R. Karelitz: 'Stomach Stapling' Operations Too Dangerous

A major hareidi rabbinical figure expressed deep concerns over the safety of gastric bypass surgery.

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David Lev,

Surgery (illustrative)
Surgery (illustrative)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

In what was essentially a psak halakhah (decision in Jewish law), Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, chairman of the Bnei Brak rabbinical court and one of the leaders of the Hareidi Lithuanian yeshiva world, told a questioner that he should preferably not undergo gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that reduces the volume of the stomach.

Gastric bypass surgery is the general term for a series of procedures that can reduce the size of the stomach by up to 90%, and is often called "stomach stapling." As obesity rates rise, the procedure has become increasingly popular, as it promises a significant weight reduction for individuals who are unable or unwilling to lose weight on diet plans.

Because the stomach is smaller, less food can fit into it, so the individual eats less – meaning that fewer new calories enter the system, and the body burns fat for energy. Eventually, individuals who undergo the procedures can lose a great deal of weight.

But the operations are not without risk, and patients have reported a wide range of complications resulting from the operations, including infections, hemorrhaging, hernias, ulcers, and others.

In general, the medical establishment cautiously recommends the procedures to individuals who are very obese and at risk for heart problems, diabetes, and other serious weight-related diseases. However, it appears that the risks of the operations themselves are greater than the diseases, in Rabbi Karelitz's opinion.

A member of the Bnei Brak community received an audience with the rabbi, where, as is traditional, he asked for Rabbi Karelitz's blessing that the operation be a success.

Instead, Rabbi Karelitz expressed strong misgivings about the procedure, saying that one who undergoes such procedures “is damaging his body, and this is not permissible under Torah law.” Rabbi Karelitz strongly suggested that the young man find an alternative way of dealing with his weight problem.