On June 19, 2021, the late Yitzhak Noy hosted historians with expertise on the German government’s decision to implement the final solution to exterminate the Jews on his radio program. At the end of the program, each one summarized his main point in one short sentence:
- The paramount importance of human life.
- Equality must be the basis of human life.
- Rhetoric – be careful with it.
These three topics are both related and unrelated. The context of the program indeed connected them. But the specific subject of the program does not free us from emphasizing these points. Would you say that the context was abnormal and difficult? Indeed. That context – the German government’s decision to implement the final solution to the exterminate the Jews – ought not confuse us or allow us to forget that these three issues must be our guiding light.
If saving a single human life is a primary obligation, one about which much has been written in the canonical texts of our culture, certainly a person must never even entertain a thought of “taking” a human life under any circumstances. Thus, on the scale of life, we are all equal and none of us have that authority!
How, then, does being careful with rhetoric relate to the first two issues? In practice, rhetoric creates a map of reality, not reality itself. The map that rhetoric produces is only a pattern in people’s mouths, but the risk is, God forbid, that it might create a reality in which human life is endangered by words that have been spoken.
It is true that life in a diverse society is complex, especially in a climate of freedom of expression and starkly contrasting life interests. But precisely in such a human environment it is necessary to establish uniform, stable infrastructure. Otherwise? Oyy, to that society.