mes2On Sunday, December 4th, over 300 students, community members, faculty, and medical and rabbinical professionals convened on the Wilf Campus for the annual Yeshiva University Medical Ethics Conference. This year’s conference focused on infectious diseases which came about after Medical Ethics Presidents, Yael Mayer and Ari Garfinkel, looked at the panic that followed after the Zika and Ebola crises. They recognized that a lot of fear had spread about these diseases but most people had very little actual or practical information. They decided that they wanted to run the conference addressing those epidemics, however, once they researched those epidemics they realized that they needed to expand their topic to include the topics of medical history, and hospital infection and superbugs.

The conference was based around three panels, each focusing on a different medical and ethical aspect of infectious diseases. The first panel hosted Dr. Nancy Tomes and Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman. Dr. Tomes spoke about medical history and how we got to where we are today in terms of infectious diseases, and she later branched off to the current state of medical research about infectious diseases, including epidemiological and socioeconomic factors in the spread and treatment of infectious diseases. By looking at how diseases spread in history she focused on what we can do to prevent and treat these diseases in our current world. Rabbi Dr. Reichman spoke about the history of infectious diseases in rabbinic literature and how Jews dealt with and were affected by these diseases. He even spoke about how elements of anti-Semitism played a role in Jewish responsa. The second panel, focusing on hospital infection and superbugs, hosted Dr. Priya Nori, the director of antibiotic stewardship at Albert Einstien college of Medicine, while the third panel focused on the Ebola and Zika epidemics from a medical and halachic perspective and hosted Dr. Neal Vora, a member of the CDC and the NY department of health, and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, the assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere and an infectious disease specialist. Dr. Glatt spoke about the halachic ramifications of Ebola, and was followed by Rabbi Willig who discussed the halachic issues surrounding Zika, specifically family planning and contraception.

Though it was an exciting day altogether, different students shared their highlights and what they most looked forward to. One student commented that Dr. Neal Vora’s lecture was really a highlight for him. “I met with him before his speech and I had the chance the speak with him again afterwards, and I really got to see the passion that he had. His approach to treating disease at the source was really interesting, and as someone who hopes to go to medical school and one day treat individuals, this was great for me to hear, and it was great to gain his perspective.” Another student added that her highlight was the lecture given by Rabbi Dr. Reichman “who gave a really interesting view of infectious diseases from a mostly non-medical perspective, but rather from a sociological and religious perspective, examining it all through many diseases, and showing how much it relates to our relationship as Jews with others.”

Though the medical ethics society is run solely by Yeshiva University students, their impact is not limited to only YU students. This past year they received an email from a medical student in Israel who was worried that a cadaver she was required to dissect could be Jewish and she was not sure what she should do. The YU Medical Ethics Society was able to connect her with Rabbi Willig who assisted her and answered her halachic questions. She commented how awesome and wonderful it was for her to be able to be connected with Roshie Yeshiva in this circumstance. This is because YU is an institution that connects people in this way and enables student to expand their platform. The Medical Ethics Society has already expanded their platform to more than just conferences, as they hosted a genetic screening event last year for hundreds of students, taking a step further and facilitating actual medical ethics.

The medical ethics society seeks to bring core Torah principles to the forefront of a medical experience. Ari Garfinkel shared his personal experience and noted that “Rabbi Dr. Reichman is a person who can synthesize medicine and Torah in such an incredible way, not just as two career paths but in everything he does. I plan on being a doctor and orthodox Jew and I’ve thought a lot about tying the two together, and being able to see a person who does that on a daily basis is really an inspiration. All our panels at the conference had a medical component and a Torah component, because as orthodox Jews who believe in Torah U’madda and who have that duality ingrained within us, we need to be able to tie in medical and ethical questions to Torah and Hashkafic questions. The study of medical ethics is not strictly Jewish, but in every event we run, we try and balance the medical and the Torah components.”

Yael Mayer, co-president of MES added, “being in YU and running a medical ethics society affords a unique opportunity to deal with these questions head on and have access to giants in this field. Having people like Rabbi Dr. Reichman to advise us on these kinds of issues is incredible opportunity, for us and for the attendees of the conference. Halacha is part of our every day life, and medicine is part of everyone’s every day lives as either a doctor or a patient, so to be able to fuse these two and deal with potential conflicts is very empowering and necessary for our community.”

Both Yael and Ari added how thankful they are to the CJF for helping them with all the planning and coordination, especially and including Aryeh Czarka, Menchem Lewin, Rabbi Shur, Rabbi Glasser and Rabbi Reichman.


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