Re: Dying "al kiddush Hashem"
Sun, 23 Feb 97 00:14:05 PST

In a previous posting I asked:
>The various religious newspaper articles I've read seem to say that *all*
>those who were murdered in the Holocaust are considered to have died "al
>kiddush Hashem" (in the sanctification of G-d's Name), including
>individuals who had cut off all ties to their Jewish heritage. It also
>seems that victims of anti-Israeli terror and Israeli soldiers who died in
>action are also included in this category. I thought only those who give up
>their lives in order not to transgress a Torah law earn this distinction.
>Does anybody know of a source which discusses this issue?

to which Jonathan Katz replied:
>I think we need to clarify what we mean by dying "al-kiddush Hashem".
>If the question is: when is one required to give up one's life for Hashem,
>then there is a definite halachic answer to this.

Jonathan is correct -- had that been the question, there would be a definite
answer. But this was not my question, as he saw. I am also aware of the
definition of death "al-kiddush Hashem" as meaning that the person's death
was a "sanctification of God's name". What I don't understand is Jonathan's
following statement:

>If a non-religious Jew died in the holocaust, or an Israeli soldier died in
>an accident, is it any less of a sanctification of God's name? Does
>it really make sense to start ranking people's deaths to see whose death
>was more of a sanctification? Besides, if any one person thinks that
>someone's death sanctifies the name, then by definition, it did.

In reaction to the first point, I think Jonathan is precluding my original
question, which in this context, would be "*does* the death of an Israeli
soldier in a training accident constitute a sanctification of God's name, or
does it not? And if it does, what is the source?" I did not ask whether it
is *less* of a sanctification, but whether it even qualifies as one.

As far as the statement,

>Does it really make sense to start ranking people's death to see whose
>death was more of a sanctification?,

I'd like to point out that I never suggested such a thing -- obviously, a
sanctification is a sanctification. I only asked *why* the death of a
non-religious Jew at the hands of a non-Jew is automatically considered a

Jonathan then ends with the somewhat surprising statement,

>Besides, if any one person thinks that someone's death sanctifies the name,
>then it did.

That does not sound like a very halachic concept. Example: the "biryonim"
(tough characters) of the Second Temple era who scorned the Sages' advice to
seek a peace treaty with the Romans laying siege to Jerusalem. They burned
the city's stores of food in order to force an armed confrontation with the
Romans, which led to the destruction of the city and the Second Temple. Let
us remember that these "biryonim" were religious fellows who believed in
God, and who obviously thought that what they were doing was God's will.
Surely, when a warrior would die at the hands of the Romans, his death must
have seemed to his comrades a sanctification of God's name. However, the
Talmud tells us that they were just plain wrong, and that they should have
listened to the Sages, whose opinion represented the Divine will.

Clearly, the sanctification of God's name is not "in the eyes of the
beholder" as Jonathan suggests, but must be based on strong halachic

Furthermore, I think it *does* make a difference who died, and in what
manner. If a Jew about to be hung in a concentration camp screamed "Shemah
Yisrael" before dying, and thereby strengthened the faith of those who were
forced to watch, I think his death would be a much greater sanctification of
God's name than an inmate who threw himself on the electrified wire. Please
understand that I am not about to judge the actions of those who was
subjected to such horros. What I am saying is that the *effect* of such a
person's deeds upon others can be evaluated in comparison with those of his
fellow victims.

Moshe Schapiro