Saving A Person Is Like Saving The World
Written by Gil Student
The movie Schindler's list lied when it quoted the Talmud as saying "He who saves a single life, saves the entire world." The Talmud really only advocates saving Jewish lives, not any life.
This accusation is partly true. One place where this passage appears only deals with Jews.
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a
"Whoever destroys a soul from Israel, the Scripture considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life from Israel, the Scripture considers it as if he saved an entire world."
However, this is not the only place in Talmudic literature that this passage appears. In the Jerusalem (also called Palestinian) Talmud, the passage does not single out Jews. Here is how it appears.
Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)
"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."
This passage refers to any soul, whether Jewish or Gentile. Evidently, the movie's writers or producers were referring to this more general and universal passage, and not the more particular one quoted above.
This passage appears in this universal form in more than just the Talmud. It also appears like this in three other places in rabbinic literature.
This passage that refers to saving all people, whether Jewish or Gentile, can be found in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer ch. 47, Eliyahu Rabbah 11, Yalkut Shimoni on Exodus 166.
See also the following columns from the newspaper The Forward:
Faithful or Fraudulent?
An Omission, Not a Sin
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Copyright 2001 Gil Student