Rabbinic Statement Regarding Organ Donation

January 7, 2011

We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis and rashei yeshiva affirm the following principles with regard to organ donation and brain stem death:

First and foremost, the halakhic definition of death is a long-standing debate amongst gedolei haposkim, and it should not be forgotten that, among others in the U.S. and Israel, the former Chief Rabbis of Israel, R. Avraham Shapira and R. Mordechai Eliyahu, zikhronam li’vracha, and, yibadel li’chayim, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the av beis din of the Beit Din of America, are proponents of the position that brain stem death constitutes the halakhic definition of death.


Both positions, that brain stem death constitutes death, and that only cardiac death can define death, are halakhically viable. This remains so even in light of the findings of the President’s Council on Bioethics in 2008.


With regard to this long-standing debate, and its critical implications for organ donation, we affirm our position that:


1. Brain stem death is a halakhically operational definition of death.  As such, organs may be removed for transplantation under strict halakhic supervision and guidance.


2. In light of the serious moral issues and profound lifesaving potential presented by the possibility of organ donation, we strongly recommend that rabbis who are rendering decisions for their laity on this matter demonstrate a strong predisposition to accept the halakhic view of the gedolei haposkim who define the moment of halakhic death to be that of brain stem death, or that they refer their laity to rabbis who do so.


3. Even as we adopt the brain stem definition of death, we emphasize that the greatest of care is needed in applying this definition in practice, and that safeguards are necessary to insure the organ removal is done in accordance with halakhic principles.  Each person should consult with his or her rabbi and appropriate medical professionals to understand how this determination of death is made, and how to ensure that the appropriate procedures will be in place.


4. Rabbis and laity who follow the position that brain stem death is not considered to be halakhic death should be aware that it is medically possible to donate certain body parts after cardiac death and that it is a mitzvah to do so. Thus:


a. It is both halakhically permissible and desirable and ethically mandated for every Jew to be an organ donor consistent with his or her definition of halakhic death.


b. Rabbis and community leaders must do all in their power to communicate this responsibility to the community, and to encourage all Jews to sign organ donor cards, in line with their halakhic definition of death.


5.  To adopt a restrictive position regarding donating organs and a permissive position regarding receiving organs is morally untenable.  Such an approach is also highly damaging to the State of Israel, both internally and in regards to its relationship with the larger world, and to the Jewish People as a whole.  This approach must thus be unequivocally rejected by Jews at the individual and the communal level.


Signed:

  • Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Efrat, Israel

  • Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Petach Tikva, Israel

  • Rabbi Benny Lau, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, Israel

  • Rabbi David Bigman, Ma’ale Gilboa, Israel

  • Rabbi Yehudah Gilad, Ma’ale Gilboa, Israel

  • Rabbi Binyamin Walfish, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Dr. Avraham Walfish, Israel

  • Rabbi Herzl Hefter, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, NewYork, NY

  • Rabbi Yosef Adler, Teaneck, NJ

  • Rabbi Dov Linzer, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Moshe Shamah, Sephardic Institute, Brooklyn, NY

  • Rabbi Barry Gelman, Houston, TX

  • Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Chicago, IL

  • Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, Los Angeles, CA

  • Rabbi Benjamin Samuels, Newton, MA

  • Rabbi Chaim Marder, White Plains, NY

  • Rabbi Yaakov Love, Passaic, NJ

  • Rabbi Nati Helfgot, Teaneck, NJ

  • Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Marc Angel, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Yossi Pollak, Westport, CT

  • Rabbi Zev Farber, Atlanta, GA

  • Rabbi Alan Yuter, Bnai Israel, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Hayyim Angel, Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum, Brooklyn, NY

  • Rabbi Nissan Antine, Congregation Beth Sholom, Potomac, MD

  • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Princeton, NJ

  • Rabbi Zachary Truboff, Cedar Road Synagogue, Cleveland, OH

  • Rabbi Michael Chernick, Teaneck, NJ

  • Rabbi David Kalb, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Yair Silverman , Rabbi Moed, Zichron Yaackov, Israel

  • Rabbi Aryeh A. Leifert, Mazkeret Batya, Israel

  • Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Los Angeles, CA

  • Rabbi Yonah S. Berman, Montreal, CA

  • Rabbi Ari Segal, Houston, TX

  • Rabbi Daniel Braune Friedman, Oxford, United Kingdom

  • Rabbi Adam Mintz, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, Rosh Kollel Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah, Alon Shevut, Israel

  • Rabbi Yonatan Cohen, Berkeley, CA

  • Rabbi Joel Tessler, Potomac, MD

  • Rabbi Ben Greenberg, Jewish Chaplain, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

  • Rabbi Ari Perl, Congregation Shaare Tefilla, Dallas, TX

  • Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, Portland, ME

  • Rabbi Yisroel Porath, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro, Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Michael Whitman, Hampstead, Quebec

  • Rabbi Eytan Yammer, Knesseth Israel Congregation

  • Rabbi Steven Exler, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Daniel Smokler, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Mordechai Rackover, Brown University, Providence, RI

  • Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Evanston, IL

  • Rabbi Akiva Dovid Weiss, Rutgers University, Rutgers, NJ

  • Rabbi Jason Herman, West Side Jewish Center, NewYork, NY

  • Rabbi Sorin Rosen, Bucharest, Romania

  • Rabbi Ronen Newirth, Overseas Director - Tzohar, Israel

  • Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, Cote St. Luc, Quebec

  • Rabbi Adam Scheier, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, Westmount, Quebec

  • Rabbi Max Davis, Springfield, MA

  • Rabbi Josh Yuter, Lower East Side, NY

  • Rabbi Daniel Geretz, West Orange, NJ

  • Rabbi Jonathan Duker, Beit Shemesh, Israel

  • Rabbi Yehudah Sarna, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Bob Carroll, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Uri Topolosky, Congregation Beth Israel, New Orleans, LA

  • Rabbi Daniel Levitt, Congregation Sherith Israel, Nashville, TN

  • Rabbi Yisrael Hollender, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Marc Gitler, Denver, CO

  • Rabbi Dov Zelden, Chicago, IL

  • Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko, Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation, Montreal, Quebec

  • Rabbi Saul Strosberg, Sherith Israel, Nashville, TN

  • Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, Executive Director, Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas, Dallas, TX

  • Rabbi Aaron Frank, Principal, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz, OU Seif JLIC, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

  • Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Los Angeles, CA

  • Rabbi Menashe East, Randolph, NJ

  • Rabbi Seth Braunstein, Boston, MA

  • Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish, University of Haifa, Israel

  • Rabbi Aaron Levy, Makom, Toronto, ON, Canada

  • Rabbi Mitchell S Ackerson, Chaplain (Colonel) US Army; Director Pastoral Care, Lifebridge Health System, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Benjamin Berger, Senior Jewish Educator, Ohio State University Hillel, Columbus, OH

  • Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, Beth Tfiloh Congregation, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Chai Posner, Beth Tfiloh Congregation, Baltimore, MD

  • Rabbi Zvi Leshem, Kehillat Shirat Shlomo, Efrat, Israel

  • Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Drew Kaplan, Long Beach, CA

  • Rabbi Hyim Shafner, Bais Abraham Congregation, St Louis, MO

  • Rabbi Mayer Lichtenstein, Yeshivat Otniel, Israel

  • Rabbi David Kasher, Oakland, CA

  • Rabbi Shimshon Nadel, Yeshivat Torat HaAretz, Har Nof Community Kollel, Jerusalem, Israel

  • Rabbi Yitzchok Adler, Beth David Synagogue, West Hartford, CT

  • Rabbi Elie Weinstock, New York, NY

  • Rabbi Avi Finegold, Chicago, IL

  • Rabbi Benji Shiller, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Yossi Newfield, Brooklyn, NY

  • Rabbi Howard S. Joseph, Montreal, Canada

  • Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Ohev Shalom - The National Synagogue, Washington, D.C.

  • Rabbi Howard Wolk, Dallas, TX

  • Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, Teaneck, NY

  • Rabbi Charles Sheer, Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY

  • Rabbi Murray Schaum, Riverdale, NY

  • Rabbi Etan Mintz, Charlottesville, VA

  • Rabbi Daniel Reifman, Yad Binyamin, Israel

  • Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow, White Plains, NY

  • Rabbi Eugene Korn, Bergenfield, NJ

  • Rabbi Kenneth Birnbaum, New York, NY

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