I am so happy to finally introduce my new blog to the world, and i hope to develop this into a major influence on the Orthodox Jewish world in terms of our approach to deciding medical halacha. I am sure you are all wondering what in the world I have in mind, aren't there numerous books, articles, journals etc... that deal with this topic already? What could this blogger possibly think he can do to change the way we think about medical shaalot? What does he mean by Rationalist Medical Halacha?
Indeed, there are many poskim that are genuinely expert in many areas of medical halacha, and faithful Orthodox Jews rely on these fine Rabbanim to guide them through the complicated details of thousands of shaalot that come up in our lives. The shaalot are related to so many areas, such as end of life issues, Shabbat issues, Pregnancy issues, and on and on. However, the purpose of this blog is to present a consistent and rationalist way to analyze ALL of these topics. I am warning you now though, that your local Orthodox rabbi may not endorse some of the conclusions we make here, even though I hope you will be convinced when you read my presentation of each topic. We will be treading on dangerous halachic ground, so if that scares you, read another blog.
As we develop each topic, you will come to understand how these principles are used by the rationalist system, and you will appreciate the value of each one and why they are important. Admittedly, these can be applied to many areas that are not related to medicine, and while you should feel free to apply them wherever you want, this blog will be devoted to medicine.
The basic assumptions and rules of rationalist medical halacha are as follows:
1) The Medical Basis of Halacha Principle - The Halachic decisions made by the rabbis throughout the ages, from the Talmud until this day are ALL based on their understanding of medical reality. As an Orthodox Jew, we do believe that the halachic PRINCIPLES used to make these decisions are of divine origin, as part of Torah Shebaal Peh. However, the medical understanding that led to the halachic decisions in specific cases is not of divine origin, but rather it was based on the medical knowledge of the person/people who are writing the decision.
2) The Historical Corruption Principle - As history took its course, many poskim used the precedents as found in the previous literature when they made their decisions. Sometimes, they took into account the changes in medical understanding when they made this decision, but in other instances the poskim did not understand how the medical understanding of their predecessors affected the decisions that they made. This created a situation where a precedent was set based on erroneous medical understanding, and then it became reinforced by the subsequent halachic literature, although it should have been overturned due to new knowledge.
3) The Mixed Up Medical Principle - Most contemporary poskim consult physicians or other experts when they render halachic decisions today. While this is clearly appropriate, this also creates a confusing mix of ancient and modern scientific knowledge when the halachic decision is rendered. clearly the ancient torah knowledge SHOULD be applied, but ancient medical knowledge is often confused with ancient Torah knowledge, which leads to some very hard to understand conclusions.
4) The Common Sense Principle - Some Halachic decisions seem to go against common sense. In many cases, this is simply a result of not appreciating true Torah values in contrast with the values of the rest of the modern world. In these cases we are clearly obligated to try and understand the Torah values, and implement them into our lives, in contrast with the whims of modern society. However, sometimes simple common sense should lead you to understand that the psak halachah you may have received is wrong. If an analysis of the sources based on our principles leads one to conclude that the Torah and common sense actually do agree, then one should live by common sense, and not according to what is obviously an erroneous psak halacha.
5) The Halacha is Moral Principle - Halacha is more than just a bunch of meaningless legal requirements. it is also a moral code that contains lessons for all of us, even non-Jews. If it seems to you that what the halacha is in conflict with what you understand to be basic morals, then you should seriously consider if your understanding of the halacha is correct.
The first topic we will discuss is the time of death in halacha. I will try to stick to a consistent format with every topic. First I will discuss the basic issue at hand, and will summarize the various contemporary halachic approaches on the issue. I will then give a brief explanation if how these opinions were rendered through the contemporary halachic process. We will then analyze the sources using the five principles of rationalist Medical halacha, and determine if our approach leads to the same conclusions as the mainstream contemporary poskim. As much as possible, i will give sources and references and links for you to do your own research. I love comments, both supportive one's and critical one's, and I will try my best to respond to comments whenever possible.