So. Did the Chabad House hostages die at the hands of the terrorists? Or, did…
…Indian commandos kill them accidentally during the raid?
Does it matter?
After all, the commandos were trying to save the hostages, and the terrorists – whose actions ultimately caused the hostages' death – wanted the hostages dead.
Does it matter? Yes, it does.
1. To prevent future deaths. If Indian commandos did accidentally kill some of the hostages, both Indian military and intelligence need to know this. They also need to know the details, including the exact causes of death (type of projectile, etc.) and times, angle of entry in relationship to position of body, etc.
This information will help India refine its training for, God forbid, future attacks, and will also help pinpoint intelligence errors.
2. To prevent future deaths. In the same way, Israel needs to know this. Put bluntly, that forensic information would help Israel determine the competency of the Indian response, along with helping Israel understand the M.O. of these terrorists.
This information will help Israel plan for, God forbid, future attacks both at home and abroad. It will also help tell Israel what it needs to do now to help prevent or deal with future attacks in India.
3. To prevent future deaths. Everything I just wrote about Israel also applies to the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France and dozens of other countries.
4. Diplomacy. No matter if forensic evidence showed massive Indian intelligence and tactical failures or if it showed the opposite, these facts will help shape relations between India and Israel. If that relationship is based on anecdotal information without hard forensic data, there is much room for either side to claim what it wants. There is also much room to claim the other side is lying. In other words, ambiguity is not beneficial for the long term relationship. And that impacts many things, both economic and military.
This need is heightened by anecdotal reports in the media – coming primarily from ZAKA – that certain hostages were killed during the commando raid and that they may have been killed by Indian fire.
An important part of ZAKA's role in Mumbai was to prevent the very autopsies that would definitively answer these questions.
Haredim – including Chabad – oppose autopsies because the body is, under Jewish law, to remain intact. It must be buried whole.
(When a body has been broken into pieces, God forbid – or example, by an explosion – then all the pieces should be buried together. That includes blood, which is sponged and scraped up. The cloths used to do this are then buried with the remains.)
This same halakha (Jewish law) is what forbids cremation, and it is this halakha that causes many Jews to erroneously think they cannot donate organs.
(Rabbis who forbid organ donation do so because of questions about brain stem death – not in order to keep the body whole.)
But halakha also recognizes the need to preserve life. It allows and even demands autopsies be done when the knowledge gained from them has the potential to save life.
The Chabad Mumbai massacre would seem to be a clear case where autopsies would have been mandated.
But haredim understand preserving life differently. For them (and for some of the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy), any preservation of life derived from violating a commandment must be nearly immediate.
If, for example, an unknown disease is maiming and killing people, autopsy would be permitted if physicians can make the case that its results will show them what medicine or treatment to use to prevent death.
Some haredi rabbis take this even further and argue that the information gathered would need to be immediately useable to save the life of another patient in the same hospital or immediate area.
If the life-saving information will only save lives next year, there are haredi rabbis who forbid autopsy to gather that information.
Enter the horror at Chabad of Mumbai.
Using haredi understandings of Jewish law, autopsies of the Chabad House victims would probably be forbidden.
Despite some participation from non-haredim, and despite fundraising income that is heavily non-haredi, ZAKA is a haredi organization. So it is no surprise it saw part of its purpose in Mumbai as stopping autopsies.
For its part, Chabad – although it may appear to be much more modern than other haredi (especially other hasidic) groups – is very conservative on issues like this.
Since ZAKA, Chabad and the hasidic groups two of the other victims were part of controlled post-seige situation, no autopsies were done.
The fact that no hard data existed did not stop ZAKA from leaking information that made it appear as if hostage deaths happened in a particular order or that one party rather than the other had caused hostage deaths.
In the same way, there have been conflicting reports torture and all sorts of other anecdotal information that, even if true, is useless without empirical evidence.
(Remember the story claiming the rabbi had covered his dead wife with a tallit (prayer shawl)? That was proved false, first by testimony from a doctor who saw the bodies in the morgue, and then by clear testimony from an eyewitness, the heroic nanny who saved little Moshe Holtzberg. She found him sitting in a pool of his parents' blood.)
An autopsy is a horrible thing. No matter that we all return to dust, to imagine the body of someone you love opened and cut apart is to me horrific.
I can think of only one thing worse – the bodies of other innocents, ripped and torn by bullets and bombs.
In all areas of pekuakh nefesh, lifesaving, Jewish law commands us to err on the side of kula, leniency,
Sometimes that leniency means we drive to a hospital on Shabbat or cook food and eat it on Yom Kippur.
And sometimes that leniency means doing something truly horrific so others will not need to do the same.
May God save us from these horrible choices and from the evil that is their cause.
Related Post: Were The Chabad House Victims Tortured? (This explains why the bodies were too damaged for easy visual forensics, and supports the need for autopsy to determine cause of death, etc.)