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|Born||December 10, 1915
Jerusalem, Ottoman Empire
|Died||November 21, 2006
Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (December 10, 1915–November 21, 2006) was known as the Tzitz Eliezer after his monumental halachic treatise Tzitz Eliezer that covers a wide breadth of halacha, including Jewish medical ethics, as well as ritual halachic issues from Shabbat to kashrut. He was born in Jerusalem in 1915 and died there on November 21, 2006.
He was a leading rabbi and a dayan on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem and was considered an eminent authority on medical halacha. He was the rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Though he wrote numerous books and articles in all fields of halacha, he was best known for his decisions on medical dilemmas such as fertility, abortion, organ transplantation, euthanasia, autopsies, smoking, cosmetic surgery, and medical experimentation. Some of his decisions on medical topics have proven controversial in the Haredi community.
His halachic opinions are valued by many rabbis across the religious spectrum. His major work Tzitz Eliezer, is an encyclopedic treatise on halachic questions, viewed as one of the great achievements of halachic scholarship of the 20th century.
Prominent medical opinions
Rabbi Waldenberg forbade performing elective surgery on someone who is neither sick nor in pain, such as cosmetic surgery. He argues that such activities are outside the boundaries of the physician's mandate to heal. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 11:41; 12:43.) Notably, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein disagreed with this opinion. (Responsa Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66.)
He allowed first trimester abortion of a fetus which would be born with a deformity that would cause it to suffer, and termination of a fetus with a lethal fetal defect such as Tay-Sachs disease up to the end of the second trimester of gestation. (Tzitz Eliezer, 9:51:3.)
He ruled that a child conceived outside the womb, through in vitro fertilisation, has no parents and bears no halachic relationship either to the biological parents or the "surrogate mother," the woman who carries the child to term. (Id., 15:45.)
He was one of a small but growing number of rabbis to forbid smoking. (Schussheim, Eli and Eliezer Waldenberg. “Should Jewish law forbid smoking?” B’Or ha’Torah 8 (1993))
Many of his medical opinions were recorded by his student Avraham Steinberg, M.D, and then translated into summary volumes.
In the chapter entitled "On the treatment which exposes the physician to danger," Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:
|“||In principle, a person may not place himself in possibly life-threatening danger in order to save his neighbor's life… It is permitted for a physician to assume the risk of treating patients with any type of contagious disease. Indeed, he is credited with the fulfillment of an important religious duty. When preparing to treat a patient with a contagious disease, the physician should pray to G-d for special guidance and protection since he is endangering his own life. A military physician is permitted to render medical care to a wounded soldier in a combat zone although he is endangering his own life. This applies even if it is doubtful whether the wounded soldier will live, die, or be killed. Similarly, another soldier is allowed to place his own life in danger in order to rescue a wounded comrade from the combat zone.||”|
(Quoted by Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response; Compiled and Edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. Translated by David Simons M.D.; Beit Shammai Publications, 1989, Part 10, Chapter 11.)
In a particularly controversial ruling, Waldenberg ruled that sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals effects a change in a person's halachic gender, and that, in his words, "The external anatomy which is visible is what determines the halakha". (Id., 25:26:6; ).
Waldenberg permitted hearing Torah reading, Shofar blowing and Megillah reading by means of a loudspeaker, telephone, or radio, if no other options were available. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 8:11.). However Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach strongly disagreed on this. (see Minchas Shlomo I:9)
He also emphasized the Jewish concept of Kevod HaBriyot (human honor or dignity) in his rulings. As an example, Rabbi Waldenberg adduced this concept in support of his ruling that a deaf person can use an electric hearing aid on Shabbat. Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:
|“||We see from the foregoing that the prohibition on carrying an object that is muktzeh is waived for the sake of kevod ha-beriyot, so that a person will not in any way be demeaned in his own eyes or the eyes of others on account of being unable to carry [the object]. And if that is the case, it appears that there is no concern about kevod ha-beriyot greater than the one that arises in connection with ensuring that a deaf person does not suffer embarrassment because of being unable to hear what people say to him.
It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the embarrassment and unpleasantness caused him when he comes among people, in the synagogue, and he is isolated, unable to hear what is going on, unable to respond to those who ask him a question. This produces a concern about kevod ha-beriyot greater than in connection with the matters discussed earlier, to which must be added his distress at forgoing public worship and being unable to hear the Torah reading and the responses to Kaddish and Kedusha, etc. This negates the performance of a batch of mitzvot, of lesser and greater importance, and therefore it is preferable to permit the carrying of muktzeh for so great a matter of kevod ha-beriyot and to permit the deaf person to carry his hearing aid on Shabbat.
(Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 6:6:3.)
Political and Social Questions
Rabbi Waldenberg also wrote a multivolume set on the practical issues of government called Hilkhot Medinah. In this work he takes issue with many positions of former chief rabbis Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Shlomo Goren, and Isser Yehuda Unterman.
He granted workers the right to strike when employers have violated a workplace condition that has become “the custom of the land.” Most legal authorities required workers to bring their employer to a beit din (religious court) before resorting to a strike. "In situations such as these, in which the worker is absolutely certain that the employer has transgressed and violated a condition that has been established as the custom of the land, the worker may take the law into his own hands by levying the fine that the appointed communal leaders have deemed appropriate for a situation such as this." (Tzitz Eliezer 2:23)
Even though, "A convert may not hold a position of Jewish communal authority." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 1:4). Rabbi Waldenberg ruled that a convert may not serve in a lone communal position but he may serve on a communal committee. (Tzitz Eliezer 19:48)
- Tzitz Eliezer, major responsa
- Hilchos Medinah, a 3-volume halachic work
- Divrei Eliezer, novella
- Shvisas Hayam, which deals with the laws of ships regarding Shabbos
- Fred Rosner, Pioneers in Jewish Medical Ethics, Jason Aronson Publishers, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-9968-5
- Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response. Compiled & Edited from the Tzitz Eliezer by Avraham Steinberg; translated by David B. Simons, MD. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing, 1992.
- A. Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics: a Compilation of Jewish Medical Law on All Topics of Medical Interest
- Judaism and Gender Issues Essay Summarizing responsa of the Tzitz Eliezar on transsexuality
- Presentation of Award for Medicine and Halacha to Rabbi Eliezar Waldenberg
- Rabbi Waldenberg answers Halachic questions concerning dentistry
- Cosmetic Surgery -- A review of four classic Teshuvot (Rabbi Waldenberg is #2)
- His obituary from Arutz Sheva
- Tzitz Eliezer passes away at age of 89