Sarah Palin and the State of Halachic Discourse
Last week, Sarah Palin went from looking very bad to looking very victimized. How and why that happened may shed some light on the conduct of an internecine dispute in progress on organ donation and halachic criteria for ascertaining death.
Angry fingers pointed to Palin in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings. Her map had targeted – literally – Gabby Giffords. Moreover, the rhetoric of contempt churned out by the political right had surely contributed to the climate that produced the killer.
Or so they said, “they” being the expected critics, like the New York Times and Keith Olbermann. Within a short period of time, it became clear that the shooter dwelt in a fantasy world in which the government exercised mind control through bad currency and conniving grammar. The books he read were not screeds of the political right. He didn’t pay much attention to popular media.
Palin, like her or not, could not be blamed for this one. Her critics lost the moral high ground, and looked like shameless opportunists. Their initial attacks on her were so off-base, that they left room for people to wonder whether the critics were driven more by desperation than by unvarnished malice. Unable to come to grips with an America in which Palin and the Tea Party could be seen as ascendant forces, these critics seize for themselves the moral license to stop at nothing to quash their opponents. If you can’t convince them, then whipping up popular hysteria against them is the next best thing.
The Orthodox community has more at stake in the so-called “brain death” controversy than in the etiology of Jared Lee Loughner’s delusions. Rabbi Dov Fischer discussed some of the issues in an earlier piece on Cross-Currents,
including the impropriety of an online petition in favor of the “brain death” criteria. Rabbi Fischer correctly bemoaned the fact that a group of rabbis would be setting fires of public criticism of the Torah community, rather than putting them out. (By way of contrast, a friend of mine was asked by a leader of a state legislature about Orthodox attitudes towards organ donation, having read some disturbing material in the popular press. My friend, who has good background in both the halachic and medical aspects of the issue, sat down with the legislator, and explained the traditional point of view, after which the politician “got it,” without rancor or resentment.) I would go further than Rabbi Fischer. Calling a position that is embraced by rov minyan v’rov binyan of serious halachists “morally untenable” is nothing less than morally untenable!
Beyond the ill effects of this petition, I believe it to be hashkafically still-born. Halacha has to be decided by halachic debate, not be popular acclaim. The RCA report was put together painstakingly by a group of fine young talmidei chachamim, who did their due diligence in preparing the sugyos, studying the medical issues, and interviewing key personalities. Halacha thrives on – insists upon – debate. Those who champion neurological criteria of death rather than cessation of cardio-pulmonary activity should point to any errors they see in either the lomdus of the other side, or its grasp of the medical realities. An online petition offers none of this.
Moreover, scanning the list of signatories, we find many fine pulpit rabbis, but no names at all associated with the serious conduct of halachic debate. What, exactly, does it mean when someone signs a petition affirming the validity of a halachic position when he is not in a position to either defend or critique it? (The starting lineup at the MLB All-Star game is determined by the input of pros – the managers and players – and popular sentiment. This is defensible. But would it make sense for the fans at Fenway Park to vote for Nobel laureates in chemistry?)
At least one of the better known signatories opens a window to his mind, in a letter he sent out to a mailing list. “We have received a good deal of press, which will hopefully do some good in shaping the public perception of the permissibility and mitzvah of organ donation…Please urge your local rabbi and other rabbis that you know to consider signing on as well. … You can be part of this important effort to change the community’s perception and to help save lives!”
Will we see popular campaigns and petitions that will militate to accept minority opinions, or decide between disputes between Rishonim, in other areas? Shall we place conversion standards, or women’s hair covering, or even the acceptability of sherry casks in the docket of popular opinion? Is this the way halacha is done? Do people who would like to see lenient decisions in some of these areas wish to see the demise of halachic process as we know it?
I pose the question with more pain than facetiousness. I do not believe that there is a campaign afoot to destroy halacha from within. I do, however, believe that the Orthodox world has already split into two camps regarding its assumptions – in some cases, I would be charitable and suppose that they are unconscious assumptions – about halacha. I also believe that when they cannot marshal enough traditional halachic strength to win an argument that they get desperate, just like Krugman and Olbermann.
I have written about these two camps elsewhere. Briefly, the process of halachic decision that we see in centuries of response literature is a search for evidence. Halachic arguments, which require a good deal of background to formulate in the first place, are not accepted unless they can be supported by evidence. When competing arguments are presented, we try to weigh the evidence. (We will require less evidence to satisfy ourselves regarding a rabbinic law than one that is d’orayso; we will require the most evidence in the weightiest matters – like organ donation, where taking an organ too early is a violation of the stricture against murder.) This was always called “birur” and “leevun” of halacha – for good reason. You arrived at a conclusion by way of best-fit with the internal evidence of the sugya.
We see in an increasing number of articles and blog posts a very different process. There are rabbis – never ones who have demonstrated stellar understanding of complex source material – who believe that halacha is about process, not finding truth. All halachic “voices” can be heard, so long as what they say is couched in the language of rabbinic source material. Once they are heard, each local rabbi decides on the basis of perceived need and his own understanding of overarching morality which voice should be heeded. I underscore that the voice heeded is chosen through external need, not though the internal consistency of that voice. (Ironically, when advocates of this approach cite their minority opinions, they remain oblivious to the fact that the authors of those opinions did try to the best of their ability to demonstrate the attractiveness their positions by adducing evidence from within the sugya!)
I believe that this approach is dangerous and counterfeit. Many of its advocates, not surprisingly, come from Orthodoxy’s far left. They are overrepresented as well on the petition. If I am correct, it may make it easier for those who have to decide whether or not to keep the YCT/IRF/far left axis within the Big Tent of Orthodoxy, or whether it is time to civilly show them the door.
In terms of the way they conceive of halachic process, they may have already walked out on their own.
Perhaps they learned to do that from us. We, Charedim should take some blame for this. Piskei Dinim are placed all over Jerusalem in paskevillim, Yated Neeman, and all the rest of our newspapers and in America as well. Instead of learning sugyos, and having a proper debate within Torah lishmah, we have all the hot button issues (Hetter Mechira, Giyurim, Sheitlach, status of brain death) paskened for us under the banner of Daas Torah. One who argues is arguing against the Shechina and is an apikoires. The sugya has become irrelevant.
Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, “Her critics lost the moral high ground, and looked like shameless opportunists.”
Her critics were always shameless opportunists. They never occupied any moral high ground except in their own fantasies and propaganda.
Likewise for pseudo-halachic opportunists, who look first and foremost to chip away at our Mesorah. Their game was evident from day one despite all attempts at obfuscation. Their modus operandi is to create the appearance of form and the appearance of substance, hoping our ignorance and our lazy skepticism about true halachists are too deep to see through this sham.
I wonder if other than neturei karta fanatics, there are any to the right who are candidates to be excluded from the orthodox tent? To pick one group – those who disrespect the legitimacy of a psak or the hashkafa of an acknowlwdged Gadol. (We were treated to a text-book example just this morning.) I fully respect one’s right to disagree, but to attack a Gadol over his psak/hashkafa seems to me to be as much grounds for expulsion as say teaching at YCT. Personally, i would expel neither, but those who delegitimitize the individual (not just the psak/hashkafa) would be my first candidates for expulsuion.
I do not believe that every last halakhic ruling is by necessity moral/ethical. it is well known that this was the view of various gedolai yisroel, who declared that we submit to halakha even where it violates ethical norms.
I disagree with your assertion that Palin’s critics were wrong. Sure, the killer was a mentally deranged lunatic and had no direct connection to Palin or anyone else. However, what Palin and the rest of the right-wing media have done is create an atmosphere that mainstreams paranoia. When Palin and Glenn Beck et al. attack the healthcare bill not on its content but on made-up distortions like the presence of “death panels”, or when people attack the president because they think he’s a rabid socialist or Kenyan Muslim, then they legitimize a toxic discourse that says anything goes. So when someone is truly mentally ill and harbors delusional thoughts, he can just fit in with the rest of the crowd and adopt the view that appears daily on talk radio and nightly on Fox News.
[YA – But there is no evidence – none – that this happened. All the evidence points to someone who was oblivious to what was said on Fox News, and could not have cared less whether his delusional thoughts fit in with anyone else’s.]
BTG, so who created the toxic discourse for the attempts to assassinate FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan?
dr bill …when and if ROY writes his responce your comments will be in place…until then we have only the shulhan aruch which requires kabalas torah and mitzvos…
You wrote “The RCA report was put together painstakingly by a group of fine young talmidei chachamim, who did their due diligence in preparing the sugyos, studying the medical issues, and interviewing key personalities.”
First, as far as I know, the report was primarily written and researched by one Rabbi, Rabbi Asher Busch who clearly stated for years and years in public and in private that brain death is not death. Second, to state rabbi Bush did due diligence and interviewed key personalities is questionable.
Rabbi Benyamin Walfish, the former director of the RCA, said he spoke with Rav Soloveitchik who agreed to brain death and organ donation. But Rabbi Bush did NOT call Rabbi Walfish who is alive and well in Jerusalem to ask him about the conversation. Instead, Rabbi Bush writes in his report that he was told by someone who said that he spoke with the Rov’s son who said that he didn’t speak to the Rov on this issue but that he can’t imagine the Rov would have accepted brain death. Due you call this due diligence? Do you think that was worthy to note in the paper?
Rabbi Bush writes that all responsa (Bondi letter, YD 132, etc) written by Rav Moshe are false, fabricated and forged. How does he know this? Because Dr. Robert Schulman told him. Well how does Robert Schulman know this except for just spreading rumors. Are you not offended that ‘a fine young talmidei chacham’ would just dismiss any teshuvos that go against his opinion as being fabricated without any evidence other than rumor? Do you call this Due Diligence?
The Bush paper implies that the modern medical community seriously questions brain death and strongly implies that a person can wake up from brain death. All the while rov minyan v’rov binyan of the medical establishment will state the opposite. Is this Due Diligence? Honesty?
Neurosurgeon Noam Stadlan was interviewed by Rabbi Bush and he supplied him with medical documentation that brain death is death. According to Dr. Stadlan, Rabbi Bush cherry picked the information and conveniently left out and medical information that went against his opinion. Is this due diligence and honest?
The list of historical, medical and halachic distortions in the Bush paper goes on and on. I have read all 110 pages twice with all the footnotes. The Bush paper is enjoyable reading in that it reads like a farce; this paper pretends to be objective like Colbert pretends to be a Republican.
My best piece of ammunition to attack this paper is the paper itself. Many people talk about it but I have found out that not many people have read the whole thing cover to cover. I recommend that everyone read it: the whole thing. I am pretty sure that even those that reject brain death and reject organ donation, will find the Bush paper tendentious and entertaining.
If you are looking for a very good overview of the issues, which does not take a position, that shows halachic pros and cons of brain death, I recommend Rabbi Breitowitz’ paper. It may be found on the HODS article page. The HODS ARTICLES database has almost every article that rejects brain death and rejects organ donation because we feel the public has the right to hear both sides of the debate. Both medical and halachic. The Bush paper, however, will never see the light of day on the HODS site because it is flawed and purposely mislead the public about history, halacha and medicine.
While we are encouraged by the recent notice put out by the RCA that it recognizes there are halachic heavyweights for brain death as well as against, the Bush paper should be retracted by the RCA.
Nowadays we put far too much stock in our “gut reactions” to an issue. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l noted that the key to his advancing in the Torah world beyond “just another great learner” was because he avoided the political talk and activity around him and just learned – that’s the only way one becomes great enough to have “Torah instincts” rather than the more ordinary human ones.
But people are failing to look to the chain of mesorah not only for psak but more notably for issues of community, in this case political strategy. Ask any YU musmach from 30 years ago, who determined whether the students’ attendance at a political demonstration was worthwhile or forbidden: the Roshei Yeshiva.
Today we have internet petitions, email campaigns – everyone becomes their own expert and activist. I wonder whether any of the major poskim who advocate brain-stem death were even consulted by the grassroots effort to “support” them.
I would like to echo and amplify Koillel Nick’s point. Why is it only people on the left that should be “civilly shown the door out of Orthodoxy” for issuing decisions on halachic matters without a proper halachic analysis? Why not those on the right who commit the same crime? The left does it via substituting popular opinion, and the right does it via relying on others (who often turn out to be askanim with a vested interest) rather than performing a proper investigation!
There are rabbis – never ones who have demonstrated stellar understanding of complex source material – who believe that halacha is about process, not finding truth.
Hmmmmm? Where does that put all the Briskers who hold it doesn’t matter what the Rambam actually thought, only what the chachmei hamesora (great Rabbis of the intervening generations, e.g. R Chaim of Brisk) thought that he thought (i.e. the famous “joke” where in shamayim the Rambam tells R’Chaim that there was a transcription error in his works)
Tziki kedera writes on January 17, 2011 at 12:13 am:
dr bill …when and if ROY writes his responce your comments will be in place…until then we have only the shulhan aruch which requires kabalas torah and mitzvos.
I assume ROY knows not just a few sources, but a great deal about the metziut as well. In any case, those not giving ROY the benefit of the doubt on a dvar halakha, make me wonder where they think that emunat chakhamim is to be applied?
What does it say about the state of our communities when one can say: “we find many fine pulpit rabbis, but no names at all associated with the serious conduct of halachic debate”? When those “on whom the burden of the needs of the multitude rests(cf Nodah B’yehudah 2: Y.D. 161, 1st paragraph)” are separate from those “associated with serious conduct of halachic debate”? Does it not encourage what the Rav Yosef in Sanhedrin (99b) calls the apikursos of saying: “What benefit do we have from the Rabbis–they learn both mikra and mishna for themselves”? Are not the attitudes you decry the natural consequences of the drive to isolate the yeshivah from the larger community and “purify” the learning of Torah? If the great Torah scholars isolate themselves from the community, the lesser scholars will have to fill the void.
[YA – I could think of several reasons for some rabbis at some pulpits producing less than stellar work going through a sugya. Isolation of Torah scholars would not be one of them. My experience has been the opposite. Several of the lesser lights that I have known have relied upon the full availability of major Torah scholars to compensate for their own inability. (My post was aimed more at the rabbis who do not even realize how lomdus-challenged they are! Those have no problem and no shame taking positions that evidence their inability to relate to halachic texts as rabbonim have for centuries.) There is no shortage of bumblers, both in the yeshiva world and in the Centrist world. And there are fine talmidei chachamim gracing pulpits in both of those communities as well. Many in the American haredi world would be surprised at how many fine bnei Torah can be found in the RCA, the umbrella organization of modern orthodoxy. My guess is that more often than not, communities get the kind of rabbi that they want. For some of those, halachic rigor and exactitude is not a priority.]
An opinion piece in the Forward by Binyamin Korn compares the attacks on Sarah Palin to those on Menachem Begin and seems to euate her to him. So, she does have fans in the Jewish world. I make no claim to being a party to the seeming repeal of the RCA’s stance, even if not voiced that way. This is an issue that has been around for a long time and isn’t going to be settled with any finality soon. I think that there is a lot of politics mixed into religion in this and many other issues. The Yated can’t stand it that Rav Ovadia Yosef approved all past and future conversions done in the Israeli Army. They can’t call him “Amalek” which is what Rav Ovadiah’s supposed followers called Rav Amsellem for advocating similar ideas. The whole mixture of money, power, honor and team loyalty gives religion a black eye. A leading RCA rabbi told me that while he agrees with the brain death side, he wouldn’t sign the petition because it was coming out of a rival organization with an “agenda”. Sadly, many wise people will just give up on the whole thing and say that it is hard to find the true world of the One Above in the arguments of the politicians and their rabbinical enablers.
One can agree with or disagree with the RCA Position Paper and its authors or the proponents of brain death. However, to view the issue as subject to a petition from rabbonim described as “communal leaders” as opposed to Poskim, is anarchistic and DIY Judaism in its worst form. The question remains-who would anyone on this blog consult with in either the seemingly simple areas of Halacha, let alone the more complex Halachic areas and the determination of such issues based on gender and other external challenges to Halacha?
Its instructive I think to point out that issue of Eruvin in major metropolitan areas seems to involve lay input a lot — and this is all thought to be fine and dandy. There are numerous communities who want an Eruv and will hire whatever, uhm consultant it takes to get one. You can always find a combination of shitas that will work, right? And this is routine business, right? Why is that different?
[YA – I don’t think it routine at all. I don’t know anyone who would use an eruv put together by a rav hamachshir who took that attitude. Halacha is not that plastic, and if it were, you can’t approach it like a Chinese menu.
That is not to say that it is always illegitimate to look for a fully competent halachic articulation of a position for which there is some great need – especially in regard to community eruvin. With the exception of some privileged places like Los Angeles, eruvin work through a series of tzuros ha-pessach. The starting assumption is that carrying in a city with fewer than 600,000 passersby is a derabbanan. Clearly, there is far more latitude in relying on available shitos regarding a derabbanan than there is in regard to d’oraysos – especially ones that are yehareg v’al yaavor.]
The Yated can’t stand it that Rav Ovadia Yosef approved all past and future conversions done in the Israeli Army.
R. Yosef approved all future conversions, too? How does he know that all future conversion are going to be kosher, even assuming all past ones are?
Here are my questions: How many of those who converted in the IDF were shomer shabbos for even a single shabbos after they converted? If a “convert” was not shomer shabbos even for a single week, does anyone seriously think there was a kabbolas ol mitzvos? Or is that now optional in geirus?
It appears that the schism is going to be even deeper and wider than originally feared.
I second Steve Brizel January 17, 2011 at 9:56 am.
Also–Instead of being fixated on whom to include and whom to exclude based on our leanings and rather limited knowledge, let’s seek out the most generally recognized high level poskim available, irrespective of their community or organizational ties.
tal benschar – January 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm. Do you have any basis for your speculation that “How many of those who converted in the IDF were shomer shabbos for even a single shabbos after they converted? If a “convert” was not shomer shabbos even for a single week, does anyone seriously think there was a kabbolas ol mitzvos? Or is that now optional in geirus?”
I fail to understand why the psak of an acknowledged gadol is treated with such flippancy? Even if ROY acted as some suggest for purely political reasons, might not one assume that his motivations are also to be accorded at least some modicum of respect?
As a young neurologist in training, well versed in the concept of “brain death,” I was surprised to first learn nearly two decades ago of the controversy concerning using “brain death” to define death from a halachic point of view.
That controversy has not died down.
The inescapable reality is that a large number of respected rabbinic authorities, from camps within Yeshiva University to the Eidah Chareidis, do not accept the current secular diagnosis of “brain death” as constituting death in halacha.
Rabbi Bush and his rabbinic colleagues reportedly spent some four years researching the halachic issues involved. It is understandable that their conclusions would not please Robby Berman, whose advocacy organization seeks to increase the procurement of organs from Jews, via means that some find objectionable. That does not excuse his personal attacks on Rabbi Bush, however.
Under the category of “the pot calling the kettle black,” we have the above post from Robby Berman criticizing Rabbi Bush for not contacting a retired rabbi with regard to what the late Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik of blessed memory once told him.
One has to wonder why Robby Berman has chosen to ignore evidence contradicting what he prints on his website. For example, it would have been easy for Berman to have retracted his demonstrably false assertion, still on his website, that Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch supports brain death–particularly after I quoted chapter and verse from a responsa from Rabbi Sternbuch on this matter in my recent rejoinder to his letter to the editor in the Five Towns Jewish Times attacking (unsuccessfully, I might add) the veracity of my statements in a recent article in that same venue about the mistreatment of our rabbinic leaders by those who favor “brain death” and have taken their campaign to the secular media.
Given Beman’s zeal to criticize Rabbi Bush, one has to wonder why Berman has chosen not to speak directly with Rabbi Sternbuch, as I have done, or with Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, as I have done, or with any of the major rabbinic authorities who have not accepted “brain death,” let alone “brainstem death,” as diagnostic of death in halacha-relying instead on second-hand sources of information.
Berman apparently did not speak with Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik, nor with Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, both of blessed memory, as I have done. (By the way, the authors of the RCA paper chose not to include what I heard from Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, with regard to his brother’s view on “brain death,” which contradicts the notion that the Rav accepted “brain death.)
As for Berman’s assertion that HODS board member, Noam Stadlan MD, provided evidence that “brain death” is death, this only again reveals at best Berman’s lack of understanding of the issues involved.
Historically, as noted in the book, EVERY SECOND COUNTS: THE RACE TO TRANSPLANT THE FIRST HUMAN HEART, the phrase “brain death” was coined, almost accidentally, at a conference involving the participation of Christiaan Barnard. It was soon realized that use of this phrase could enable those who removed hearts from “donors” to avoid criminal charges for homicide.
The initial 1968 paper that became the Harvard criteria spoke about irreversible coma and was aimed at prognosis, not diagnosis. Over a decade later, with a view toward organ transplantation, the definition of death was expanded to include “whole brain death.”
Subsequently, the goalposts were moved, and “brainstem death” was viewed in the secular medical world as synonymous with death. More recently, there have been renewed efforts to use the term “brain death” to include those with “higher brain death” or irreversible damage to only part of the brain. What is driving this, as drives Berman, is the desperate need for organs.
This is very understandable–from a purely secular point of view.
From the point of view of the British philosophy of utilitarianism, one can, nay should, sacrifice the few to serve the many. There are those who have even argued that one should not examine too closely to ascertain whole brain death, due to the desperate need for organs. A recent paper called for the elimination of the second “brain death” clinical examination in children, expressly noting that the delay in calling a child “brain death” may result in a lower rate of organ transplantation.
The issue is not whether “brain death” is now considered as death by the secular medical establishment, by courts and legislative bodies, by physiologists and anatomists or even by neurosurgeons who support HODS. The issue is whether “brain death” in any of its flavors constitutes death in halacha.
For sound halachic reasons, there are very many learned rabbinic authorities who do not, and likely will not, accept “brain death” as halachic death. As Rabbi Herschel Shachter of Yeshiva University has noted, we are dealing with a controversy about a matter of possible halachic murder (which would occur if vital organs are removed), and hence in his view we must be stringent and reject “brain death.”
The issue of defining death is perhaps the most complex, and controversial, one in all of Jewish medical ethics. Incendiary comments, such as the remark above that the RCA paper by a panel of distinguished rabbis “reads like a farce” and the use by a rabbi of the term “chilul Hashem” (in The Jewish Week) and of the term “stupidity” (in the Jerusalem Post), to describe the viewpoint of those many dozens of rabbinic authorities who respectfully disagree with his view, only demean those who say and write such matters. Such personalized attacks should have no role in this controversy.
I have repeatedly encouraged Berman to join me at the annual Yarchei Kallah on Medical Halacha, held every August in Jerusalem, and to sit down, as I have done, with the leading rabbinic authorities, and learn from them why they do not accept “brain death.” Dr. Stadlan can also do so. Perhaps their secular medical, scientific and philosophical arguments might persuade our leading rabbis, perhaps not. (The halachic authorities I have interacted with are all well versed in the latest scientific and medical knowledge in this area–they do their homework.)
In the interim, let’s have a civil discourse, based on facts, not on personal attacks on Rabbi Bush or any of the other rabbis who issued an internal halachic paper calling into question the RCA’s blanket acceptance of “brain death” as “the criterion” for death in Jewish law.
Rav Adlerstein, You posted that those who oppose the document authored by Rabbi Bush should show where the document is wrong and in error. I did so a few weeks back and it is posted at Torahmusings(Hirhurim) under the title of Death By Neurological Criteria I also pointed out to Rabbi Bush back in 2008 the logical and conceptual problems arise with defining death by circulation criteria, and these were published in the Sept. Meorot Journal under the title: Conceptual and Logical problems in defining life and death by circulation(available at the Meorot website). In addition, Rabbi Bush had in his posession a summary of relevent medical information, and he chose to include in his paper only the information that does not support the concept of ‘brain death.’ As I posted at Rabbi Fischer’s article, Rabbi Bush was asked by me and others to either circulate additional accurate information, or at least let those on the distribution list know that not everyone listed in the footnotes as contributors agreed with the final product. So attempts at a discussion were made, and the official response from Rabbi Bush and the members of his Va’ad Halacha has been deafening silence. Therefore, if you are looking to assign blame for the present state of affairs, I think you need to look towards Rabbi Bush and the Va’ad Halacha. They put out a highly biased, one sided attack on the halachic status of ‘brain death’, and tried to make it appear as an even-handed ‘educational document.’ I will be happy to supply you with emails and material documenting as true everything I have written.
In response to Dr. Z., there is a discussion in the medical literature regarding how the concept of ‘brain death’ was realized, and in fact, as in most things, there are two sides. There is free article in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled “The concept of brain death did not evolve to benefit organ transplants” which convincingly proves the title. Dr. Z. also fails to acknowledge that the 1968 Harvard paper established a definition as well as a prognosis. I invite him to read my post at Hirhurim discussing this.
I thank Dr. Z. for the kind invitation to yarchei kallah. I have had the honor of discussing these topics with HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz(not that anything I write or say has been endorsed or approved in any way by the Rav), the Av Bet Din of the RCA, who, as was noted in the RCA ‘clarification’, approves of the concept of brain death.
Regarding poskim and their medical knowledge, if all they have to go by is the information that is contained in Rabbi Bush’s paper, they are ill informed.
Dr. Stadlan writes: Regarding poskim and their medical knowledge, if all they have to go by is the information that is contained in Rabbi Bush’s paper, they are ill informed.
Poskim? Do shul Rabbis really consider themselves “poskim” on such serious issues in medical ethics? Hardly. Do they give Phd’s to those who only read Cliff’s Notes?
It was my understanding that any of the RCA statements or papers are to raise awareness among their membership/leadership of the various issues and opinions out there, not to suddenly empower them as standalone poskim.
For example a shul Rav I am close with was once presented with an expectant mother’s ultrasound showing the baby was 100% not viable beyond the womb r”l. Could the fetus be aborted, or did the woman need to carry the terminal fetus – and the psychological and physical demands with it – to term? First he sat with every source he could, reviewed everything, and then consulted a real posek on the matter.
We want our personal Rabbinic leaders to be as educated as possible even in the areas in which they do not have smicha – and then we want them to lead us in the chain of halacha and consult an actual posek. Accusing Rabbinic dialogue on any major topic, of being a final statement – and certainly then making war against it – doesn’t serve us.
To dr. bill
a russian who served in the paratroops told me a couple of years ago,the OC manpower(Stern)walked in once and asked “whoever is not jewish raise your hand”.after they had done so,he told them he the OC manpower is now [officialy] considering them jews(or something to that effect).
“a russian who served in the paratroops ….”
was he one of the non-Jews? if not, I’m not so sure how his anecdote suddenly becomes proof of actual conversion procedures (or in this case lack thereof)
Yasher koach, Rav Yitzchok, for your brilliant essay and for igniting an intense and passionate debate on this “heartfelt” topic. As a frum Jew and as a cardiologist, I appreciate the complexities of the topic of defining death and its implications for organ transplantation. Suffice it to say that, irrespective of the strength of the halachic & scientific arguments on either side of the issue, I have substantial skepticism regarding the approach that defines death according to a utilitarian agenda.
cohen y, do you seriously believe that ROY paskened without knowledge of the circumstance? I know that sadly many have excused/explained various psakim as the work of askanim who misstate the metziut, but i have never heard of ROY being accused of falling prey to such behavior. In fact, as has been extensively reported, unlike others, ROY has personal knowledge of IDF policies and procedures.
tal benschar – January 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm. Do you have any basis for your speculation that “How many of those who converted in the IDF were shomer shabbos for even a single shabbos after they converted? If a “convert” was not shomer shabbos even for a single week, does anyone seriously think there was a kabbolas ol mitzvos? Or is that now optional in geirus?”
I fail to understand why the psak of an acknowledged gadol is treated with such flippancy? Even if ROY acted as some suggest for purely political reasons, might not one assume that his motivations are also to be accorded at least some modicum of respect?
Dr. Bill, what I was expressing was not flippancy, it is doubt. Others who are closer to the scene than you or I have looked at the issue and report there are serious issues there. From what I know about the IDF (admittedly second hand, but heard from many sources), their is ample room for doubt.
That does not necessarily mean that R. Yosef is wrong. My question is, how does he know that all 4500 IDF converts sincerely accepted ‘ol mitzvot, assuming he holds (as do virtually all poskim) that that is a requirement?
If, OTOH, as you suggest, the psak was issued “for purely political reasons,” then he has a lot of explaining to do. This is an issue which affects the whole of klal yisroel — who can marry whom. For any one gadol to act on his own is improper.
I remember reading that in the 1930s, in response to anti-semitic laws in Germany, someone suggested certain leniencies in shechitah, with some form of stunning of the animal. R. Soloveichik, who was there at the time, told this person, who was a great gaon in his own right, that to issue such a psak that affects so many of klal yisroel, he needed to confer with other rabbonim and gedolim.
That applies here kal va chomer.
Let’s not forget that the whole purpose of giving the Rabbanut a monopoly on personal status issues (marriage, divorce, conversion) is to ensure that klal yisroel does not split into two, unmarriageable portions. This latest psak will simply not be accepted by a large number of Orthodox Jews and their rabbonim. So now you are going to have thousands of safeik goyim intermarrying among Jews. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Frankly, if this goes forward I see no point in continunig the Rabbanut’s monopoly — it breeds alot of resentment, and will not accomplish its purpose in any event.
Tal Beneschar, you write: “My question is, how does he know that all 4500 IDF converts sincerely accepted ‘ol mitzvot, assuming he holds (as do virtually all poskim) that that is a requirement?” Your assumption is entirely incorrect; there is absolutely no need to examine any of the geirim. ROY need only know and accept the dayanim as qualified (and perhaps given the political climate as opposed to he halakha, the process they employed.) As a posek, he is aware that overturning a geirut that qualified dayanim perform is unheard of in the classic halakhic literature. You remember the outcry that occured when Rav Goren ztl in a case of mamzeirut did so, not just by overturning a geirut but also by creating an (additional) element of doubt, questioning whether a conversion ever occured.
Then you write: “If, OTOH, as you suggest, the psak was issued “for purely political reasons,” then he has a lot of explaining to do.” That is not what I said! I wrote “Even if ROY acted as some suggest for purely political reasons, might not one assume that his motivations are also to be accorded at least some modicum of respect?” First, it was not me that made that assertion, but as I said “some.” Second, poskim have every right to judge (even a political) circumstance and decide whether or not it justifies reliance on one level or another of leniency. Third, as Rav Moshe Lichtenstein wrote cogently during the uproar over Rav Druckman’s conversions, if an acknowledged major posek, ROY certianly being an example, had approved what Rav Druckman did, the right to disagree would be greatly reduced. That is exactly what has happened in this case.
Dr. Stadlan and Robby Berman continue to accuse one of the co-authors of the recent internal RCA paper on the issue of “brain death” of all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors, in a fashion similar to what they did in the secular JEWISH WEEK.
As Rabbi Adlerstein suggested in his article, the way to critique a halachic paper is via halachic analysis and a halachic rebuttal, not crying “stupidity” and “fiasco” after a committee of rabbis disagrees with your desired conclusion.
Since Dr. Stadlan brings up the issue of medical knowledge, perhaps he should look into the representation reportedly made to more than one Israeli rabbinic authority that the hypothalamus was not a part of the brain. It was just this sort of misrepresentation which set back the “pro-brain death” camp enormously.
I take it from Dr. Stadlan’s post that he disagrees primarily with my understanding of the historical underpinnings and motivation for the concept of “brain death.” Perhaps one might also explain the just-published article, “Second Brain Death Exam Increases Anguish, Decreases Organ Donation” (Lustbader et al, Neurology, Jan 11, 2011), as being unrelated to organ transplantation. To some of us, however, the linkage appears suspicious. Interestingly, nearly a dozen movies came out after the Harvard criteria was published about the fear that the new definition of death was aimed at increasing organ procurement (see THE DEFINITION OF DEATH: CONTEMPORARY CONTROVERSIES).
Another suspected motivating factor was the perceived need to remove such patients from ICU beds so that these beds could be used by patients with better prognoses.
None of this, of couse, is really relevant to the halachic issue (which is that premature removal of vital organs for even the most lofty of goals is murder) nor to Rabbi Adlerstein’s point.
The best avenue for learning about how various rabbinic scholars have understood the “brain death” controversy is by sitting with these scholars, in a beit medrash, studying the textual sources, and then engaging in the classic sort of challenges, in a respectful manner of course, to these rabbinic authorities. This is what more than one rabbi-doctor reportedly did with their rabbinic authorities in Israel (none of whom agreed that “brain death” is halachic death).
That would of course take time and effort on behalf of Dr. Stadlan and Robby Berman, and might yield results different that they desire or expect in this controversy. The advantage of this time-honored approach is that they can communicate their understanding and knowledge to our leading sages, and thus possibly sway their halachic opinions.
Or, they can merely continue the public attack on our rabbis.
“I remember reading that in the 1930s, in response to anti-semitic laws in Germany, someone suggested certain leniencies in shechitah, with some form of stunning of the animal. R. Soloveichik, who was there at the time, told this person, who was a great gaon in his own right, that to issue such a psak that affects so many of klal yisroel, he needed to confer with other rabbonim and gedolim.”
Nice story-but query R Soloveitchik came to Boston in 1932-the Nazis came to power in 1933 and then passed anti schechitah laws.
Dr. Z. brings up a number of accusations. lets take them one by one:
1. I did publish a critique of the RCA paper, available at TorahMusings under the title of Death by Neurological Criteria, and I invite Dr. Z. to read it. I show very clearly how the Rabbi Bush’s paper leaves out critical medical information that supports ‘brain death’. I also show how the existing medical knowledge can identify patients who are dead when using the Halachic Criteria put out by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. In addition, I show how patients can also fulfill the Halachic requirements of the ‘physiological decapitation argument.'(so in fact, I did prove the issue of brain death, assuming that one agrees with one of those shitot). I will also be happy to supply Dr. Z. with the documentation showing that Rabbi Bush had this information prior to publishing his paper but specifically chose not to include it. This demonstrates the deliberate choice to publish a paper with an agenda, not an evenhanded evaluation.
Before Dr. Z. writes anything further about me or my positions, I suggest he actually read what I have written(including the critique of the circulation definition available online at meorot, just google meorot and stadlan), and then engage the substance of the discussion rather than engage in ad hominem attacks.
2. If Dr. Z. has specific information about presentation of innacurate medical information, I will be happy to review it. I would add that he himself has deliberately presented irrelevent medical facts designed to confuse the layperson in the discussion of brain death. I refer interested parties to the discussion here at Cross Currents on a post by Rabbi Avi Shafran entitled Winter Harvest a few years ago, and draw your own conclusions.
3. If Dr. Z. had taken the time to read the paper he references, he will see that the point of the article is that after a person was shown to have absent neurological function on an exam(and fulfilled the other requirements to establish brain death), they did not regain any function afterwards, specifically in the time span between the first and second exam. The medical establishment has an interest in establishing death as soon as reasonably possible, all the while making sure that the determination is correct(this is not dissimilar to the situation in Halacha- see the discussion of the impact of medical technology on the waiting period in Rabbi Bleich’s article Time of Death). Of course an earlier determination of death makes it more likely that organ donation will be possible. But the point of the paper wasn’t to move the determination solely to make more organs available. The point was that the second exam wasn’t necessary because nothing changed in the time period between the first and second exam. As a side point, I am pretty sure that contemporary movies are not usually used as medical or halachic evidence, so I am not sure why this is mentioned.
My question is, how does he know that all 4500 IDF converts sincerely accepted ‘ol mitzvot….
Comments on a brain death article is hardly the place to treat the IDF conversion topic in depth. Although the parallel isn’t so misplaced – just as brain death doesn’t belong in public debate, so too is it inappropriate that some politicians have chosen to put the conversion debate in the public sphere rather than let our true halachic authorities address the possibilities.
While an Orthodox Jew would not want their children to marry a convert with such a loose definition of “ol mitzvot”, the halacha does allow for a fair degree of leniency depending upon the case.
Also remember that over the past decade it was the Eternal Jewish Family organization (google it if you forgot, but make sure your internet filter is on) that “coordinated” among Gedolim worldwide to encourage all Rabbanim to apply more strict requirements to conversions, even revoking them retroactively in some cases. Somehow no one questions the “new attitudes” and chumrot the EJF introduced despite its quick and ugly demise.
Politics and halacha mix like oil and water, yet every major issue today seems to get this treatment. Personally, I can’t wait until we get the Sanhedrin back – a centralized group of real Rabbanim that make decisions together and forbid us from arguing against their conclusions.
It is fascinating that the comments to this post are doing exactly what the blogger is complaining about. The 2 topics here are conversions and time of death. Both are complicated sugyos, and both have a metzius factor. The commentors above discuss neither properly, because it can’t be done in a few lines. Most laymen have no clue where where to find the sugya of brain death, and neither do they understand the science of it. They also have no clue what kabbalas hamitzvos means as it is quite complicated (just a hint, many poskim are very busy discussing Rashi in Shabbos 31a) and neither do they know who these geirim are or what they do.
So instead we get opinions based on newspapers. Its not different than an online popularity contest deciding halacha. How about banning all halachic petitions AND public anouncements of piskei dinim! Instead rabbis can publicize their maarei mekomos only!
>Nice story-but query R Soloveitchik came to Boston in 1932-the Nazis came to power in 1933 and then passed anti schechitah laws.
I think that he meant the Sridei Eish (a big portion of RYYW’s shut is dedicated to stunning and shchita). There is also a good treatment of this episode is Marc Shapiro’s biography.
Can you please respond to Dr. Stadlan and Robby Berman’s actual points:
Were there important interviews which were left out of the report?
Were medical facts cherry picked to support a particular point of view?
Were historical distortions regarding the validity of R’ Moshe’s shu”ts made?
Frankly, some of us don’t have time to research all these things and a detailed response from those who support the RCA document would be appreciated. It is very easy to pass a long document as impartial – but when challenges to the method of the document are made in public, then the authors and supporters of the document should respond for everyone’s benefit.
You’re accusations of the medical establishment are important but miss the point. The question to most of us is not “what were the historical motivations behind the redefinitions of death as brain death?” but rather “are the MEDICAL arguments for brain death convincing or not.” Your accusations of bias come off as a distraction at best and as an attempt to avoid what appear to be serious questions about the RCA paper at worse.
I seem to have missed a piece in the mudslinging….. Some are wary of brain-death advocacy as being motivated by a desire to procure more organs for transplant. Ok, maybe. So what’s the supposed agenda of the “brain-death resistant” camp?
Nice story-but query R Soloveitchik came to Boston in 1932-the Nazis came to power in 1933 and then passed anti schechitah laws.
I misremembered some details. The story is published in MiPninei Ha Rav at the beginning of the section on Yoreh Deah. The poseik is indeed the Seridei Eish. Acc. to the story, Rav Soloveichik was in Berlin when R. Weinberg was considering the issue, and his advise was that such a weighty matter (stunning before slaughter) would require agreement of as many gedolei yisroel as possible. And, indeed, the Seridei Eish contains teshuvos from quite a number of contemporary gedolim on the issue.
I seem to have ruffled a certain neurosurgeon’s feathers, and I regret that.
A few comments:
Dr. Stadlan published a lengthy article at TorahMusings.com on his understanding of the medical science of brain function and brain death–after he and others attacked the author of the RCA paper in The Jewish Week.
I agree with Dr. Stadlan that ad hominem attacks are not appropriate. Thus, I hope he will publicly condemn use of incendiary language such as “stupidity” and “an act of anti-Semitism” and “fiasco” to describe the RCA paper.
In the Jewish Week article of Nov. 30th, Dr. Stadlan (who was not identified as a board member of the advocacy group, HODS), was quoted as saying: “In an era of transplants and artificial organs, it is not enough to decide on criteria for death. It is necessary to identify which parts of the body and which functions need to be present in order for the person to be considered alive. If a collection of tissue is no longer a human being, it doesn’t matter if circulation is present or not.”
We see that Dr. Stadlan himself has linked the determination of death with organ transplant, while arguing, in an extra-halachic manner, that “it doesn’t matter if circulation is present or not.” While it might not matter to Dr. Stadlan’s way of thinking, it did matter to the Talmud, to generations of scholars, to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl, and to numerous scholars today.
As for Dr. Stadlan’s kind offer to happily review specific information about presentation of “inaccurate medical information” to our leading rabbinic authorities, I’ve written more than I should have written, and in private I can direct Dr. Stadlan to the unimpeachable sources of information in this regard.
I am saddened by Dr. Stadlan’s claim that I have “deliberately presented irrelevent medical facts designed to confuse the layperson in the discussion of brain death.” While Dr. Stadlan is a brain surgeon, he is not a mind reader, and he dislikes ad hominem attacks, so I wonder how he can claim he knows that I deliberately tried to confuse anyone in a discussion of brain death. Maybe I’m just not as knowledgable as he is! For such a baseless claim, I would ordinarily challenge Dr. Stadlan to a ‘duel,’ but he is a neurosurgeon, and I am just a neurologist, and his scalpel is more deadly than my reflex hammer!
Similarly, Dr. Stadlan says, “If Dr. Z. had taken the time to read the paper he references…” with regard to a recent article I read in a neurology journal and subsequently cited. While Dr. Stadlan states that “the point of the article is that after a person was shown to have absent neurological function on an exam…they did not regain any function afterwards,” that is beside the point. The point was that the authors clearly chose, in the title of their article no less, to link brain death determination in children with organ transplantation.
Dr. Stadlan expresses uncertainty as to why I made mention of an aside, cited in the book I referenced about the definition of death, that nearly a dozen movies came out shortly after the Harvard criteria came out. Apparently, many people at the time of publication of the Harvard criteria felt that their attempt to create a new definiton of death based on irreversible loss of brain function was linked to organ donation. While Dr. Stadlan cites a recent article that claims otherwise, many people–including neurologists old enough to have talked with the orginators of the Harvard criteria–are convinced that their paper was at least in part written with an aim toward organ transplantation. Fortunately for them, they did not choose a title as provocative as the one chosen in the recent neurology article which I cited.
Rather than continuing this sort of back and forth argumentation of relatively tangential matters, I again respectfully invite Dr. Stadlan and all those truly interested in this topic to come to Israel, and meet with the major poskim. They might be swayed by various facts and arguments presented by Dr. Stadlan. I doubt it, as the poskim I’ve met–and there are many–were well versed in the latest medical knowledge, and still refused to accept “brain death.” Nevertheless, the beis medrash is the place for this discussion.
And, Dr. Stadlan, I promise not to bring my reflex hammer, if you won’t bring your scalpel.
I see that repeatedly that the actual core criticism of the position paper goes on answered. So far, all I have seen by the defenders of the paper is:
criticism of the halachic competancy of the critics of the paper.
criticism of the motivations of medical ethicists in determining death.
criticism of the methods of “activists” for halachic brain death.
There were real issues brought up regarding:
the methodology of the paper
the comprehensiveness of the paper’s research
the historical validity of its assertions regarding the positions of major poskim
the ethics of the simultaneous advocacy of recieving vital organs while not donating
None of these have been answered in anything written by the defenders of the paper.
Your most recent comment is yet again more of the same type of distractions.
Will someone please either defend the actual criticisms or on the other hand, admit that the paper is incomplete?
“I would ordinarily challenge Dr. Stadlan to a ‘duel,’ but he is a neurosurgeon, and I am just a neurologist, and his scalpel is more deadly than my reflex hammer!”
The above quote gave me much satisfaction. Here we have two talmidei chachomim who are experts in science able to disagree based on knowledge ,not platitudes. Of course, there is a little bit of anger and sarcasm on one side or the other, but I look beyond that to the fact that “Torah U Madah” can exist in symbiosis and Judaism has what to offer in the 21st century.Yahser Koach to both of them, and now let’s go to the kiddush and have some chulent.
I appreciate Dr. Zacharowicz’s offer to lay down the hammer(I too use the reflex hammer, not just surgical tools), but a number of points must be made, and I apologize in advance if they sound mean spirited, because they are not meant to be, it is just the truth as I see it.
I appreciate L. Oberstein’s comments, but I am not a talmid chacham. I am not a posek. My part in this endeavor, as someone who is familiar with the medical/scientific aspects of this question, is to make sure that poskim have the most accurate information possible. It ruffles my feathers when other scientists make statements that are not accurate and not supported by facts.
In the Winter Harvest discussion referenced above, the topic was brain death. Dr. Z. brought up the fact that patients in persistent vegetative coma(PVC) sometimes wake up. This has nothing to do with brain death. I assumed, perhaps innacurately, that Dr. Z. knew the difference between brain death and PVC, and therefore the reference to PVC was deliberate. If, as he intimates, he does not know the difference, he should not use his academic credentials in commenting, as they give his statements an authority that is not deserved. I apologize for overestimating his knowledge and for falsely accusing him of deliberate manipulation in that situation.
Regarding the paper we are discussing, Dr. Z. states “The point was that the authors clearly chose, in the title of their article no less, to link brain death determination in children with organ transplantation.” In fact, the paper is not about children, as the criteria for brain death in children is different than adults. It boggles my mind that these statements are made with impugnity.
Dr. Z. totally misunderstands the concepts of what I wrote. He notes that I said: “In an era of transplants and artificial organs, it is not enough to decide on criteria for death. It is necessary to identify which parts of the body and which functions need to be present in order for the person to be considered alive. If a collection of tissue is no longer a human being, it doesn’t matter if circulation is present or not. We see that Dr. Stadlan himself has linked the determination of death with organ transplant, while arguing, in an extra-halachic manner, that “it doesn’t matter if circulation is present or not.” While it might not matter to Dr. Stadlan’s way of thinking, it did matter to the Talmud, to generations of scholars, to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl, and to numerous scholars today.”
Lets take this one part at a time. If Reuven donates a kidney, how do you know that he isn’t dead after that donation? Perhaps the only part of Reuven that is important, was that kidney, and now that it is gone, he is actually dead, or worse, stuck inside of Shimon, the recipient? It is clear that issues of donation require a determination of what part of Reuven needs to be present in order for us to say that Reuven is present. While this is a reality that may not always have been realized, I didn’t make it up. Similarly, let us imagine that Reuven donates a kidney. Is that donated kidney life? is it a person? does it matter if the kidney has circulation or not? No, the life of Reuven is not attached to the kidney, and whether Reuven is alive or dead has nothing to do with that kidney. So, there are body parts that have no bearing on the life and death of the person.
By the way, Dr. Z. misstates the gemara. Since circulation as we know it was not known in the time of the Gemara, in fact circulation did not matter to the authors of the Talmud.
There is much more that can be said, but I will close by demanding an apology, not to me, but to the Rabbonim with whom I have reviewed this sugya. Dr. Z. continues to invite me to learn with him, the obvious implication being that I have not learned with gedolim adequately. As I mentioned previously, I had the honor to go over the topic with HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, who is the Av Beit Din of the RCA(again, I repeat that what I write or say is entirely my own and does not necessarily reflect any of the Rav’s positions or viewpoints). Dr. Z. needs to ask Rav Schwartz for mechila by implying that learning with the Rav is not adequate. It is in appropriate to imply that only learning with Dr. Z.’s gedolim will result in an understanding of the sugya. Even so, if he is offering me the opportunity to present at one of his Yarchei Kallah, I will make every attempt to make to time to do so.
This issue is complicated enough without innacurate statements. I invite anyone to review what I have written(in my articles, on over at Hirhurim, and if there are innacuracies, please let me know. In that vein, I also invite Dr. Z. to send me the information that he thinks was innacurately present to gedolim. noamstadlan-at-gmail-dot-com.
I appreciate the comments of L. Oberstein, who provides much food for thought. He errs if he thinks I am a talmid chacham, and perhaps at least one professional in this discussion might also question whether I am an expert in science. Nevertheless, I am interested in his suggestion with regard to chullent.
The main ojbection I have is that a debate about the most complex and sensitive of topics in medical halacha has found its way into the secular media. I have personally heard from a major non-haredi rabbi that in the 1970s he was told by the Rav ztl that under no circumstances should he give a shiur on a certain topic in medical halacha (less sensitive than this one) due to the danger that what he had to say would end up in the NY Times, and that would present a serious danger.
In contrast, in this case there appears to be people who chose to leak to the secular media their grievances about a halachic paper, released to the member of the RCA a half a year ago,$for internal purposes. As I understand it, the paper was the result of a four-year process involving tens of rabbis and professionals. Some of these individuals have chosen to attack, in the secular media, the integrity and scholarship of the lead author, a respected talmid chacham.
The Jewish Week was mysteriously apprised of the RCA paper, and their reporter interviewed Berman, a former journalist with multiple media contacts, and then HODS board member Noam Stadlan MD (without The Jewish Week disclosing Stadlan’s HODS connection.) I could be wrong, but my guess is that Berman did not suggest the reporter interview a medical professional who might differ with the HODS board member.
All this is consistent with a certain approach over the past many years, an approach which troubles many. Berman claims HODS is an educational organization yet nearly all his actions and quotes are consistent with advocacy.
HODS is a novel concept: an organization led by a board with not a single rabbi or scholar of ethics (with the exception of Dina Najman) on its board of directors, publicly advocating for a certain view in halacha with life-and-death ramifications.
(After I criticized Berman for not having rabbis on his board, he added a link, “rabbinic board members,” which links to a page with no less than 135 rabbis (who are described as “orthodox rabbis who carry organ donor cards”). Does anyone seriously think that this “rabbinic board” ever met, let alone offered guidance as a whole to Berman?
His board of directors consists of 7 physicians (none of which are neurologists), one “certified” bioethicist, and a marketing executive. The organization is led by a very talented former journalist, who is savvy about how to market his organization.
C.L. asks me to respond in this public forum to the public criticism by Dr. Noam Stadlan and Robby Berman of the main author of the RCA paper. I have no ideas what interviews were included and which were omitted, and if anyone has serious charges in this regard, why would they not have brought them directly to the RCA instead of to The Jewish Week? As to the issue of the medical science, much of this is, as they say in mathematical logic courses, “true, true, and unrelated.” Information about reversibility or lack thereof is essentially irrelevant to most poskim, as we are dealing with how death is defined from a religious point of view, not from a utilitarian point of view. As someone board certified in adult and child neurology, I might agree 100% with the scientific presentation by Dr. Stadlan, but whether the information he presents is relevant in terms of halacha is a different matter altogether. For example, the argument of “physiologic decapitation” was made decades ago–and ultimately rejected by the poskim involved.
Were historical distortions regarding the validity of the teshuvos of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl made? I had no direct involvement, and I am not a mind reader. Why not read the paper yourself, ask people who were involved, and come to your own conclusions, or ask more questions in a private venue? I do know that some of the understanding of what has happened to the brain at the moment of “brain death” provided to Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl is now known to be inaccurate.
C.L. seems to suggest I am a “supporter” of the RCA paper. I don’t believe I have voiced support for this work of halacha, and frankly my “support” as a layman would be meaningless–even if one could legitimately use terms like “support” with regard to a halachic work (this isn’t a baseball team, it’s the search for halachic truth).
C.L. feels that the concerns I’ve voiced about how the notion of “brain death” evolved and the possible intentions of many physicians (the “medical establishment”) are merely a distraction.
Yet, in halacha, the ne’emanus of the rofeh is an extremely important point. Until recently, no one would think to question the integrity of physicians and health care systems. Many have discovered, however, that health care systems have vested interests in all sorts of areas of medicine. Organ transplantation is potentially a very lucrative field for a hospital. (Interestingly, the only ones who cannot make money off of organ transplants are the “donor” and family.)
Doctors who have been spoon-fed a view of medical ethics which emphasizes “quality of life” over the sanctity of life and have been educated solely with the utilitarian approach (sacrifice the few to benefit the many) cannot be expected to be completely “unbiased” in how they present diagnostic and prognostic information to patients and their families.
It was just these sorts of concerns which prompted opposition to the recent attempt by the Obama administration to give financial incentives to doctors who discuss with patients “all” their options in a terminal illness. Will they even mention aggressive care as an option? Will they emphasize hospice? Those of us involved in the Chayim Aruchim project or in numerous end-of-life cases worldwide have horror stories that would frighten even the most cynical minded reader of this site.
Also, many doctors are simply not aware of the fact that a percentage of patients declared “brain dead” have over the years been shown to have areas of brain showing electrical activity or some degree of function of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis. (This is understandable, as neurosurgeons and even general neurologists, let alone non-neurologic physicians, do not spend their time reading textbooks on brain neurophysiology.)
What should one conclude when one sees an article about brain death determination entitled “Second Brain Death Exam Increases Anguish, Decreases Organ Donation”? That the two issues–determination of pediatric “brain death” and organ transplantation–are not linked? That the rush to declare someone “brain dead” is unrelated to the desire to remove those organs as quickly as possible? Indeed, the authors of the article suggest just that.
I can go on and on, and Dr. Stadlan, Robby Berman, and I can argue incessantly about the merits of all but the halachic aspects–an area in the domain of the rabbis who have to make these decisions.
It is very difficult for any medical professional to be open to, let alone accept, halachic reasoning and decisions which contradict his training and viewpoint. Yet, orthodox Jews are obligated to follow what our rabbinic authorities tell us to do. As Rashi points out, if they say something is “right” and we think, or even know, that is really “left” (or one might say “wrong”) we are not free to disregard their guidance.
I again respectfully suggest that Berman and those who support his advocacy group take time out of their busy schedules and sit and learn these sugyas, and ask questions, of our leading poskim, presenting whatever information they deem necessary–but keeping in mind the Rav’s admonition not to publicize each and every kunst you’ve found to shlug up the other person’s view.
Public pronouncements that the dozens of rabbinic scholars and their hundreds of thousands of adherents hold a “morally untenable” position do nothing to serve the cause of halachic clarification. Neither do personalized attacks from anyone involved in this rancorous debate.
Mr. Berman, Dr. Stadlan: if you feel I’ve made an unwarranted personal attack, please accept my apologies.
Dr. Stadlan’s first name implies the derech we should choose going forward.
Charedi Leumi writes: Frankly, some of us don’t have time to research all these things and a detailed response from those who support the RCA document would be appreciated.
Or – the real Jewish alternative: ask a posek!
I appreciate the effort Dr. Stadlan puts into reading my posts, but spends much of his valuable time (and ours) searching for possible errors in my posts.
Let’s dissect just a few of the points he makes as he tries to hammer me (analogies to scalpel and reflex hammer fully intended):
Dr. Stadlan, I am aware of the difference between “brain death” and persistent vegetative state. I don’t have the time you do at present to go back and read each and every post of mine, some of which you associate with nefarious intent, but as I recall in the WINTER HARVEST post (about a book wherein an Asian surgeon tells why she stopped doing organ transplant surgery–worth reading), I believe was using PVS as an example to indicate that our state of knowledge is not always absolute.
Indeed, I am aware of the difference between being awake and having minimal brain function–a term used to describe Sam Golubchuk zl, when his ICU doctors wished to convince the judge in Winnipeg to permit them to remove all his life support. (Although I was not permitted to examine Mr. Golubchuk, even the outside expert for the hospital which sought to put Mr. Golubchuk to death agreed he was at the very least in a minimally conscious state, if not as awake and alert as the medical staff in the hospital documented him to be at the same time the ICU director was submitting an affidavit stating the patient had minimal brain function and implying he was close to brain dead.)
There are two issues in medical halacha regarding death: diagnosis and prognosis. “Brain death” is a medical diagnosis with a prognosis of essentially no chance for recovery. That does not mean 100% of the brain is dead. Dr. Stadlan argues that because doctors state the brain, or brainstem, is dead, the person is dead. We know that’s doctors say. What is of interest is what do the halachic authorities say. Do they consider such a person to be alive, or dead? Some Buddhists do not accept that a person has died until his or her heart stops beating and the “life energy” leaves. It is possible for people of faith to believe in a soul and consider its departure not to coincide exactly with the time Dr. Stadlan says it must, because he has examined the patient and finds the brainstem is dead.
With regard to the paper I cited, as I recalled the paper reviewed data on 1229 adult and 82 pediatric patients pronounced dead in hospitals serviced by the NY Organ Donor Network between June 1, 2007, and December 31, 2009. Dr. Stadlan has seized on my typographical error–I meant to write “adults and children.” Please forgive me. As a child neurologist, I was more interested in the aspect involving children, and interested in a study by adult medical specialists that included children, since single brain death determination in children is frought with risk.
He makes some more serious errors than I did, however, when he ventures out of his field of expertise to discuss other matters. For example, Dr. Stadlan tries to give an analogy about Reuven and his kidney. This is an interesting philosophical argument. I’d prefer to hear what halachic authorities have to say. There have been responsa on halachic aspects of organ transplantation.
Dr. Stadlan then demands an apology because, as he states, he “had the honor to go over the topic with HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, who is the Av Beit Din of the RCA (again, I repeat that what I write or say is entirely my own and does not necessarily reflect any of the Rav’s positions or viewpoints). Dr. Z. needs to ask Rav Schwartz for mechila by implying that learning with the Rav is not adequate.” I have no idea how much time Dr. Stadlan spent going “over the topic” with Rav Schwartz, whom I have never had the privilege of meeting. Based on Dr. Stadlan’s current understanding of the halachic issues, I do question what he might have learned. We all make mistakes. (One of mine was to try to engage Dr. Stadlan in a discussion of the issues relevant to the medical halacha, given the limitations of one should and should not write in a public online format, let alone say in secular media.)
I doubt anyone would consider my rebuttals to Dr. Stadlan’s post to imply any sort of critique of Rav Schwartz. I never implied that leaernig with the Rav (Schwartz) is not adequate for Dr. Stadlan. (Personally, I have gained much from learning these sugyas with, and from, various major poskim, some of whom I’ve listed previously. I learned a lot about how the 1986 Chief Rabbi’s ruling on brain death determination for organ transplantation in Israel was derived at, from Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ztl himself, for example.)
Dr. Stadlan claims that “It is inappropriate to imply that only learning with Dr. Z.’s gedolim will result in an understanding of the sugya.” I am stunned that Dr. Stadlan seems to think the dozens of major halachic authorities–ranging from rabbanim at Y.U. to leaders of the Eidah Chareidis–are somehow “Dr. Z’s gedolim.” These authorities belong to all of us, and seeking to sit and learn with them is something no one should forgo. I deeply miss Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ztl. I cherish the shiurim I have attended with him, and the shiurim I continue to attend with y’b’d’mch’lch the major halachic poskim of the U.S. and Israel. I am sure Rav Schwartz–whom I have never had the privilege of learning from–would agree that these are not my gedolim. There are not camps in this issue. We’re all in this together, seeking the truth.
“Even so, if he is offering me the opportunity to present at one of his Yarchei Kallah, I will make every attempt to make to time to do so.” I do not decide who presents at the various yarchei kallahs. Frankly, nearly all those who “present” are major poskim, who give shiurim on sugyas in medical halacha. This is not a conference with a series of professors and others giving lectures, followed by polite applause, and a 10-minute break for coffee and cake. The yarchei kallah involves a full week of learning a sugya (some 70 or more hours) accompanied by shiurim from the poskim whose works we learn.
Certainly, anyone who would “present” information at a yarchei kallah would have to realize that assuming our Tena’im and Amora’im did not know about circulation is not very wise. Assume nothing about these men of spirit.
Dr. Stadlan, I do hope that one day you will make every attempt to make the time to sit down and learn these suygas, in such a format. We can arrange an avreich as a chavrusa. You can “present” whatever information is halachically relevant to the poskim during the question and answer session, or in the traditional give and take during learning.
Let me add one final point, before I end my part of this discussion. It is a privilege for people like me to have met and learned from poskim of all camps on this issue. I’ve felt privileged to have learned how Rav Tendler understands this sugya. I’ve felt privileged to ask Rav Moshe Sternbuch why he rejects brain death (notwithstanding HODS’ claim that he supports brain death).
Along with this privilege comes responsibility. For any of us to criticize a posek, be it the main author of the RCA paper or anyone else, is risky business at best. To do so in the secular media–the breach in discourse that prompted my latest foray into this morass–is even worse. Insults about our rabbis are “forever” online. How can any of us do teshuva for that? It’s time we all agree that we are not equipped to criticize any of these leading rabbis. We can ask questions, we can learn from them, but ultimately they are our chachamim, and we have to accept that. To criticize rabbanim in secular media is beyond the pale.
So, Dr. Stadlan, I will publicly apologize here, to Rav Schwartz, for implying–via my critique of YOUR reasoning–anything negative about Rav Schwartz.
Will Dr. Stadlan now apologize in the secular Jewish Week for what he said about the principal rabbinic author of the RCA halachic paper?
>Or – the real Jewish alternative: ask a posek!
If a posek could supply the answers to my questions above, then fine. But I don’t know how asking a posek is either “a real Jewish alternative” or in any way softens the seriousness of the charges – unless the posek is an expert in these particular issues and can answer the challenges leveled. Poskim in Judaism are not “oracles” which supply answered but rather experts whose authority rests on their expertese in both the Torah and the metziut involved in the question. Unfortunately, some of the poskim involved are not experts on the science and those who have researched it thoroughly are usually strongly on one side or another of the debate so the very act of choosing a posek to ask is a personal decision in which the layman almost always knows the answer he will get. So in the end, I still have to decide if I will ask a student of R’ Yisrael or R’ Shapiro who will support BSD or should I ask a student of R’ Elyashiv who will give me the opposite opinion? How can I make an informed decision unless I understand the issues involved?
And even if someone has such a full connection to a particular posek to whom they present all their questions – doing so in every instance is IMO not an ideal religious state. It seems to me that to be personally informed of the issues is always preferable and a higher religious ideal. In the Rambam’s words, we must accept the truth from wherever it comes whether or not the source is a posek – and what tool do we have for making such judgements regarding the truth except for our own intellect?
Your post is as usual interesting. However, to use one’s own intellect as the sole tool for making judgements on a life and death matter, such as ‘brain death,’ is fraught with risk. Would you use your own judgement to decide on what sort of spinal surgery to undergo? (I wouldn’t, even though I’m a neurologist; I’d consult with someone like Dr. Stadlan, who is an expert in spine surgery).
I started to learn suygas in medical halacha intensively, over a dozen years ago, in a yarchei kallah format, so that I could better understand the underpinnings, the “why” of each posek’s halachic analysis. This is perhaps similar to your ideal of being personally informed of the issues.
I wonder about your approach to “accept the truth from wherever it comes, whether or not the source is a posek.” To nearly all orthodox Jews, what the posek says binds us. There may be more than one halachic approach to a question, but one has to have a way to act, and the time-honored tradition is to choose a single posek and try to use that posek for all halachic issues (which I admit is easier said than done).
In medical halacha, for example, the joke goes that on Shabbos a doctor can drive to the hospital with the heter of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztl but he will need to switch poskim in order to drive back–he can drive back with the “Hatzolah” heter of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl.
Obviously, those who “switch” poskim to use the heterim of each only when it suits them are, to put it mildly, inconsistent in their adherence to psak. Both piskei halacha are clearly widely accepted and valid–but the use by many (inadvertent or deliberate) of BOTH heterim to get to and from the hospital is simply wrong.
The only way to resolve these sorts of dilemmas is to adhere to the piskei halacha of a single posek. Of course, when the issue is as grave as whether to donate one’s organs upon being declared “brain dead,” G-d forbid, hopefully the posek will have done his “due diligence,” not relying on public statements by groups of rabbis about which position they consider “morally untenable” and the like, but rather via a comprehensive study of the halachic literature. That is what the authors of the RCA halachic paper were charged with, and that is what they tried to achieve. There are many other potential sources to aid the posek in this endeavor. Ultimately, one has to have some degree of emunas chachamim in such matters. Rely on the big shoulders of an adam gadol.
If someone thinks that using their own intelect means not consulting with experts on all sides when they make a decision … then something is obviously lacking in their intelect and perhaps they should defer to someone else. This is not, however what I meant.
The wise person, of course, tries to learn a topic from all its possible angles and to this end he consults with as many experts as possible. In this case, the experts involved would obviously be medical professionals, poskim, as well as ethicists. My main point, is that even if one chooses to follow a particular posek, this in the end, is still HIS decision. He chose to follow this person and not that person. Outside of blind umunas chachamim to which I do not subscribe, the only criteria I can think of that would allow me to come to such a decision is to be informed regarding the issues involved. If a posek, no matter how much I may respect his learning, is making decisions based on bad science or a misunderstanding of the metziut, then I want no part in it. For that matter, if a posek, no matter how well versed in halachic texts approaches those texts in a manner very foreign to the way I see them (eg. He thinks chazal’s views of science were based on ruach haKodesh instead of the science of their day or he thinks various midrashic statement regarding how kidneys give consult to the heart should impact the halachic decision) then I want no part in his conclusions. The only way I can figure out how the posek is arriving at his decisions is to become involved myself. I accept it if others don’t like to think about the possibility of their posek being wrong – or for that matter, to think of their personal ethical liability in the case their posek is wrong on an issue of life and death. For for me and for many others I know, the rabbinate has simply lost much of our trust.
At this point in time, after countless scandles and bad policies, our own intelects’ veto power regarding things that we consider just plain wrong is the only way we have to serve Hashem. In this respect, I believe we are actually fulfulling the call and challenge of the Rambam at the end of the Moreh (3:52):
אין ישיבת האדם ותנועותיו ותשמישיו כשהוא לבדו בביתו כישיבתו ותנועותיו ותשמישיו כשהוא לפני מלך גדול, ולא דבריו וחפשיותו כשהוא בין אנשי ביתו וקרוביו כדבריו במושב המלך.
ולפיכך מי שהעדיף את השלמות האנושית ושיהיה איש האלוהים באמת, יתעורר וידע כי המלך הגדול האופף אותו והנצמד לו תמיד, גדול מכל אחד מבני אדם ואפילו היה זה דוד ושלמה, ואותו המלך הנצמד האופף הוא השכל השופע עלינו, שהוא המגע בינינו ובינו יתעלה, וכמו שאנו השגנוהו באותו האור אשר השפיע עלינו, כמו שאמר באורך נראה אור, כך באותו האור עצמו הופיע עלינו, ובגללו הוא יתעלה עמנו תמיד משקיף ומציץ, אם ייסתר איש במסתרים ואני לא אראנו. והבן זה היטב.
Charedi Leumi wrote in part:
“For that matter, if a posek, no matter how well versed in halachic texts approaches those texts in a manner very foreign to the way I see them (eg. He thinks chazal’s views of science were based on ruach haKodesh instead of the science of their day or he thinks various midrashic statement regarding how kidneys give consult to the heart should impact the halachic decision) then I want no part in his conclusions”
This is the heart of the matter. When in a matter of halacha, one limits what Chazal knew because of their “base of knowledge” and essentially denies the fact that Chazal were far closer to Har Sinai in their understanding of TSBP than we can even dream of being, or views a halachic statement on the relationship between the heart and the kidneys as merely agaddic, when the same may have been used in the halachic context by Chazal and Rishonim, that is illustrative of an all too common approach that is predicated on adjusting Chazal and TSBP to modernity, as opposed to viewing all of modernity via the prism of Chazal, Mesorah and TSBP. If Chazal, Rishonim , Acharonim and all Poskim prior to the adoption of the Harvard criteria worked from the perspectives of cardiac and respiratory death neither utilized brain death nor even considered it as the definition of death, one can argue that the entire enterprise of defining death by brain death had its origins as a reaction to the Harvard criteria and were an attempt to rewrite a definition that had been used in TSBP and Halachic literature for thousands of years. One must remember that the Harvard criteria serve as a huge benefit to the medical and health care community, where the combinations of the minimal care afforded a comatose patient who is brain dead will ensure that a bed will become vacant as soon as a patient is pronounced brain dead and the costs of treating a brain dead patient are far cheaper than maintaining a patient on life support.
Wow! Someone (Steve Brizel) seems to agree with me. Adar cannot be far off!
In my view, C.L. posits a very troubling approach to this topis. To my mind, this whole exchange is pointless if one does not adhere to the concepts of emunas chachamim and follow the dictum of obeying our halachic authorities, “yamin u’smol” i.e. regardless if when they say something is right, you think or ‘know’ it is left (or ‘wrong’!). This is basic Rashi.
My assumption was that on Cross Currents, at least, the participants agree on this basic axiom, which in my view is a starting point. (I realize on other sites that this not be assumed anymore, as everything goes.)
If we cannot logically “accept” (understand) halachic concepts of kashrus which seem refuted by modern chemistry, do we disregard these concepts?
If we cannot understand how the Ari Zal, the Radak, and so many rishonim and acharonim hold that the heart is the source of life, do we disregard their views?
If we cannot understand the teshuva of the Chasam Sofer to our liking, do we disregard that teshuva or put into a “historical context” to diminish its value to subsequent poskim?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then we are speaking two very different approaches which are incompatible with one another.
CL: So in the end, I still have to decide if I will ask a student of R’ Yisrael or R’ Shapiro who will support BSD or should I ask a student of R’ Elyashiv who will give me the opposite opinion?
That’s not called asking a posek, it’s called shopping around. And above you acknowledge the need for halachic expertise (“some of us don’t have time to research all these things”) yet asked for a summary-critique to help you “decide.”
First of all, may your family enjoy many years of health and never need to decide such things. But second, recognize that if you’re trying to “weigh” different poskim and “decide” which camp to go with, that isn’t called asking a posek, it’s called a regular person getting in over his head.
Does it disturb me that there are two major halachic opinions on this? No. That’s pretty ordinary in the world of halacha. We don’t ask them to go to war with each other and “decide” who wins. People pick their own poskim and follow them, which means halacha-abiding people will sometimes act differently from one another. (And in the case of brain death etc. the State of Israel accepted the opinion that people are free to choose either approach.)
How should you personally pick a posek, whether for everything or in a specific area? Certainly you can find plenty of guidance on that topic beyond the comments section here….
I was trying to stay away from the comment section. I appreciate Dr. Zacharowicz’s posts and offers to help me learn. One can always learn more, although I am troubled by the continuing implication that if only I learned more I would ‘see the light’ and agree with his position.
I agree that the comment section and in fact blogs are not the ideal venue for an in depth discussion. However, when one side of the discussion is attempting to publicly deligitimize the other side, it is necessary to put relevant facts before the same public. Please recall that this entire public discussion began with the publication of Rabbi Bush’s paper by the Va’ad Halacha.
It seems that we have a basic disagreement on the value of science and logic in Halacha, and my guess is that this is a hashkafic divide that is not easily bridged. Regarding his simple dismissal of one of my arguments, I would reccomend reading my in depth discussion of the topic as I have mentioned previously.
Regarding the Jewish Week and my remarks that were quoted there. I made a factual statement that Rabbi Bush put out a biased paper and did not include relevent scientific information. I have backed that up with a long post at Rabbi Student’s blog TorahMusings under the title ‘Death By Neurological Criteria’. In that post I have pointed out many of the problems with the paper. I invite Dr. Z. to read the post, and if he can show where I have made an error in fact or logic, I will be more than happy to correct it and apologize. As far as I can tell, I have made accurate statements of fact. While I understand that these facts may make Dr. Z. uncomfortable, this does not make them untrue. I agree that it was unfortunate for the paper to be publicized as it was, and it was equally unfortunate that the authors did not respond to non-public requests for changes or additions. Since the paper was designed to assist rabbis in their decision making, there were few to no other options to channel accurate information to those rabbis.
A Rabbinic proponent of brain death was recently taken to task on other blog pages for his approach that for all this time Rabbinic science has been in complete error regarding criteria for death. No longer killing lice is one thing, discarding longstanding criteria for murder is another. (Generally poskim who discuss this, the blog writer claimed, look for brain vs. heart death within the halachic statements of the existing sources, they don’t just cross out sections in their gemaras!)
As neither Rabbi nor scientist, I can only remark on the posturing I see from the outside. When one of the bigger petition Rabbis goes public with the blanket declaration, “…brain-stem death constitutes halachic death; our rabbis don’t have the necessary background to understand it….” I only wonder where the emunas chachomim is – in other words why does he attempt to negate the validity of any active posek’s involvement in the matter? Because I may be an outsider to this issue, but I know full well big poskim (and responsible shul Rabbis) don’t just pull a psak out of a hat – much consultation goes on both to gather facts and to confer regarding halacha.
While I certainly haven’t surveyed the shu”tim out there, there don’t seem to be many heavy-weight poskim (i.e. Gedolim) who have unequivocally gone on record in complete favor of brain stem death. Maybe because the definition is very precise and narrow, and a definitive, general psak would cause very ignorant public application and therefore ch”v murder by all opinions? Or maybe because as some poskim have said, safek deoraita l’chumra. I certainly don’t know.
If the need to go to the Jewish Week was because access to Gedolim/poskim was prevented, it isn’t the first time this secular paper was used to reveal otherwise concealed information to the Orthodox public. But in order to merit that assessment, I’m not sure whether calling the RCA report “biased” is the ticket, as much as claiming that they are stonewalling a debate that should otherwise remain unresolved.
Even your own remarks could go either way:
(1) “Since the paper was designed to assist rabbis in their decision making, there were few to no other options to channel accurate information to those rabbis.” In other words, due to one-sided stonewalling in the Rabbinic sector, we want to encourage pulpit Rabbis and their congregants not to assume one opinion out there but rather they should confer with poskim with expertise on the matter – don’t reach a conclusion based on this one paper.
(2) “It seems that we have a basic disagreement on the value of science and logic in Halacha, and my guess is that this is a hashkafic divide that is not easily bridged.” In other words, the two sides have a fundamental difference that can only be settled by bigger, perhaps visionary Rabbanim. I’ve picked mine, you pick yours.
Thanks for the remarks. I am not privy to the inner workings of the RCA, but from what has been conveyed to my by a number of sources, the issue is as follows: In 1991 the RCA Va’ad (I think it was the Va’ad HaPoskim) voted about brain death and there were votes on both sides. Therefore both circulation and brain death were and still are recognized as options by the RCA as reflected in the RCA living will(available on the RCA website). From what I understand, there have been those who have tried for close to 20 years now to undo that decision and revoke the acceptance of brain death. The paper put out by Rabbi Bush fits with this agenda. The most accurate title for it would be: “All the reasons we can think of to oppose accepting brain death.” I invite you to read all 110 pages, and my review, and again I will be happy to address any questions or concerns. This is not to say that opposing brain death is wrong. I very much respect the poskim who hold that view. In fact I have great respect for the authors of the report. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are attempting to influence the minds and hearts of the RCA membership in a particular direction. The biggest problem is that they presented the report so that the casual reader would not realize that it had an agenda. The paper is not a dispassionate citations of facts with some conclusions. It was written so that the reader would come to a specific conclusion. If it was labelled as such, there wouldn’t be a problem. Because it was presented as an open-minded search for truth, was necessary to make sure that the readers of the paper knew that it was biased.
Regarding the second issue, if you are thinking of going to college, and ask a posek what he thinks, you will get a lot of different answers. Those who do not value college will probably tell you not to go, and instead go to kollel or get married. Those who do value college will tell you of course you should go. There is no way the two poskim will ever agree, as their underlying values are too far apart. Similarly, there are poskim for whom it is important to know why the Chatam Sofer wrote what he did, and under what circumstances. It is also important to them to know the medical assumptions of the gemara and Rashi. There are other poskim who would put a lot less value on that knowledge, and focus more on the specifics of what was said and written. Therefore, it is not likely that the poskim will arrive at agreement. I think there is a lot of hashkafa and methodology in psak that underlies this halachic debate, and it is something that has not been readily recognized.
[YA – I have reason to believe that the Vaad in the near future will be offering some sort of answer to critics or clarification of their intent. Perhaps, instead of going more rounds here, we all wait to see what they have to say.]