Oz Torah: Does the patient know best? – Ask the Rabbi


This coming week is the Fast of 17 Tammuz, marking the breach in the walls that led to the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – Herodian street & evidence of the destruction of of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE.

It opens the Three Weeks of mourning during which we avoid weddings and other celebrations.

Why lament for the destruction of the Sanctuary three weeks before the tragedy actually occurred?

Because when you see the inexorable catastrophe unfolding you already feel the pain.

It’s like watching a person slowly die. The family are already feeling bereaved even though a miracle can always happen and the patient can have a new lease of life, for a while at least.

Another explanation is that though it all happened a very long time ago, we cannot pretend to be unaware that doom was approaching. We know the story; we feel again the anxiety and agony of the approaching tragedy.



Q. I read that Justice Cardozo said that “Every human being of adult years and sound mind” has the right do decide what shall be done with their own body. Does Judaism agree?

A. No. Rabbi Jacob Emden ruled that if the doctors determine that a certain course of action is essential, the patient’s view to the contrary does not prevail: “The matter does not depend on the consent of the patient, since he is not free to destroy himself” (Mor Uk’zi’a to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 328).

Our life is not ours to dispose of; not only does the Torah tell us twice in the Book of D’varim to guard our life carefully but there are unambiguous halachic statements to the effect that

“The body is the property of the Holy One, Blessed be He”.

Some years ago I publicly disputed a ruling by a State coroner in New South Wales that

“As a matter of law, a human body belongs to the coroner”

and I urged a proper piece of research into the subject, arguing that such matters dare not be decided on the run.

The author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Joseph Karo, ruled (Bet Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 426) that a doctor who takes no action in a case where a patient withholds consent has transgressed the Biblical command,

“Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour” (Lev. 19:16).



Q. On the blank side of a mezuzah are three Hebrew words which seem to be in code. I cannot find them in any Hebrew dictionary. Can you explain them please?

A. The three “words” are “kuzu b’muchsaz kuzu”.

In themselves they have no meaning. They hint at the words of the Shema, found in themezuzah, “The Lord is our God, the Lord” – “HaShem Elokenu HaShem”. Take the next letter after the letters of these three Hebrew words and you get “kuzu b’muchsaz kuzu”.

The phrase derives from Rabbi Yehudah Hadassi of Constantinople, a 12th-century Karaite.

Maimonides opposed innovations such as this.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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