Living Will

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I’ve enjoyed reading your column over the years in the TJP. One question came to mind that perhaps you can answer. There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few years regarding the importance of Living Wills for various reasons. Does Judaism have a clear position on whether or not this is a good thing to do?


Dear Sam,

There are two types of wills in Jewish law: One deals with end-of-life medical decisions; the other deals with monetary issues.

The first type of will is called a “Halachic Living Will” (“halachic” meaning in accordance with Jewish law). This type of will helps ensure that medical decisions are carried out in accordance with halachah in the event the patient is not able to make those decisions for him or herself.

Numerous questions may arise concerning life-support systems, resuscitation, “heroic” efforts, hospice and much more. Families often agonize over these questions when they arise and more often than not remain confused or torn how to proceed. At times families can become split over what their beloved relative would want done under the extreme circumstances at hand, causing resentment and animosity for years to come.

The Halachic Living Will establishes the desire of the signatory that all such questions should be decided in accordance with Jewish law, which has great clarity on how to deal with these issues. It also allows the person to designate the specific primary and secondary halachic authority to be contacted in times of need. This will can be presented to the hospital prior to a procedure, etc., and could potentially spare much agony, besides the mitzvah of fulfilling Jewish law at such a critical time.

An additional form is also available to ensure, in the event of death, that one’s remains are properly dealt with in consonance with halachah. This could curtail unnecessary autopsies or removal of organs, and assure a proper halachic burial. 

A national Jewish organization, Agudath Israel of America, has done much important work in this area. In consultation with local attorneys, their attorneys have created a halachic will which works in tandem with state law in the various states.

The other type of halachic will, which governs the appropriation of one’s estate, is a different discussion, but I assume your question was concerning the former will. 

I highly recommend you proceed with the Halachic Living Will which could save much suffering later.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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