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August 21, 2009

Those Who Wish To Receive Organs Must Also Give

The issues relating to Jews and organ transplants are indeed troublesome (“How Kidneys Are Bought and Sold on Black Market,” August 7).

There is a significant halachic issue for some rabbis regarding whether organs can be removed from brain dead patients. Those Jews who feel that removing a heart or lungs from brain dead patients is tantamount to murder, however, have no problem in accepting organs obtained from such patients. It would seem that an ethically appropriate correlate of this stance would be to refuse organs obtained in this manner. But this is not the case. The spectacle of Jews who are takers but not donors of organs debases our religious principles in the eyes of the gentile world as well as among many of our co-religionists.

Both the fact that the first person arrested for trafficking in human organs in America is an Orthodox Jew, and the low rate of organ donation among Jews in Israel, should be a wake-up call to Jewish religious leaders that the continuation of the current attitude regarding organ procurement and donation among many Jews is intolerable. Far from being a light unto the nations, we will be viewed as opportunists who will stop at little to obtain organs for our own but who are insensitive to the damage done to impoverished live donors from whom organs are illegally purchased. As for those Orthodox rabbis who feel that Jewish law does not recognize brain death as death and who therefore prohibit brain dead Jews from being organ donors, they must realize that often in Jewish history, rabbis have decided halachic questions based not only on a narrow letter of the law but after taking into account broader societal and human needs.

Not infrequently the Talmud, in considering how to decide a difficult legal issue, quotes Proverbs 3:17 regarding Halacha: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness…” It is time for all Jews to apply this dictum to their approach to organ donation.

Dr. Kenneth Prager
Chairman, Organ Donor Council
Columbia University Medical Center
New York, N.Y.

Nothing Whimsical About Innovation

Matthew Ackerman is correct that Jewish institutions should not adapt themselves to the whims of 20- and 30-somethings — because they shouldn’t adapt themselves to anyone’s “whims” (“Jewish Organizations Should Spare the Change,” July 24).

Innovation, though, is neither generational nor anti-institutional: It is the process of continual self-reflection, creative problem-solving and self-renewal that keeps us focused on our purpose and attentive to our ongoing effectiveness. As funders and supporters of innovative programs, we have yet to come across too many new or young organizations that, as Ackerman put it, offer little “more to young people than the kind of superficiality for sale at American Apparel.”

We are, in fact, a little puzzled at Ackerman’s conflation of innovation with superficiality. New ways of doing things, improvements on old models, contemporary articulations of ancient values and the creation of new access points to Jewish life for 21st-century Jews are all healthy, organic ways for a vibrant organism like the Jewish people to rise to the challenges of a new age.

To argue that established organizations need not revise their mission statements, but rather should promote their existing missions more loudly, as if repetition and stubbornness could make them relevant or appealing to contemporary Jews, is to deny the fact that these institutions, too, are a manifestation of the values and visions of the eras and places in which they were created. All institutions must either evolve to fit the needs and values of a new day, or gracefully give the mantle of leadership over to others who can.

Felicia Herman
Executive Director
Natan Fund

Dana Raucher
Executive Director
Samuel Bronfman Foundation
New York, N.Y.

Shawn Landres
CEO and Director of Research
Los Angeles, Calif.

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