Recently Yated Ne'eman received a letter which Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l wrote to a ranking physician to protest his conduct. Though he had served for many years as the rabbinical authority of Shaarei Tzedek, he resigned from his position. The letter speaks for itself:
"Dear Dr. _______,
"In this letter I would like to express my heartfelt sentiments.
"To begin with, I would like to stress that I have heard [you are] an honest man, and in [your] conversations with me I received the same impression. Therefore I hope these words, issuing from a pained heart, will enter [your] heart as well and will not be like a voice crying in the wilderness. I thought of approaching [you] and I also thought there might be no benefit at all, but [eventually I decided] to speak and relieve [my anxiety].
"[You] know that based on [your] promises to us on several occasions regarding the autopsy on _____ to make just a short incision (if I'm not mistaken, he said in the back) and to remove just a small segment of the lungs, I made an inquiry [she'elas chochom] and made every effort to persuade the widow to consent because of [my] concerns that otherwise more cutting would be done, although I am almost certain that had I allowed the woman to state her total opposition [the autopsies] would not have been performed at all. But concerned for her health I chose the lesser of two evils and now, I am sorry to say, [you] have not kept [your] word. [You] gave no such instructions to [your staff members] and they removed all of the internal organs and the incision went the length of the body. I also fear that had Dr. Schlesinger not phoned in the middle of the procedure they would have opened the skull as well, though I told [you] that if the skull was harmed there would be a great outcry.
"Furthermore I say with great shame that I do not know whether [you] are aware that to my great sorrow the autopsy was performed in a lighthearted, jocular and frivolous manner, speaking merrily throughout most of the procedure while the blood of your brother _____ ben ____ called out not from the ground but from the _____ to return what was stolen and bury his organs. Perhaps according to din I should have objected vociferously but by nature this is difficult for me and I do not like machlokes. It is very hard for me to fulfill my obligation in this matter, departing from my normal conduct, but I beg and plead [with you] to carefully consider this matter and to draw the proper conclusions and to understand that not everything is permitted in the name of science.
"Awaiting imminent and complete salvation,
"Shlomo Zalman Auerbach"
In an article published in Digleinu to mark the end of the Shloshim for HaRav Auerbach zt"l, Rabbi Yisroel Spiegel wrote about the background to Maran's decision to resign from his post as posek of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital. This transpired when a new director began to run the longstanding hospital, which was founded by its first director, the late Dr. Moshe Wallach, the renowned physician who made aliyoh from Germany and dedicated his life to founding the hospital as part of the battles fought by the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem. He was succeeded by Dr. Falk Schlesinger who carefully adhered to the tradition of chareidi administration of the hospital.
Following his petiroh, a major change in direction took place and when the board decided to appoint as director general a doctor from the US who was a product of the Modern Orthodox school of thought HaRav Auerbach quickly submitted his resignation.
Throughout the city the word was, in writing and by word-of- mouth, that Maran's resignation was because the new director general was a pathologist by profession. At the time the issue of autopsies was one of the "hot" issues in the chareidi street. It was a general problem throughout Israel that no safeguards were in place to respect the wishes and privacy of the deceased and of the family, and many times medical authorities were able to perform autopsies for frivolous reasons against the expressed wishes of all the parties involved. Chareidim had to stand guard over the bodies of their deceased to ensure that they were not cut up in the hospitals in the name of scientific research or other motives.
Thus, when a pathologist was appointed as the new head of the premier chareidi hospital, it naturally was interpreted in the context of this ongoing struggle. Numerous emendations and interpretations were added to the rumors, claiming that the longstanding chareidi hospital would be transformed into a center for autopsies and as such Maran was opting to resign.
As a result of these rumors, Maran called the editors of Hamodia, the only chareidi newspaper at the time, asking to discuss the issue. This was a highly unusual step for him to take, since he was widely known to avoid the media and any other form of publicity. Then-Chief Editor R' Yehuda Leib Levin and ylct"a Rabbi Yisroel Spiegel (who served as assistant editor at the time) went to meet with HaRav Auerbach in one of the rooms of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Bayit Vegan.
Maran discussed the issue with them for over an hour. First he stressed that the professional background of the new director general was totally irrelevant. Pathology is just like any other area of medicine he said. It is merely the study of infirmities in the human body that stray from the norm. Indeed there are always concerns that in studying these manifestations one can come to perform autopsies, which are only permissible under rare circumstances based on a thorough, prior halachic ruling. But the danger of diverging from halochoh exists in every other field of medicine as well. Thus this is not the source of the problem, he emphasized.
Second, he explained that the main issue was that the new appointment brought a close to an era in the hospital's history and what the future held in store was totally different from the way the hospital had been administered until that point. This was the real reason for his resignation. "With 30 years of hindsight it is interesting to see how well he grasped the process right from the start. The hospital has remained religious, but the distinctly chareidi character imprinted on it for years has been erased.
"That conversation made a strong impression on us. We were impressed not just by his claims and arguments but by his broad vision, by the horizons he knew how to depict and describe clearly, by the great integrity he showed throughout the conversation, by his hard-and-fast principles and most of all by the impetus that led him to initiate the conversation: to remove any trace of falseness or distortion regarding the true reason for his resignation."
Rabbi Spiegel also notes in this article that unfortunately, among those who spoke and wrote about Maran following his histalkus were proponents of compromise who made empty remarks attempting to compare Maran to them, rather than the opposite. He was unmatched as a man of principles, firm in his opinion both in halochoh and public matters of the most sublime nature. Whoever closely followed the disgraceful affair surrounding the "heter mamzerim" issued by former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren knows how he stood his ground to battle the evil winds following this infamous "ruling." He issued public calls and even came, for the first and only time in his life, to a meeting of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah to state his staunch opposition, using the strongest terms in his lexicon to denounce the man who had breached the walls of halochoh.