Course looks at Jewish perspective on medical dilemmas

Posted Monday, Oct 14th, 2013
Lancaster Newspapers

Rabbi Elazar Green believes Shakespeare either didn't understand Jewish law or was exercising artistic license when he wrote "The Merchant of Venice."

Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in the play, would never have demanded a pound of flesh from debtors, Green says.

"In Jewish law, our bodies are not our own. They are on loan from God. One is morally obligated to take care of himself … to the point that they can't give another person permission to hurt themselves."

Green will lead "Life in the Balance: Jewish Perspectives on Everyday Medical Dilemmas," a nine-hour Jewish Learning Institute course, at the Chabad Jewish Student Center, 1024 Harrisburg Ave., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, and the following two Sundays or from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, and the following five Tuesdays. Cost is $95, with continuing education credits for professionals for an added cost.

For more information, go to or call Green at 723-8783. To register, email Green at [email protected] or go to

Topics in the course, with a worldwide debut on Oct. 27, will be "An Ounce of Prevention," "Sanctity in Death," "Complications in Pregnancy," "Confronting the Organ Shortage," "End-of-Life Dilemmas" and "A Gift of Generations." It will feature real-life case studies and prepare people to make decisions they may face one day.

"An Ounce of Prevention" will focus on the BRCA genetic mutations common in Ashkenazi Jews that significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Green noted that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

If a woman knows she has the gene, he asks, is she morally obligated to get tested, or may she "just let what will happen happen"?

And how does someone's decision effect society? As an example, Green cites a motorcyclist who refuses to wear a helmet and may sustain massive injuries requiring a lifetime of care in a government facility?

Other topics will explore ethical ramifications of new technologies, such as digital autopsies and uterine transplants.

Despite the Jewish perspective, Green says people from a wide range of backgrounds will find meaning in the medical ethics course.

"People need to think about these difficult topics while their heads are clear. Once they're in one of these situations, it's very difficult to think clearly."

With the community as the target audience, he expects about 20 people, half Jewish, half not, will attend, along with several Franklin & Marshall College students.

"Even though people may practice different faiths, often when they hear the Jewish perspective, which doesn't necessarily contradict their own faith, it makes sense to them and they implement them in their lives."

Green says a student at a previous course came up to him after class one night and said, "I want you to know how much I appreciate this class, and I'm a Wiccan."

An attorney, who is not Jewish, took the JLI's "Living with Integrity" course that Green taught last year and told him it changed the way she practices law.

"(The course) is confronting one's mortality," says Green, whose motto for the center is "Judaism Done Joyfully."

"But I will keep it light and moving. It will be fascinating and intriguing." 

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