilian lives.

How can we ask our soldiers to risk their lives for something that we are not even willing to risk material losses or temporary discomfort?

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