Your editorial (“Tragic Rescue,” Sept. 2) rightly eulogizes the heroic David Reichenberg who sacrificed his life to save that of a Jewish boy. This prompts the question whether a Jew is obligated to rescue a non-Jew.
In the ArtScroll English translation of the Talmud, used by many Orthodox Jews, it states, “He who saves a Jewish life, Scripture considers it as if he saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a). It does not say, “He who saves a life …” The mitzvah to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16) refers only to a fellow Jew (Sefer HaHinuch, Maimonides, Talmud). In some interpretations of Orthodox Judaism, unlike with a Jew and the concern for his infinite worth, our relation with a gentile is not based on love. For example, it is forbidden to give a gift to a non-Jew without receiving something in return and to admire or praise him, based on Deuteronomy 7:2, the commandment to show no mercy to idolaters.
Saving the life of a non-Jew is based on rules such as not inciting hostility towards Jews by inaction and, conversely, sanctifying God’s name (Kiddush Hashem).