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Mar 25, 2009

dead bodies on display

One of the latest issues in the news the past few days is the fight over an exhibit in a museum.

The science museum in Haifa is bringing in an exhibit of the human body. 2 cadavers will be on display.

The haredi rabbonim, and the Chief Rabbi of Israel, have called for the religious to boycott the museum and not go to the display. They are upset about "kavod hameis" - dignity/respect for the dead.

I am not really sure how that works. The cadavers donated themselves (during life) to science for the purpose of research. Once could make a case to say that kavod hameis would be to allow their benefit of the learning from these bodies that their display will offer. Also, these bodies are not those of Jews, so there should be no issue of insistence of burial and kavod due to being Jewish (not to say goyim deserve less kavod, but when the non-Jew requested his body be on display, I am not sure the same usage of the term "kavod" applies).

But I can accept it.

I do just want to mention that growing up in Chicago we had one of the best science museums in the world - the Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago). The place is amazing. We always enjoyed two exhibits the best - the Coal Mine exhibit where you go down in a cable car into a "real" coal mine. That is way cool. Even as an adult I enjoyed that.

The second exhibit, the one that is my favorite, is one they have had on display called "Body Slices". Body Slices is a display in a glass case of the human body. The bodies were sliced up at different parts to pieces 1/2 inch thick, so you see the different parts of the body from the angle of a slice of meat - with all the bone and other matter in place. So you see exactly what constructs each part of the body, no imagination required.

I was always fascinated by "Body Slices", and for some reason the gore of it never bothered me (even though I normally cannot look at human gore).

So, while I guess it is not kavod hameis for the museum to display this new exhibit, it is a shame because such exhibits can really be fascinating and educational.

16 comments:

  1. Rafi, you have missed something here. firstly, if you have been following the story, it is unclear on the source of the bodies, but prisoners or other unscrupulous sources.

    Secondly, as a person with semichah, I would expect you to realise the seriousness of this. It's not only chareidim who are against this; all the major religions are against it, and even secular people are disgusted.

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  2. shalom - I did not see anywhere that the seculars are upset. maybe they are, but I only have seen protest offered by the religious (not just haredi, but israeli rabbinate including national religious) - including religious non-jews.

    As I said, I can accept it. I did not criticize them for being old-fashioned or obtuse. I understand the issue of kavod hameis, and even though these bodies are of non-jews and I was not aware that the halacha of kavod hameis applies to them in the same way as it does to jewish bodies.

    As far as the rest of the post, it was simply me reminiscing about a similar, perhaps more grotesque, exhibit that I found to be highly "enjoyable". Not me saying they should have one of those exhibits here.

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  3. There's a difference between the two exhibits - the one from your youth was primarily for (informal) teaching purposes. The Body Worlds exhibit is art. Yes the guy claims that it's important to learn about the human body, but he's an artist, and the shock value of such an exhibit is clearly a huge part of his motivation.

    On the other hand, the Body Worlds exhibit usually has many cadavers on display. Why do we only get two?

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  4. Read this article - and especially the talkbacks - from hardened secularists for more info:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3690258,00.html

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  5. interesting. I had only seen it in hebrew, and I don't usually read the talkbacks....

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  6. Thanks for the link to ynet. This looks like a freak show that has no place in a science museum in Israel or anywhere else.

    If a museum really wants to put on an educational exhibit about the human body it can be done with synthetic materials - there's a great one in the London science museum, where the kids get to climb around inside massive body parts made of fibreglass - with very realistic details.

    I have to say that i take issue with the idea that "it's ok if it's just goyim" which i hear a lot from the haredi world about different issues. I don't think that it does us any favours and is not a healthy way to look at life. I am horrified by haredi story books where the 'goy' is always the vilain, kidnapper, evil criminal.... it's ghetto mentality and has no place in the 21st century.

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  7. Then of course if one is Kohen this is all moot anyway. I haven't been to a science museum in years. (Just to answer one potential issue, we pasken l'chumra, l'chatchila regarding Tumat Ohen of non-Jews.)

    From what I read, the Rabbanut response was very measured and non-confrontational, calling for people not to go, but davka not calling for protests.

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  8. Hi Rafi,

    If I remember correctly, I think there is a unique issue in Eretz Yisrael based on psukim that no bodies, Jewish or non-Jewish, be left unburied as it is Metamei the land. This is part of the discussion of medical schools in Israel.
    Keep up the good work!

    Thanks

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  9. while it's true that art is the basis for the display, here in the states it has been an educational model as well. the "real life" poses and situations do show how the various muscles and bones are used and it is less gory than it sounds. I think that since kavod hames is so subjective a halacha, i happen to feel that this isn't disrespectful. the people allowed their body to be used like this. the display is promoting the human body, not denegrating it.

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  10. I'm sure it is in other places, but here in NY there was the Body Exhibit that has many bodies. It was controversial not only in Jewish circles, but in humanitarian groups as well because the bodies (I believe) were Chinese prisoners. I don't know the origin of these 2 bodies in the Israeli exhibit, but chances are these bodies are misused...even if a person donates his body for research, that person probably did not expect that "research" to be an art exhibit.

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  11. According to the various articles, the bodies undergo a process of "plasticization" or something. Sort of like the process of becoming fossilized, but rather than becoming stone, they become plastic.

    One could argue that the destructive process of the bodies is not kvod hameit, but once the body is no longer in existence, you only have some plastic that looks like a body.

    So maybe the hoopla is misplaced and it's just an issue of taste.

    BTW, people donate their bodies to this. They're not stealing them or using prisoners.

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  12. I don't know Rafi, but when you said you grew up in Chicago..
    I kind of expected you would talk about the education you got from seeing the street crime gangster killings.. oh well museums are good anyway.. (and a lot safer than those 'mean streets')

    regards Mr Bagel

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  13. You enjoyed the body parts as a kid, then you became a shochet....

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  14. Mr. Bagel - welcome back.. I rarely saw gangster killings on the streets of chicago... (notice I said rarely)

    snag - lol

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  15. The bodies are most definitely NOT donated for this.

    Rather, just as with Chinese organ donors, the "donors" are Falun Gong members murdered for the benefit of the recipients.

    These are young political prisoners whose cult beliefs include exercise and healthy lifestyle.

    In other words, prime specimens.

    The Chinese routinely arrest and kill them to order, which is why Rabbanim have paskened that one may not go to China for a transplant.

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  16. Rav JD Bleich published a pretty thorough analysis (k'darko bakodesh)in Tradition some time ago.

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