Jewish medical ethics

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Jewish medical ethics is a modern scholarly and clinical approach to medical ethics that draws upon Jewish thought and teachings. Pioneered by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits in the 1950s, Jewish medical ethics centers mainly around an applied ethics drawing upon traditional rabbinic law (halakhah). In addition, scholars have begun examining theoretical and methodological questions, while the field itself has been broadened to encompass bioethics and non-halakhic approaches.

Key issues[edit]

In its early years, Jewish medical ethics addressed a range of ethical dilemmas,[1] as well as general questions about the professional ethics for doctors.[2] Major issues have included abortion, artificial insemination, brain death, cosmetic surgery, euthanasia, genetic screening, hazardous medical operations, circumcision, oral suction in circumcision (metzitzah b'peh), organ donation, psychiatric care, and smoking cigarettes. In recent years, Jewish bioethics has examined questions of medical technology, the allocation of medical resources, and the philosophy of Jewish ethics.[3]


In 19th century Wissenschaft des Judentums, scholars like Julius Preuss studied Talmudic approaches to medicine. Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was a prominent figure in 20th century Jewish medical ethics and a pioneer in religious bioethics. His specialty was the interaction between medical ethics and halakha. Thanks to his academic training in Ireland, Rabbi Jakobovits approached his comprehensive volume, Jewish Medical Ethics, in light of Catholic medical ethics, with which he often compares Jewish ethics. Whether developing or disputing his analysis, subsequent Jewish bioethicists have utilized his work on abortion, euthanasia, the history of Jewish medical ethics, palliative care, treatment of the sick, and professional duties. Likewise, he is credited with popularizing the claim that Judaism supports the nearly absolute sanctity of life.

In its early years, Jewish medical ethics was predominantly an applied ethics. Orthodox pioneers included rabbis and scholars J. David Bleich, Fred Rosner, Avraham Steinberg, Saul J. Berman, Moshe David Tendler, as well as major rabbinic authorities, such as Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Moshe Feinstein and Eliezer Waldenberg. The reform movement's pioneers included Solomon Freehof, and later involvement by Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer. Pioneering medical ethicists in the Conservative movement included rabbis Elliot Dorff, David Feldman, Aaron Mackler, Joel Roth, and Avram Reisner, while more recent figures have included Leonard Sharzer. Among those oriented to bioethics, leading thinkers include Daniel Sinclair and Noam Zohar. Dr. Mark J. Poznansky, a member of the Order of Canada, has been a leading voice on issues of human and animal experimentation.[4]

Organizationally, Jewish medical ethics and bioethics has grown, especially in the United States and Israel. Journals dedicated to medical ethics include the "Assia" Journal of Jewish Ethics and Halacha.[5] Avraham Steinberg's 7-volume Encyclopedia Hilchatit Refuit in Hebrew has been translated into English by Professor Fred Rosner as the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics.

In Israel, where there are several educational institutes dedicated to Jewish Medical Ethics, many hospitals work closely with Jewish clinical ethicists. Jewish medical ethics and bioethics has been the topic of numerous scholarly conferences, educational workshops, and lectureships, including the "International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics."[6] Organizations such as the Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medico-Halakhic Research at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute teach classes on Jewish Medical Ethics to professionals and students.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New course to explore Jewish perspective on modern ethical dilemmas". 23 October 2013.
  2. ^ Snyder, Laurie (23 October 2013). "Lamorindans Learn about Tough Cancer Problem" (PDF). Lamorinda Weekly.
  3. ^ "Health Sense: What Jewish law says about breast and ovarian cancer risk". my Jewish Learning Institute. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  4. ^ "Jewish ethics viewed as helpful in medicine." by Mara Koven, published in The Canadian Jewish News February 3, 1994, Page 20
  5. ^ [1] Assia Journal
  6. ^ "International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics". Archived from the original on 2017-09-28. Retrieved 2020-02-03.
  7. ^ Viviano, JoAnne. "Program tackles risk Jews face from genes". The Dispatch Printing Company. The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on 2016-12-16. Retrieved 2015-01-27. As a Jewish woman with ancestors from eastern Europe, Worly knows she has a higher chance than other women do of carrying a BRCA gene mutation that increases a woman's odds of developing breast and ovarian cancer. But because no other relatives were afflicted with the disease, she's passed on genetic testing. "I've chosen not to do it yet," she said, "and it's a big choice, it's a big decision." Worly plans to take an upcoming course exploring the issue, offered at the Columbus Jewish Foundation on the East Side and the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany. The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which is putting on the course, says it will look at how Jewish law can help women determine if they should be tested for the gene and, if testing positive, whether they should consider mastectomy or ovary removal.
  8. ^ "New course to explore Jewish perspective on modern ethical dilemmas". The Woodlands, TX.: Your Houston News. Bay Area Citizen. October 23, 2013. "All of us are likely to face a serious medical dilemma at one point or another in our lives," explains Rabbi Yitzi Schmukler, director of the local JLI affiliate. "The objective of this course is to help enrich your ethics knowledgebase so that you are better equipped when you are faced with life's toughest decisions."
  9. ^ "BRCA gene cancer risk for Ashkenazi Jews the focus in West Hartford". Middletown, CT. West Hartford News, a 21st Century Media Property. October 27, 2013. Entitled "An Ounce of Prevention: BRCA, Genetic Testing, and Preventive Measures," the class is being co-sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, offered by Chabad's Jewish Learning Institute in 362 communities in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the first class of a new six-week course, titled Life in the Balance, about the Jewish perspective on everyday medical dilemmas. The course is accredited for Continuing Medical and Legal Education, and can help medical professionals develop a greater sensitivity to the concerns and decisions facing some of their Jewish patients.
  10. ^ Benveniste, Shelley (October 10, 2013). "Promoting Jewish Medical Ethics in Boca Raton". The Jewish Press. The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) will present Life in the Balance: Jewish Perspectives on Everyday Medical Dilemmas, the institute's new six-session Fall 2013 course that will begin during the week of Tuesday, October 29.
  11. ^ Wahlberg, David (November 11, 2013). "Health Sense: What Jewish law says about breast and ovarian cancer risk". Wisconsin State Journal. Ashkenazi Jewish women are five times more likely than the general population to have gene mutations that greatly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. The class, "An Ounce of Prevention," was the first of a six-part course about biomedical ethical issues, called "Life in the Balance," that continues this month in Madison and more than 300 cities around the country.
  12. ^ Snyder, Laurie (October 23, 2013). "Lamorindans Learn about Tough Cancer Problem". Moraga CA. LAMORINDA WEEKLY. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2015. But while the spotlight on Jolie raised awareness, says Rabbi Dovber Berkowitz, it also caused confusion and
  13. ^ Toneguzzi, Mario (October 26, 2013). "Jewish group tackles medical dilemmas". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on February 5, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015. Calgary's Rohr Jewish Learning Institute is tackling some interesting and challenging topics in the next few weeks. In Life in the Balance: A Jewish Perspective to Everyday Medical Dilemmas, participants in a new course will ponder ethical questions ranging from end of life issues to preventive measures and respect due to the body after death.
  14. ^ Staff (October 21, 2013). "Rohr Jewish Learning Institute to present 'Life in the Balance'". Norwich, CT: Gatehouse Media, Inc. The Bulletin. Participants will answer ethical questions about a range of topics, including end-of-life issues and preventive measures.
  15. ^ "JLI offers adult courses on medical dilemmas". San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc. JWeekly. October 17, 2013. The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute will offer "Life in the Balance: Jewish Perspectives on Everyday Medical Dilemmas" at some 600 locations around the globe — including 10 in the Bay Area — starting later this month.
  16. ^ "Chabad offers new course that looks at medical dilemmas". Fern Park, FL. Heritage Florida Jewish News. October 18, 2013. Modern medicine has brought us near miracles. It's also brought us some of the most difficult decisions we'll ever have to face. Are we obliged to prolong life even at the cost of terrible suffering? Should we legalize the sale of organs, such as kidneys, to save the lives of transplant patients? May a woman with a multiple-fetus pregnancy opt for fetal reduction, thus forfeiting the lives of some to possibly save others? When it seems that every available option is morally questionable, how do we decide? Torah and the Talmud are not silent about such matters, and the Chabad Center is offering a course, titled "Life in the balance: Jewish perspective on everyday medical dilemmas" that will address these issues.
  17. ^ Richman, Alan (January 13, 2015). "Best-seller sets stage for parenting series". New Jersey. Faber's presentation is scheduled as a "prequel" to "The Art of Parenting," ... Rabbi Boruch Chazanow, codirector of the Chabad of WMC, and Rabbi Levi Wolosow, its director of adult education, are trained instructors for the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute


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  • Assia, Hebrew journal on Jewish medical ethics. English selections are available.
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External links[edit]