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Orthodox Jew suing hospital for cremating his amputated leg

Mon., Aug. 18, 2014

CHICAGO – An Orthodox Jew whose religious traditions suggest that the deceased should be buried whole in preparation for the afterlife is suing Skokie (Illinois) 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 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 a court filing.

Lefkowitz’s attorney said in court papers that he is not making a religious claim but rather is suing the rabbi for negligence in failing to inform 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.

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.