Eliezer Waldenberg

Eliezer Waldenberg
Born December 10, 1915
Jerusalem, Ottoman Empire
Died November 21, 2006
Jerusalem, Israel

Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (December 10, 1915–November 21, 2006) was known as the Tzitz Eliezer after his monumental halachic treatise Tzitz Eliezer that covers a wide breadth of halacha, including Jewish medical ethics, as well as ritual halachic issues from Shabbat to kashrut. He was born in Jerusalem in 1915 and died there on November 21, 2006.

He was a leading rabbi and a dayan on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem and was considered an eminent authority on medical halacha. He was the rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Though he wrote numerous books and articles in all fields of halacha, he was best known for his decisions on euthanasia, autopsies, smoking, cosmetic surgery, and medical experimentation. Some of his decisions on medical topics have proven controversial in the Haredi community.

His halachic opinions are valued by many rabbis across the religious spectrum. His major work Tzitz Eliezer, is an encyclopedic treatise on halachic questions, viewed as one of the great achievements of halachic scholarship of the 20th century.


  • Prominent medical opinions 1
  • Other Opinions 2
  • Political and Social Questions 3
  • Awards 4
  • Death 5
  • Works 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Prominent medical opinions

Rabbi Waldenberg forbade performing elective surgery on someone who is neither sick nor in pain, such as cosmetic surgery. He argues that such activities are outside the boundaries of the physician's mandate to heal. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 11:41; 12:43.) Notably, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein disagreed with this opinion. (Responsa Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66.)

He allowed first trimester abortion of a fetus which would be born with a deformity that would cause it to suffer, and termination of a fetus with a lethal fetal defect such as Tay-Sachs disease up to the end of the second trimester of gestation. (Tzitz Eliezer, 9:51:3.)

He ruled that a child conceived outside the womb, through in vitro fertilisation, has no parents and bears no halachic relationship either to the biological parents or the "surrogate mother," the woman who carries the child to term. (Id., 15:45.)

He was one of a small but growing number of rabbis to forbid smoking. (Schussheim, Eli and Eliezer Waldenberg. “Should Jewish law forbid smoking?” B’Or ha’Torah 8 (1993))

Many of his medical opinions were recorded by his student Avraham Steinberg, M.D, and then translated into summary volumes.

In the chapter entitled "On the treatment which exposes the physician to danger," Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:

(Quoted by Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response; Compiled and Edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. Translated by David Simons M.D.; Beit Shammai Publications, 1989, Part 10, Chapter 11.)

In a particularly controversial ruling, Waldenberg ruled that sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals effects a change in a person's halachic gender, and that, in his words, "The external anatomy which is visible is what determines the halakha". (Id., 25:26:6; )[3].

Other Opinions

Waldenberg permitted hearing Torah reading, Shofar blowing and Megillah reading by means of a loudspeaker, telephone, or radio, if no other options were available. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 8:11.). However Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach strongly disagreed on this. (see Minchas Shlomo I:9). Waldenberg held that voices replicated by electronic devices generally have the status of noise from musical instruments, rather than that of actual voices. (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 15:33.)

He also emphasized the Jewish concept of Kevod HaBriyot (human honor or dignity) in his rulings. As an example, Rabbi Waldenberg adduced this concept in support of his ruling that a deaf person can use an electric hearing aid on Shabbat. Rabbi Waldenberg wrote:

(Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, 6:6:3.)

Political and Social Questions

Rabbi Waldenberg also wrote a multivolume set on the practical issues of government called Hilkhot Medinah. In this work he takes issue with many positions of former chief rabbis Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Shlomo Goren, and Isser Yehuda Unterman.

He writes in support of yeshiva students' exemption from military service because through the merit of their Torah learning they help protect the country.

He granted workers the right to strike when employers have violated a workplace condition that has become “the custom of the land.” Most legal authorities required workers to bring their employer to a beit din (religious court) before resorting to a strike. "In situations such as these, in which the worker is absolutely certain that the employer has transgressed and violated a condition that has been established as the custom of the land, the worker may take the law into his own hands by levying the fine that the appointed communal leaders have deemed appropriate for a situation such as this." (Tzitz Eliezer 2:23)

Even though, "A convert may not hold a position of Jewish communal authority." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 1:4). Rabbi Waldenberg ruled that a convert may not serve in a lone communal position but he may serve on a communal committee. (Tzitz Eliezer 19:48)


In 1976, Rabbi Waldenberg was awarded the Israel Prize, for Rabbinical studies.[1]


Rabbi Waldenberg died on 21 November 2006 at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, of which he had been the Rabbi. He was buried later on the 21st at Jerusalem's Har HaMenuchot cemetery. [4]


  • Tzitz Eliezer, major responsa
  • Hilchos Medinah, a 3-volume halachic work
  • Divrei Eliezer, novella
  • Shvisas Hayam, which deals with the laws of ships regarding Shabbos

See also


  1. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1976 (in Hebrew)". 

Further reading

  • Fred Rosner, Pioneers in Jewish Medical Ethics, Jason Aronson Publishers, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-9968-5
  • Jewish Medical Law: A Concise Response. Compiled & Edited from the Tzitz Eliezer by Avraham Steinberg; translated by David B. Simons, MD. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing, 1992.
  • A. Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics: a Compilation of Jewish Medical Law on All Topics of Medical Interest

External links

  • Judaism and Gender Issues Essay Summarizing responsa of the Tzitz Eliezar on transsexuality
  • Presentation of Award for Medicine and Halacha to Rabbi Eliezar Waldenberg
  • Rabbi Waldenberg answers Halachic questions concerning dentistry
  • Cosmetic Surgery -- A review of four classic Teshuvot (Rabbi Waldenberg is #2)
  • His obituary from Arutz Sheva
  • Tzitz Eliezer passes away at age of 89
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