Rabbis Interfere To Stop Organ Donation

Rabbis Interfere To Stop Organ Donation January 3, 2011

I still laugh when I recall the episode of All in the Family where Archie accidentally agrees to donate his organs.  Because he’s such a selfish oaf, he regrets it and lets on that he can’t do it due to religious reasons.  Hilariously, his boss wonders if it’s because he’s an Orthodox Jew.

Avi Cohen was not an Orthodox Jew.  He was a world-famous Israeli soccer star who died last week in a motorcycle accident.

When physicians declared him brain dead, the hospital approached his family about organ donation.  Cohen had signed an organ donor card and, at least according to the Sephardic rabbinical establishment, brain death is death (and Cohen was Sephardi).  Recipients in need were standing by.

Not content to leave well enough alone, other Haredi rabbis who oppose this well accepted definition of death arrived to persuade the family that a miracle was at hand.

Needless to say, no miracle occurred.  Cohen finally died enough to qualify for burial, but by then donation was out of the question.

What kind of sick self-assurance would possess these men to insert themselves into the most agonizing moment in a family’s life?  How could they bring themselves to convince a family to contradict their loved one’s decision?

Situations like this are quite common in Israel where there is a very low rate of donation compared with the rest of the western world.  The main reasons for refusal are the brain death controversy and the taboo (not necessarily justified by Jewish law) on being buried without all your body parts.  The former is based upon the Talmud’s antiquated approach to determining death.  The latter on the desire to have all of one’s parts when the messiah comes at the time of the resurrection.

Once again, morality is swept aside in favor of rules and fairy tales from antiquity.


Ironically, Haredim have no qualms about accepting organ donations themselves.

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  • Josh

    Physicist Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people will do good deeds and evil people will do evil deeds. But for a good person to do an evil deed, that takes religion.

  • Anonymous

    Rabbi Jeff —

    Can you enlighten us on what exactly the ultra-orthodox believe about physical resurrection? I have always been curious about this.

    If you die old and withered, is that how you will be resurrected? If a teenager died in a horrible car crash, will they return profoundly disfigured? If the haredi answer to these questions is that all of us will be made whole, and well at the time of messiah, then why wouldn’t that include the replacement of missing organs?

    Is there, in other words, any coherent story that is told about this aspect of Jewish afterlife?


  • Anonymous

    Looks like the atheists need to work harder and finish off Judaism.

    Then can we quite hearing about this “tradition” crap?