Community Blog The Talmud of Tough Decisions

By Rabba Claudia Marbach
teen beit midrash students o Zoom

How do you decide whose life to save when you have to make that choice? That is the question that the teens at Teen Beit Midrash of Hebrew College have been learning about, discussing and struggling with this summer. The case was whether or not you could separate conjoined twins when doing so would cause one to surely die.

How do you even begin to answer that question? The Jewish way is to look for similar cases in the Talmud and see if those stories can help. Luckily, Jews have been thinking about life or death cases for thousands of years, so we have a lot to say on the matter. The Talmud even has a discussion about whether conjoined twins have to wear tefillin on both heads! The answer is yes because the twins are two distinct individuals.

Learning Talmud is like figuring out a puzzle. There is the puzzle of the language, some people use dictionaries and others get more support with translation. But language is only the first step. Then there is the puzzle of figuring out the argument and the logic. On what point is there consensus and where is there disagreement? How can we refine the argument? Which opinion makes the most sense and which is really a tangent?

So how can we choose between the twins? We consider our priorities and values – life being so precious. We acknowledge that each life is equally valuable – we cannot “decide whose blood is redder.” In the end we invoke the principle of self-defense of the more viable twin, even though the less viable twin is not harming her twin intentionally and vote to separate the twins.

Ready to explore big questions and have fun with an incredible group of teens?  Join us in the fall for Teen Beit Midrash of Hebrew College online this fall. For more information go to


Rabba Claudia Marbach is director of Teen Beit Midrash of Hebrew College.

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