[Avodah] Lecture by Rav Moshe Tendler about Brain Stem

Meir Shinnar chidekel at gmail.com
Sun Mar 3 16:51:24 PST 2013

> : Contrary to popular belief, organ transplant is not only allowed al pi
> : din, but it is meritorious...
> According to RMT. It is unclear RMF actually did change his mind from
> what was published earlier in IM. I don't think his sons remember his
> final position the way his son-in-law does.
> R Binyamin Walfish went to RYBS in 1983 or '84 to ask RYBS his opinion.
> RBW reported that RYBS accepted brain death as a criterion, but RAS, R'
> Isador Twersky (a son in law), and R/D Haym Soloveitchik said he did not,
> and grandsons R' Mayer Twersky and R' Yichok Lichtenstein reported several
> conversations in which RYBS said that he didn't and didn't understand
> how anyone can accept it.

RN Stadlan has commented on much of RMB's post.
However, two points:

1) RMF.
While many poskim don't accept brain death, it is quite clear that RMF did.
There is, however, a concerted effort by many (given RMF's stature,
especially for the American community) to deny and reinterprete it.  There
are two tshuvot of his which specifically address the issue of brain death,
including one in the latest volume of Igrot Moshe, addressed Dr Bondi,
where he specifically accepts the Harvard criteria.

This has led to some convoluted interpretations, and even claims that RMF
did not write the tshuvot, and that the sons deny that RMF wrote them (the
sons have an introduction to both the new volumes accepting the
authenticity of all the tshuvot...), and essentially slander RMT.

There is a good summary in a recent book by rav halperin Qeviat rega
hamavet, where he brings all opinions. In the chapter devoted to Rav Moshe
(published before the last volume of IM), there is a letter by Rav David
Feinstein about the tshuva in the next to last igrot moshe, saying
essentially enough already, my father wrote the tshuva....

He also brings that some rav wrote that he spoke to rav david feinstein,
who denied that his father wrote the tshvua - and then he spoke to rav
david feinstein, who said that he never said any such thing.  (showing how
far some went in trying to deny that RMF supported the Harvard criteria)

Therefore, while there are many poskim who deny brain death - it is crystal
clear that Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted the harvard criteria - in spite of
the very intense efforts by those opposed to deny it and put the onus on RMT

Whether RMF accepted them because he accepted neurological death per se,
 or whether he accepted them merely as irrefutable, halachically acceptable
evidence of the irreversible cessation of capacity for spontaneous
respiration (as RMB suggested that Rav David Feinstein seems to suggest -
but note that unlike RMB, RDF is talking  about spontaneous respiration -
not respiration - a corpse can be put on a ventilator...) may not be
completely clear from the tshuvot - but is not a practical difference (if
anything, this positiion is far more lenient than RMT's understanding -  as
there are several conditions (eg, neuromuscular diseases such as ALS) which
can lead to irreversible capacity  for spontaneous respiration while
maintaining cortical and intellectual function when on a ventilator..).

2) RYBS.  RYBS was one who was constantly mechadesh, and did change his
mind.  I have no doubt that the family had the conversations that they
report at different times in his life.

However, the one actual tshvua (rather than theoretical discussion) to a
practical halacha lema'ase question that he ever gave on the subject was
one that he gave in his capacity as posek of the RCA to the executive
director of the RCA about a public policy issue that needed an immediate
answer - where the executive director had no axe to grind - and he told him
that he accepted Rav Moshe Tendler;s position and understanding. This was
not a secret conversation - it became the public policy of the RCA.  There
is no evidence that anyone of the family spoke with him either close to or
after he gave that particular psak.
This has led to essential slandering of Rav Walfish. I don't think that
there is any credible reason to doubt rav walfish - even if his final
practical psak contradicted some of his earlier theoretical discussions.

In the end, the two leading poskim of the last generation for both the MO
and yeshivish community in America clearly paskened that brain death was
halachically death - a position at odds with other (Not all) other major
poskim, and one that much of the current halachic leadership in America is
uncomfortable with.  However, that discomfort does not and should not
translate to a license to distort.

Meir Shinnar
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