Evolution of Judaism

A Father's Gift

                                        A Father's Gift by Noa Baum
                                from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

What Does Judaism Have to Say About Organ Donation?

Depending upon your age, you might remember Jewish tradition on the topic of organ donation as very different from how it actually is today. Once opposed, Jewish law and practice on organ donation has changed dramatically, which is the beauty of Judaism as a living, evolving tradition. Now that organ transplantation is a highly successful way to save a life, organ donation has been deemed an obligatory act, a mitzvah chiyuvit, by every major branch of Judaism.

Now, it is important to note that some Orthodox leaders differ on how to determine the time of death, and prefer a point later than brain death, which results in some organs being rendered unusable but even in that case, the kidneys, barring kidney disease, remain transplantable after death. Accordingly, not to bequeath at least some of your organs has become a transgression of the mitzvah of pikuakh nefesh, “saving a life.”

Major Contrasts in Jewish Practice

Because change is one of the constants of Jewish life, the variations in customs, laws, and practices at any point in our history are quite fascinating. It’s important from the outset for you to be fully aware that individual homes, congregations, and even certain neighborhoods and individual communities within those neighborhoods, have their own uniquely nuanced Jewish culture, norms, and guidelines. For example, there are Jewish communities where the norm is:

Judaism and Sexual Abuse

We were studying under a huge maple tree outside the United States when it became increasingly clear from the workshop participants’ comments that a traveling rabbi had sexually abused quite a number of women in the region over a period of years. Some had gone to him asking a deep spiritual question and were shocked by the kind of "outreach" they received. Others were young girls accepting a loving hug from a clergy person only to experience a horrific violation of their physical boundaries. All believed themselves special, "the only one." Some were sworn to secrecy. More could be said, let's just say it was becoming clear that a Jewish clergy person had left an international trail of hurt.