Medical Issues According to Jewish Law – Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Book Review


Medical Issues in Jewish Law

Dr. Fred Rosner, former Professor of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine put together an excellent translated collection of the answer to medical questions.  These answers, or “halachic responsa” are written by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, the son in law of Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashav, the late gadol hador.

How we Recognize a Gadol (someone great in Torah) / Why We Listen to Rabbis

Rav Zilberstein’s writings show how one can place their trust into someone who knows more than them which the average person does many times in life when they go to a doctor.  Even if we don’t understand everything a doctor (or Rabbi) says to us, we can tell that it’s probably a good idea to listen to what they are telling you when you see a work like this one.  The answers are well thought out, often ingenious, and show a breath and depth of knowledge of both Judaism and modern medicine unmatched by no other.  However, what makes Rav Zilberstein even greater is the humility – on many occasions, when he is unsure of an answer, he consulted with his father-in-law, the great Rav Eliyashav.  Or, when unsure about a medical procedure (e.g. the details of how the morning after pill works), he consults with an expert in the field.

There are plenty of charlatans out there, but Rav Zilberstein’s answers are based, with sources quoted from all over the place in Jewish literature, and he is a seeker of truth – the answers are clearly based on what he believes is the truth.  Further, the questions, as arranged quite superbly by Dr. Rosner, cover the same question from different angles so you can see and taste where the differentiating point lies between when a procedure is okay, and when not.  Personally, as a believer in Torah Judaism, after having read this work, I would not hesitate to follow Rav Zilberstein’s advice on how to handle a personal medical situation.

Medical Topics Discussed in Jewish Law

Some topics discussed in this book include:

– When it is okay and when it is not okay to let a very ill person die, according to Jewish law (e.g. removal of a defibrillator);

– Using limited resources on a critically ill patient versus others – e.g. health insurance limitations, when it is stealing from the government and when is it necessary;

– Deceiving a patient of the prognosis and probable outcome according to Jewish law;

– Violating the Sabbath to rest between medical procedures (e.g. helicopter from an army hospital back to your bed at home so you can return and do more operations better)

– When do we force treatment on someone & parental refusal to treat a sick child;

– Balancing patient needs with spousal and family needs – what if you’re the only doctor in town?;

– Organ donation, transplants, risky procedures which may save a life or cause death to come quicker, (e.g. bone marrow transplant)

– Saving one life versus saving many;

– Fetuses and abortion, (e.g. desecrate the Sabbath to save a fetus? Fetus before 40 days old a ‘bunch of liquids’?);

Specific Cases

I am happy to try and answer any questions in the comments on specific issues, are refer you to where to find answers.  However, I decided not to actually print any specific case answers here because, a) they can be taken out of context or misunderstood, b) printing an entire answer is probably copyright infringement, and c) the answers tend to require reading a whole section to get an understanding of an issue.  I highly recommend buying the book.


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3 Responses

  1. June 28, 2013

    […] wonder if such questions have ever been posted to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, expert in Jewish medical […]

  2. November 5, 2013

    […] to reason better than we, than we’ll probably listen to him whether he be Einstein or a great Rabbi.  That is, after all, […]

  3. February 10, 2014

    […] if we don’t understand.   (I wrote about must trust in a gadol [giant] in Torah it in an article on Rav Zilberstein’s discussion of medical halacha.) Still, I was never satisfied with it in this case.  I want to understood why … what, […]

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