When Jews raise their glasses in celebration, they toast “l’chaim!” “to life!” Judaism’s belief in the inherent value of our time in this world permeates Jewish law and culture, and is perhaps most clearly seen in the principle that nearly every commandment is violated in order to save a life. But how far does this commitment extend? Does Judaism support any scientific and medical progress that promises to preserve and extend life? Or are there other Jewish commitments that ought to establish limits on what we do in our battle against death and disease? Could there even be a virtue in our mortality?

These are just some of the questions Leon Kass considers in his important essay, “L’Chaim and Its Limits.” Published in First Things in 2001, the piece explores the question of man’s mortality as it presents itself in Jewish sources and names the moral dilemmas posed by scientific advancement.

In his podcast, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik joins Tikvah’s Eric Cohen for a conversation about Kass’s essay. They discuss the reasons for Judaism’s concern with the value of human life; what rabbinic tradition teaches about body, soul, and afterlife; and how the family emerges as the most powerful Jewish answer to man’s mortality.

This conversation is an episode of the Tikvah Podcast. 

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