Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tzitz Eliezer passes away at age of 89

Rav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg best known as the Tzitz Eliezer after his monumental halachic treatise Tzitz Eliezer passed away in Jerusalem on Tuesday Novermber 21, at the age of 89.

He was a leading rabbi and a dayan on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem and was considered an eminent authority on medical halacha. He was the rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Rav Waldenberg's involvment in medical ethics began during the period that he served as rabbi of a synagogue adjacent to the old location of Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital in downtown Jerusalem.
Professor Avraham Steinberg, a pediatric neurologist and head of the Medical Ethics Center at Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital recalled that "Doctors who prayed at the synagogue, myself included, started asking him questions. Eventually, he began teaching a weekly medical ethics class for doctors and nurses."

The questions Waldenberg answered were compiled in his Tzitz Eliezer. Though he wrote numerous books and articles in all fields of halacha, he was best known for his decisions on medical issues such as fertility, abortion, organ transplantation, euthanasia, autopsies, smoking, cosmetic surgery, and medical experimentation.

Rav Waldenberg forbade performing elective surgery on someone who is neither sick nor in pain, such as cosmetic surgery, arguing that such activities are outside the boundaries of the physician's mandate to heal. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 11:41; 12:43.) Notably, Rav Moshe Feinstein disagreed with this opinion.

Unlike most halachic authorities, Rav Waldenberg held that abortion performed by a Jew was not considered murder. He allowed first trimester abortion of a fetus which would be born with a deformity that would cause it to suffer. He futher permitted the termination of a fetus with a lethal fetal defect such as Tay-Sachs disease up to the end of the second trimester of gestation. (Ibid. 9:51:3.)

Another unique ruling was Rav Waldenberg's complete opposition to in-vitro fertilization (IVF). He ruled that a child conceived outside the womb, through IVF bears no halachic relationship either to the biological parents or the "surrogate mother," the woman who carries the child to term. According to Rav Waldenberg, the baby produced from IVF is not related to the biological mother and father and, therefore, does not fulfill the Torah injunction to "be fruitful and multiply." As a result, the removal of sperm for the purpose of IVF was prohibited. (Ibid. 15:45.)

He was also one of a small but growing number of rabbis to forbid smoking. (“Should Jewish law forbid smoking?” B’Or ha’Torah 8)

In addition to his magnum opus, a 21-volume set of responsa entitled Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Waldenberg also authored a book on the laws of sea travel on Shabbat called Shvita b'Yam, a book on mourning laws called Ein Ya'akov and a book on legal issues in the modern state called Hilchot Medina.

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