Friday, November 4, 2011

Organ Donation in Jewish Law

In today's Halakha we will focus exclusively on living donors. The cases under this category are, for example, kidney donation; bone marrow and blood donation.

It is a consensus among modern orthodox rabbis that one should be willing to undergo a minor risk in order to save someone else's life.

In the past, many rabbis, among them Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss and Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg z'"l, had certain reservations about the permission to donate a kidney, because they thought that although a person can have a normal life with one kidney, the risks involved for the living donor, during and after surgery, were too high and would endanger his life.

In our days, however, donors are carefully screened physically and psychologically, and the surgical and post-surgical risks of complications for the donor have diminished dramatically, thanks to the advances of modern medicine. Today it is consented by most (if not all!) Modern Orthodox rabbis thatdonating a kidney is at least permitted, if not mandatory. Nevertheless, one may never obligate or coerce someone else to donate an organ, even to save the life of another person.

In his rabbinical response Rabbi Obadia Yosef evaluates the objections of Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Waldenberg, and asserts that since today the risks involved in kidney donation are so low, it is considered a great Mitzvah to donate a kidney, fulfilling the commandment of saving a life, (piquach nefesh). Donating a kidney to save a life, he suggests, might be also required by the Tora's commandment "lo ta'amod al dam re'ekha", "You shall not stand still while your fellowman bleeds to death (i.e. is dying)" .

To understand the impact of this great Mitzva, let us keep in mind that a typical patient who receives a kidney, will live 10 to 15 years longer with a kidney transplant than if kept on dialysis.

(to be continued...)

For a comprehensive and reliable source of information about Jewish Law and organ transplant see Halachic Organ Donors Society

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rabbi David Nieto

Rabbi David Nieto (1654- 1728) was born in Venice, Italy in 1654.
He practiced as a physician and officiated as a Jewish preacher in the city Livorno, Italy. There he wrote in Italian a work entitled Paschologia in which he dealt with the differences of calculation between the Hebrew and the Roman calendars, demonstrating the errors which had crept into the Roman calendar from the first council of Nicaea until 1692.
In 1702 Rabbi David Nieto was appointed Chakham of the Sephardic Jews in London. Two years later he published Della Divina Providencia in Latin where he explained that 'nature' was a modern word, and in reality referred to the actions of God in governing natural phenomena. Rabbi David Nieto's work was praised by Chakham Tzevi and later on by Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azulai (the 'Chida').

Rabbi Nieto most famous book is Matte Dan, or Kuzari haSheni, published in London in 1714. The book was written in Hebrew and Spanish. In this book Rabbi David Nieto defends the authenticity of the rabbinic tradition (Tora shebe'al pe) from historical, psychological and even financial angles, showing the immaculate integrity of the Rabbis of the Talmud. He also proves that the disagreements among Rabbis lay not in essential laws but in minor matters. The book was written against religious dissidents like Spinoza or more specifically, Uriel de Acosta. He also led the battle against the supporters of Shabetai Tzebi, a self-proclaimed Messias, who was tremendously popular among the the Jews in those times.
Rabbi David Nieto was one of the most accomplished Jews of his time. He was a distinguished scientist, philosopher, physician, poet, mathematician, astronomer, and theologian. Nieto was the first to fix the time for the beginning of Shabbat eve for the latitude of England.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 13 principles of the Jewish Faith. # 1. God exists

In his Perush haMishanyot, Maimonides (1135-1204) formulated the principles of the Jewish faith.

"The first principle involves the belief in the existence of God".

God is our Creator, the Creator of the universe and the Creator of life.

"The ultimate foundation and the pillar of wisdom is the realization that there is a Being, a first cause, who brought everything into existence."

In Mishne Tora Maimonides describes this belief as knowledge of God.

What is knowledge of God? We, the Jewish people, experienced collectively God's revelation at Mount Sinai. In a sense, our knowledge of God is based on historical facts. At this very basic level, our knowledge of God is intimately related and depending on our trust in our forefathers --beginning with Abraham, Ytzchaq and Yaaqob-- as credible witnesses of God's revelation and as credible testifiers of all historical facts related in our Tora.

But this historical knowledge (=legacy) is just the basic ground of our faith. On an individual level, every Jew should set for himself as the ultimate goal of his and her life to acquire knowledge of God. "Knowledge" should not be confused with "understanding". We do not expect to understand God! This "knowledge" is a function of closeness, of us being aware of God's Presence, and our awe and love for Him. Praying to God, following His commandments and especially, studying His Tora, increases our closeness and knowledge of God.

The pursuit of this knowledge represents the fulfillment of the first of the Ten Commandments "I'm the lord, your God".

Don't miss this BRILLIANT presentation!!!

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks response to atheism

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Understanding the Shema Israel

The Shulchan Arukh clearly writes that the kavana (usually translated as attention, or focus) we are required to have when we pray consists primarily in understanding the meaning of the words we are pronouncing.

If we are not fluent in Hebrew, we should make the effort to understand the meaning of the words we pronounce. In the following weeks, B'H, we are going to explain the words of the Shema Israel and the ideas behind it.

When we pray, we should know first the simple meaning of a word. But then, we should also delve into the ideas behind the words. For example: the word ATA, means in Hebrew "YOU". And the idea behind "YOU" is that we are addressing God in the second person! When we say baruch ata, after we understand that ATA means "YOU", we must also realize and bring ourselves to think and feel that we are standing directly in front of Him. That God Almighty is present here and now.

Let us explore now the first word: shema'.

"shema" means "listen", in the imperative form. In addition, and same as in English when in opposition to "hear", "shema" means: listening while paying close attention. The rabbis mentioned that in this sense,"listen" precisely implies "understand" (bekhol lashon sheata shomea).

Our rabbis explained that the word "shema" also indicates that when we read the Shema Israel we need to be completely focused on it. It is obviously forbidden to talk and even to make a sound or a body signal, even to greet someone. We must reach a state of total concentration while reciting the Shema Israel.

In sum: "shema israel" means: You, members of the Jewish Nation, pay close attention, focus and understand the following crucial statement: "Hashem is our God, HaShem is one".


Israel and the apartheid slander, by Richard J. Goldstone

Monday, October 31, 2011

Understanding the Mitzva of redeeming the first-born son

In Biblical times, the first-born males would be consecrated to the service of God, assisting the priests (similar to what Channa did with his son Shemuel). That was the tradition among the Jews and even among other nations, like the Egyptians, Babylonians. etc. Once the Tora was given to Am Israel, Aharon and his descendants were granted the Priesthood. They serve HaShem in the Mishkan (mobile sanctuary in the dessert or tabernacle) and later on in the Bet haMikdash. Following the ancient custom , the first-born males should have been appointed to assist the Kohanim. God Almighty, however, consecrated the tribe of Levi to assist the Kohanim. The Leviim were then responsible, for example, of assembling, transporting, maintaining the Tabernacle and many, many other chores related to the Sanctuary and its service. At the time the Leviim were appointed, the Israelite first-born males were 'released' from serving in the Sanctuary, however, they had to be formally redeemed by his parents from a Kohen.
This is a Biblical commandment, found in Bamidbar (numbers)18:15 ("You must redeem every first born...").
The redemption is performed by given to a Kohen five silver coins, in accordance with the instructions given by the Torah in the next verse, in Bamidbar 18:16 "You should redeem them at the redemption price of five sheqels of silver".
The equivalent weight of the five sheqalim is a 96.1 grams of pure silver (Rab Hayim Nae). The custom, however, is to round up the number to 100 grams of silver.
In our days, the Israeli government issues a silver coin, weighting 20 grams each, to be used for this Mitzva.