Published October 1, 2004
Ask Rabbi Dan
by Rabbi Dan S. Wiko PhD
  Issue: 5.09
e-mail me

Robert from Saugerties, NY asked:

"I recently lost my father-in-law. I have a couple of comments &/or questions. He had first gone to a local hospital in January for internal bleeding. They found out that he had liver problems and could not determine why. The hospital suggested that he go to Westchester Medical Center, but also told him that it probably would not do any good, since they wouldn't even consider a liver transplant due to his age (age 72). I just think it's not right when the medical community can decide who will die and who will live. To compound this, my wife and my mother-in-law signed the DNR form. My feeling is that at least if you're living, G-d has a chance to help the healing process. I have a mother in a nursing home on a respirator, and pray everyday that maybe she will be off of it when I visit her. I realize that G-d is omnipotent and can do anything, but since we Jews do not believe in Christ, how can we believe in any type of resurrection? My next question also deals with my father-in-law's death. He died March 17th and my niece (his granddaughter) Bat Mitzvah took place March 24th. I think the Bat Mitzvah should have been postponed ( at least 30 days for mourning). I was really surprised that their rabbi (who was a student rabbi) condoned continuing on with the event. I realized that since the event was out of town for most of the family, it was difficult for people to make other arrangements, but I think they would have understood. The last of my questions has to deal with my synagogue. I dragged my wife with me this past Friday night for Shabbat services to recite mourner's kaddish. This is not the same synagogue that my father-in-law belonged to. The rabbi gave his condolences to us. I questioned why he had not visited my father-in-law, since my wife saw him the night before her father died. He answered that since he was taking care of another person who was near death in our congregation, he assumed that the reform rabbi went to see him (which he did). I was going to ask him what makes one person more important than another? My guess is that if you pay your synagogue dues is what makes you important as there is one more piece to this story. The president of the shul came up to us to express his condolences. At the end of his condolences he added-"I will be calling you in a couple of weeks about other things". My wife & I both knew that he was referring to our delinquent dues. We are behind in our dues as I might be losing my job. I had told them that in the past. My wife was very upset that he had the nerve to say that to her, in her time of grief. We are thinking of leaving the synagogue. Can they hold us responsible for the money we owe for dues? We really did not sign any contract, as the saying goes "it's difficult to get blood or water from a stone". Also do all synagogues behave this way? When I was a boy, my family belonged to an orthodox synagogue and we felt like we were treated like outsiders. I can't even remember when my father was called up to the ark to either open it or any type of allyah (honor). I know this letter makes me sound like a bitter person, but I guess if you take a lot of hard knocks, it's hard not to be. I would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read this. "

Dear Robert,

Your writing shows a great deal of caring for others and, for that, you deserve proper recognition.

Let me begin by offering you, your wife and her family, my condolences and by saying "Baruch Dayan Emet"  G-D is the sole Judge of Truth.

Liver disease, like all such afflictions, are a truly horrible way of passing to the next world. In the case of your father-in-law, of blessed memory, it was not the medical community that made the decision against transplantation but, rather, the lack of available livers for that process. Given the limits of availability, it is understandable, although not fair, that what is available be given to those who have more years to live.

With regard to your wife and her mother signing a DNR order, I can only say that, given your version of the prognosis, they were extremely compassionate by signing an order that allowed for a terminated physical life to remain terminate rather than being attached to a machine to vegetate. Consider the emotional impact on them as they signed that order. Given that they were both at his side, I believe that they deeply loved both husband and father. The thought of signing that order must have cut them in half. I can tell you that first hand. My mother and I both signed a DNR when my beloved father suffered from terminal cancer. We put his comfort before our pain. Sometimes, that is the best we can do.

We implore G-D to do our will and heal the terminally ill who we love but, bottom line, HE knows what he is doing and we have to accept that we can only be at ease (free of disease) when we align our will with His will.

With regard to your mother, your visiting her on a regular and continuous basis speaks volumes for her love for you as well as for yours in return. Kol HaKavod! May G-D's will be such that she does come off the respirator and is restored to full health.

Resurrection is not a part of our belief system as such. However, we say, during the Shemone Eshre, S'richas Hamaysim" the dead will be resurrected, at the time of Moshiach but not until then. However, we do believe is reincarnation.....of the soul returning to earth in another form.

It is unacceptable to postpone a bar/bat mitzvah celebration due to the passing of a loved one. The child is entitled to the simcha and, assumedly, the child studied and learned the brachot and haftorah for that week's portion. The reading for that Shabbat can not be transferred to another so the bar/bat mitzvah must and should occur. The mourners, while attending the celebration and festivities that go with the Service (hopefully, after Shabbat is over) may serve or clear tables "as if" they were "working" the event. It would be cruel for a parent to deny their child the fruition of their studies BUT they need not, nor should they, dance, sing and frolic during the mourning period. Again, my own personal experience is incorporated in what I am relating to you. When my own family was confronted with the same dilemma, we turned the decision making over to our quite Orthodox rav because, at that time, I would have been inclined to agree with your present position. In retrospect, it would have made the death of her beloved grandfather that much worse for my niece. In her heart, he was there to hear her. that was most important.

A congregational rabbi has enormous responsibilities to his membership. Their needs, since they are "his" constituents must be his priority when it comes to visiting the ill or dying. He is, after all, only one person. Since your father-in-law did belong to a synagogue and his own rabbi visited, he was well taken care of, spiritually speaking. If your own rabbi had been available, I am certain that he would have visited as well.

The President of your congregation, in my opinion, was insensitive and out of line. However, try to understand that he, too, is a person with a responsibility to keep the shul fiscally viable. His timing, of course, was way off and, at some later date, you might want to convey that to him so that he won't do it to someone else at another inappropriate time.

If you joined the Synagogue, you are responsible for your share of its fiscal success. However, if you, yourself, are in a position where you cannot pay your dues, you might want to approach the synagogue's "social welfare" committee or whoever makes the decision to reduce of pardon dues. If, of course, you can not pay at all, I sincerely doubt that the Board will sue you for it. It is impossible to get blood from a stone.

Finally, Robert, we all take hard knocks. that is the nature of life on this planet. That we get hit over the head is far less important than what we do about it. Each time you get hit, you get stronger.

May you go from strength to strength.

Chag kasher v'sameach
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