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: Religion in Motion. Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World. Cham, Switzerland, pp. 57-75.

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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.
Faculties and Departments:01 Faculty of Theology > Zentrum für Jüdische Studien
04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Fakultär assoziierte Institutionen > Zentrum für Jüdische Studien
UniBasel Contributors:Werren, Sarah
Item Type:Book Section, refereed
Book Section Subtype:Further Contribution in a Book
Publisher:Springer Nature
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Book item
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Last Modified:06 Apr 2021 13:53
Deposited On:06 Apr 2021 13:53

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