The original letter as published in
Yated Ne'eman on 27 Tishrei 5752
In our issue of 27 Tishrei 5752 (October 4, 1991), we
published a very important statement signed by HaRav Shlomo
Zalman Auerbach zt"l and ylt"a Maran HaRav
Eliashiv on the subject of removing organs for transplants.
The issue arose recently in connection with an unfortunate
occurrence at the Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Yerushalayim.
It is important and relevant to understand the context in
which the letter was issued.
The Rabbinical Council of America, at its annual convention
in June 5751 (1991), announced that it published a health
care proxy form that recognizes brain death, and encourages
people to donate their vital organs after brain death for
transplant purposes. This aroused a huge outcry from much of
the Torah world. The RCA's own Vaad Halacha objected
to the widely publicized decision.
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America sent
a delegation to Eretz Yisroel to ask leading
poskim to state their position on this vital matter.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv
issued a joint ruling, dated 18 Menachem Av, 5751, to the
effect that removing organs from a body while the heart is
still beating is tantamount to bloodshed (shefichas
In the weeks after they issued their psak, the two
gedolim received numerous inquiries and comments about
it. Yated Ne'eman noted at the time that they took the
unusual (for them) step of re-examining the question, and
they issued a confirmation of their original psak in a
letter dated Bein Keseh le'Ossor, 5752.
We are here reprinting the entire statement of the Moetzes
Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel of America, as well as a
facsimile of the original psak issued by HaRav Sholmo
Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv.
A Statement from Agudath Israel of America
Rapid advances in medical science and technology, as well as
recent legal developments, have resulted in numerous complex
medical questions and scenarios facing Torah-observant Jews.
As Jews we must recognize that these medical matters, like
all other circumstances of human existence, must be
approached through the perspective of Torah, and under the
specific direction of halachah. Toward that end, it is
incumbent upon each individual to consult with his or her own
competent rabbinical authority to obtain guidance with
respect to specific issues pertinent to his or her medical
One of the most serious and complex issues that has arisen in
this field relates to the criteria for determining death.
This issue also impacts upon the related halachic
question concerning the removal of organs for transplantation
purposes. Various questions and opinions concerning these
issues have been expressed in halachic circles.
The rabbinic leadership of Agudath Israel of America has
traditionally refrained from halachic decision-making
as a group. Therefore, an inquiry concerning the
aforementioned critical issues, presented by a distinguished
delegation on behalf of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of
America, was made to two of the foremost contemporary
halachic authorities: HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,
shlita and Horav Yosef Sholom Elyishav shlita
of Eretz Yisroel. The following is their written
expression of their views. [See letter.]