1. Does Judaism allow for organ donation?
That question can be broken down into two parts. First, does Judaism allow for a transplant surgeon to remove a body part to save a life? Pikuach nefesh, the commandment to save a life, overrides most other commandments. So even if there is priority to be buried whole, saving a life by organ donation is more important. Second, is a brain dead patient, where typically most organs come from, considered dead according to halacha? There is a debate with some rabbis saying yes and some saying no. We refer you to the Issues page on this website.
2. Does Halacha allow for autopsy and donating one’s body to science?
Some Orthodox poskim allow for autopsy if it is believed that the results of the autopsy will most likely lead to saving someone else’s life. They are Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau a.k.a. Noda Biyehudah (1713–1793; (see link here), Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg a.k.a Seridei Eish (1884-1966) (see link here), former Chief Rabbi of Haifa Rabbi Yosef Meshash (1892-1974) (see link here), Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn (1857-1935) in his book Malki Bkodesh 4:7-8 (see link here), the Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz aka the Hazon Ish), in Laws of Mourning (Seelink here 208:7), Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel in his responsa Mishpetei Uziel, Volume 1, Yoreh De’ah, (link)
Rabbi Landau ruled that could not violate a biblical commandment (such as nivul hamet – desecration of a dead body) only in a case where it can most likely save a life. He said you needed a “חולה לפניך” (literally a sick person in front of you; figuratively an actual need.) Otherrabbis did not require this immediate need (e.g. Rabbi Messas) and even allowed for Jews to donate their bodies to science. But permission to donate one’s body to science was only allowed by a minority of rabbis.
3. Do we need to be buried with our organs in order to be resurrected?
No. While being buried whole is a value in Judaism, there is no source in classical Jewish literature that says you need to be buried with your organs in order to be resurrected. In fact, a few months after your death, your organs will have disintegrated so you will not have your organs for resurrection.
4. Why does the belief persist that Jews are never allowed to permit an autopsy or donate organs ?
It is common knowledge that a Jew may eat non-kosher if he or she is starving to death and there is nothing else to eat. The ability to save a life by cutting into a dead body, however, is very recent. For more than 3,000 years, Jews have been taught that the body is sacrosanct and it is never to be violated because there never arose the thought that perhaps by doing so you could save someone else’s life. It will take much time to break this taboo that has been firmly entrenched in the collective Jewish awareness.
5. Does the HOD Society issue piskei halacha (religious rulings)?
No. While the HOD Society recognizes brain death as halachic death it also understands there is a plurality of halachic positions on this issue. HODS, therefore, offers a unique organ donor card that allows people to choose between different halachic options.
6. Can a corpse have a proper Tahara (ritual washing) upon death if the person was an organ donor?
The custom to wash a corpse upon death is to pour water over the corpse. This can be done to an organ donor as it can be done to a badly-injured car-accident victim or someone who died on the operating table during open-heart surgery.
7. Is there a concern if our organs get transplanted into someone who ultimately will be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery or even cremated?
Although we have many laws and minhagim (customs) surrounding burial, pikuach nefesh (saving a life) overshadows all of them. Jewish law clearly dictates that saving human lives is a greater mitzvah.
8. Is being on dialysis a life-threatening situation?
Yes. Nephrologist Benjamin Hippen notes in the scientific journal New Atlantis, “Life on dialysis is a fragile, vulnerable existence.” Far too often, things do not go well, and people on dialysis are unable to work, experience multiple complications, and die.
The latest United States Renal Dialysis Statistics on life expectancy on dialysis (http://www.usrds.org/2009/ref/H_Ref_09.pdf) show that people live 14 more years after receiving a transplanted kidney than if they would have stayed on dialysis.
9. Why doesn’t the HOD Society website show Conservative or Reform Rabbis?
Many Jews (secular, Reform, and Conservative) do not feel comfortable donating organs because they feel it is not supported by traditional Orthodox halacha. The Halachic Organ Donor Society was created to counter this misconception. Since its mission is to show traditional Orthodox halachic support for organ donation, it highlights Orthodox rabbis.
10. What is Chabad’s position on organ donation?
Many Chabad rabbis have organ donor cards and the Rebbe wrote that the brain is the primary organ through which the soul resides in the body. This implies if the brain is dead there is no sould. See Chapter 51 in Tanya.
Tanya, a critical text for Lubavitch Hassidim, is a philosophical-theological work – not halachic. That being said, in Chapter 12 and 51 of Tanya it says the heart, despite its centrality, must in turn receive its own vital force from the soul through the medium of the brain. “Even the heart, which is a central organ from which all other organs receive vitality, receives its own vital force from the brain.” It is from the brain that all the other organs receive their own life force. The heart is just like all other organs, it receives its life force from the brain. So no brain, no life source, no soul.
Upon death – as determined by the death of the brain – donate organs!