Halachic Organ donor Society, 3926 W. Touhy Ave, Suite #365, Lincolnwood, IL, 60712-1028. Phone: 646-599-3895, Email: office@hods.org

Full Interview (Part 1)

Shabtai Rappaport

Full Interview (Part 1)
[9 minutes  45 seconds]

I married Rifka, Moshe Tendler’s daughter. (Moshe Tendler is Moshe Feinstein’s son-in-law, as you may very well know.) Even before our wedding, I wrote, after we became engaged, even earlier, I wrote to him regularly; he asked me to write to him, and we corresponded, and some of our correspondence was published in Iggrot Moshe

In 1971 we went to the States to get married and then we were privileged to meet with Reb Moshe and part of Rifka’s dowry was that Moshe [Feinstein] promised that we would spend three months together in the summer camp. And we lived in the same bungalow in the summer camp and we were together for more than two nights. So I read his letters, his correspondence, I helped him in his research. I was learning, we used to talk a lot, to discuss many subjects in halacha. And at the end of the period, he gave me a rabbinical examination, gave me Smicha.

During the coming years, I was in America from time to time, and I used to see Moshe  a lot, we used to speak on the phone, and we used to correspond quite a lot. In 1980, I think it was, we started a project, in 1980 or 1979, we started – it was getting difficult for Moshe to publish his own sefarim, his own manuscripts, so it was suggested that it would be printed in Israel – it would be edited and printed in Israel.

So I got the job of editing his manuscripts. Reb Moshe wrote three kinds, he had three kinds of creations. One was, the one that he was most proud of was his commentary on Shas not halacha, not responsa, – his commentary on Shas, which we published I think five or six volumes and then the response and the third creation was Drashot. more of philosophy and shorter ideas that are non-halachic. All this we published, we published one volume of all this.

I had the thought of publishing three of his response that are relevant now to what we’re speaking of. And the first volume, he reviewed very, very carefully, I did not every editorial note that I had, I showed it to Moshe and he approved the – not approved but he completely reviewed every sentence was reviewed by Moshe.

The second volume came out closer to his Ptira [death], so it was also very carefully reviewed, but not as thoroughly as the previous volume.

The last, the third volume, which is not the last – there is one now that I’m working on. The third volume was printed posthumously. And there, also because of this organ transplant business – people had opposed the idea of organ transplants. Slender the sefer is my creation, not Moshe’s creation, and I said that I’m very proud of it because if I could write it, and I published it myself so it makes no difference, if I can write on this level.

Anyway, the third sefer, because it was edited after Moshe’s Ptira, I left Reb Moshe’s own manuscripts as they were, I didn’t change a word. And everything that I added in what they call a “petite font”, a smaller font.

This is my relationship with Reb Moshe’s  ketavim (writings).

And also through my brother-in-law who is very close to Moshe in the last ten years before his Ptira and we were very close together so we used to hear from Moshe what he thought about problems that came to him, to rule – many, many subjects. Also political and public and various halacha issues. Among them was the problem of organ transplants, but actual organ transplants did not begin as organ transplants, it started in two stages, three stages.

In the mid-60s there were the first attempts of heart transplants, by Christian Bernard in South Africa. And then, there was, I don’t know if it was the fifth or the sixth in the world, in Tel Hashomer, in what is called now the Sheba hospital. In all the attempts, the recipient of the organ, the recipient of the heart died because of an uncontrollable immune reaction. When it was in South Africa, the halacha  world did not comment-the medical world commented adversely against it, they came out against this attempt. But when it was in Israel and it was relevant to us, to people here, Rabbanim issued an anonymous ruling that was it forbidden, strictly forbidden to do heart transplant. Which means any transplant it needs that cannot be done from a live donor was prohibited. Organ transplant from living donor was permitted, by then, I think it started in the 50s so by then it was fifteen years old, by the time they spoke about heart transplants. But heart transplants was totally forbidden. This was in ’67 — ’66, ’67, ’68.

1968, summer of ’68, Rav Moshe published two responses, one was very short, it’s forbidden and there was no permission to do an organ transplant and another one that was quite long, which actually lays the basis of the permission of organ transplant, provided the donor will be indeed dead. Then, in the mid-70s – Hebrew calendar date [5736]  -which is ‘76, before they dreamed about organ transplants because still the problem of the immune reaction was still a problem. They had – the medical world was raging about the problem of pulling the plug. They call it “pulling the plug”, terminating life support system. And the question was, as far as it went in the Jewish world, it was not very heated because it was not organ transplant, but everyone understood the need of stopping the life support system, you could not leave someone, you could not leave a cadaver on the life support system forever. And Rav Moshe was asked, and I was there when my father-in-law addressed Rav Moshe and explained to Rav Moshe the problem. There was a, I don’t remember the name of the woman, but a young woman in New Jersey who was on life support system and her parents claimed that she was dead and that the plug should be pulled and the hospital refused. The doctor said, “we are not murderers, we are physicians, we are healing people we’re not killing people and if the family wants to pull the plug, let the family come and pull the plug themselves.”

It went to court. At the end, the parents had the upper hand, they pulled the plug, but the young woman remained alive, she was breathing on her own. But at that time, my father-in-law had to lecture in a convention about when can you pull the plug or how can you determine death when someone is connected to life support system. This was the major issue because death when you are not connected to life support system, there is a classical definition that was never questioned. And it was accepted that the medical definition of death was then accepted that it’s a total cessation, total irreversible cessation of the function of the cardiac function and the pulmonary function. This was the norm of the medical profession and also halacha. If someone stopped breathing but his heart you can still feel a pulse, the person…

Until development of life support systems, the definition of death that related to someone who either was sick until he died or he was involved in an accident and died. So you waited for his death, death meant what the classical medical definition, also the halachic definition: total and irreversible cessation of the cardiopulmonary functions. And it was obvious that if someone stopped breathing but they still felt a pulse, you saw that their heart was still beating, of course you did not bury the person but you started resuscitation.

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