Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Thus said the Lord God to these bones: “I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again. I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the Lord!”
(Ezekiel 37:5-6)
Jewish prophecies of resurrection express the unimaginable power of God to give life to the lifeless.  In the traditional liturgy, when we praise God for gevurah, strength, we refer to God’s unique capability to make the dead rise. Because many Jews believe that the messiah’s arrival will herald the resurrection of the dead and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, they are buried in Israel to be present at the propitious moment. Some Jews argue against organ donation, because they believe it is critical that their bodies be buried intact to be resurrected.  I can’t agree with this idea, though; if God can raise me from death, can’t God endow me with a new kidney? Unlike God, humans do not have the power to resurrect the dead, but we are capable of saving lives. The rabbis considered pikuach nefesh, preserving life, to be the highest principle, and they legislated that Jews exercise this power—even when it conflicts with the observance of the Sabbath or dietary laws, and even if it means breaking one’s fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.  I imagine that Christianity and Islam, like Judaism, have multiple views of organ donation. Could you please share your thoughts?

It will not surprise you, Tziporah, that these words of the prophet Ezekiel are often contemplated by Christians in preparation for Easter, since Christians see this prophecy as fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus and its eternal witness to the unimaginable power of God to give life to the lifeless. Indeed, Resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith.  In worship liturgies that include the Nicene Creed, Christians affirm, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The resurrected body, however, is understood to be a spiritual body, fully recognizable, but not flesh and bones as is the physical body that returns to dust. Organ donation, then, is not verboten in most Christian practice and may even be encouraged as a way of passing along the gift of life when one’s earthly body is too compromised to continue—a definite act of faith.

Tziporah, the majority of scholars in Islam agree that it is permissible to donate organs based on the general rule that “necessities permit the prohibited,”[1] and because the ultimate goal is the preservation of life. This view is supported by verses in the Quran. On the other hand, scholars who disagree with the practice state that organ donation compromises the special honor given to man’s body, whether dead or alive. From these two views, one can see that the notion of resurrection, although a fundamental Islamic belief, is not linked to the issue of organ donation.  The justification for this separation is based on several Quranic verses, which reaffirm the immeasurable and infinite power of God. One example reads, “Does man imagine that We are not capable of reassembling his decayed bones? We are able even to restore his fingers to their previous state.” (al-Qiyamah 75:3-4) I personally admire the generosity of individuals who act in utter selflessness and who, when faced with such challenging choices, give new meaning to the word “sharing.”

[1] Al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat


  1. I too have often thought it ridiculous to believe that God could raise the dead but NOT recreate a donated organ. Seems to limit the Unlimitless.

    As always, I am struck by the similarities we share with our "cousins" on such matters.

    On a completely different topic:
    During my first year of rabbinical school, which was in Jerusalem, we studied that Ezekiel passage on erev Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) -- which happens to be this evening. Reading about the bones and sinews coming alive again against the backdrop of the decimation of our six million imbued this text with a visceral and profound meaning that had been lacking for me.

    1. I, too, continue to be impressed by the many, striking similarities, especially religious beliefs that seem to be grounded in shared societal/cultural/geographical origins of Islam and Judaism.

      You are lucky to have had an opportunity to study Ezekiel in any kind of context. I had never actually read the words of the prophet until long after I had completed my graduate studies.

      Thanks for sharing your comments! B'shalom, Tziporah