Eliezer Waldenberg

Eliezer Waldenberg

Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (December 10 1915 -November 21 2006) was known as the Tzitz Eliezer after his monumental halachic treatise "Tzitz Eliezer" that covers a wide breadth of halacha, including Jewish medical ethics, as well as ritual halachic issues from Shabbat to kashrut. He was born in Jerusalem in 1915 and died there on November 21, 2006.

He was a leading rabbi and a dayan on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem and was considered an eminent authority on medical halacha. He was the rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Though he wrote numerous books and articles in all fields of "halacha", he was best known for his decisions on medical dilemmas such as fertility, abortion, organ transplantation, euthanasia, autopsies, smoking, cosmetic surgery, and medical experimentation. Some of his decisions on medical topics have proven controversial in the Haredi community.

His halachic opinions are valued by many rabbis across the religious spectrum. His major work "Tzitz Eliezer", is an encyclopedic treatise on halachic questions, viewed as one of the great achievements of halachic scholarship of the 20th century.

Prominent medical opinions

Rabbi Waldenberg forbade performing elective surgery on someone who is neither sick nor in pain, such as cosmetic surgery. He argues that such activities are outside the boundaries of the physician's mandate to heal. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 11:41; 12:43.) Notably, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein disagreed with this opinion. (Responsa Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66.)

He allowed first trimester abortion of a fetus which would be born with a deformity that would cause it to suffer, and termination of a fetus with a lethal fetal defect such as Tay-Sachs disease up to the end of the second trimester of gestation. (Tzitz Eliezer, 9:51:3.)

He ruled that a child conceived outside the womb, through in vitro fertilisation, has no parents and bears no halachic relationship either to the biological parents or the "surrogate mother," the woman who carries the child to term. (Id., 15:45.)

He was one of a small but growing number of rabbis to forbid smoking. (Schussheim, Eli and Eliezer Waldenberg. (“Should Jewish law forbid smoking?” B’Or ha’Torah 8 (1993))

Many of his medical opinions were recorded by his student Avraham Steinberg, M.D, and then translated into summary volumes.

In the chapter entitled "On the treatment which exposes the physician to danger," Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:

(Quoted by Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response; Compiled and Edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. Translated by David Simons M.D.; Beit Shammai Publications, 1989, Part 10, Chapter 11.)

Other Opinions

Rabbi Waldenberg permitted hearing Torah reading, Shofar blowing and Megillah reading by means of a loudspeaker, telephone, or radio. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 8:11.)

Unlike many other contemporary decisors, he emphasized the Jewish concept of Kevod HaBriyot (human honor or dignity) in his rulings. As an example, Rabbi Waldenberg adduced this concept in support of his ruling that a deaf person can use an electric hearing aid on Shabbat. Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:

cquote|We see from the foregoing that the prohibition on carrying an object that is muktzeh is waived for the sake of "kevod ha-beriyot", so that a person will not in any way be demeaned in his own eyes or the eyes of others on account of being unable to carry [the object] . And if that is the case, it appears that there is no concern about "kevod ha-beriyot" greater than the one that arises in connection with ensuring that a deaf person does not suffer embarrassment because of being unable to hear what people say to him.

It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the embarrassment and unpleasantness caused him when he comes among people, in the synagogue, and he is isolated, unable to hear what is going on, unable to respond to those who ask him a question. This produces a concern about "kevod ha-beriyot" greater than in connection with the matters discussed earlier, to which must be added his distress at forgoing public worship and being unable to hear the Torah reading and the responses to Kaddish and Kedusha, etc. This negates the performance of a batch of mitzvot, of lesser and greater importance, and therefore it is preferable to permit the carrying of "muktzeh" for so great a matter of "kevod ha-beriyot" and to permit the deaf person to carry his hearing aid on "Shabbat".

(Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 6:6:3.)

Political and Social Questions

Rabbi Waldenberg also wrote a multivolume set on the practical issues of government called "Hilkhot Medinah". In this work he takes issue with many positions of former chief rabbis Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Shlomo Goren, and Isser Yehuda Unterman.

He writes in support of yeshiva students' exemption from military service because through the merit of their Torah learning they help protect the country.

He granted workers the right to strike when employers have violated a workplace condition that has become “the custom of the land.” Most legal authorities required workers to bring their employer to a beit din (religious court) before resorting to a strike."In situations such as these, in which the worker is absolutely certain that the employer has transgressed and violated a condition that has been established as the custom of the land, the worker may take the law into his own hands by levying the fine that the appointed communal leaders have deemed appropriate for a situation such as this." (Tzitz Eliezer 2:23)

Even though, "A convert may not hold a position of Jewish communal authority." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 1:4). Rabbi Waldenberg ruled that a convert may not serve in a lone communal position but he may serve on a communal committee. (Tzitz Eliezer 19:48)

Opinions on transsexuality

In a particularly controversial ruling, Rabbi Waldenberg ruled that sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals effects a change in a person's halachic gender, and that, in his words, "The external anatomy which is visible to the eye is what determines the halakha". (Id., 25:26:6; ) [http://www.starways.net/beth/tzitz.html] .

In ruling that transsexuality surgery changes a person's halachic gender, Rabbi Waldenberg used as analogy the example of the Prophet Elijah, who according to the Torah ascended to Heaven without dying. Would Elijah's wife be halachically permitted to remarry? Rabbi Waldenberg held that the answer is yes, because, while Elijah did not die, the ascension discontinued Elijah's human status. The marriage would then be automatically nullified. Having found a precedent for halakhic status change occurring within a person's lifetime, Rabbi Waldenberg held that the same would be the case if a man becomes a woman and accordingly ruled that such surgery would have a halachic effect.


Rabbi Waldenberg died on 21 November 2006 at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, of which he had been the Rabbi. He was buried later on the 21st at Jerusalem's Har HaMenuchot cemetery. [http://www.israelnationalnews.com/news.php3?id=115954]


*"Tzitz Eliezer", major responsa
*"Hilchos Medinah", a 3-volume halachic work
*"Divrei Eliezer", novellae

External links

* [http://www.starways.net/beth/tzitz.html Judaism and Gender Issues] Essay Summarizing responsa of the Tzitz Eliezar on transsexuality
* [http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0geur432NBE7QIBKVJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE2c2xhb21qBGNvbG8DZQRsA1dTMQRwb3MDNgRzZWMDc3IEdnRpZANFMjQ0Xzkx/SIG=13kqa5ba1/EXP=1154623927/**http%3a//www.medethics.org.il/articles/FIC/FIC.65.pdf%23search='Eliezer%2520Yehuda%2520Waldenberg' Presentation of Award for Medicine and Halacha to Rabbi Eliezar Waldenberg]
* [http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0geutcl3dBEF24BA39XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE2Z2QyM2FhBGNvbG8DZQRsA1dTMQRwb3MDMQRzZWMDc3IEdnRpZANFMjQ0Xzkx/SIG=14230entn/EXP=1154625189/**http%3a//www.medethics.org.il/articles/FIC/FIC.49.pdf%23search='Eliezer%2520Yehuda%2520Waldenberg%2520dentistry' Rabbi Waldenberg answers Halachic questions concerning dentistry]
* [http://www.koltorah.org/ravj/14-18%20Cosmetic%20Surgery%20-%20A%20Review%20of%20Four%20Classic%20Teshuvot%202.htm Cosmetic Surgery -- A review of four classic Teshuvot] (Rabbi Waldenberg is #2)
* [http://www.israelnationalnews.com/news.php3?id=115965 His obituary from Arutz Sheva]
* [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1162378451887&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Tzitz Eliezer passes away at age of 89]

Further reading

*Fred Rosner, "Pioneers in Jewish Medical Ethics", Jason Aronson Publishers, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-9968-5
*Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response. Compiled & Edited from the Tzitz Eleezer by Avraham Steinberg; translated by David B. Simons. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing, 1992.
*A. Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics: a Compilation of Jewish Medical Law on All Topics of Medical Interest

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