By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), an affiliate of RIETS, recently launched “Confronting End-of-Life Issues,” a continuing rabbinic education course that aims to provide rabbis with a fuller understanding of the issues surrounding end-of-life care and the rabbi’s role during this critical period.
The nine-part online course will explore medical and halachic perspectives on commonly performed end-of-life procedures, the treatment of cancer, hospice patients, living wills and medical proxies, and pastoral care of the families involved in the medical crises. The course, which boasts 79 participants representing approximately 15,000 families from around the world, including rabbis from North America, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Israel, and the United Kingdom, was launched on June 19, 2016, with an introduction to the rabbi’s multidisciplinary role in end-of-life crises.
“When end-of-life issues arise, families are forced to grapple with some extremely difficult realities. This online course provides a platform for rabbis to discuss and learn about these circumstances in real-time from the top experts in the field so that they can provide the spiritual guidance and emotional support their congregants and their families need to make correct decisions,” said Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, director of rabbinic programming at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of Yeshiva University’s CJF, explains that rabbis are searching for support and direction in providing the wide spectrum of guidance that end-of-life issues create for the family.
“Rabbis often find themselves involved in halachic, emotional, medical, legal, and familial decisions that have become increasingly difficult to navigate. This course provides the training to inform and guide rabbanim through the critical issues, at a moment of significant crisis for their members,” said Rabbi Glasser. Dr. Andrew Sicklick, clinical assistant professor at Montefiore Medical Center is among the distinguished Five Towns participants in the course, who attended the introductory session last week.
“Although many semichah programs have some requirement for shimush, there is limited opportunity for many to learn real-life experiences outside of Shulchan Aruch,” Dr. Sicklick told the 5TJT. “Providing both a detailed archive of educational material as well as a forum for sharing ideas that involve important issues that communal rabbis will face with their congregations is extremely useful to the Jewish community. These rabbis will be able to guide and counsel families with a much greater understanding of both the medical aspects of the situation as well as the halachic aspects that need to be considered.”
“I was inspired to participate in the course because, unfortunately, these are issues that we are faced with on a regular basis and must be dealt with in the most sensitive way,” said Rabbi Elon Soniker, rabbi, Congregation Anshei Shalom, West Hempstead. “This course is an opportunity to continue to educate ourselves to be more prepared to face these issues together with our congregants. The course will be beneficial to the rabbis and the community as it will prepare rabbis with a broader and deeper knowledge of the issues that are faced and be better prepared, practically, to answer questions. This continued education will also allow the rabbis to better support and advise the families who, at these emotionally trying times, might not have the clarity of mind or the knowledge and will turn to a rabbi whom they trust to assist them in navigating these challenges.”
During the two-month training period, participants will receive a thorough selection of reference materials and related articles. In between classes, they will be encouraged to interact with one another via the course-dedicated online forum, and schedule offline conversations with the instructors, who are all leading medical, mental-health, legal, and halachic experts in the field.
Course highlights include an explanation of the equipment unique to cancer and terminal-illness patients and terminology used in the hospital, ER, and ICU, with Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital; an in-depth review of end-of-life issues for children suffering from terminal illness, with Rabbi Dr. Elimelech Goldberg, founder and national director of Kids Kicking Cancer, and Dr. Michael Harris, chief of pediatrics hematology-oncology at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital; and panel discussions between RIETS roshei yeshiva and experienced end-of-life doctors on issues such as withholding treatment and DNR orders, palliative care, and the other end-of-life aspects unique to cancer and terminal-illness patients.
Confronting End-of-Life Issues was cultivated by Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, CJF director of Online Rabbinic programming, and Rabbi Dr. David Shabtai, Sephardic Rabbi at Boca Raton Synagogue, and the author of Defining the Moment: Understanding Brain Death in Halachah, with the guidance of Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, professor of clinical emergency medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
In addition to bringing together top-notch professionals and rabbis in these areas to act as a future resource for the rabbis, the rabbis and doctors who had interacted in the two panel discussions were themselves enlightened at the conclusion of the conversation. And although it is not the course’s goal, Rabbi Lavenda explained that it is just as important for doctors and poskim to have an opportunity to further their understanding of halachah and medicine.
“A rabbi must invest his time to learn about the details and nuances of end-of-life care in order to properly help with the halachic and hashkafic questions that will undoubtedly arise,” Dr. Sicklick stated as his takeaway from the session.
The course is the sixth virtual continuing rabbinic education course organized and run by the Center for the Jewish Future in coordination with RIETS. In previous years CJF ran online courses on the issues surrounding infertility, rabbinic marriage counseling on a range of pastoral issues, child abuse, the fundamentals of fundraising, and cultivating lasting relationships.
“The fact that nearly 80 rabbis throughout the world are taking time out of their demanding schedules to invest in their own skills and professional development shows how important and essential this course is, and, in general, the necessity for the rabbinate to keep up with the rapidly shifting needs of the community it serves,” said Rabbi Lavenda. “These courses allow Yeshiva University to continue to educate and inspire rabbis in their service to the Jewish community.”
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative-media consultant, lecturer, and educator who writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She can be reached at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.