May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Tribute to Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, zt”l

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, zt”l, and I interacted on only three occasions, but as a woman, daughter and mother who principally functions outside the mainstream yeshiva world, they remain indelible memories. Rabbi Tendler was clearly a Torah giant, a distinguished scientist and an unparalleled medical ethicist, but what resonated with me above all was that he was a true mensch.

I first met Rabbi Tendler at the end of summer 2008, when I attended a Yeshiva University symposium on end-of-life issues. I was a fish out of water in a male and scholar-dominated environment, but I needed to be there because my father, z”l, had passed less than two months before. I had been his healthcare proxy and had to navigate through several complex, evolving medical decisions that involved rabbis and specialists. When I came to the symposium, I suppose I was looking for validation regarding the choices I had made. I greeted Rabbi Tendler and briefly explained why I was there. I remember how refined and polite he was, and his calming presence, although I primarily discussed my proxy situation with Rabbi Zev Schostak.

The second connection with Rabbi Tendler was a personal matter conducted via phone. I was dealing with an ethical and medical issue of great concern to me and my children, and at the recommendation of my local rabbi, I contacted him by email. He emailed my back and gave me his home phone number and when I phoned, he was direct, pragmatic and reassuring. A medical facility had mismanaged information and confused the highly confidential files of two of my children, which was a HIPAA violation and could have potentially had negative consequences. Rabbi Tendler listened carefully, and then suggested I contact a medical professional at another institution outside the community. This institution was affiliated with a major teaching hospital, and he felt that it would provide an even better caliber of service. Within one business day, the matter was resolved, and we received positive news almost immediately.

The last time I met with Rabbi Tendler was for an academic purpose. I had been preparing an ethics-centered presentation for an international conference on public relations. My co-presenter and I had chosen cases where affluent, well-connected people engaged public relations professionals and the media to reach wide audiences and thus, they positively influenced the outcome of the crises. We questioned whether it was ethical that only those who have access to such public relations should get the help they needed. I chose a medical case, one where the issue was whether a dying child should be given a potentially lifesaving drug under “compassionate use.” Under dire circumstances a drug manufacturer may provide a drug that has not yet received approval from the FDA. Initially, the company denied the drug to the child. After a nearly overnight, high-profile media blitz forced the company’s hand, it created a small pilot trial and the child was given the drug, which prolonged his life.

I had already interviewed another renowned medical ethicist, but a secular one, and was unsure if this case would interest Rabbi Tendler or that he would have time to meet. Happily, he agreed, and I met him at mincha time at his shul in Monsey. For close to an hour, I interviewed him. We discussed not only this case, but more significantly, in a larger context, the question of who should have access to cutting-edge drugs and other medical resources. Rabbi Tendler did not rely only on his well-informed opinion but brought in other sources. He identified the relevant pages in a secular ethics textbook and showed me where this issue was discussed. I was beyond awed that this giant had given so much of his time to discuss a secular case and the broader question of Torah and medical ethics in allocating resources.

The greatest human beings are also the sublimely humble ones. I am so grateful that in meeting Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, I was able to connect with one.


Rachel Kovacs, Ph.D., teaches media at CUNY and is a PR professional, writer and theater reviewer. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles