Lately, I’ve been worried that Jewish law hasn’t been keeping pace with efforts to prepare for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. (And yes, it’s coming. The Internet never lies.)
There’s no shortage of practical advice, such as the best-selling Zombie Survival Guide. (Shotgun or machete? Go for the machete. It doesn’t need reloading.)
But, we’re lacking spiritual guidance, particularly on the question of whether it’s acceptable to kill (rekill? unkill?) a Zombie.
Put simply, I don’t want to find myself in a situation when I’m trying to barricade myself against the Zombie hordes while a bunch of Rabbis spend 12 hours debating whether the living dead are “living” or “dead.”
But here at Judeosphere, we’re not afraid to confront the tough, ethical issues of our era. And while I do not purport to be a Talmudic scholar, I feel obliged—as a public service—to address this matter in advance.
Let’s begin with the question: What constitutes “legal death” in Jewish law? According to Dr. Fred Rosner—a professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the world’s leading expert on Jewish medical ethics—“all Rabbis agree that the classic definition of death in Judaism is the absence of spontaneous respiration and heartbeat in a patient with no bodily motion.”
So, looking at the checklist: (1) Zombies don’t breathe [check!] (2) Zombies don’t have a heartbeat [check!]… (3) but Zombies do move (albeit in a shambling manner).
WWMD? (What Would Maimonides Do?) No worries, there’s still the issue of brain activity. Abraham Steinberg, head of the medical ethics department of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, reminds us that “Under extreme conditions, when it is clear that independent breathing can never return because of the irreversible death of the brainstem, the patient can be regarded as dead from the moment that brainstem death is established.”
Possible conundrum here. Everybody who has seen a George Romero movie knows that Zombie brains are still active. In fact, destroying the brain is the only way to kill (unkill? rekill?) the walking dead.
BUT….is the brainstem the driving part of the undead nervous system? Not so, says the medical experts at the Zombie Research Society (ZRS): “It’s important to focus on individual parts of the brain, to determine which processes are necessary to sustain the Zombie, and which are ‘human’ throwaways…Contrary to popular belief, the brainstem controls very little of the Zombie’s physical or mental functions, as most of its processes are inherently human.” ZRS—echoing the wisdom of Judaic medical scholars—reasons that, since the brainstem regulates heart rate, body temperature and respiration….and these physical properties are not present in Zombies…then the brainstem is effectively “dead.”
Ergo, you can kill (unkill? rekill?) a Zombie, secure in the knowledge that you are not violating Jewish law.
And remember, choose the machete.