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Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy in Orthodox Judaism


Werren, Sarah (2020). Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy in Orthodox Judaism. In: Hensold, Julian; Kynes, Jordan; Oehlmann, Philipp; Rau, Vanessa; Schinagl, Rosa; Taleb, Adela. Religion in Motion : Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World. Cham: Springer, 57-75.

Abstract

Brain death criteria is acknowledged by 80 countries worldwide as the death of a human being. Such acknowledgement has not gone without critical perspectives being voiced. Philosopher Hans Jonas (1903–1993), for example, who criticizes the brain death criteria as the modern version of the old mind-body dualism, names it today’s brain-body dualism.

He argues in favor of a more holistic perspective on the human dying process, thus resembling in his opposition modern Jewish Ultra-Orthodox’ strict reservations against brain death.

Contrary to the Western philosophic way of argumentation, Orthodox Jews and their religious authorities looked into the matter following other interests: In Orthodox Judaism, the question whether brain death is per definitionem halachic death (death according to religious law) created a controversy in its own right.

This article intends to discuss two main arguments: First, the Orthodox brain death controversy shows in a nutshell how production and governance of knowledge, secular (also medical) and religious knowledge alike, depends on processes of legitimization within a specific interpretive community. The issues of brain death and organ donation, generally rejected by the Ultra-Orthodox but accepted by their “modern” co-religionists, show that trust in the medical determination of death as well as trust in the uncertainty of the dying process are both legitimate options within the same religious normative framework. Thus, the acceptance or rejection of the brain death concept in different Jewish religious cultures may have (among other factors) to be considered together with the question of “knowledge sovereignty” when it comes to death and dying. Second, the question of which knowledge generating system should best be trusted is indirectly mirrored by Jonas’ idea of a new mind-body dualism that alludes to a general dichotomy between (medical) science and religion.

Abstract

Brain death criteria is acknowledged by 80 countries worldwide as the death of a human being. Such acknowledgement has not gone without critical perspectives being voiced. Philosopher Hans Jonas (1903–1993), for example, who criticizes the brain death criteria as the modern version of the old mind-body dualism, names it today’s brain-body dualism.

He argues in favor of a more holistic perspective on the human dying process, thus resembling in his opposition modern Jewish Ultra-Orthodox’ strict reservations against brain death.

Contrary to the Western philosophic way of argumentation, Orthodox Jews and their religious authorities looked into the matter following other interests: In Orthodox Judaism, the question whether brain death is per definitionem halachic death (death according to religious law) created a controversy in its own right.

This article intends to discuss two main arguments: First, the Orthodox brain death controversy shows in a nutshell how production and governance of knowledge, secular (also medical) and religious knowledge alike, depends on processes of legitimization within a specific interpretive community. The issues of brain death and organ donation, generally rejected by the Ultra-Orthodox but accepted by their “modern” co-religionists, show that trust in the medical determination of death as well as trust in the uncertainty of the dying process are both legitimate options within the same religious normative framework. Thus, the acceptance or rejection of the brain death concept in different Jewish religious cultures may have (among other factors) to be considered together with the question of “knowledge sovereignty” when it comes to death and dying. Second, the question of which knowledge generating system should best be trusted is indirectly mirrored by Jonas’ idea of a new mind-body dualism that alludes to a general dichotomy between (medical) science and religion.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology > Institute of Religious Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:200 Religion
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > General Arts and Humanities
Social Sciences & Humanities > General Social Sciences
Language:English
Date:2020
Deposited On:18 Feb 2021 17:41
Last Modified:19 Feb 2021 21:00
Publisher:Springer
ISBN:978-3-030-41388-0
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-41388-0

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