Sunday, August 17, 2014
CHICAGO — An Orthodox Jew whose religious traditions suggest that the deceased should be buried whole in preparation for the afterlife is suing Skokie (Ill.) Hospital for cremating his amputated leg instead of preserving the limb to be buried next to him.
Moshe Lefkowitz, 43, alleges in court papers that he told a rabbi working for the hospital and other medical staff of his wishes before surgery to remove his left leg below the knee in March 2011.
He sued the hospital, its owner and the rabbi two years later, seeking more than $100,000 in damages. The suit was dismissed by a Cook County judge, but an appeals court reversed that ruling late last month and sent the case back for trial.
The hospital said in court papers that Lefkowitz twice signed consent forms, including two days before the surgery, that gave the hospital permission to dispose of his leg. Lefkowitz said in a sworn statement that he is legally blind and alleges that a nurse explained that the form he signed was just giving his consent to the surgery.
The hospital also said Lefkowitz should not be permitted to sue the rabbi for what it called “clergy malpractice.”
“There is no place for Plaintiff’s religious contentions in the civil court system,” the hospital’s attorneys argued in an appellate brief.
Lefkowitz’s attorney said in court papers that he is not making a religious claim but rather is suing the rabbi for negligence for failing to inform the proper hospital staff. Anthony Sciara, Lefkowitz’s attorney, declined to comment beyond saying he and his client were pleased that the appeals court had revived the case. Sciara said his client did not want to comment.
A hospital spokeswoman also declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Rabbi Yona Reiss, chief judge at the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which provides rulings on religious questions for Orthodox Jews, said there are several reasons why under Jewish law and tradition body parts that had been severed are buried or preserved.
Among them was a desire to keep the body parts together for the day when the bodies are resurrected and reunited with their souls, he said.
“There’s always the idea that it’s nice for a person to keep all their parts together so that when the Messiah comes and there’s a resurrection of the dead, the individual will have all his individual parts located within close proximity,” Reiss said.
The observant tend to bury severed body parts in low-key ceremonies in a “very respectful and very private fashion so as not to bring any attention to the process and not to cause anybody to be overly disturbed,” he said.
“There’s also an effort not to get overly melodramatic about these,” Reiss said.
In an unrelated case, Lefkowitz and his father, Philip, 70, a rabbi, and brother Levi, 38, are awaiting trial on charges they stole more than $10,000 in donations from the Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation while the elder Lefkowitz headed the synagogue. They each face two counts of felony theft and one count of running a continuing financial criminal enterprise.
Their attorney, Adam Sheppard, said the criminal prosecution came after an internal political struggle at the synagogue in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
“I truly believe that they didn’t act unjustly,” he said, predicting the three would be cleared at trial.
©2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services