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Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 338

Rav Moshe Schreiber, known as the Chatam Sofer, was born in 1763 in Frankfurt, Germany and died in Pressburg in 1840. While the Neo-Orthodox sought to engage the maskilim (enlighteners) and to directly combat them, the Chatam Sofer adopted the view of “Chadash assur min HaTorah” – all that is novel in religious practice is forbidden by the Torah. Since this response (# 338) states that irreversible cessation of heart beat is one sign of death, those who do not accept BSD as halachic death quote this response as proof that a beating heart, at least according to the Chatam Sofer, is a sign of life and thus a person who is BSD and on a respirator is not dead according to halacha. Those that accept BSD as halachic death point out that a) in the very same response he states that cessation of respiration is the classical definition of death according to Jewish law and to understand this apparent contradiction they point out b) this teshuva was written as a challenge and response to the secular law instituted by the Duke of Mecklenberg, Germany, in 1772 that one must wait 3 days before burying a corpse in order to ensure the person is truly dead. According to this reading, the Chatam Sofer is simply stating the natural order of death in those days (before the invention of a respirator) is unconsciousness, irreversible cessation of heart beat, and then irreversible cessation of respiration. He states Jewish law only requires irreversible cessation of respiration as the determinant of death, but if the secular authorities want to wait even longer they can wait until cessation of heart beat and then bury the person without waiting 3 days.