Transplanting animal’s organs into humans? Ask the rabbi

October 28, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple gives his answer.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. What does Judaism say about xenotransplants (introducing parts of animals into humans for health purposes)?

A. Subject to safeguards, Judaism allows transplants which save human life or increase its quality.

Using animal organs raises ethical questions relating both to the animal (e.g. isn’t the animal an involuntary donor?) and the human (e.g. isn’t there a danger of introducing animal-origin infections to a human body)? These ethical problems need to be solved.

However, as humans are a higher specifies than animals, in principle the use of animal organs can bring benefit to humans.

If the animal concerned is a pig, the prohibition of pig meat does not apply because the pig is not being eaten.


Q. It’s a morbid question, but can you tell me something about the type of coffin that should be used for a Jewish funeral?

A. To begin with, let me reiterate the well-known fact that Judaism believes the body should be laid to rest in the earth, not destroyed by burning.

The body is prepared in the traditional way, clothed in “tachrichim” (shrouds) and placed in a wooden coffin.

The same simple coffin is used, no matter whether a person might have been rich, famous or important; in death, all are equal.

Because the Torah says, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), the body must be allowed to decompose and return to the earth, and this is facilitated by the use of a coffin made of wood. A metal coffin would obstruct the process of decomposition.

The practice in Israel is to bury the body on a bier of intertwined reeds.


Q. Rabbi Nathan Cardozo has said that God has moved and is no longer in the synagogue. Do you agree?

A. Rabbi Cardozo makes three main points:
1. True seekers are not generally found in synagogues but in cafes, non-traditional minyanim, study halls, etc.;

2. Synagogues are largely devoid of the spiritual, meaningful and experiential;

3. Observant Jews are in denial, focussing on contrived legal questions and ignoring the “big picture” issues.

He is partly right – and partly wrong. Where he is right is that some synagogues run their affairs in a routine, perfunctory way without emotional, spiritual or intellectual excitement. Genuine seeking and encounter is the last thing that happens there.

The old joke has come true: “I’ll let you into the synagogue, but don’t let me catch you praying”. There is no danger of people actually praying in some shules.

Congregants gallop through the pages of the Siddur, stop for a conversation (usually on irrelevancies such as what she’s wearing and what’s doing in the stock market), and God either isn’t there or maybe all He gets is a passing nod.

Other places, maybe those which Rabbi Cardozo enumerates, maybe the beach, the hills, even a quiet garden, are more conducive to spiritual experience. Sometimes the seeker finds Him simply through being alone.

Sermons feature “big picture” issues – but without passion or urgency, and so wrapped up in banalities and rhetoric that they mean nothing to anybody, not even the preacher. Shiurim address little points of little significance – almost like the medievals who debated how many angels could sit on the point of a pin.

If this is all true, let’s feel sorry for God. We tell the secularists that one can’t have Judaism without God, but we ourselves are fostering a Judaism where God hardly figures.

Outside the synagogue one can certainly find God, but the soaring moments are occasional and ephemeral. They can’t be relied upon. They can also be anarchic. Their spiritual quality is not necessarily God. Nor does the spiritual encounter necessarily make a difference to a person’s life, or the world.

The synagogue should not be written off. Its agenda item is God – and man’s relationship to Him. Forget about who gets “sh’lishi” or “shishi”. Think big. But small synagogues need to become large: large synagogues need to become small.

Small synagogues need to become more than comfort zones for catching a Kaddish, but quiet places of humming and meditation. Large synagogues need to create a sense of fellowship with less formality and more moments of quiet in the midst of the pomp and ceremony.

Both need to arouse and re-charge the soul and send people back into the world as better people with a task.

A verse from Psalm 16 is emblazoned in many synagogues, “Shiviti HaShem l’negdi tamid” – “I set the Lord always before me”. That verse prefaces the Code of Jewish Law and says, “If the Divine Presence is with you always, you are sure to make it a better world on behalf of God”.

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.


2 Responses to “Transplanting animal’s organs into humans? Ask the rabbi”
  1. ben gershon says:

    when Rabbi Apple pontificates on Jewish Law .He should qualifie that he is doing so for SOME not all Jews

    Cremation has been part of the Reform Jews since the early 1900s


    • Benseon Apple says:

      Rabbi Apple is citing traditional Jewish teaching, whereas Reform doesn’t purport to follow halachah (Jewish law)…

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