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New book by Michael Broyde offers Jewish perspective on 9/11
By Elaine Justice | Emory Law | May 24, 2016 10:05:00 AM

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, a new book titled “Contending With Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th,” edited by Jewish law expert Michael Broyde of Emory University, is a reminder that the events of that day raised issues no one could have anticipated.

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The collection of essays on Jewish law, ethics and theology by Jewish scholars and rabbis of the Beth Din of America deals with questions brought forth from the tragedy, ranging from “Sacrificing the Few to Save the Many” by Rabbi J. David Bleich, to the family law cases of Jewish wives who found themselves in legal limbo because a body could not be produced to prove they were widows.

“It’s a hard problem because it’s very rare that people die without physical remains,” says Broyde, a rabbi and professor of law and senior fellow at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

“It’s heartbreaking to declare someone dead when they’re not, just as it’s heartbreaking to not declare someone dead when they are,” he says, adding that “the Jewish tradition errs on the side of incredible conservatism, and doesn’t want to declare people dead until they’re absolutely sure.”

Broyde says the issues raised by the World Trade Center deaths recalled literature about World War II and the many who went missing. He cites a passage from President Jimmy Carter’s memoir, “An Hour Before Daylight,” in which Carter’s uncle, Tom Gordy, was declared dead, then found alive in a prisoner of war camp in Japan. Gordy returned to his family, but his wife, having received official notification of his death years ago, had already remarried.

Gordy’s wife had her second marriage annulled, writes Carter, but family members “convinced him that Dorothy had betrayed him and committed adultery while he was a prisoner of war. He got a divorce . . .”

“You don’t want to produce a situation that runs the risk of producing a second tragedy on top of the first tragedy,” says Broyde. Jewish law, he says, tries to focus on physical evidence, testimonial, “or the absolute inability of the person to survive.” Sadly, some of the cases heard by the Beth Din of America had to rely on this third evidentiary category.

The book concludes with three prayers: a memorial prayer commemorating the victims of Sept. 11, a prayer for the full recovery and heroic recognition of the first responders and emergency workers, and a prayer for the safety of the United States Armed Forces.


Public Lecture on Bioethics

Broyde will share his views on Jewish law and reproductive ethics, including the issue of sex selection of children, in a public lecture at Emory titled, “The Bioethical Future,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at Emory University School of Law, 1301 Clifton Rd., on the Emory campus. Admission is free.


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