Chapter 1 | introduction

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rabbi Uriel Ganzel, Rabbi Shaul Baruchi

Coping with death and preparing for it requires a huge amount of caution, patience and sensitivity, which ultimately derive from our deep appreciation for the value of life. Halakha deals with the myriad aspects that inform this issue, and forms the compass that directs our lives.

The fundamental value and sanctity of life stand at the center of the many questions that arise: What is the proper way to treat a patient? Should one focus on healing the disease and prolonging life, or is it better to concentrate on relieving the patient’s suffering? Is there a stage at which we may stop trying to prolong life? The sanctity of life stems first and foremost from the image of God within man1.

Life is a precious gift endowed to us by God, and the obligation to preserve it is binding, even at the expense of violating other prohibitions. The immense significance of each moment of life defies us, meaning that we may not have the right to refrain from treating a patient, his particular medical prognosis notwithstanding.

At the same time, relieving suffering and pain is also an important halakhic principle. A person’s wishes – and even his very status as an autonomous being with the capacity to make decisions – also derive from the image of God within him, and therefore it is imperative that these carry substantial weight in decisions regarding medical treatment.

This pamphlet addresses these weighty questions and the halakhic and ethical responses to them. It establishes that according to halakha and the principles upon which it is based, there is a distinction between the period of life when we must seek out medical treatment and the stage at which it is permitted – at times even obligatory – to allow a person to withdraw from life and pass away. This unique issue has many practical implications for medical treatment, resuscitation, artificial respiration, and many other issues, as is explained below. In the following chapter we briefly discuss the general ethical background to these issues, while the bulk of this essay is devoted to halakha’s standpoint on these issues.

We wish to emphasize once again that this pamphlet should be viewed as a basic educational tool. For specific, practical, questions, one should consult with a Torah scholar who specializes in the field, and we encourage you to reach out to Tzohar Ad 120 via the website or hotline: *9253 in Israel, +972 52 580 8800 internationally or at

הערת שוליים

  1. See chapter IV below, footnote 42.

    Due to the limited scope of this pamphlet, the full range of sources and works of Torah scholarship that address these issues have not been cited. A sampling of the most authoritative opinions is included in the footnotes, and a more comprehensive survey will be presented in our forthcoming book. This essay is based on multiple resources and position papers that can be found on the Tzohar Ad 120 website:

    References to the Encyclopedia of Medicine and Halakha refer to the new and revised edition, Jerusalem 5766 [2006]. A version of this work was published in English as: Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics (Jerusalem, 2003, Feldheim Publishers). References to the work Nishmat Avraham refer to the second revised edition, Jerusalem 5767 [2007]. A translation was published in English by Mesorah Publications in 2000. All references in this pamphlet refer to the Hebrew editions of cited works.

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