Can I bequeath my organs?

June 24, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi?

ORGAN DONATION

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. What is the Jewish view of organ donation?

A. Organ donation involves two related but sometimes conflicting principles – the duty to preserve life and the duty not to mutilate the body, whether it be of a living or a dead person.

The approach Judaism takes is that – subject to procedural safeguards – an organ may be transplanted from a donor to a recipient.

But there must be a specific, identified recipient whose life will be saved thereby; the clause included on driving licences which gives a blank cheque for the removal of organs without specifying the identity of the recipient is not acceptable to Judaism.

Crucial questions arise when dealing with organ donations from a dead person.

To ensure the organ is in a good enough state to be transplanted, the doctors virtually have to manipulate the moment of the donor’s death. But Judaism is wary of any act which may constitute deliberate shortening of life, and therefore transplants need approval in each individual case from rabbinic authorities.

RELEVANCE OF MAIMONIDES’ 13 PRINCIPLES

Q. Why are Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith so remote from today’s concerns?

A. I can’t accept your assessment of Maimonides.

God, prayer, prophecy, Torah, reward and punishment, Messiah, life after death – all are still on the agenda.

Maimonides would probably argue that supposedly modern issues are subsumed in his list.

He would say, for instance, that some people’s denial of Halachah is covered by his presentation of the status of Torah: to him the Torah is eternal and binding and there cannot be a Judaism without it.

He would probably say that the issue of Jewish identity is axiomatic to the whole list, that Jewish peoplehood cannot be authentic without God and religion.

Even so, if he were writing in our era he might use different phraseology and place more emphasis on values – mitzvah, tz’dakah, shalom,covenant, etc. – and not so much on philosophical categories.

He might also focus more on the Jewish people within history.

ONEG SHABBAT

Q. Why is an informal Sabbath gathering, often on Shabbat afternoon, called an “Oneg Shabbat”?

A. The phrase is from Isaiah 58:13: “V’karata laShabbat oneg”, “You shall call Shabbat a delight”.

Chaim Nachman Bialik, pioneer of a weekly “Oneg Shabbat” in Tel Aviv, said, “To create forms of life that are rooted and genuine, the founders of the ‘Oneg Shabbat’ movement feel they must use for their creative work only such material as is derived from the foundation stones of the original forms of Jewish life.

“They feel that they must dig down to the strongest of all our foundations, to the very cornerstone of Jewish life.

“They have found no form loftier or more profound than the Sabbath, which preceded the giving of the Torah and was observed by the Children of Israel while still in Egypt.

“Sabbath is the cornerstone of Judaism, and it is not without cause that it is called the ‘sign of the covenant’ between God and the Children of Israel.

“In the Sabbath are enfolded many national and social concepts. If in the Ten Commandments is enfolded the whole Torah, then in the Sabbath are probably enfolded all the Ten Commandments”.

 

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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