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Daily Israel Report

Renowned Rabbi E. Y. Waldenberg, 89

One of the great halakhic decisors of the generation, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg - author of Tzitz Eliezer - passed away in Jerusalem Tuesday morning at the age of 89.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/21/2006, 12:22 PM / Last Update: 11/21/2006, 1:58 PM

Rabbi Waldenberg, who was born in Jerusalem in 1917, was known as the Tzitz Eliezer, after the multi-volume work of that name which he wrote on complex issues of Jewish Law. "The fact that he didn't get involve in public affairs doesn't take away from his tremendous stature," said one mourner. "For 50 years, he has been quoted by latter-day rabbis who didn't even know he was alive."

Rabbi Waldenberg, the rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, specialized in medical questions. A judge on Jerusalem’s Supreme Rabbinical Court, he was known for rulings on issues of fertility, abortion, organ transplantation, euthanasia, trans-sexuals, autopsies, medical experimentation and much more. He was one of the first to forbid smoking. Some of his rulings were considered quite controversial and innovative, and were not widely accepted.

Rabbi Waldenberg's funeral procession was held early this afternoon at the decades-old Etz Chaim school on Jaffa Road, and he will be buried in the Mt. Menuchot cemetery in western Jerusalem.

Among the thousands of responsa he wrote on hundreds of topics in his close to 20 volumes of Tzitz Eliezer, are the following:
  • Artificial insemination by a man other than the woman's husband is forbidden, and is permitted only if pregnancy by normal means has been deemed impossible.
  • One may not undergo plastic surgery merely to improve one's physical appearance, as 'charm is deceptive and external beauty is futile; only fear of G-d... is praiseworthy' [Proverbs 32].
  • Though carrying certain items is forbidden on the Sabbath, the value of human dignity - which waives certain prohibitions - certainly waives this prohibition, as one who cannot hear would suffer great embarrassment and unpleasantness if he is "isolated, unable to hear what is going on or respond to those who speak to him..."
  • The commandment to violate the Sabbath to save a life is practically absolute, and "should not be left for a non-Jew or a minor... one must not make himself into a pious man by saying that it would be better for someone else to desecrate the Sabbath, rather it is a great merit to save even one Jewish soul... Even to save a life for only a short time, and even for a minor, and even for someone who wishes to commit suicide or has purposely put himself into danger; and even for a heretic it is accepted to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save his life..."
  • If there is no other way to fulfill the obligation, one may fulfill his obligation to hear the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and the Megillah on Purim via a loudspeaker, telephone or radio.