Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Tammuz 5766 - July 12, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Important Ruling on Brain Death

by M. Plaut

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 domim).

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 circumstances.

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.]


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.