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Oct 21, 2021

Interesting Psak: using Nazi materials to save a life

Hamechadesh is reporting on a strange but interesting question posed to rav Yitzchak Zilbershtein, rav of Ramat Elchonon neighborhood of Bnei Braq.

A doctor in Hadassah Hospital contacted Rav Zilbershtein asking if he could use, to save a Jewish life, a copy of a medical book that was compiled based on studies performed by the Nazis on Jews. This book is considered one of the best and most comprehensive of its kind, and it details in great detail (supposedly) the entire muscular system, the skin and bones, the system of nerves and organs. All based on  studies performed on Jews in the Holocaust. But it would be used to save a Jewish life. And all Nazi symbols have been removed form the copy of the book he has access to. 

Can he use the book or not, to save a Jewish life?

Rav Zilbershtein said he presented the question to his brother in law, Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Kanievsky responded that it is prohibited. If he uses this book he will not succeed in saving the person's life.

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  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/world/middleeast/nazi-medical-text-israel.html

    Says that the book had rabbinical approval. It also seems that's based on people the Nazis executed, not Jews.

    Not for a second do I believe that R' Kanievsky actually said that, but whoever did had some chutzpah. You can approve or disapprove of using the book, but he's not a navi and shouldn't pretend to be one.

  2. I highly doubt that it was meant as a nevuah that the person will die if the book is used. Far more likely he meant that using this book will not contribute towards helping the patient.

    1. It certainly doesn't look like he's saying what you claim. But even if he did, I doubt any doctor would use the book if they weren't absolutely sure it would help. And then how, short of nevuah (or possibly in-depth medical training) would he know it wouldn't?

  3. Pernkopf's Atlas. This article says it included Jews. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-49294861 In any case, it's amusing to see someone make an assertion as to what a great talmid chacham will or will not say. In some corners of the Jewish nation, great talmidei chachamim are trusted even if they say things that are not simple applications of black letter law. That's why people ask about medical procedures and child-bearing and so forth. If you don't accept their opinions, you're not an apikorus, of course. But it's ok, and not avoda zara, to believe that they have siyata dismaya to apply the wisdom of the entire Torah, including aggadeta, and give good advice.

  4. From: https://www.gq.com/story/pernkopfs-anatomy-nazi-history

    Meanwhile, an oral surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, Howard Israel, has referred to Pernkopf's Anatomy before every new surgery of his career. When he finds out about its past, he feels deeply betrayed. He researches the Book with another Jewish doctor, William Seidelman, asserting in a medical journal that cadavers from concentration camps may have been used in the making of the atlas. Their evidence: the appearance of roughly shaved heads and circumcised penises. When Williams is asked about this by a reporter from The Jerusalem Report, he disputes the fact, saying that when he asked Batke if death-camp cadavers were used in the Book, the old man became enraged and denied it vehemently. Even famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal examined the records, and his conclusions seem to bolster Williams's side. The two doctors, however, take a dimmer view of Williams as one of the Book's greatest defenders.

  5. I don't know about siyata d'shmaya, and nor do many others. But I have no problem saying that a gadol, steeped in Torah, both halakha and hashkafa, can provide a better answer to this dilemma than most.

    Where I *do* have a problem is where is spills over into claims of nevuah, as here. There hasn't been a navi since Malachi, except for...well, you know what the Gemara says.

  6. Yes, thank you, I actually do know what the Gemara says. Here's a quick review for those of you that might not.
    בבא בתרא דף יב עמוד א
    אמר רבי אבדימי דמן חיפה: מיום שחרב בית המקדש, ניטלה נבואה מן הנביאים וניתנה לחכמים. אטו חכם לאו נביא הוא? הכי קאמר: אף על פי שניטלה מן הנביאים, מן החכמים לא ניטלה. אמר אמימר: וחכם עדיף מנביא, שנאמר: +תהלים צ'+ ונביא לבב חכמה, מי נתלה במי? הוי אומר: קטן נתלה בגדול...
    חתם סופר שם:
    פירוש :ההשגה שמשיג בחכמתו בהבנה והשכל ואף על פי שהוא מעזר אלקי ורוח הקודש וחלק חכמה עליונה מ"מ הוא באמצע כלי חושיו הרוחניות השכלי ומבין טעמיה של דברי אותה חכמה - עדיפה ליה מנבואה.
    This is not a singular interpretation. See also the Maharal's first introduction to his ספר גבורות השם, and others.
    Ah, but who in our diminished age, qualifies as a Chacham? If you trust Shaul Liberman, yibadel lichaim Reb Chaim does. See Marc Shapiro's article here: https://matzav.com/fascinating-1970-letter-from-saul-lieberman-regarding-rothschild-prize-released-via-marc-shapiro/

    1. Yeah, that wasn't the Gemara I was talking about. Everyone picks the one they want, I guess.


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