JEWS can donate organs — and can have autopsies, it was stressed to a Manchester Day Limmud audience.
Robby Berman, founder of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, declared: “Pikuach Nefesh (the preservation of human life overriding virtually any other religious consideration) overrules any reason that anyone can say to you about why you cannot donate organs and why you cannot have an autopsy.
“I realise that when it comes to death, most Jews tend to become more religious.
“In Israel, 120 Israelis, who didn’t have to die, die every year because there were people who could have been organ donors, who in their everyday lives were secular, refused because they thought it was against Jewish law.”
Mr Berman recalled how former Liverpool footballer Avi Cohen had encouraged his team to carry donor cards.
He died in a motorbike accident in 2010.
“When he was declared brain dead, his wife and son went on television to declare that they would donate Avi’s organs to save eight lives,” Mr Berman said.
“What happened next was that two rabbis drove to the hospital and talked Avi’s wife out of it.
“They said they would pray for him to wake up from brain death and he will be fine.
“Well, nobody can wake up from being brain dead, it is impossible because of something called lysis, where the brain literally melts.”
Mr Berman also detailed how there have been several cases where an Orthodox Jew would accept a transplant but would then refuse to allow his or her own organs to be used for the same process.
He explained: “There was a 72-year-old religious woman who was asked to donate her lungs to a man dying of lung failure.
“They asked the rabbi and he said no. In the end, they both died, but that’s not the problem.
“The problem is that this elderly woman had previously been donated a liver.
“This created incredible animosity and happens over and over again.”
The New York native has dedicated his life to convincing the Orthodox community that organ donation is allowed through his charity HODS and has convinced more than 200 rabbis around the world to sign up for donor cards.
Mr Berman continued: “One of the problems that stop organ donations is superstition.
“For instance, the Jewish star actually comes from the Ottoman Empire and the hamsa (hand) comes from the Koran.
“The first superstition that can prohibit Jews from donating organs is that it is seen as pre-empting death when you sign an organ donor card.
“In that case, don’t sign a ketuba because that is tempting fate for a divorce.
“Don’t have health insurance, life insurance, fire insurance etc because they are all tempting fate.
“Feel free to believe in superstitions, but at least be consistent.”
The second superstition, according to Mr Berman, was that when the Messiah comes, you are supposed to be buried as a “whole person”.
He continued: “I am not saying that resurrection is a superstitious belief but at the end of the day, if you’re going to be resurrected then it’ll have to happen without your organs anyway . . . because over time they will have rotted away.
“Also, nowhere in classical Jewish literature does it say that.
“And number three, your organs disintegrate anyway.
“If people were going to be resurrected with the same organs they were buried with, they would probably die in about four seconds anyway.”
Mr Berman also mentioned timing, as most organs are taken from those who are classed as brain dead.
He explained: “If you are a rabbi who believes that a brain dead person is alive, then you won’t allow donation because in your eyes you are killing that person.
“But if you believe that the person who is brain dead is dead, then you would allow donation.
“As I said before, a brain dead person cannot come back to life.
“Once you are clinically declared brain dead, you are officially dead and therefore, taking everything else into account and bringing Pikuach Nefesh into it, organ donation is allowed.”