Any Body For An Autopsy?

I have just now returned home from a ghastly funeral – a young mother of 10 kids, who never woke up this morning. A family friend and member of my shul.

According to a reliable source, who had been involved in an official capacity with the arrangements for the funeral, a contingent of ultra-orthodox folks from outside the neighborhood had turned up at the door of the bereaved, and they had physically stopped the hatzala people from taking the body of the mother out of the house in order to take her to her funeral.

The contingent said they would not let the body leave the house, lest there be an autopsy. And they apparently made it clear that, if there would be any suspicion that an autopsy might take place, there would be painful consequences (the official told me he understood they were threatening to initiate rioting in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods).

Apparently, only when Rav Kupschitz provided a signed letter to these people, assuring them there would be no autopsy, did they let the funeral proceed.

I do not know what my response would have been to such an event if, chas veshalom, I had been bereaved. I would imagine I would have been even more distressed by this behaviour, on top of my loss.

These people were outside of their neighborhood, they were outside of their "eida" (this was a solidly dati-leumi family) and they were imposing their understanding of halacha on others by force and by threats.

Their threats were not empty.

In January 2007, a 40 year old woman was found dead near Ramat Bet Shemesh (Bet) under suspicious circumstances. According to reports, a crowd of several hundred local men arrived at the scene and forcibly prevented police from moving the body.

In the ensuing riots, four police officers were lightly injured and three men were arrested for assault.

After successfully keeping police from the body, the rioters carried away the body, which was hidden from the police; those who took the body, refused to return it until they received assurances from the authorities that only an external medical inspection of the body would be performed, but not an autopsy.

And earlier this month, a 36 year old mother of 7 in the city of Elad passed away suddenly from (semeingly) heart failure. The authorities (i.e. police) wanted to perform an autopsy. That reportedly led to the residents going out to protest by the thousands.

The halachik issues of if, when and how to perform autopsies is not straightforward, as there are circumstances in which many/most halachik authorities would allow an autopsy to take place. It is a delicate balance between the wellbeing, even financial, of living parties (such as to remove a pace-maker, or to obtain life insurance, or to learn from medical errors, or to detect a murder, etc…) against the "disgrace" to the body.

However, since when should a factor in these weighty decisions by responsible parties, be threats of communal violence and fears for public security?


  1. I wonder who sent the message to the hooligans in Bet that there was a body. Who knew besides for the hatzalah members? this is very worrisome. can we now not trust hatzalah?

    p.s. my husband and I have decided to stop supporting and purchasing any food items that list the eda kashrut on them. you have to hit them in the pocket book and stop subsidizing their terrorist tactics.

  2. Mr RBS and David - I can assure you it never came from Hatzalah or MDA for that matter - Hatzalah was involved to prevent the autopsy and were seen trying to get the crowd to disperse. It's opposite to everything Hatzalah stands for, and members have severe privacy restrictions - so Mr RBS please be very careful before you besmearch the good name of Hatzalah - Motzei Shem Ra is a very serious offence - even a MDA member from the community where the demonstrators came from were telling the crowd to go away.

  3. Hillel,

    If only you showed such moral outrage at the cancer in our midst.Perhaps if you criticized them publicly the way you feel free to do to me, something might actually get accomplished. Until then, as far as I know, I live in a free society where I have the right to discuss my concerns openly, and certainly not to be intimidated by your veiled threats.

    I have just about had it with the cult like phenomenon that we have allowed to exist here in Bet Shemesh and I just about ready to pack it all in and get out.

  4. Mrs RBS How do you know that I don't express moral outrage at the cancer in our midst - in fact I do. It's just that I don't make speculative comments about things that I know nothing about. I actually spoke to these people and expressed my outrage as well as using constructive criticism asking them to respect the family and the dead. In addition, I was there helping this family from the time the tragedy occurred until after the funeral (thats many hours of my personal time), and I saw personally what Hatzalah did to help this family on the day. To say that they would harm the family in any way is ludicrous to the extreme. I'm sorry I don't know what you mean about veiled threats. Yes, you are free to discuss your concerns, express outrage and comment how you disagree with the people who tried to stop the body being removed with the claim that they wanted to prevent an autopsy, but don't make speculative comments online about good people and organizations who give of their own time for the community. Btw. Anyone wanting to donate to help Hatzalah Bet Shemesh, please feel free to contact me. We are in desperate need of new ambulances.

  5. I personally do not believe in autopsies but
    there are times when an autospy can save the
    live of other family members. If there is
    a congenital defective it could be passed on
    to the children. By finding out what the cause of death was the condition could be
    treated or surgically corrected and prevent
    it occuring in the the children. If I am correct it is permisable to preform an autopsy to save the life of another, this woman had 10 children The decision should be made by a Rav who has a strong backround in ethical medicine.


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