Remembering Rabbi Dr. David M. Feldman – bioethicist and mensch

The world lost a scholar, and an expert in bioethics.

December 7, 2014 23:09
2 minute read.
3D printed kippa

A Jewish youth wears a 3D printed kippa made by computer science Prof. Craig Kaplan of University of Waterloo in Ontario. (photo credit: CRAIG KAPLAN)

After a decades-long fight with the Angel of Death, Rabbi Dr. David M. Feldman, a world-renowned bioethicist, accepted a position in the Yeshiva on High. His funeral was held in Teaneck, New Jersey, at his long-time synagogue, the Jewish Center, on November 30, 2014. He was 85.

The world lost a scholar, and an expert in bioethics. Teaneck lost a rabbi, and many of us lost a mensch, a mentor and a dear friend.

By the time we moved to Teaneck in 1982, Rabbi Feldman was well known to me from his important 1968 book Birth Control in Jewish Law: Marital Relations, Contraception, and Abortion As Set Forth in the Classic Texts of Jewish Law, the first to systematically address this controversial topic. Other books included Where There’s Life, There’s Life, an Ode to the Sanctity of Life and Health and Medicine in the Jewish Tradition: L’Hayyim--To Life (Health/Medicine and the Faith Traditions). He was Editor of The Compendium on Medical Ethics.

Rabbi Feldman was widely consulted by hospitals on end-of-life issues. He spoke and also wrote on issues of homosexuality, abortion and assisted reproduction. He tirelessly made the point that Judaism takes a far more liberal attitude than Christianity toward sex, marriage, procreation, contraception and abortion.

Rabbi Feldman was ordained at Yeshiva University, where he also earned a masters degree.

He earned his PhD at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

A former chaplain in the United States Air Force, he was on the faculty of the School of Chaplains of the New York Board of Rabbis and served as Visiting Associate Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was a Founding Fellow of the Hastings Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences and a member of the editorial advisory of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, sponsored by the Kennedy Institute. He also served on the Bio-Medical Ethics Committee of Hackensack University Medical Center and on the Board of Trustees of the New York Society for the Deaf. For many years, he served as chairman of the Committee of Medical Ethics of the UJA-Federations and was named Rabbi of the Year by the New York Board of Rabbis.

Earlier in his career, he was the rabbi of Bay Ridge Jewish Center in Brooklyn for many years.

For me, Rabbi Feldman was primarily a mentor and a family friend. The families go back a long time. His wife’s father was my father’s teacher in England, and my father, Prof. Nahum M. Sarna, valued his friendship.

I remember him always as a happy person, never complaining or focusing on the many medical issues that afflicted him for decades. I remember him as a wonderful dinner companion. When he spoke at my son’s bar mitzvah, he succeeded in relating to a nervous young man more interested in the success of his beloved UNC Tar Heels, while at the same time resonating with the many rabbis and scholars in attendance.

Rabbi Feldman is survived by his wife Aviva, sons rabbis Daniel and Jonathan Feldman, daughter Rebecca Becker of Jerusalem, sisters Goldie Fendel, Miriam Landau, and Trude Feldman, and many grandchildren.

The author is a writer and former entrepreneur. He has six published books including Evernote For Dummies, V2, has nearly completed his first novel, about the Jewish treasures in the Vatican’s secret archives and is hard at work on a book about the Talmud for general readers.

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