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Jewish medical ethics is a modern scholarly and clinical approach to medical ethics that draws upon Jewish thought and teachings. Pioneered by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits in the 1950s, Jewish medical ethics centers mainly around an applied ethics drawing upon traditional rabbinic law . In addition, scholars have begun examining theoretical and methodological questions, while the field itself has been broadened to encompass bioethics and non-halakhic approaches.

Key issues

In its early years, Jewish medical ethics addressed a range of ethical dilemmas, as well as general questions about the professional ethics for doctors. Major issues have included abortion, artificial insemination, brain death, cosmetic surgery, euthanasia, genetic screening, hazardous medical operations, oral suction in circumcision (metzitzah b'peh), organ donation, psychiatric care, and smoking cigarettes. In recent years, Jewish bioethics has examined questions of medical technology, the allocation of medical resources, and the philosophy of Jewish ethics.


In 19th century Wissenschaft des Judentums, scholars like Julius Preuss studied Talmudic approaches to medicine. Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits was a prominent figure in 20th century Jewish medical ethics and a pioneer in religious bioethics. His specialty was the interaction between medical ethics and halakha. Thanks to his academic training in Ireland, Rabbi Jakobovits approached his comprehensive volume, Jewish Medical Ethics, in light of Catholic medical ethics, with which he often compares Jewish ethics. Whether developing or disputing his analysis, subsequent Jewish bioethicists have utilized his work on abortion, euthanasia, the history of Jewish medical ethics, palliative care, treatment of the sick, and professional duties. Likewise, he is credited with popularizing the claim that Judaism supports the nearly absolute sanctity of life.

In its early years, Jewish medical ethics was predominantly an applied ethics, led primarily by Orthodox rabbis and scholars. Pioneers included J. David Bleich, Fred Rosner, Abraham Steinberg, Moshe David Tendler, as well as major rabbinic authorities, such as Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Moshe Feinstein and Eliezer Waldenberg. Among the non-Orthodox, there were early responsa by the reform movement's Solomon Freehof, and later involvement by Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer, and, in the Conservative movement, Elliot Dorff and David Feldman. Among those oriented to bioethics, leading thinkers include Daniel Sinclair and Noam Zohar.

Organizationally, Jewish medical ethics and bioethics has grown, especially in the United States and Israelmarker. Journals dedicated to medical ethics and an encyclopedia have been published. In Israel, hospitals supports Jewish clinical ethicists and there is an institute. Jewish medical ethics and bioethics has been the topic of numerous scholarly conferences, educational workshops, and lectureships. The next international conference on Jewish medical ethics was slated for March 2008 in Fürigen, Switzerlandmarker.

Dr. Mark J. Poznansky, a member of the Order of Canada, frequently lectures on Jewish medical ethics as it pertains to human and animal experimentation.

See also


  1. Conference program
  2. "Jewish ethics viewed as helpful in medicine." by Mara Koven, published in The Canadian Jewish News February 3, 1994, Page 20


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  • Byron Sherwin. 2004. Golems among us: How a Jewish legend can help us navigate the biotech century
  • Sinclair, Daniel. 1989. Tradition and the biological revolution: The application of Jewish law to the treatment of the critically ill
  • _________. Jewish biomedical law. Oxford
  • Zohar, Noam J. 1997. Alternatives in Jewish Bioethics. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Zoloth Laurie. 1999. Health care and the ethics of encounter: A Jewish discussion of social justice. Univ. of North Carolina Press.
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