Responding to Genocide

Jewish perspectives on the responsibility to protect.

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"Similarly, it is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as [Deuteronomy 4:9] states: 'Beware for yourself; and guard your soul.' If a person leaves a dangerous obstacle and does not remove it, he negates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates [the negative commandment]: 'Do not cause blood [to be spilled].'"

The implications of this principle for our political, economic, and military choices are considerable. Any support for a government or military force that engages in mass murder, or any failure to prevent those crimes from taking place, violates this fundamental commitment to the preservation of human life.

Indeed, in a world in which "comparative genocide" has become a subject worthy of academic consideration, we have obviously failed to establish a decisive moral imperative to prevent this crime against humanity. As Jews, our responsibility to act should derive both from our immediate historical experience with the Holocaust and from our millennia old commitment to the preservation of human life. It is a responsibility we cannot abdicate, otherwise, as the writer David Rieff notes, "'Never again' might best be defined as 'Never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940's.'"

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Aaron Dorfman

Aaron Dorfman is the Director of Jewish Education at American Jewish World Service. Before joining AJWS, Aaron completed a three-year Wexner Graduate Fellowship with a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a year of study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.