Monthly Archives: November 2012

Rav Aharon Lichtenstien on the Bible and Criticism from 1962

In the recent volume Rav Shalom Banayikn  (2012) Rav Aharon Lichtenstein published an essay that he wrote in 1962 on criticism and the Bible. Rav Aharon considered publishing it in the 1970’s but was dissuaded.  In short, in the essay he rejects the historical and philological criticism of Biblical criticism.  But he strongly encourages aesthetic literary criticism that brings out the depth of the meaning of a  text. But even here the literary criticism should best be done without history, referencing allusions, or critical evaluation and judgments

He describes the opposing sides of Biblical critic and rebuttal as a choice of “revolting desecration and animated, if not angry, debate.” He offers the insights gained when we consider how Victorians confronted the pre-Wellhausen criticism of John William Parker’s Essays and Reviews or the Biblical writings of Bishop Colenso as based on the strength of their prior religious faith.

This essay was initially delivered as a public lecture at Stern College for Women during the spring of 1962. However, after a decade and a half of inertia, as some of my doubts waned, I once again considered publication. Hence, I sought further counsel and submitted the text to a prominent and qualified author for evaluation. The advice was appreciative but decisive: thumbs down.

“Criticism and kitvei ha-kodesh” — the conjunction hovers between anomaly and anathema. When we hear the term “criticism” employed with reference to Tanakh, we immediately and almost instinctively associate it with the school of so-called “higher” critics who, since Spinoza, and especially in the last century and a half, have attempted — through the persistent application of historical, philological, and archaeological scholarship — to undermine the sanctity and integrity of Scripture; who, tearing it to shreds, have sought to reduce it, has ve-shalom, to the status of purely human writings. As such, to benei Torah, the term is both an alarm bell and an abomination. It conjures up memories of the onslaughts of Milman or Wellhausen, on the one  hand, of the stirring rebuttals of Rav Chaim Heller or Professor Cassuto, on the other; of revolting desecration and animated, if not angry, debate.

I feel no overriding and urgent interest in grappling with a topic which, while unquestionably important, tends to be treated at the level of apologetics. Under contemporary conditions, certainly, one’s stand vis-à-vis Biblical criticism is most likely a function of that religious faith rather than vice-versa.

Many Victorians who were troubled or overwhelmed by Essays and Reviews or Bishop Colenso succumbed because their religious faith had previously been sapped as its experiential roots had withered for reasons which had no link to philological or theological discourse.

Hence, confrontation with Biblical criticism today, while still a formidable challenge to some, should probably focus less upon the heresy proper and more upon the cardinal concerns at the heart of our spiritual life — the intensity and range of religious experience, the depth and scope of Torah knowledge, the internalization of our bond to the Ribbono Shel Olam and His will.

The focus of the essay and its clear importance is as a clear mandate to master literary criticism for the appreciation of the Bible. The first reason is the Victorian role of aesthetics as cultivating our humanity into harmonious individuals. The second is the Thomistic revelation into nature; the world is filled with divine glory and beauty. I wish this later point had been expanded because we have few Jewish sources on beauty as a path to God. God’s beauty is not just in nature but also in Scripture. His third reason is that aesthetic criticism leads to understanding the deeper meaning of the verse.

Quite simply, I propose that we strive to apply literary criticism to kitvei ha-kodesh — that we master its categories, familiarize ourselves with its canons, and bring these to bear upon our reading, understanding, and appreciation of Tanakh.

In short, I propose, first, that we discover — or rather, rediscover — kitvei ha-kodesh as literature; and second, that in order to deepen our appreciation of them as such, we seek to approach them critically.

First, aesthetic experience per se, properly channeled, is spiritually desirable. It serves to sharpen our perception, to expand our horizons, to refine our sensibility and deepen our humanity — to make us richer and more harmonious individuals.

Secondly, the specific aesthetic aspect of kitvei ha-kodesh has its own significance. For it is no mere man-made ho kalos [logos ho kalos = the good word]. It is beauty as divine revelation, as a refection of the form in which the Ribbono Shel Olam chose to manifest His will to man. We are all familiar with the concept of dual revelation — that of prophecy and creation, respectively.

With respect to the latter, we assume as a matter of course that much of its impact is effected by cosmic beauty — by structural design and harmonious order, by majesty and grandeur fused with delicacy and grace. Whether in the panoply of the galaxies or the tenderness of the snail, it is clear to us that the message of divine glory told by the heavens is largely communicated by awe inspiring beauty.

Ought we, then, to dismiss with respect to Scripture what we so readily acknowledge with regard to nature? Hardly. And lest we wallow in doubts, the pasuk has resolved them unequivocally (Tehillim 29:4): קול ה׳ בכח קול ה׳ בהדר “The voice of the Lord” — the direct no less than the oblique — “is in power, the voice of the Lord is in magnificence.” Splendor and force were manifested not only in the fire and wasteland cited in subsequent verses, but, equally, in Torah given in flame-lit desert, and in prophecy or divine inspiration throughout the ages.

Let me go a step further, to the third reason. Power and beauty are not merely frosting on the cake of a pasuk’s meaning.  They are — in the more imaginative and emotional passages, certainly of the very fabric of that meaning.

Similar to the classics of New Criticism from the 1930’s such as Cleanth Brooks, Rav Aharon limits criticism to the meaning of the text and cautions that one should not evaluate works. To engage in evaluation he calls  “presumptuous folly and dangerous heresy.” Therefore he castigates Abravanel for evaluating the literary merit of prophetic works. Along the way he historicized Abravanel as based on Renaissance literature. As a student of the new criticism he affirms: “Whatever and however a pasuk or a sefer expresses is, ipso facto, what and how it should express.” And he explicitly advocates Helen Gardner as a paradigm for aesthetic criticism in which one elucidates the text without the need for investigating the allusions of the text whose source is outside the text. Rav Aharon singles out Nehama Leibowitz and Meir Weiss, for following this aesthetic approach. He acknowledges that much of this is not new for much of the community, but still needed “on the whole, for the Torah community at large.”

Application of criticism to kitvei ha-kodesh must, however, be tempered by an indispensable qualification. In popular parlance,“criticism” is primarily envisioned as a semi-juridical enterprise, focusing upon judgment and evaluation. Drama critics grade playwrights, music critics weigh the merits of sonatas, and book reviewers assess the worth of current novels. In our case, criticism in this sense is clearly inadmissible. Grading the “success” or “failure” of a psalm in Tehillim or a chapter in Amos is the interface of presumptuous folly and dangerous heresy.

You may recall, for instance, that Rav Yitzhak Abravanel found fault with the roughness and abruptness of much of Sefer Yirmiyahu, and accounted for it by the twin facts that the prophet had grown up in provincial surroundings and, as he himself demurred — “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak; for I am a youngling” (1:6) — he was young and relatively unschooled when called to prophesy. Of course, if the Abravanel, instead of positing mellifiuous and polished Renaissance literature as a standard, had been steeped in modern poetry — fraught with allusions and disjunction, rich in telescoped imagery, and frequently characterized by psychological rather than logical continuity — he would have understood Yirmiyahu much better. Be that as it may, however, his position is clearly untenable; and we assuredly affirm the strictures justly passed upon it by the Malbim (introduction to Yirmiyahu):

In critical discourse, they are no less the point of departure than the conclusion. We can no more judge them than the botanist can assign a report card to the hyacinth or the astronomer pronounce whether a galaxy moves as it “ought.” Excellence — just raising the issue sounds sacrilegious — is self-defined; we are dealing, after all, with divinely inspired writings.

Whatever and however a pasuk or a sefer expresses is, ipso facto, what and how it should express.

Helen Gardner has succinctly noted, “would be my symbol for the critic. Elucidation, or illumination, is the critic’s primary task as I conceive it.”

it is inevitable that we should respond to them differently. Not all Scriptural texts impact, primarily, upon the same aspect of our personality. Some, to refer to De Quincey’s familiar distinction, belong to the literature of knowledge, others to the literature of power. Some address our sense of duty, others our desire for truth, still others, our passion for beauty.

Of course, what I have been advocating is not, strictly speaking, novel. Some aspects are clearly to be found in Hazal, midrashim, and parshanim, early and late. Others have been developed, more recently, in Israel, in the stimulating work of committed scholar-critics such as Nehama Leibowitz and Meir Weiss, in line with their focus upon textual rather than historical issues. Nevertheless, on the whole, for the Torah community at large, the direction I have suggested entails a degree of reorientation — if not the introduction of wholly new elements, then, at least, a change of perspective and gestalt.

Finally for those who cherish Rav Aharon’s 1961 image about “serpentine psychology,” here we have an image of faith in which “its inner light, shall hold the dragons of quasi-heresy at bay.”

Rabbi Immauel Jakobovits and the Loss of the Deathbed

This post will continue our discussion of Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and modern medicine from a prior post- here.

From a historian’s perspective Jacobovits was crucial for the dismissal and writing out of Judaism hundreds of years of deathbed rituals and preparations for a good death and easy passage to the afterlife. In the 1960’s the value of preserving human life in the ICU displaced asking about repentance and the angel of death. The biological concerns of preserving of life took precedent over the psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical. Philip Aries, a French historian, spent twenty years investigating the changing attitudes towards death in Western Civilization.  In the Middle Ages, the “dying well” ( ars moriendi) came to primacy as one came to terms with their ultimate demise. What was then important was how the dying faced death.  In the mid-20th century, advances in medical technology, particularly the development of the respirator, meant that death could now be delayed and occurred in hospital following a ”great war against death.” A death in the ICU is a failure of medicine rather than a good death. Culturally, death is now culturally invisible.  The entire process of fighting death shows more belief and focus on medicine than on religious services and the afterlife. There is no culmination of a religious service with the kiss of death.

The social historian Elliot Horowitz describes an Italian controversy from 1556 in which a Jewish man died suddenly without having confessional performed as part of Jewish Last Rites and was thus refused burial. Those on the side of the deceased claimed that the movements of the man’s lips immediately preceding death should have constituted as a confession. Rabbi Tucazinsky’s Gesher Hachaim records that in 1947 Jerusalem they had a person shout confession every day in the hospital so that everyone can affirm a confession before dying.


The Talmud teaches that, “If one falls sick and his life is in danger, he is told: ‘Make confession, for all who are sentenced to death make confession.’”  In the Shulchan Aruch’s codification, based on the language in Mesechet Semachot, where it is ruled that the following text should be recited to the terminally ill: “Many have confessed but have not died; and many who have not confessed died. And, many who are walking outside in the marketplace confess. By the merit of your confession, you shall live. And all who confess have a place in the World-to-Come.” The Early Modern works on deathbed procedures, such as those by Rabbi Aharon Brachia Maavar Yabok, were still essentials for the early 20th century despite numerous editions and translations.  These works build on Talmudic and Medieval conceptions and create full orders and regulations for the deathbed rituals. (They are also our binding source for the activities of the Chevra Kaddisha’s performance of Tahara on the deceased.) In contrast, Jakobovits states that the “predominantly “this-worldly” character of Judaism is reflected in the relative sparsely of its regulations on the inevitable passage of man from life to death.”

In the Jewish works of dying well, the goal, according to social historian Avriel Bar-Levav, was to preserve self-control, unlike our current ICU deaths. Typically, deathbeds required a confession of the dying before a minyan.  However, lacking such control Maavar Yabok (ch 19) states  that one who is on his deathbed, the confession is said on his behalf by an appointed messenger who will read the text in the patient’s presence whether he is conscious or not.  One gathers a quorum of ten men around the deathbed in order to pray.  The moment the soul decides to submit and leave the body is considered the “kiss of death;” this is different from biological death.  The prayer said by those standing around the dying person appears in the standard Hamadrikh and begins with verses calling for God’s mercies.  It includes the Priestly Benediction and the prayer for God’s angels and protective spirit is called upon.  It is important to note, however, that this prayer is said even if the one in one one’s deathbed (goses) is incontinent and cannot hear the prayers. The prayer, according to these authorities, has an effect on the soul and also on those who are reading it. Even Rabbi Yekutiel Greenwald’s 1951 work, Kol Bo Aveilut  assumes these practices and even asks questions such as if one has one rabbi for a last rite, do we send him to the bed of the sinner or the rabbi?

In contrast, Jakobovits assumes that only Christian religious literature has devoted much attention to the problem of ascertaining the exact moment of death. In Judaism, however, this problem has little or no purely religious significance, since there are no sacramental rites to be accorded to the dying prior to the soul’s final departure from the body. From the ritual point of view, the only practical distinction in Jewish Law between a live body and a dead body concerns the rules of defilement cuased by the dead body.Whereas originally there would be a process of dying that included the soul, now in Jakobovits’ view we are limited to the body.

In the full deathbed service, in works such as Maavar Yabok, there are important practices to perform for the dying person and for  family and friends which signale the transition between realms. Physical death occurs at the end of this ritual process and the ritual serves to help in demarcating the living from the dead. Even after the physical death, the process of the soul leaving the body is to take the full length of the seven day Shiva period.  In modern terms, it would mean that even after the clinical signs of death, there is still a transitional process in which the body is still considered spiritually alive for a period of time. Jakobovits does away with this transitional realm and limited the process to the modern clinical realm of the undertaker: “When the patient dies, his body generally passes from the attention of the physician into the care of the undertaker and the religious officials who attend to its interment.”

Jakobovits acknowledges that, “the earliest Rabbinic sources usually speak of death as the “going out of the soul,” they also concede the view that the association between body and soul is not altogether severed until three days after death.”  But he trusts in modern medicine’s designation of biological death and considers that doctors are able to ascertain death. This is in distinction to the position of Rabbi Moshe Isserles who “altogether denies our competence ‘nowadays’ to ascertain the exact moment of death.”

Jakobovits leaves us with an acceptance of the modern clinical definition of death. Originally, there was an unknown moment of death described in  deathbed rituals as the “Kiss of Death” which signifies was the social moment when we had previously assumed the person had died. Now, that moment is identified entirely with the physical death. Gone are discussions of afterlife or how sickness and death are part of the religious cycle of the community. But equally as important is that we have lost any discussion of the social declaration of death such as how do families and communities note the transition of a member from life to death? The days of death rituals assumed a period between life and death, a process of dying. From the perspective of ordinary cases of end of life , the issues of futility, refusal and withdrawal of care is paramount, while the definition of death is a much rarer concern. Aristotle designates four souls: mineral, plant, animal, and human. Platonists added a fifth: the spiritual. The plant soul is digestion, animal soul is reactive, and human soul is rational or thought processes. Much of the halakhic death debate concerns over the vegetable and animal souls, little is said about the human soul, and much of the traditional process of death is now viewed as a legal moment.

The new approach of medical death in the ICU and the halakhah created for it makes all death a failure of medicine. It turns dying into a moment not a process. The way we deal with the denial of death is to control it through medical definition. Philip Aries showed that there were many stages of dying from becoming sick to maggots on a decaying body, even physical decay was not the end. Once there was the death of the human, the animal and vegetable aspects of human life took until the end of shiva to be completed. The assumption was that the body as organism felt the pain of the grave and the maggots.  (For many others, the claim of the dying on his/her body continues until the resurrection of the dead. This position was still held by Rabbi Waldenberg but scoffed as superstition to those with medical models.)

The approach started by Rabbi Jakobovits was continued by almost all halakhic/Orthodox rabbis who deal with medical ethics. Their comments deal almost exclusively with problems of life, rather than with the subject of death. The sociologist Peter Berger notes that death is an essential feature of the human condition that requires people to develop means of coping with it, to neglect death in the ICU death is to ignore one of the few universal parameters in which social and individual life are constructed. The contemporary sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that in our era of `late’ modernity’, there are three changes: the experience of death has become increasingly privatized, there is an increased identification of the self with the body; and the shrinkage of the scope of the sacred. Is there a way to bring back the sacred in an age of hospital death?

Israel Issues Diwali Stamp

This year the State of Israel issued a postage stamp for the Indian holiday of Diwali to celebrate twenty years of relations.  The stamp is part of a two stamp set comparing the Jewish festival of lights- Hanukah to the Indian festival of lights. Notice that the stamp actually says Diwali and explicitly compares it to Hanukah. In contrast, when Israel issues Christmas or Easter stamps they just say “seasons greetings” to avoid mentioning Christmas or Easter. and they certainly dont compare the Christian holidays to Jewish ones. Diwali is celebrated by everyone in India as a national holiday. The public aspects were also celebrated by India’s Jews as told in our blog interview with Avi Solomon. Diwali was first celebrated as a public holiday five years ago by the Israeli Diamond Exchange in appreciation of the Indian diamond community’s contribution in making Israel one of the major centres of world diamond trade.

From the Times of India

TEL AVIV: India and Israel have released a set of postal stamps depicting their respective festival of lights, Diwali and Hannukah, to commemorate 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The stamps were unveiled by secretary and director general of India Post, Manjula Prasher, India’s new envoy to Israel, Jaideep Sarkar, and chairman of Israel Postal Company, Sasi Shilo in presence of other officials from both sides.

Sarkar called upon to promote close people to people contact among the two countries to foster experience of mutual goodwill and friendship among them.

“In India we have a great respect for the Jewish faith, as we have for all other faiths. Today the release of the joint postal stamp not only celebrates a milestone in our diplomatic relations but also a common structural tradition, the festival of lights….both festivals celebrating the victory of good over evil”, Sarkar said addressing India enthusiasts gathered to attend the ceremony.

The Indian stamp shows a row of traditional earthen lamps, diyas, representing Diwali and the Israeli stamp features a menorah with the word “Zion” inscribed inside a Magen David star.

Hanukkah, like Deepavali, celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the victory of justice over injustice.

Emphasising on the deepening Indo-Israel ties, Shilo called upon the postal services of both the countries to also cooperate in order to meet the new challenges posed by technological advancements. “Issuing joint stamps symbolises the culture, cooperation and friendship shared between people and nation”, he said, touching upon the special bonding between Indians and Israelis.

These limited edition stamps have been designed by Indian artist, Alka Sharma, and Israeli artist, Ronen Goldberg. They will be available in Israel from today and released in India in about two weeks.

The menorah featured on the stamp was inspired by the wooden menorah used by the Jewish community in Bombay.

On Diwali:

Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It’s the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that’s marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy.

Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition with its own tale, legend and myth to tell.

The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya,  the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva, and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year

From Darkness Unto Light…- In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity.

While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).

h/t Reb Yudel and Jewlicious

Any thoughts on the Diwali – Hanukah comparison?

Eating in Non-Kosher Restaurants Florence, Italy, 1571-1622

In preparing for a class on the Jews in Italy, I found these texts published by Stefanie Siegmund, newly discovered and translated from the Florentine Jewish Community archives. In the first one, we have a regulation not to eat out on Shabbat and not to order gentile wine from outside the Ghetto for Shabbat use. The second text from several decades later bans eating in non-kosher restaurants no matter what they serve or whether tavern, pub, snack bar, restaurant, specialty shops, or breakfast room. One can only eat ices without company in these establishments.

In principle  this is not new. Cecil Roth, Roberto Bonfil, David Ruderman and Ariel Toaff are filled with medieval Italian Jews who gamble on Shabbat, drink gentile wine without qualm, frequent brothels, attend Carnival in mask, engage in mixed dancing- even teaching dance in the day schools, and engage in duels. But the seeming need to tell them not to eat at treif restaurants is new.

Professor Siegmund writes:

The demographic growth of cities, the presence of foreigners, the relatively improved safety of the streets, changing tastes and fashions, the availability of time for leisure and the necessity of travel for business – all these contributed to the success of hotels, pubs and taverns (and, later, coffee houses. The first ordinance (1609) concerned Jews who visited taverns on Sabbath and holy days, not mentioning the consumption of food and drink in the city’s establishments on other days. Sometime before 1622 there was a six month ban on Jews frequenting these establishments at all. Had the cultural practice changed in two decades, or should we see here the strengthening of a ghetto government that first attempted only to address the violation of the Sabbath and a decade later attempted to enforce kashrut?

“That on the Sabbath and festival days, it shall not be permitted to anyone to go to drink and eat at hosterie or grecaiuoli of any type or stripe whatsoever, nor to have wine brought in from outside the ghetto on the day of the Sabbath, under penalty of 1 scudo per occasion [of the transgression], as above.”

That for six months from the above said date, it shall be unlawful and in fact prohibited to go to eat or drink at osterie, bettole, grecaioli, alberghi, camere alocante and other similar places, in Florence just as for a mile outside, and this prohibition is made for every Jew of our holy congregation, of whatever status, sex and condition, of every age. Excluding from this penalty an [individual] who should wish to go to drink a glass of ices, but this is only conceded for going alone, without any company, and the [governors] reserve the right — if they should learn that someone is abusing and maligning the concession — to prohibit [it] and condemn [it] the same as stated. Source Here.

Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and Christiaan Barnard

Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits (1921-1999) was largely responsible for founding Jewish Medical Ethics, now an established academic field. The phrase “Jewish Medical Ethics” first appeared as the title of Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits’ doctoral thesis submitted to London University in 1955. Jakobovits built medical ethics as a form of ethics, not as a legal concern, rather in the sense in which what it is understood in Roman Catholic moral philosophy. Jakobovits’ main focus was moral problems raised by medicine and medical practice as opposed to those raised by Jewish law. “Judaism considers that the great moral principles are profoundly enough rooted in the religious conscience of the nation to make it possible to tolerate exceptional cases… It acts thus in conformity with its general spirit which is to be strict in its principles, but human and clement in its application as it concerns the individual person.  Or in sum, “it is the human factor of the ethical code which will complete the lacunae of the law.

An underreported side story was his connections to Christiaan Barnard, the South African surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in 1967. It seems that the Chief Rabbi and the surgeon exchanged formal letters on medical ethics and spoke both by phone and in person. These conversations seem to have created a common language even when the two differed. They appeared in public together and presented themselves as completely opposite opinions on when to allow passive euthanasia, the doctor would refuse the patient even basics such as food and the rabbi distinguished between basics and extra-ordinary procedures. But on many other issues they seem to frame their discussions in similar terms. Barnard wrote Good Life Good Death: A Doctor’s Case for Euthanasia and Suicide (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1980). In the book and in several prior articles the doctor discussed his conversations with the Chief Rabbi.

Barnard writes that immediately after the first heart transplant on 26 December 1967, was performed in South Africa, he wrote to Rabbi Jakobovits asking for his opinion. The Rabbi’s reply, in part, was the following:

An organ may never be removed for transplantation from a donor until death has been eventually established. The prohibition of nivul hameth would then be suspended by overriding consideration of pikuach nephesh. Hence, I can see no objection in Jewish law to the heart operations recently carried out, provided the donors were definitely deceased at the time the organ was removed from them.

In his book, Barnard was a vigorous advocacy of passive euthanasia based not on vital signs, but on a quality of “being alive.”

And by living I do not mean simply exhibiting one or two vital signs, such as respiration or the registration of heartbeat. I mean rather the whole conglomeration of sensual experiences that the patient calls “being alive”—the experiences that by their very complexity and subtlety are not amendable to measurement or statistical analysis and are usually known only to the patient, his closest associates, and his doctor.

Today’s sophisticated medical technology can lead to situations in which few of the rules apply. For example, it is possible to have a heart beating for many hours in a body that is dead, and conversely, a patient can be very much alive even though the heart’s beat has stopped for hours.

Barnard turned for religious guidance to determine life and death. He found that the modern issues was first broached “in 1957 when, at the international Congress of Anesthesiologists in Rome, Pope Pius XII was asked, “When does death occur?” Barnard was satisfied with the Pope’s reply that “human life continues for as long as its vital functions, distinguished from the simple life of the organs, manifest themselves spontaneously without the help of artificial processes.” What is important in this Papal definition is the insertion of the word “spontaneously” and without “artificial processes” to determine life. The Pope added that, “The task of determining the exact instant of death” was that of the physician.” This definition was given even before the widespread use of heart/lung machines or the ability to perform organ transplants. Barnard adopted this definition as his own:

A person will be considered medically and legally dead if, in the opinion of a physician based on ordinary standards of medical practice, there is an absence of spontaneous brain function; and if based on ordinary standards of medical practice, during reasonable attempts to either maintain or restore spontaneous circulatory or respiratory function in the absence of aforesaid brain function, it appears that further attempts at resuscitation or supportive maintenance will not succeed, death will have occurred at the time when these conditions coincide. Death is to be pronounced before artificial means of supporting respiratory and circulatory function are terminated and before any vital organ is removed for purpose of transplantation.

 This definition of spontaneous breathing and irreversible condition will be adapted by Jakobovits and, through him, to later authors. In one of his earlier writings, Fred Rosner, writes of an oral communication he had with Jakobovits about irreversible conditions.  “A similar conclusion is expressed by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, who states, in part, that ‘the classic definition of death as given in the Talmud and Codes is acceptable today and correct. However, this would be set aside in cases where competent medical opinion deems any prospects of resuscitation, however remote, at all feasible.” (August 1968)

The phrase “spontaneous respiration” originated in 1880s and was used through World War I to refer to resuscitation of a person. It declined in usage between 1915-1969; it resurfaced in terminology during the 1970s   and was more concerned with acute pulmonary failure. The adjectives such as “irreversible” and “spontaneous” became the assumed terms for respiration. It seems that it was Jakobovits was the first brought to bring it into Halakhic discourse. The Talmud, not accounting for ventilators or CPR, assumes solely that no breath equates to no life.

Barnard declares that, “most doctors know deep in their hearts that euthanasia is the right form of treatment for some terminally ill patients.”  Barnard further muses that  he“[W]ould have expected, for example, that those most opposed to it [passive euthanasia] would be Orthodox Jews.” However, he found out when he “conferred with Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits” and “read his book on medical ethics” and concluded that “the Orthodox Jewish view accepts the legality of expediting the death of an incurably ill patient in acute agony by withholding such medicaments as would sustain his continued existence by ‘unnatural means.’” For Orthodoxy, “there is nothing opposed to passive euthanasia, merely agreement that no special treatment should be used to continue a life that is already at an end.” Barnard concludes that he is “struck by the fact… that euthanasia is more in keeping with religious teachings than it is with medical teaching.

Jakobovits recounts how on a visit to Cape Town, he had a fascinating discussion with Christiaan Bernard. The two were at loggerheads over the definition of death. Barnard was willing to condone almost any form of euthanasia. To which Jakobovits juxtaposes his own view:

The rule remains firmly fixed firmly to the extent that Jewish law cannot accept the concept of “clinical death”. So long as any spontaneous life action by the heart or lungs persists, even “irreversible brain damage” or a flat electro-encephalogram (EEG) reading does not legally establish death. Any action, even at that stage, which would precipitate the patient’s final demise is to be regarded as homicide and strictly condemned.

In principle Jakobovits accepts breathing and heart as the criteria for life, but he does not think that we should prolong artificially a life especially when there is great pain. For Jacobovits, goses means non-spontaneous and irrevocable so in such cases he allows passive euthanasia.  In those cases, we let nature take its course.

So long as the heart still functions and the blood circulates, death has not yet set in. But this does not mean that a lingering life, especially when experiencing great pain, must be prolonged at all costs and in all circumstances. While one may not actively cause or hasten the onset of death, and no one may therefore never withhold normal and natural means to sustain life—such as food, drink, blood, or oxygen (or air)—one need not artificially prolong life…by administering antibiotics…to suppress infection. Thus, one may allow nature to take its course by withholding such treatment… There was, however, limitation of care to allow the heart to stop beating as soon as possible within the limits proposed by Jewish law. Invasive and non-invasive monitoring were stopped and antibiotic treatment was withdrawn. There was to be no resuscitation in the event of an arrhythmia, no endotracheal suction, and no renal support.

Such patients must be treated as live persons, though one need not apply artificial methods in hopeless cases at the terminal stage. In such cases, it may indeed be wrong to prolong the suffering by artificially maintaining lingering life. If resuscitation fails, the patient is considered as retroactively dead from the time breathing ceased.

So is this like Christiaan Barnard? Where are the similarities and differences beyond the obvious? I am not asking the halakhic debates of 2012, or am I asking about those rabbis who differ with Jakobovits. I am asking how similar or different are these two 1960’s authors? Thoughts?  I have more and longer passages of Barnard available if it will help you pin down comparisons and contrasts.

Rabbi Binyamin on the Indigenous Arab Population

Rabbi Binyamin offers us another glimpse into the world of religious Zionism in the first half of the 20th century, the potentials of the original Mizrachi movement.

RABBI BINYAMIN (pseudonym of Yehoshua Radler-Feldmann; 1880–1957), Hebrew journalist. Born in Zborov, Galicia, Rabbi Binyamin published his first essay in 1903, then in 1906 moved to London, where he joined J.Ḥ. *Brenner. Arriving in Palestine in 1907, he first worked as a laborer in Petah Tikvah, then as secretary of Herzlia, the first Hebrew high school in Tel Aviv. In 1910 he moved to Jerusalem, taught at the Rehavyah Hebrew high school, and later at the Taḥkemoni religious school. After World War I he was active in the Mizrachi Party and edited the religious national monthly Ha-Hed (1926–53) for more than 2 5 years. Hahed”’s purpose was to bring the Haredi population closer to the Zionist idea and he was the first editor of the religious Zionist Movement’s newspaper “Hazofe”. After the State was established Rabbi Binyamin edited the monthly “Ner”. He is also known for his support of vegetarianism and seeking converts to Judaism.

In 1925 he was among the founders of the Brit Shalom association, which advocated a binational state for Arabs and Jews. In 1936, he tried to found an institution of higher learning similar to YU where Yeshiva and secular studies were each studied for half a day in one institution. Rabbi Binyamin published thousands of articles and essays, often expressing individualistic viewpoints. He did much to introduce Brenner and Agnon to the Hebrew reading audiences. In 1939, after Jewish terrorists of the Irgun had conducted a series of attacks against Arab civilians, he edited a collection of essays by Jews condemning the spilling of innocent Arab blood called, Against Terror. After the Kafr Qasim massacre, he offered to move into the Arab village to show solidarity with the village.

In 1926 he wrote a work collecting praise of the Holy Land – available on Hebrewbooks. In the work he thanks Rav Kook, Admor Haheletz, Rav Avraham Shapira,, Gershom Scholem, and Shai Agnon. It is interesting to note that the work still needed a dictionary of difficult Hebrew words.

Rabbi Binyamin was a staunch believer in a bi-national country. In the essay below was against the 1956 war and wanted Jews and Palestinians to live together. He rejects calling the 1948 a war of liberation, rather one of subjugation.. His essay uses the same word for those Jews smuggled into the country and for those Muslims sneaking in to see their former homes. He condemns the growing virtue of militarism. This essay was translated by Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel for the Mondoweiss blog.

Reminder, the discussion on this blog is about varieties of Modern Orthodoxy or the Mizrachi movement. If you want to discuss contemporary politics than go to Mondoweiss, the political blog that was its source.

I also included his critique of the Yishuv that was more interested in building a state than saving Jews in WWII. He screams out that the war to save Jews is not just a British war without a concern for Jews.

From elsewhere on the web I have included his call for “a platform for truth, love, and peace,” and not nation, homeland, class, religion, party, and family. Already in 1907 he called out that “ When you come to inherit the land, Do not come as an enemy and an adversary.”

The following essay by Radler-Feldman appeared in the Ihud Association’s Ner journal, in March, 1956. translated by Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel.

A New Israeli Message to Our Infiltrator Brother
(A vision seen in a dream)

You are trembling, worried, afraid for your life, because you are at our mercy. You fear severe punishment, long imprisonment or death.
Have no fear, our infiltrator brother. We will not harm you, but help you.
These words are strange to your ears. You have never heard anything like them before. No matter. Tomorrow or the day after, you will understand their practical, revolutionary significance. Your children will learn their profound, inner meaning. The children of other nations will learn them, to the end of days.

Listen now:
We called our war with you, our Arab brothers, the “War of Liberation”. Fancy words – fancy and false. We did not fight a war of liberation, but a war of subjugation. We were free men before the war. In fighting it, we became slaves. Slaves to whom? To the harshest Pharaoh in the world: his majesty Satan himself, the Evil Inclination, selfishness and arrogance, constant gnawing anxiety, fear of a “second round”, a “third round” and so forth, ad infinitum. Our bellowing for the “best weapons ever seen” was not manufactured, but the natural outcome of this state of affairs.

The false education we gave our children – our gifts from God – dedicated to bloodshed and Moloch, flowed from the depths of these circumstances. In short, we felt trapped and believed in one force alone – physical strength, in which we placed our faith! That is where all our thoughts lay, and that alone is what all of our leaders, spiritual, scientific and religious, worshipped. Many shared this superstition with us; the great nations of east and west alike. Their eyes were blind to the light of truth.

It is a long and sorrowful affair. Let us not dwell upon it.

But, by the grace of God, the blinders were removed from our eyes, and a great light, a heavenly light shone upon us. And it is by this light that we shall now walk. A revolutionary change has occurred, that no one would have believed possible.
You shall no longer be called infiltrator but ascender*, because you have unknowingly ascended toward the redemption that has borne you on its wings. You are not an enemy, a foe and an adversary to us, but a brother and friend.

And this is what we shall do with you:

We shall resettle you in our midst, as one of us, in one of the villages of your people, as you choose. And we shall announce it on the radio, to your fellow refugees, lest they worry unnecessarily: so-and-so son of so-and-so was apprehended in such and such a place at such and such a time, and the Israelis who apprehended him gave him food and water and resettled him in such and such a village, and he himself will now speak to you. And from now on, refugees will not have to infiltrate by stealth, trembling with fear and trepidation, but may enter calmly, in peace and tranquility, secure in the knowledge that nothing will befall them. If a hundred come, we will welcome them in peace, and even if a thousand should come, we will welcome them as brothers, with love and fellowship.

Then there will be a certain pause, a brief one. And we shall observe the effect of our actions. And when they have been successful, we shall do as much again. For we know that this is the sublime way of peace. This is the great and incomparable messianic idea. Do you not agree?

Ner, vol. 7, issue no. 7, March 1956
* Maʿapil – the same Hebrew word used for clandestine Jewish immigrants to Palestine, imbued with strong positive connotations in Israel of the 1950s.

Here is his paraphrase of Deuteronomy, he felt that the secular settlers were being hypocritical of not keeping the mizvot but wanting to cite Deuteronomy as justification for their actions.

And when you shall go in to possess your homeland, do not go therein as an enemy, nor as foe. You shall come to the inhabitants of the land in the spirit of peace. Not by
malice, not by transgression, nor by animosity will you build the homeland of thy forefathers, but by love and mercy, righteousness and faith. And you shall love the inhabitants of the land, for thy brothers they are, your own flesh and blood, and you shall not disregard them.

Yad Vashem translated a piece of his article about fighting the Nazis. He complained that the yishuv and even the religious Zionists were more concerned with he state than enlisting to fight the Nazis to save Jews.In the spring of 1941, hew rote against the establishment:
“[The rabbis] agree unanimously that it is a great mitzvah to fight Amalek until his ultimate downfall and destruction …. However, they have three stipulations. First, the mess hall must be kosher…. Second, [the Jewish soldier] must fight right next to his home—his country…. He does not feel a worldwide, international responsibility. The third point is a different condition: if he is given his own flag and his own unit in all details and particulars, he will join the fray.”

Here is a letter to Prof. Hugo Berman, argueing that Zionism needs to be “a platform for truth, love, and peace.” this one and the next one was taken from the blog Magnes Zionist.

My brother Bergmann: By providing “a platform for truth, love, and peace,” we do not have the idiotic intention that these three values are our exclusive possession.…Rather we wish to say – and to repeat and drill it to ourselves most of all – that we consider these three to be foremost in rank. Other people bend their knee to other important values, such as nation, homeland, class, religion, party, and family. Whereas we place the aforementioned values first, and subordinate all the others to them. We subordinate even the Holy One Blessed be He, Himself to them, for, so to speak, the Creator of these values is also subject to them, and must justify His governance before them.

Already in 1907, while still in Galicia, he wrote the poem Masa’ Arav (‘An Arabian Prophecy’) which begins

When you come to inherit the land,
Do not come as an enemy and an adversary
But bring greetings to the inhabitants of the land
Build not your generations’ sanctuary in resentment, indignation, or enmity
But rather in love, grace, justice, and faith
Hatred will arouse strife, but love will allay wrath
It will bring brothers together, and make peace with the distant
You shall love the inhabitant of the land, for he is your brother, your self, your flesh
Do not avert your eye from him.
Do not hide yourself from your own flesh.

Power Back- After Sandy

We lost power. phone, wifi, for a week after Sandy and work was closed. We consider ourselves fortunate compared to the destruction in other homes and other neighborhoods. More importantly, we are fortunate to have had supportive neighbors and friends to spend the time with and rely upon. Everyone we encountered was supportive the community was supportive, the police, the local government, and utilities were supportive, as well as the local merchants. After the power came back many volunteered to help other communities in time, money, and blankets. There are many neighborhoods that were hit much harder – cars and homes washed away, fires and tree-fallings, and people killed. Even now there are many still without basic needs. Buses will be leaving from all the local synagogues tomorrow to help in various neighborhoods. A rabbi from one of the wealthy communities on the ocean sent out a letter asking for desperately needed cash even though we view it as a wealthy community. I have little to add beyond thank you, but below are selections from two sermons.

Rabbi Mishael Zion offers some thoughtful words:

Like a child obsessively building sand castles and moats on the beach only to see them washed away by the ocean, we spend our lives striving to create a protected space in which the waters of the world will not be able to wash over us. We call that protected space “home,” as Maya Angelou put it, that “safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

For many it is only behind safe boundaries, inside the impermeable home (or in America, inside our car), that we can be ourselves. Nothing awakens the anxiety of permeability more than the image of waters seeping through homes. We feel penetrated and debased, and could easily turn inwards, shutting out all that washes over us.

Parashat Vayera is itself an exploration of the question of the impermeable home, in part through the idea of hospitality which weaves through the parasha.

Avraham, on the other hand, practices a “radical hospitality.” Old (and midrashically recovering from penal surgery), Avraham is described as “running” to bring food for his guests. There is no exploration of doors and boundaries here. In fact, there is no “in”; Avraham lives in an open tent. The midrash describes Avraham and Sara’s tent as open “to all four winds,” seeking to welcome guests regardless of where they come from. Far from a detail of nomadic architecture, Avraham’s tent has become the metaphor for Jewish hospitality and inclusivity. Avraham epitomizes this heroic unbounded existence.

In light of a deluge on homes and boundaries, one could expect society to give in to its anxiety and build even stronger boundaries. In many ways, the social structure is playing out more powerfully than ever in light of Superstorm Sandy. But as is often the case when society faces its fragility head on, we are also seeing a coming together which is most exhilarating. In seeing that גורל אחד לכולנו — “we are all of one fate” — people have been transcending the usual boundaries, those walls and islands we create around ourselves. Victor Turner described this feeling as “communitas,” the receding of boundaries of self, status and society and creation of a feeling of togetherness. Avraham’s hospitality is communitas to the extreme, totally transcending the boundaries between self and other. But communitas develops quickly even among Average Joe’s and Jane’s if faced with the right circumstances.

Sandy’s waters seem to have a sobering effect on our individualistic tendencies. For a moment, we are willing to be more generous with our boundaries. As the waters which made our homes permeable have washed through boundaries and undermined structure, so too people take less heed of impermeable boundaries. It is an opportunity for us to re-jigger our place on the spectrum between Lot and Avraham, to go beyond our average toward the heroic.

Read the Rest Here

Selections from a sermon from Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky at the Irving Place Minyan

Usually, when I begin a speech, I start with something interesting, lighthearted or funny- to get your attention and lead into the speech itself. Permit me to deviate from that this week, because there is nothing funny, lighthearted or interesting about what so many of us are experiencing, and if not us, than our friends, loved ones and neighbors, and if not that, than people a few miles away from us in Long Beach or Far Rockaway who have lost everything to 14 foot waves, or a little farther away where helpless Senior Citizens are living without water or power in high rises on the Lower East Side. The scope of the utter devastation, the loss of so much- property, money and memories- is too much to comprehend. So what is there to say when perhaps it is more appropriate to say nothing? I’ve been struggling with this for the past few days, so permit me to share some of what I’ve been thinking that may give us a framework- I hope my words will be accepted, and apologize in advance if they are somehow simplistic, insensitive or inappropriate.

Another lesson we can learn from the Shunamite woman is that of perspective. When asked what he could do for her, the Shunamite woman refused to focus on what was glaringly missing from her life. She instead was thankful for the simple life she led and the gift of community and support she received. In reaching out to check in on you this week, many of you expressed similar sentiments. In the midst of depressing and crippling power outages, many of you wrote to me that you were enjoying the family togetherness this experience afforded. Now, I realize that family togetherness can be too much of a good thing, so if that applies to you, I hope you get back your power speedily, and especially your cable… One of you even focused on the character building aspect of the whole experience, writing how interesting it was to see his children redefine what are the “necessities” of life.

Rabbi Billet, in a heart rending letter, described the imcredible loss he personally suffered as “just money.” Of course, it is not our place to pass these judgments for others. Chazal tell us that Iyov’s friends were especially faulted for making these kinds of calculations on behalf of their friend who was going though epic tragedies. We can’t tell other people that “it’s just stuff,” because it’s not just stuff; it’s a lifetime of memories. Chazal also tell us that we are not supposed to offer words of comfort at the time that מתו מוטל לפניו, when a person is not yet buried and the loss of a loved one is still fresh. B”H, we have not suffered that kind of loss, but the loss of a home, or even significant damage to it, no doubt engenders feelings of grief and heartache. But it is humbling and heartening to see others who have suffered loss, or even great inconvenience, say the same thing.

Perhaps there is another lesson, though- one that may, indeed, provide a some comfort. When we leave a narrative incomplete, we realize that we still have a hand in writing the conclusion. Because as much as our community has suffered, we have also shown- and been shown- unprecedented levels of chessed, in the spirit of Avraham Avinu, whose hospitality and kindness were a by word and for him, even superseded the value of a conversation with God. In our community here at the IPM, throughout the past few days, we have been inundated with emails from people who are blessed to have power, heat, electricity and internet service, offering the use of their homes to anyone who wants, and people with fridge and freezer space and a dry home offering that, as well as Shabbos hospitality for sleeping and meals, or a place to drop the kids off to watch TV for a little bit. It’s amazing how much chessed can be done with a simple electrical outlet!

I want to share with you a question- a shaileh- that a member of our community asked me on Thursday morning. He has several families staying with him, but one of those families has relatives in a location that was unharmed by Sandy. For whatever reason, they were not comfortable staying with those relatives, and were staying with him. He wanted to know whether it was permissible to ask those people to stay with their family so he could open up the space they occupied in case an organization like Achiezer needed to place families from Far Rockaway or Long Beach. מי כעמך ישראל- this kind of selfless unity is what a community should be like, and not only at times of tragedy. Events like this remind us how powerless we are in the face of God’s awesome might, as expressed through natural disasters, and how pointless and insignificant our egos and so many of our personal issues may be in the face of this kind of destruction, when we need to respond affirmatively and positively. The only way to counter wrathful devastation is through constructive love- as Dovid Hamelech wrote כי אמרתי, עולם חסד יבנה, the world is built through acts of kindness and charity, and it must be rebuilt in the same way. There is still a lot more to be done as people begin sorting through the wreckage and debris- our friends and family will need help financially, physically and emotionally, and that is when we will put our best face forward.

Read the Rest Here