Ethical Biology: Fusing Science and Halacha.

The Bioethics course, a new opportunity offered to the Seniors, has given a philosophical perspective about the medical field. Meeting every Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the seniors are instructed by Rabbi Weiner, the Chaplain of the Hospital. Our class normally meets in the simulation center where we learn and become exposed to certain operations and halachic ramifications with each one. This past week, however, we took a step back and met in the synagogue of the hospital, centered in the plaza of the building. As the class entered the chapel, the class realized that the chapel is a home of prayer for not just Jews, but all religions. This begged the question which opened up Rabbi Weiner’s discussion: “Are we, as Jews, permitted according to the Torah laws to pray in a room that is populated by the very distinct and numerous religions in the world?” Rabbi Weiner explained that the answer to this question, in fact, was a big “machloket” (dispute among Poskim), especially because some of the religions based in the chapel may be considered Avodah Zarah according to Halacha, which may bar Jews from being able to daven in the chapel. Rabbi Weiner therefore posed this question to several Gedolei Torah living in Eretz Yisrael. In the end, an official Psak Halacha (rendering of Halacha) was given, with approval from many Poskim and Gedolei Torah in Eretz Yisrael, including Rabbi Asher Weiss, Rabbi Zalman Nechemya Goldberg, and the Tolner Rebbe. They, among others, held that the “multi-faith” room at Cedars Sinai is, in fact, a permissible place for Jews to daven in. The Psak Halacha was based on three main ideas. First, one of the issues about the chapel was that it potentially involves avoda zara, but noted that most — if not all — of the religions using the chapel did not classify as Avodah Zarah according to Halacha.

Students at a recent meeting at the Bio-Ethics Program. (Credit: Rabbi Jason Weiner)

Next, they brought a “Raya” (proof) from a precedent case in Tanach of a similar situation. In the times of the Beit Hamikdash, people from many different nations visited and prayed at the Bais HaMikdash, most notably the Queen of Shva from Ethiopia during the times of Shlomo. Although she and other visitors followed different religions, they were allowed to enter the The Temple Mount courtyard and pray, despite the fact that they could not proceed further into the Temple Mount complex. This precedent was used as a model that such a “multi-faith” room was not an issue. Finally, they concluded with simple logic that is often used in the Talmud. They explained how in this case, Cedars-Sinai is a universally known Jewish hospital, so when other faiths enter the synagogue, it’s a matter of other religions coming to us, not us going to them. For these various, strong reasons, the synagogue was allowed and flourishes today, offering daily minyanim, Shabbat programs, and special services including shofar blowing and Megillah reading for the Jewish patients and visitors of the hospital.

Aaron Imanoel (’20) is a staff writer for The Valley Torah Scroll.

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