Rabbi Gil Student
As this symposium closes, I offer the following reflection on what I’ve learned from both behind the scenes and in front. If the medical facts are sometimes unclear, even less obvious is how different thinkers relate to them. In a subject so widely examined, which countless articles and lectures have discussed, the lack of dialogue between parties is both surprising and confusing. While one may claim that a medical fact disproves another’s approach, the other may see the question as so irrelevant as unworthy of discussion. One claims the other mistakes science while the other states that he was simply misunderstood.
This symposium was not a dialogue. Such a conversation is extremely desirable. Until that happens, the warnings offered by many participants to proceed with respect and caution are worth heeding. It seems to me that all positions in this discussion have both medicine and halacha on their side, although some more obvious than others. Even if one is ultimately proved right, the other deserves respect and a fair hearing.
Until we are able to listen to each other, we will never be able to talk. We did not solve this dilemma here but we can at least leave knowing where the problem lies.
I thank all the writers for their time and generosity, the commenters for their enthusiasm and contributions, and the silent readers for their interest. I have received so much positive feedback that I plan on conducting other symposia over the coming months on different topics.
Allow me to close by pointing to additional resources. The HODS website contains a plethora of relevant material, although understandably only that for which they could obtain permission: link. Rabbi Moshe Tendler’s book The Responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein: Translation and Commentary: Care of the Critically Ill and Rabbi J. David Bleich’s book Time of Death in Jewish Law are important resources, and both are available now at the SOY Seforim Sale. YUTorah.org contains a number of excellent lectures on this subject. Today I listened to Rabbi David Shabtai, MD’s excellent presentation: link. Rabbi Howard Apfel, MD has an ongoing series of lectures on this subject: I, II, III, IV, V. Lectures by Rabbi Hershel Schachter (I, II, III), Rabbi J. David Bleich (I, II), Rabbi Moshe Tendler (I, II), Rabbi Eddie Reichman, MD (I, II) and many others are available there. The journal Tradition also has a number of articles on this subject: link (search for “brain death”).