From The Jewish Press
By: Shlomo Greenwald, Jewish Press Staff Reporter Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, one of the most revered and accomplished halachic authorities of his generation, passed away Tuesday at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. He was 89.
Rabbi Waldenberg, who was predeceased by his wife and only son, had a close relationship with his grandchildren, who helped care for him in his later years. He was buried in Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem.
Known as the Tzitz Eliezer, after his 22-volume halachic treatise of that name, Rabbi Waldenberg was also a judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem and a premier authority on medical halacha.
Rabbi Waldenberg was born in Jerusalem in 1917. He served as a judge on the regional bet din in Tel Aviv, and then became the chief judge of the regional bet din in Jerusalem. He was soon appointed to a seat on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The first volume of Tzitz Eliezer, a collection of responsa, was published in 1945, and the last was published nine years ago. Rabbi Waldenberg was known as a leading medical posek through his long relationship with Shaare Zedek, where he served for several decades as the hospital’s unofficial posek.
Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, director of Shaare Zedek’s Schlesinger Institute, estimated that 25 to 30 percent of the responsa deal with medical questions.
Queries came from all over the world. Those seeking his rulings included former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, Sephardi chief rabbi Benzion Uziel, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
"All of the staff knew his address and phone number and would call him with questions," said Rabbi Halperin.
Before Shaare Zedek moved to its current location in the Bayit Vegan section of Jerusalem, it was situated on Jaffa Road, across the street from Rabbi Waldenberg’s house. He would deliver a regular lecture for the hospital’s physicians during the 1960’s and ‘70’s.
"He would daven in the shul of the hospital," said Dr. Abraham Steinberg, chief of internal medicine at Shaare Zedek. "We used to ask him questions when he would come in to daven, and he would answer. If it was more complicated, he requested it in writing with all the details. Then after a day or two, he would bring back an answer."
Dr. Steinberg, who published a compendium of Rabbi Waldenberg’s medical responsa in Hebrew and then in English as Jewish Medical Law, said that many of the medical responsa in Tzitz Eliezer come from these correspondences.
Among the medical topics that Rabbi Waldenberg wrote about were controversial ones such as pregnancy termination, fertility treatments, sex-change operations, organ transplants, medical experiments on human subjects, autopsies, child abuse, and determination of death.
He was a pioneer in many of these halachic areas, and many later responsa from other poskim are built upon his, said Dr. Steinberg.
He received the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest honor, in 1976 for Torah literature.
"You didn’t need to go through anyone to ask him a question," said Rabbi Halperin. "If anyone wanted to ask, they could just go to his house and ask him."
"Unfortunately, he was a lonely man," said Dr. Steinberg, who enjoyed a close relationship with Rabbi Waldenberg for many years. "He didn’t belong to a group or sect. Also, he didn’t have p.r. to promote him or many rabbonim around him."
For this reason, he said, "the greatness of his achievements was not appreciated."