Israel – Some Rabbis Working to Get Halachic Approval for Organ Donation


    Israel – The Chief Rabbinate is currently in the midst of resolving the last halachic quandaries surrounding organ donation.

    The debate was sparked following the approval of the Organ Donation Law in 2008: The law specifies brain death criteria, as well as the exact medical methods and instruments which must be used to determine brain and respiratory death; but many in the religious community still feel it fails to answer pivotal halachic questions.

    In order to encourage organ donation among the religious public, the rabbinate decided to introduce a new organ donor card – different from the National Transplant and Organ Donations Center (ADI) card – which will stipulate that the potential donor’s organs can be harvested only if and after brain death is determined according to the strictest letter of the law.

    Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger also wants the Chief Rabbinate’s Council to issue an official decree giving the law a halachic seal of approval.

    The rabbinate will hold a special seminar on organ donation, meant to allow the 40 rabbis attending it to eventually be able to see families through the process.

    The rabbis will be trained to offer the families answers to any medical or halachic questions they may have.

    “The council approved organ donation 20 years ago, providing that the state of brain death was determined not only by a physician, but by electronic equipment as weel, but the medical community never agreed to that stipulation,” a source in the Chief Rabbinate told Yedioth Ahronoth.

    “The new legal criteria seemingly took care of that and now the rabbinate is in the process of giving it a halachic seal of approval.”

    While the majority of rabbis in the religious- Zionist, haredi and Sephardic communities – including Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar – agree that brain death is an indication of death-proper, some in the haredi community, especially followers of Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, still oppose the correlation, claiming cardiac death should be the only criteria used.

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    1. a few points;
      everyone wants to see a solution to ilness & suffering
      from a logical point “organ donation” makes sense
      HOWEVER we as avdei hashem must serve him as hashem sees fit & we have an obligation to heal within the parameters of his code of law
      the gedolei haposkim of the previos generation that opposed organ donations were not an iota less concerned for their fellow jew we can be sure that after exhaustive research in the mekoros & teshuvos were mispalel “shelo yikoshel bedvar halacha
      lastly; those rabbonim that felt it was mutar are also motivated by ahavas yisroel & a genuine understanding of the shulchan aruch BUT this shaaloh is ” out of their league” one that cannot be decided by rabbonim but must be left for the gedolei hador

      • Reb Shmiel:
        I would agree with all your post, save the last phrase.
        The idea that certain shaiylos may only be decided by “the gedolei hador” sounds good, but I wonder what halachic source there would be for such a concept and I also wonder how practical this is.

        It is true that certain shaiylos require an extraordinary degree of halachic knowledge. Questions of Aggunos and Mamzeirus would be one example. All Rabbonim knpw this and therefore would not pasken such a shaiylah, preferring to send them to Rabbonim who have the requisite expertise. One reason for this is that their psak affects all of Klal Yisroel. Another reason is the vast number of gemoras that must be at one’s fingertips in order to pasken.

        Brain Death is not in the same category. The psak is a personal psak and only affects the individuals who will be participating. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg agreed to the Kenneset’s organ donation law. They also happen to be the last word on shaiylos of mamzeirus and agunah. The most difficult and complex shaiylos on these matters are referred to them.

        If these two Rabbonim consider themselves qualified to pasken on the Organ Donation Law, who are you, Reb Shmiel, to tell them that they are not?

        • “If these two Rabbonim consider themselves qualified to pasken on the Organ Donation Law, who are you, Reb Shmiel, to tell them that they are not?”

          if it is against any clear cut world wide accepted rulling, then one can discard any rullings that undermine the previos rullings..

          • Could you cite a source for this please?

            Could you also explain why it would be that the most difficult shaylos are forwarded to Rav Zalman Nechemiah and Rav Ovadiah, given that they know less about the halachic process than you do?

      • I agree with Mr. Glassman that this should be left up to the gedolei hador, as this is not a law for a yachid, but a state law that will affect countless Jews who have in-effect, R”L, accepted the state as their guide in if they should do organ donation rather than a Rabbi. Also, R’ Eliyashiv in the ashkenazic community is widely accepted as such a godol, not just in a “minority” of the Charedi community either.

      • I wonder why the quoted post says that the Rabanim who say that this is mutar are “out of their league” while those who deem it assur are qualified.

        Pleas keep in mind that this is a medical issue as well as an halachic issue. In the medical community, brain death is considered the definitive qualification, rather than cessation of heartbeat. In Talmudic times, there was no way to determine brain death, so cessation of heartbeat was adopted as the standard.

        The Israeli government is going about this exactly the right way, conslting with the medical community and the rabbinical. In a number of cases, the people consulted are both Rabbanim and doctors, and have a thorough knowledge of torah and science. these are the people who are most qualified to offer their opinion.

    2. Amazing how many misleading tidbits (at least two) can be packed into one statement:
      “While the majority of rabbis in the religious- Zionist, haredi and Sephardic communities – including Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar – agree that brain death is an indication of death-proper, some in the haredi community, especially followers of Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv”
      1. The majority of Rabbis (at least in the Haredi community) are of the opinion that brain death is not halachic death. Perhaps only a few (R’ Tendler) consider brain death to be real death.
      2. What is meant by “followers of R’ Elyashiv” – R’ Elayshiv himself is of that opinion.

    3. What’s the whole question here? A yid who’s a Mamin b’tchias hameisim, knows that we are not allowed to donate any other organ besides for a kidney or a liver-piece. The Halacha doesn’t allow for a yid to donate any organ that restricts him from functioning 100% normal. This is all in compliance of the known fact of T’chias Hameisim. A yid who believes in Hashem and in T’chias Hameisim has no question about the whole matter

      • Really? So you do not think that Rav Tendler’s opinion is valid? You may or may not agree with his psak, but to question his belief in Hashem and tchiat hametim is gross disrespect.

      • That is patently absurd. Maybe your god is incompetent, but the Jewish God can not only bring about tchiyas hameisim, he can also provide organs to those who donated them in their previous life.

    4. Anonymous, you don’t know what you are talking about. Everyone, including R. Elyashiv, believes that it is a chiyuv to take organs from a dead person if it can save a human live. Techiyas hameisim has nothing to do with anything. Hashem will give you your organs again. Do you think that the kedoshim burnt in the Shoah won’t be given organs again?
      Howeveer, Rav Elyashiv and many others claim that brain death is not real death, which means that you can’t use the organs, since they need to be removed while the hear tis still functioning but there is brain death. If the organs could be removed after heart death, all the poskim would be in agreement.
      Yet despite Rav Elyashiv’s opinion, let’s not forget that R. Ovadiah Yosef and R. Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg and many other gedolim do support brain deah.

    5. Does anyone know the halachic position (on organ donation) of Rabbi Firer of Ezra LeMarpeh in Israel? I’m sure his view on this issue would carry some weight in religious communities generally.

    6. a few points;
      #3 – i differ to say that brain death is in the league of mamzeirus & agunos & possibly more frequent a shaaloh secondly those two catagories are also based on precedance by prior poskim
      the shaaloh of organ donation is not a new one –
      and i suggest you do some research its amazing to see the connection from the gemara to the most modern shaalossee the nishmas avraham in hebrew or english /or rav bleichs sefer -which is a brilliant work with the most updated entries from the new england journal of med..lancet..(comment #5)..( the single person today with the most halachic knowledge & shimush as it interfaces with medical halacha is rabbi dr. abraham “mechaber of nishmas avraham” not that he’s bigger but rather this is his specialty having spent 30 years as a doctor with unmatched access to every major posek alive -in addition his “bitul and anavah” to shulchan aruch is awesome
      i am a cockroach next to the 2 gedolim you mentioned
      you mentioned rav zalmen nechemia shlita- im sure you know that he is the son in law of rav shlomo zalmen zatzal – ask him what the shver zl held -furthermore the other talmidim of reb shloma zalmen those that lived & breathed his torah;
      horav newirth , or rav neventzal shlita
      if you are not sure what reb moshe held ask reb dovid ;lastly even if reb moshes opinion is not as clear cut or can possibly be interpeted differently ” ah safek bleibt ess” – i believe that the other roshei yeshiva of YU- did not follow rav tendlers psak ( double check with rav shechter & rav willig shlita who is a yedid nefesh with rav zalmen nechemia
      yehi ratzon lekayem chachmei yisroel…

      • Nobody is disputing that there are Rabbanim who oppose this. I do realize that Ravs Schacher and willig oppose Rav Tendler’s views. My point is that thater are Rabbinical authorities on both sides of this issue, and to say that those on one side are “out of their league” is disrespectful, to say the least.

        As far as the medical views go–they may not matter to you–but the vast majority of clinicians and medical researchers feel that cessation of brainstem function is a more reliable indicator of clinical death than is cessation of cardiac function.

      • Thank You for your response.
        I am well aware of the seforim you have mentioned as I am well aware of the individuals you mentioned, some of whom I have spoken with, including Dr. Avraham.

        It is unclear whether Rav Zalman Nechemiah or Rav Ovadia Yosef necessarily “support” brain death criteria. However, they do see it as a legitimate halachic position for those who choose to follow that opinion. Hence, they agreed to the Kenesset’s organ donation law, which allows those who choose to give organs after brain death to do so, upon consultation with their personal Rav.

        As for Dr. Avraham, he is certainly a very great man in every respect, however Drs Avraham Steinberg and Mordechai Halperin, who are just as prominent as he is, both in medicine and in Torah, support Halachic Brain Death.

        My point only was that great Rabbonim like Rav Zalman Nechemiah and Rav Ovadiah support the individual’s right to rely upon the opinions that accept brain death, whether or not they would personally give the same psak.

        I therefore don’t understand what right you have to second guess them. Doing so in the name of frumkeit does not make it any less absurd.

      • #12 I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re just ignorant—Rav Moshe’s psak is not a safeik. In addition to Rabbi Tendler’s quote of his shver, Rav Dovid shlit”a confirmed the same thing at an Agudah Convention a few years ago—ie. Cessation of breath is Death. So, is there a disagreement amongst the Gedolei Haposkim?–Surely. But do not try to just discount the side you happen not to feel in line with. As to an ealrier comment–In olden times they did not go by cessation of heartbeat–that is just a silly claim considering that in ancient times technology wouldnt detect a heartbeat when there still was on existent—On the contrarry, in olden times death was determined by whether the person was still breathing (by feather or what not). Please stop trying to revise history

    7. I’m suprised at the double standard in many of the “more modern” communities,you blast rav yosef all the time for his statements and politics .However when it comes to following his psak when it’s more lenient than rav elyashiv,you qoute him with such reverence.You even angirly rebuke the chareidim for not heeding such a great posik,and being stamm “extra” frum for nothing.

      • 1)If you are referring to me, I am not a member of a “more modern” community.
        2)I Perhaps you misunderstood my point about arguing from frumkeit. What I meant was that this is a halachic issue and and I did not think it proper to use argument based on frumkeit (like who is a bigger tzaddik, etc) to second-guess two of the greatest poskim in the world,.

        Those who choose to follow Rav Elyashiv are free to do so. That does not mean, though, that they have the right to monopolize the discussion.

    8. SD- point well made the comment “out of their league” was & is inappropiate”
      my main point wasnot frumkeit or that there isa no second opinion but that the majority was certainly not lenient and “ah safek bleibt ess”
      since you know your stuff think about this??
      rav halperin & rav steinberg are both tremendous people, they both will agree that almost everything they have is from the great reb shloma zalmen zatzl (they might even say that reb shloma zalmens connection to the medical field was greater than reb moshe’s zatzl) they too will tell that reb shloma zalmen did not agree “:YET THEY KNOW BETTER”
      #16- “not a safeik” ?????? conevnton please explain

      • Once again, the issue here is not how you and I should pasken, but whether or not it was legitimate for Rav Zalman Nechemiah and Rav Ovadia to allow room for another opinion and to support the Organ Donation Law.

        You feel that Rav Zalman Nechemiah should not have agreed to this law, out of reverence for RSZA or because he is obligated to follow the majority. For you to second-guess this great posek is absurd. Instead, you should consider whether your assumptions about psak halacha are correct.

        If you or a family member are ever in a position to require a heart or liver in EY, you are free to rely upon Rav Elyashiv’s opinion and not accept a transplant. Similarly, you may refuse to save another Yid’s life on those grounds. This law does not change that.

        • As far as I know, the Rabbanim that pasken against organ donation do not pasken against accepting an organ. This is certainly the cas of many of them, although I do not know the specific opinion of Rav Elyashiv on this issue.

      • Shmiel—“Not a Safeik” meaning there is no legitimate uncertainty about what Rav Moshe zatzal held on this issue. The people most qualified and likely to be of accurate and first hand knowledge on this—ie. Rav Dovid, R’ MD and M Tendler all are consistent in saying that Rav Moshe zatzal held death occurs by cessation of breathing. Therefore, as I said–there is no legitmate safeik about what Rav Moshe held. Rav Shlomo Zalmen zatzal was choleik but last time I checked Rav Moshe was the Poseik Hador in America so at the very least, its a legitimate shitta.
        As far as the concention goes, it was 3 or 4 years ago and it was recorded. Rav Dovid said quite clearly that this was his father’s shitta.
        Again, people are free to hold by whichever the Gedolei Haposkim they want. But let’s be intellectualy ehrlich and not pretend that there are other legitimate shittos other than the ones you hold by.

    9. The large majority of poskim oppose accepting ‘brain death’ as death in Jewish law. Those opposed include Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztl, and Rav Waldenberg ztl. These poskim were cited and accepted as authorities by the MDs who are rabbis and who now favor brain death. It is interesting that these doctors follow to the letter everything Rav Shlomo Zalman and the Tzitz Eliezer wrote and said–except when it comes to ‘brain death’!

      Rav Elyashiv shilta is against accepting ‘brain death’ as halachic death.

      The views of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl are subject to debate. As far Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, shlita, he is accessible and his views have been distorted by an advocacy group with a clearcut agenda to foster organ donation–and funding from NY state government to do so.

      In Y.U. circles, those who do not accept ‘brain death’ include Rav Hershel Shechter, Rav M Willig, Rav J David Bleich, and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein–following in the derech of Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik ztl and Rav Aaron Soloveitchik ztl.

      The Rabbinical Council of America is in the midst of a large study of this topic and their report should be coming out one of these days.

      • As I wrote to the previous poster, if qualified Rabbonim (and I’m not referring to Rav MT) feel that they are allowed to form their own opinion on this, who are you to second-guess them?

        Those who wish to follow the Rabbonm you cited are free to do so.

        I wonder as well why everyone assumes that just because RSZA held a certain way on an issue (In brain death, it was due to safek, BTW), that this would mean that he would bar other Rabbonim from forming their own opinions.

        Nothing I know of RSZA’s hanhaga would suggest such a thing.

      • “The views of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl are subject to debate.”
        Debate, perhaps. But not a legitimate one. Anybody who has ever been considered qualified as to know what Rav Moshe shitta on this one is in agreement. So please, if you’re gonna say thats its subject to debate, please first explain how you get around the fact that both Rav Moshe’s son and eidim–the two most qualified, particularly on this issue–are in agrrement as to what the shitta was.


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