Why I wrote a Jewish book on kidney donation | Opinion
Growing up, like many young idealists, I always wanted to be the kind of person who would radically change the world and for the better – perhaps as a life-saving scientist, an inspiring musician, or a transformative political leader. The problem was that I wasn’t quite cut out for those areas and even those who succeed in the public sphere don’t always have a deep or positive impact.
Instead, I found myself on the path of seeking wisdom and justice in religion, where I learned from the Talmud that saving one life is like saving the whole world. Fair enough, but saving even one life isn’t exactly easy either. Becoming a surgeon, for example, is extremely difficult, as is being a first responder.
Then, when I was in my thirties and living in Scottsdale, Arizona, teaching Jewish values every day, I realized I had an accessible opportunity to save a life through “selfless kidney donation.” , that is, to donate a kidney to a stranger. . While the benefits of such action are, as the Talmud teaches, limitless, I was overwhelmed with existential questions. What is my obligation to protect my own life? What if, God forbid, my wife loses her husband and my children lose their father? What happens if my remaining kidney fails later?
At that time, I did not have access to the literature I wanted to inform myself. I felt morally paralyzed by the enormity of the dilemma. So I promised that if I were to continue down this path of donation, then I would create a resource that might be helpful to others – people who are considering donating their kidneys and those who want to support their loved ones who want to donate. Don.
That’s why I wrote “The 5 Ounce Gift: A Jewish Medical, Philosophical, and Spiritual Guide to Kidney Donation” (Ben Yehuda Press, 2022). For this book, I have gathered Torah wisdom from Jewish teachers, medical advice from surgeons, knowledge from the world of philosophy, and practical experience from others who have donated.
We face a huge problem in our communities: approximately 90,000 people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, are on the kidney transplant waiting list, and only about 20,000 transplants a year can be carried out. Our hearts break for those who suffer from end-stage kidney disease, and for their family and friends who struggle with them.
This is yet another example of the potential of science and Judaism to work together for the betterment of the world. By linking the moral responsibility steeped in our tradition with the life-saving power made possible by medical advances, we can bring each field to its full purpose.
My goal in writing this book was not to persuade people to become kidney donors. My goal is to have an honest and open exploration of the issues at stake for those interested. I hope to help readers understand our obligations to each other and our duty to protect each other.
In the end, I decided to go through with my kidney donation. I had my kidney removed in New York in June 2015 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. And my kidney was donated to a very young Israeli named Yossi, who had lost his mother at a young age. I did not choose him as the addressee; I was ready to donate to anyone. But I felt deeply drawn to him and accepted him as the first option that presented itself to me.
“As far as I’m concerned, every person who donates a kidney is a superhero,” Yossi wrote shortly after his successful surgery in an essay now included in this book.
I never became Albert Einstein, or Yo-Yo Ma, or the president – or one of the many nurses who do life-saving work every day. But for Yossi, it felt like I had saved the world. I want to understand how we can work to save more worlds together. jn
“The 5-Ounce Gift” is available for pre-order via Ben Yehuda Press. Proceeds will go to Valley Beit Midrash to continue our Jewish educational programs.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is President and Dean of Valley Beit Midrash.