Patient Autonomy in Talmudic Context: The Patient’s “I Must Eat” on Yom Kippur in the Light of Contemporary Bioethics

Zackary Berger, Rabbi Joshua Cahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In contemporary bioethics, the autonomy of the patient has assumed considerable importance. Progressing from a more limited notion of informed consent, shared decision making calls upon patients to voice the desires and preferences of their authentic self, engaging in choice among alternatives as a way to exercise deeply held values. One influential opinion in Jewish bioethics holds that Jewish law, in contradistinction to secular bioethics, limits the patient’s exercise of autonomy only in those instances in which treatment choices are sensitive to preferences. Here, we analyze a discussion in the Mishna, a foundational text of rabbinic Judaism, regarding patient autonomy in the setting of religiously mandated fasting, and commentaries in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, finding both a more expansive notion of such autonomy and a potential metaphysical grounding for it in the importance of patient self-knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Religion and Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 29 2016



  • Autonomy
  • Jewish bioethics
  • Religion
  • Shared decision making
  • Talmud

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Medicine(all)
  • Nursing(all)

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