A Look at Autopsies for Tablet’s Jewish Body Week

To close out Tablet Magazine’s Jewish Body Week, I wrote about the autopsy – spefically, religious objections, technological innovations, and the conflicts that come up. Here’s how it opens:

A three-year-old Israeli girl was strangled to death by her father

earlier this year, and the nation was shocked—by the luridness of the

crime, by the father’s subsequent suicide attempts, by the

divorce-gone-bad story it emerged was behind the crime, and, not least,

by the fuel the child’s mother poured on an ongoing battle between

ultra-Orthodox circles and the country’s law enforcement agencies over

the permissibility of autopsies when she initially refused to allow one

on her daughter’s body.

The objection grew from the Talmud’s interpretation of the biblical

imperative for a speedy burial, first spelled out in Deuteronomy, where

it states that a hanged man “shall not remain all night upon the tree,

but thou shalt surely bury him the same day.” Not only must he be

buried within 24 hours of death, according to the tractate Sanhedrin,

but there can be no “disfigurement of the body as a result of

postmortem dissection.” In other words, Jewish law mandates that the

body, whenever possible, should be kept whole. An autopsy—with its

incisions and tissue extractions, preservations and excisions—violates

that mandate…

Read on for the rest, and check out at this 3-D image gallery of various facets of the virtual autopsy, which has become a viable alternative (but not an outright substitute) for autopsies.