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Ask the Rabbi #20

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Ask the Rabbi

May 7, 1994; Issue #20

This issue is dedicated in memory of Nathan & Kate Seltzer O.B.M.

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  • Donation of Organs
  • Breaking a Glass at a Wedding
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  • Donation of Organs

    Rhoda B. Kabak writes:

    Why are we not allowed to donate our organs after death? My friends and I are interested in the basis for this. Would this not be considered a mitzvah if it ultimately saved a life? Thank you for this opportunity to learn from home!

    Dear Rhoda,

    According to Jewish law one is forbidden to mutilate a lifeless body, derive any use or benefit from the use of a cadaver or to delay the interment of any part of a corpse. If, however, there is an immediate possibility of saving someone's life, these prohabitions would be overruled, and not only would one be allowed to donate our organs after death, it would even be a mitzvah.

    That's the theory. In practice the issue is complicated by the fact that we must be certain that the patient is actually dead before his organs may be removed. According to Halacha, death is determined by a cessation of biological functions as can be determined by external senses. This means: No breathing, no heartbeat, etc., and that the body can no longer be restored to function as a living organism. If the success of the transplant requires that the person's heart be working when removing the organ to be transplanted, the transplant would be forbidden according to Halacha.

    In the first paragraph we wrote that if there was an 'immediate' possibility of saving someone's life, one would be obligated to donate organs after death. According to The former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, however, even if we do not know of a specific emergency, it is permitted to donate organs or blood to donor banks provided that there is a 'reasonable certainty' that they will eventually be used in life-saving operations.


    • Nachum L. Rabinovich - What is the Halachah for Organ Transplants?, Jewish Bioethics, edited by Fred Rosner and J. David Bleich, Hebrew Publishing Company.
    • Fred Rosner - Organ Transplantation in Jewish Law, ibid.
    • J. David Bleich - Establishing Criteria of Death, ibid.

    Breaking a Glass at a Wedding

    David F. Scott asks:

    I have a question for your "Ask the Rabbi" series. At a Jewish wedding the groom places the glass under his foot and smashes it into several pieces. What is the significance of this act? I have a friend who is soon to be married and he asked me this question.

    Dear David,

    One reason is in order to remember The Temple and the glory of Jerusalem during The Temple era as it says in the verse in Psalm 137:

    If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

    So even at a time of "foremost joy," we smash a glass in order to remember the destruction of The Temple.

    Another reason is based on the Talmud in Tractate Berachot:

    "[The Torah] says 'Serve G-d with fear and rejoice with trembling'... Rav Ashi made a wedding for his son. When he saw that the Rabbis were getting 'carried away' in their rejoicing, he brought out a crystal glass and broke it before them and they became subdued."

    The authors of the Tosefot state that this is the source for the breaking of the glass at weddings. We learn from this that even at an occasion of great rejoicing, one must take measures to ensure that the celebration remains within bounds of propriety.


    • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 560:2.
    • Tractate Berachot, pages 30b-31a.
    • Tosefot - Tractate Berachot, page 31a, "Aissi...."

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