More on “Did the autopsy find no soul?”

I have a hard time separating soul from mind.–Lisa
Terri Schiavo’s body once had belonged to a person, but it hadn’t for a long time before she stopped breathing –Murky
If I had the choice as I lay in a hospital bed, and knew that either people could keep on pouring money into me when I would never get better, or that money could go to someone else who could then live/ recover- would I not chooose to allow the money to go to someone else? –Chana

In Judaism, the soul is not the same thing as the mind. As long as a person is alive, he has a neshama. His neshama existed before he was born and will continue to exist after it leaves his body. His essential self is his neshama, not his body. Even a newborn baby who cannot think or speak, or an elderly person in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, still has a neshama. It is true that the neshama makes thought and speech possible, but without thought and speech, the neshama is still present as long as the person is alive.

The neshama has a mission to fulfill, and as long as G-d has not taken that soul, it still has a mission in this world. The person may be basically a tzaddik who may have had only a few sins, and his neshama may need further refinement through suffering in this world, so that all his sins will be atoned here and he will not have to go to Gehenom. Or he may not be suffering here at all — he may be completely unconscious — but his neshama enjoys tikun by virtue of the fact that it elicits chessed and prayers from others.

As long as G-d thinks that soul still has a mission here on earth, we dare not say differently. As for the money spent to keep a person alive, woe betide a society where purely material considerations determine who will live and who will die.

If there were but one slice of bread and you had to choose whether to keep Reuven or Shimon alive, perhaps you could say, give it to the person most likely to survive. But Baruch Hashem we live in an affluent society where such triage is not necessary. Keeping elderly, comatose and handicapped people alive does not cause the death of younger, healthier patients. Our resources may not be infinite, but we are certainly the wealthiest nation that ever existed.

When my father zt”l was in his last days he needed to be cared for by others. Every minute that he was still alive was precious. G-d forbid that we would ever have said, “Don’t bother feeding Daddy anymore, he can’t teach Torah anymore anyway. Let’s give the money to a more worthwhile cause instead.” Chas vesholom that a Jew would ever think like that.

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6 comments to More on “Did the autopsy find no soul?”

  • Chana

    I agree with you- I do not believe Terri should have been starved to death. I understand the Judaic laws with regard to the feeding tube, and the distinction (in Judaism) between being brain-dead and heart-dead, and hence hastening one’s death. I would not advocate any kind of pulling of the plug. But for me, personally, if I knew that simply to keep myself in a vegetative state would do no good, versus having the ability to help someone else with the money being used…I would just wish they had never put the feeding tube in in the first place, and I could have died a natural death. That is my personal opinion- because I would prefer others to be restored to the quality of life they had before, rather than me slumbering on in a vegetative state. I understand that what happened in Terri Schiavo’s case was quite different. Obviously, the main thing we can learn from Terri is to create a living will so that nobody will ever have to guess at our wishes.

  • sarah elias

    Your words are absolutely correct, Toby. Thank you.

  • Micha

    Rn Katz wrote, “In Judaism, the soul is not the same thing as the mind.” This is true, but there is a clear relationship between the two that you do not address. The mind is something the soul does. This is clear from Emunos veDei’os’s description of nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah (6:3), which ascribes to each of these terms about soul very psychological connotations (physical desires, emotion, and thought, respectively). It’s also a necessary conclusion of the fact that the soul is held accountable for our decisions yet our decisions are conscious — and therefore performed by the mind.

    That’s not to say that the soul couldn’t exist without running (computer term intentional, but don’t stretch the metaphor) a mind. Or that consciousness of a soul need be connected to the body.

  • Toby Katz

    Micha wrote:

    “That’s not to say that the soul couldn’t exist without running (computer term intentional, but don’t stretch the metaphor) a mind. Or that consciousness of a soul need be connected to the body.”

    I did write that the mind can’t work without the soul.

  • Micha

    Sorry about that. I simply missed it.

    I was trying to raise what I believe is an important issue: The soul does the mind, and that includes in contrast to the body doing it. Mrs Schiavo’s consciousness didn’t stop, its association with the body did. There are two different things: disconnection between the aspect of the soul that does the mind from that aspect that is in contact with the body, and disconnection of that part of the soul from the body (ie death). There’s a third step, as it’s some time after death before the soul ceases to care about the fate of the body (the end of chibas haqever). How long depends on how much one inculcated within oneself a love of they physical.

  • Toby Katz

    Micha wrote:

    “it’s some time after death before the soul ceases to care about the fate of the body”

    That’s true. I’m on the chevra kadisha, and when we do taharos, we are very aware of the need to maintain the person’s dignity even after death.