New York – Rabbinical Council Clarifies Stance on Organ Donation

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    New York – The recent release to our membership of the RCA Vaad Halacha’s study on the issue of brain stem death has engendered strong reactions from many quarters. Because of the delicacy of the Halachic issues involved, and in light of their extraordinary ramifications, we are taking the unusual step of issuing the following clarifications.

    1. The RCA takes no official position as an organization on the issue of whether or not brain stem death meets the halachic criteria of death. The study disseminated by the Vaad Halacha was the product of many years of exploration by that committee and was meant to serve as an informational guide to our membership.

    2. It is true that many halachic authorities of our day, including Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav J. David Bleich and others maintain that brain stem death does not satisfy the halachic criteria for the determination of death. It is also true, however, that many other halachic authorities, including Rav Gedalia Schwartz, Rav Moshe Tendler, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel maintain that brain stem death does qualify for the determination of death in Jewish law.

    3. In light of this ongoing halachic dispute, and out of respect for these various halachic authorities, the RCA maintains that its membership is best served by allowing each Rabbi to determine for himself, based upon his own study, consultation with halachic authorities and his own conscience, which halachic position he will adopt in this extraordinarily difficult and important area of Jewish law.

    4. While debate continues over the issue of brain stem death, much greater consensus exists concerning the issue of organ donation. Almost all authorities maintain that organ donation, under halachically permitted circumstances, is not only allowed, but a Mitzva- when such donations are applied towards saving the life of another. It should be noted, however, that those who do not accept brain stem death as meeting the halachic criteria for the determination of death will consequently be more limited in the cases of allowed organ donation.

    Live organ donations, such as kidney donation, are halachically permitted and praiseworthy, as life-saving measures presenting only minimal risk to the donor. Most authorities also encourage post-mortem corneal transplants, based upon the principle that saving someone’s sight is akin to saving their life.

    5. We will continue in the future to disseminate information representing various points of view on the issue of brain stem death in order to assist the members of our organization in the proper guidance of their communities.

    May God grant us the wisdom to determine His will in this frighteningly important area of Jewish law.

    Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, President.

    Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, First Vice President

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    11 COMMENTS

    1. This is not the way of traditional rabbis. They take a stand as to what they feel is the truth and never back down. This is the true Torah way. The modern are to PC and liberal. Spineless.

      • No, the RCA is not “spineless.” To the contrary, they are recognizing that many scholars among their members hold differing views and therefore they (Rabbis Kletenik and Goldin) are not going to decide which view will be “official RCA position.” In effect, they are telling each LOR to decide for himself whether to hold like Rabbis Schachter, Willig, and Bleich, or to hold like Rabbis Schwartz and Tendler. The RCA does not need an official position on every issue. It is OK for the RCA to say “There are two opinions. Follow one or the other.”

      • Wrong. Traditional Rabbis understood that there can be other interpretations of halacha: witness the ReMA on the Shulchan Aurch. The ReMa didn’t debate or malign, he simply stated the path that Ashkenazim took while acknowledging the the erudition of the Mechaber.
        I also disagree with you characterizing the RCA as “PC,” “liberal,” and “spineless.”
        Calling them names is lame. If you disagree, make an argument based on facts.

    2. this is one of our major problems today . a rov issues a pesak and since you don’t like it it is no good for you or the person involved and you make it known as if you are the worlds biggest posek , and that you the one who was not asked should be the only one making this decision . well all you people out there just please don’t get involved in this matter and be happy that you should never have to ask such a question.

    3. I heard from Dr. Abraham a leading medical doctor at Shaira Tzedek the following quote ” we have a written Rav MosheZTK’l, A written Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ZTK’L, a written Tzizt EliezerZTK”L and our posake Hador Rav Yosef Shalom Eleyoshuv Shlit’a all saying death is determined by the heart” Now you decide!

      • Among the rabbonim, only Rav Elyashiv,. Z’tl, really had the benefit of even some of the medical knowledge available today from research and new technology and even he really doesn’t fully understand the issue. Among today’s gadolim, only rav Moshe Tendler, shlita, has the ability to make such a psak on an informed basis.

      • You make a great point. However, one must always be willing to hear the facts as they are TODAY. What was known in Reb Moshe’s day is not what is known today. One must be willing to accept that these decisions will need to be revisited over time as we learn more. We should never be so closed minded as to ignore newly discovered facts. Our greatest poskim were never afraid to learn new things.

        Reb Moshe ZT”L was probably the prolific poseik of our time because he was so well educated in so many things. His thirst of knowledge and facts is what made him who he was. He had a way of understanding the development of the world in a way that nobody reading this web site could ever possibly understand. He change so many things in my generation because he accepted the evolution of facts.

        While none of us are on that level, and very few in this world are, we must always understand that what was true 200 years ago, is laughed at today.

        This issue is of extreme seriousness and should never be taken lightly. We are talking about saving people’s lives. Vigorous debate and reaching for as much knowledge as possible is what is required, not out-of-hand, blanket statments.

    4. I think the RCA made the right decision. Every single case is unique and should be evaluated individually. When you do up your legal documents, you should include the Rabbinic authority that you want to make (or handle) the decision. The case should be evaluated by those poskim that he (and presumably you) would find to be knowledgeable. I don’t see what is wrong with this answer.

      Why are people looking for a black and white answer to a gray question?

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