Thursday, June 22, 2006

When is "dead" really "dead?" - by David Shabtai

R. Moshe Feinstein (Shu"t Iggerot Moshe YD 2:174:) describes the [as of yet] theoretical situation where a person who has been completely beheaded still has the chance of living a normal life if his head were properly reconnected. R. Feinstein writes that once the head has been completely severed, the person is declared halakhically "dead." Therefore, reconnecting the head is considered 'reviving the dead,' and not 'healing / medicine.' Since there is no obligation to engage in resurrection, performing such actions on Shabbat (which one may have thought to be pikuah nefesh) is absolutely forbidden. (R. Feinstein then proceeds to explain how to understand the Gemara and Tosafot in Bava Batra 114 in light of this position – hopefully a discussion for a later post.)

The case of beheading (hutaz rosho) is often used as the prototypical sign (or maybe cause) of death agreed to by all posekim, based on the Mishnah Ohalot (1:6). The conclusions should apply equally however, to other definitions of death as well, for each posek according to his opinion.

Dr. Avraham therefore asks (Nishmat Avraham 5, 99 [my translation]): "Nowadays we attempt to revive clinically dead patients [no spontaneous respiration, heartbeat or movement] through cardiac massage, electric shock, artificial respiration, etc., even on Shabbat and I have never heard that this is not considered to be a great mitzvah nor not to do so on Shabbat!" (He continues to equate this ruling with that of treating a ben shemonah that was considered by Hazal to be considered dead – ve'akmal.) He leaves his question unanswered.

Any thoughts?

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At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Michael Oppenheim, MD said...

I did not yet have the chance to look at the teshuva of Rav Moshe, but here's a thought off the top of my head:

There is a machlokes regarding permissibility of chillul shabbos on behalf of a fetus. The S'ridei Aish in 1:162 attempts to explain the machlokes based on the two opinions in Yoma 84b regarding the source allowing melacha to save a life. He suggests that the opinion which forbids chillul shabbos for a fetus assumes that the heter melacha to save a life is based on the limud of 'v'chai bahem, v'lo sheyamus bahem', and since a fetus is not a 'chai', there is no heter/chiyuv of chillul shabbos. The opinion which allows/requires chillul shabbos for a fetus assumes the other limud, 'chalel alav shabbos achas kedei sheyishmor shabbasos harbeh', a limud which applies irrespective of the status of the fetus - it does not need to be a 'chai' to allow melacha, just the potential for future kiyum shabbos.

Perhaps the same chakira is relevant here; if one holds that chillul shabbos is based on v'chai bahem, one would not be allowed to be mechalel shabbos on behalf of a corpse, which is quintessentially not 'chai'. On the other hand, the imperative of kedei sheyishmor shabbasos harbeh is independent of the current status of the 'person' for whom one is doing melacha, and therefore might permit melacha on behalf of a deceased individual in the case where life can be restored.

Just a thought...

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous David Shabtai said...

Interesting ... It is rather fascinating that you quote from R. Weinberg. He actually write specifically about this very issue - tehiyat ha-meitim (Noam 9 5726: 214 and Seridei Eish 3:127 [quoted in R. J. David Bleich's, Bi-Netivot ha-Halakhah 3, 104]). He asks how was Eliyahu ha-Navi (whom Hazal assume to be a Kohen [possibly Pinhas ben Elazar ben Aharon]) permitted to revive the son of the widow in his [successful] attempt at resuscitation? Tosafot (Bava Metzia 114b s.v. amar) answer that Eliyahu was certain that he would revive the child.

The aharonim wonder why that should make a difference? R. Weinberg quotes the Hemdat Yisrael (R. Meir Dan Palatzki) who claims that the only permission for reviving the dead stems from halel alav Shabbat ahat - since only the living are included in the categorical idea of ve-hai ba-hem. The rationale of halel alav Shabbat ahat (as per Yoma 84) only permits hilul Shabbat when you are certain that you will succeed - which is why the Gemara proceeds to require the specific permission of ve-hai ba-hem.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a very nice blog.

I clicked on the following link, and apparently it is no longer used: RJJ Journal: The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society

Happy Chanukah!!


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