Rabbi Judah ha Nasi (Prince) was a second-century CE editor of the Mishnah. Talmud Avodah Zarah 10a-b tells us that Judah was wealthy, revered in Rome, having a close friendship with Emperor Marcus Aurelius-Antoninus.
The Mishnah, until 189 CE, when Judah set it to writing, was orally transmitted and is the basis of the Talmud.
A calf breaking free from being slaughtered, tried to hide under Judah’s robes, but he pushes the animal away, saying: “Go; for this purpose you’re created.” Judah was punished with gastric problems, the Talmud saying, “Since Judah showed no pity, suffering was given.” (Talmud Bava Metzia 85a)
Judah’s prayers for relief were ignored, as he ignored the calf’s pleas.
Later Judah protected a baby mongoose. Judah’s gastric issues vanished, the Talmud saying, “Since Judah has shown compassion, compassion was given.”
From this, many animal anti-cruelty laws were enacted in Judaism.
Compare Judah’s story with: “Moses was tending Jethro’s flocks. A lamb scampered to a pool of water and drank. Moses found the lamb, realized it was tired, and carried in back on his shoulders. God decreed that because Moses showed compassion to a lamb, he would become The Shepherd of Israel.” (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 2:2)
When Judah was terminally ill, the rabbis declared a public fast, praying that God spare his life. His maid, seeing the pain Judah had, prayed: “May it be God’s will that the angel of death overpower the Rabbis.”
The rabbis continued praying. The maid threw a bedpan off the roof. Startled by the noise, praying stopped. The soul of Judah departed. (Talmud Ketubot 104a).
This allows Judaic rules to withhold life-prolonging measures from the terminally ill, to allow them to pass in peace. Judaism doesn’t allow active methods of euthanasia, a la Kevorkian’s methods.
“Since the time of Moses, no one greater in knowledge and rank had arisen than Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi” (Talmud Sanhedrin 36a).
His famous prayer, to help him deal with detractors, and unlearned people, in his synagogue, is still used by rabbis today: “May it be Thy will, my God and the God of my fathers, to protect me against the impudent and against impudence, from bad people and bad companions, from severe sentences and severe plaintiffs, whether they be Jewish or not.” (Talmud Berachot 6b)
Rabbi Arthur Segal is an international lecturer, author and teacher. Visit www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.org or email RabbiASegal@aol.com.