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111
 Autpsies in Jewish law: A Dissectin f the Surces
 Jason Misher 
I. Introduction
 Whether in the ream f frensic medicine r in the medicastudies f anatmy, autpsies have becme increasingy ppuar in mdern day sciety. e perfrmance f autpsiesdates back t the furth century B.C.E. when human bdies were dissected fr medicastudies with the permissin f King Ptemy.
1
Sme say it dates back even further t theBibica accunts f embaming the dead, such as was dne t Jacb and Jseph, which may have invved sme dissectinf the bdy. Histricay, hwever, such a permissive attitudetwards autpsy was rare, as ancient civiizatins in Greece,Rme, India, China, and Syria a prhibited autpsy frreigius reasns.
2
e reigius debate ver the permissibiity f autpsy has been ging n fr centuries. In particuar, theautpsy questin in the Jewish reigin dates back t Tamudictimes and cntinues up unti tday.e cnsensus amng the Jewish pubic has traditinay been that autpsies are absutey frbidden accrding t
1 Avraham Steinberg,
Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics,
trans. FredRsner (Jerusaem: Fedheim, 2003), pg. 732 Ibid. Jasn Misher is a furth year medica student at the Abert Einstein Cege f Medicine f Yeshiva niversity.
 
112 •
Verapo Yerap
 Jewish aw. Where this prhibitin cmes frm, hwever,is nt as cear. Indeed, Judaism has aways maintained thesanctity f the human bdy. e Trah prhibits wunding r mutiating nesef,
3
and advcates that ne take care f his r her wn heath and bdy.
4
ese cmmandments,hwever, refer specicay t a iving bdy. erefre, thepermissibiity f autpsies wi very much hinge upn hw the Trah views the treatment f the dead human bdy. By expring the diering pinins n the matter and deving int the questins at hand, the cncusins drawn, cntrary t ppuar beief, indicate that there is nt necessariy anabsute restrictin n Jewish autpsies, and there may indeed be instances t aw it.
II. Specifc Prohibitions
ere is a denite Bibica prhibitin regarding desecrating a dead bdy.
5
What cnstitutes desecratin,hwever, is subject t rabbinica debate and is dependent nthe reasn the dissectin is being dne. In additin t theprhibitin t desecrate a dead bdy via dissectin, smecnsider the acts f exhuming the bdy frm the grave,viewing the bdy, r deaying the buria (a f which may be necessary in the curse f perfrming an autpsy) asadditina acts f desecratin. Accrding t ther pinins,these acts are esser frms f desecratin and thereby arepermitted under apprpriate circumstances.
6
 
3 leviticus, 19:284 Jshua, 23:115 Rashi
,
Deuternmy, 21:23 states that desecrating a human bdy vis-à-viseaving it unburied vernight is tantamunt t desecrating Gd himsef, in whse image man is created.6 Rabbi Mshe Feinstein, Respnsa 
Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah,
Part 2, #151.
 
 Autopsies in Jewish Law: A Dissection of the Sources 
• 113
ere are additina issues that cme int pay whendiscussing autpsies. As nted abve, there is a Bibicarequirement
7
t bury the dead immediatey, s as nt taw fr prnged expsure f the crpse. Mrever, thereexists a specic Bibica prhibitin f eaving a dead bdy unburied vernight.
8
e perfrmance f an autpsy wiinevitaby deay the buria, thereby adding anther factrthat must be taken int accunt in deciding this issue. Sti,anther Bibica restrictin invves deriving benet frm a dead bdy,
9
and there is a cnict f pinin ver whetherusing an autpsy t attain medica knwedge cnstitutesderiving true benet frm the dead.e Jewish autpsy debate is nt just a questin f physica desecratin, but encraches upn the spirituaream as we. e main purpse f the Jewish humanbdy in ife is that it prvides a hme fr the
neshama 
,the eterna spiritua su, upn which man’s whe being functins. But many Rabbis beieve that the humanbdy maintains its hiness even after the su departs indeath, and thus an autpsy wud be a disruptin f thathiness.
10
Furthermre, there is the beief that the su isnt cmpetey detached frm the bdy even upn death,
11
 
7 e Bibica prhibitin is earned ut frm executed criminas; therefresme debate whether the bigatin t bury a thers is f Bibica r Rabbinicrigin, ntaby Rabbi Sadya Gan’s
Sefer Hamitzvot 
, psitive precept #19 andRabbenu Chanane, Sanhedrin 46b wh hd that it is Rabbinic in rigin, whie Rashi, Sanhedrin 46b, and Maimnides
Sefer Hamitzvot 
, psitive precept#231, hd that it is indeed a Bibica requirement.8 Deuternmy 21:23. is is subject t certain exceptins, such as whena deay wud cause hnr t the deceased, r if the death ccurred shrty befre Shabbs.9 Rashi, Sanhedrin 47b10 Rabbi Y. Ariei
Torah SheBe’al Peh
, V. 6, 5724 pp. 40 .11
Derashot Ran #7 

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