Guest Posts

Shlissel Challah

Guest post by R. Jeffrey Saks / The custom some women (or men) have of baking the house key into the challah on the Shabbat following Pesach (also known as a shlissel [=key] challah) is explained with the following reasons:

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SUSY versus the Creator: An Update

Guest post by Morris Engelson / A challenge to the “fine-tuning” argument for God’s existence is facing its own challenge, as particle physics progresses and undermines it. The Standard Model (SM) of particle physics has been very successful. All but one of the predicted fundamental particles and their attributes has now been experimentally verified. But it is clear that this model is incomplete because it does not address a number of remaining issues as physicists search for the elusive TOE (theory of everything). A partial “solution,” after about 15 years of development, was published in a 1981 paper that extended the SM by introducing the notion of supersymmetry (SUSY). The idea is that every fundamental particle in physics has a symmetrical partner particle (commonly called a sparticle) of spin value ½ less than the ordinary particle. Technically speaking, this introduces a partnership between bosons and fermions.

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Who Is Modern Orthodox?

Guest post by R. Eli D. Clark / Who is Modern Orthodox? This is an old question (one playfully addressed on Hirhurim here). But in comments to a recent thread on this site, posters disagreed whether certain prominent YU roshei yeshiva are “Modern Orthodox” (MO). This suggests that we lack a consensus definition of MO. The question is why? In popular discourse, one encounters various definitions of MO. For some, MO refers to the non-yeshivish wing of Orthodoxy. This is based on a simple division of the Orthodox community into two camps. On this view, if you are not haredi, you are MO.

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Children in a Digital Age

In past centuries, if one wanted to experience change, one traveled in space. A trip around the next hill might reveal an entirely new culture complete with a different language, economy, entertainment, and form of government. However, one could live for decades or even centuries in the same location and see little if any change. Today’s society is reversed. We live in a global culture. One can travel anywhere in the world and find people dressed in the same styles with the same shopping malls and popular entertainment. However, because of the rapid advancements in technology, if one wants to experience change, one merely needs to wait a few years or sometimes even a few months (not the 70 years of Choni Hama’agel’s slumber) to behold an entirely different society.

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Modesty in the Megillah

Guest post by R. Shaul Gold / The Purim story discusses three women – Vashti, Zeresh and Esther. In the homiletic spirit, let us say that these three women symbolize three types of women, three models of female behavior. Vashti represents Women’s Empowerment, women’s desire...

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Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: IX

Rabbi Richard Weiss, MD / The determination of death is one of the most challenging bioethics issues of the past several decades. Various aspects of brain death as the definitive determinant and definition of death have been extensively and intensely discussed and debated in a wide spectrum of literature. Recognizing this point—that Judaism is not unique in its continued deliberations regarding this matter—can be very useful for all who are actively engaged in analyzing the halachic view of brain death. One citation, for example, which presents a wide variety of opinions in the secular, medical and general philosophical arena, is an article by David DeGrazia in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, entitled “The Definition of Death”, published October, 2007. One can readily appreciate the ongoing debate that extends far beyond the Jewish community. It is true that brain death has been legally accepted in almost all of the fifty United States, with some states accommodating religious or moral objections. This fact, however, has not inhibited continued healthy discussions on the matter. Similarly, continued healthy discussions in the halakhic world should be encouraged.

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Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: VIII

Professor Steven H. Resnicoff / If someone who is brain dead is halachically alive, a matter of significant halachic debate, secular adoption of the brain death standard could, in a number of ways, lead to the murder of Jews and non-Jews. A goses is someone who is dying and is imminently terminal. His life is likened to the flame of a flickering candle. It is forbidden to touch or move such a person for any purpose other than to help the goses, lest such touching or movement extinguish the flame. According to some rabbinic decisors, including R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, people on respirators who are believed to be brain dead have the halachic status of safek goses, to whom these prohibitions would apply. Nevertheless, upon a finding of brain death, secular law would allow a hospital certain rights such as to cease treatment or to extract organs. Consequently, the hospital conducts tests to determine whether the patient is or is not brain dead. Such testing is not designed to benefit the patient who is tested, but in order to authorize the giving of his organs—or his hospital bed—to someone else. According to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, these tests, either because they inevitably involve some touching or movement of the patient, or because they involve the injection of radioactive material (even small amounts, and even through existing intravenous lines), are absolutely prohibited and involve possible murder.

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Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: VII

Rabbi Avi Shafran / Internal organs are most successfully transplanted when “harvested” from a ventilated patient, whose blood remains oxygenated and circulating. From the perspective of halacha, or Jewish religious law, that raises a serious question and, in its wake, ethical dilemmas. A diagnosis of “brain death” – when tests indicate that a person has suffered irreversible cessation of all brain function – is considered by contemporary medicine and secular law to be sufficient to constitute death, thereby permitting the removal of organs. In cases involving medical matters, scientific realities play an important role in the deciding of halacha. But Jewish law’s rules, judgments and definitions do not necessarily parallel those either of medical science or society. Machines and observations can measure electrical activity in the brain and “invoked potentials”; but the determination of when a soul has left a body is something less easily calibrated. To an observant Jew, halacha alone serves as the determinant.

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Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: VI

Rabbi Michael Broyde / Before beginning any discussion on this topic, it is worth noting the obvious: Jewish law is made up of timeless principles and timely applications of these principles. Discussions of the interaction between timeless principles and timely applications frequently are disconcerting to Orthodox Jews because they wish for halacha to generate answers that are always timeless. In areas where the scientific and medical data is still evolving, this is virtually impossible. Hence, the word “tentative” is in the title. New data will certainly generate different answers. “Brain death” is a misnomer. Nearly everyone agrees that as a matter of Jewish law (as well as common sense), were full cellular death to take place in the brain, such a person would be dead.[1] Indeed, the common functions associated with human existence would cease after this event – which we can refer to as “physiological decapitation” – and human life would then cease.

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Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: V

Rabbi Basil Herring / Few would reasonably deny that when it comes to our dealings with each other, we Jews are a particularly passionate people. Of course, holding strong convictions is a good thing – and might even be a sine qua non to survival when other nations have disappeared – to the extent that it generates uncompromising commitment to our deeply held beliefs and moral principles. But when passion leads us to intolerance and invective, it not only diminishes the cogency of our positions, it more ominously undermines the very warp and woof of the moral fabric that holds us together as a community and people.

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