From Avengers to Talmud

Remember Avengers: Infinity War? We all knew that Thanos was the “villain” because he was gathering Infinity Stones to fit into a gauntlet that would allow him to snap his fingers and eliminate half the population of the universe (randomly chosen lest he be unfair). This was to save the universe because overpopulation was ruining everything for everyone. He would bring balance, and it would be a good and plentiful universe for everyone who was left. I used quotation marks because there are a few who think #ThanosWasRight.

This is fantasy and fiction so the stakes would have to be massive. Half the population? Is it really a “lesser evil” for a “greater good”?

What about Typhoid Mary? She was an Irish immigrant to America in the late 1800s. She just wanted to make a living as a cook, and she seemed healthy. Turns out she was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. Once she found out, she worked as a laundress, but made a lot less money. Then she was injured. She changed her name and went back to work as a cook. Illness followed wherever she went, and she kept changing her name and working for other families. They confirmed three deaths, but it was never known if that was the total (insufficient contact tracing). Was she evil? I doubt it.

After her second arrest, she was kept in quarantine for 23 years and died of pneumonia. All she wanted was to make a good living and do what she enjoyed. Unfortunately, it made people ill and some died.

COVID-19 is definitely not going to take out half the world’s population. It won’t take out even 0.01%. In a fictional story, these stakes would not be high enough. In real life, the stakes are gigantic when it’s your parent, your sibling, or any other member of your family.

The percent of asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 is unknown. I tried to look it up and saw numbers varying from 20% to 80% of those that have been tested. I’m sticking with unknown because if a person isn’t sick, he or she is unlikely to get tested unless required to do so.

So you’re “healthy.” Everyone you know is “healthy.” You just want to get back to normal. There are certainly dangers to economic shutdown. And, hey, isn’t it (meaning: some people dying) just a “lesser evil” for a “greater good”? People die all the time, so what’s a few more? Especially since a lot of the people dying are old and often have other conditions.

That argument would never work in Israel. Many old people in this country are Holocaust survivors. No person, no matter their political party, would ever think that it could ever be acceptable to value the economy over human life and build business on the bones of people who survived genocide.

Israelis desperately want to get back to normal. But will they sacrifice their elders? No.

This week Israel was pretty much open. You can sit in restaurants and cafes. Stores are open. But we had a spike in new cases (89 and the next day 121) at a couple of high schools. Teachers and students are being tested and put in quarantine. The Health Department specifically asked children not to visit their grandparents.

Israel doesn’t have a magic number of infections or deaths that are deemed acceptable (that I know of). Regardless of the inadequacy of our government (a post for another day perhaps), allowing preventable deaths due to an infectious disease is simply not part of the equation. Asymptomatic carriers cannot be allowed to become superspreaders, and in no version of Israel is the first choice to follow Thanos’s logic.

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)

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