We have an announcement for you today! The Five Ounce Gift: A Medical, Philosophical and Spiritual Jewish Guide to Kidney Donation by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is available for preorders, and we have a discount on it (plus our usual free shipping within the US) until December 31.
This book tells you everything about kidney donation from a Jewish perspective:
- Different forms of kidney donation
- Why would someone (you?) want to donate a kidney
- Kidney donation in Jewish law & tradition
- Jewish organizations ready to help out
- What is it like to receive a kidney
- and more! With guest chapters and interviews, too.
Click on the preview image to see the discount! (You’ll also see the celebrity endorsements from people like Elizabeth Warren and Michael Douglas – there’s some surprising names in there, too.)
If you scroll below, we also offer a sample from the beginning of chapter 4, which talks about the kidneys in Jewish tradition. Do kidneys talk, and what do they say?
The Torah on Kidneys
Kidneys, in the idiom of the Hebrew Bible, give counsel. Inner conviction that English speakers associate with the heart, in biblical Hebrew comes from the kidneys. The Psalmist says, “I shall bless God, who counsels me, and even at night my kelayot (kidneys) instruct me.” (1) Some translators make the text more comfortable and relatable for English readers and render the verse as “my heart instructs me,” but this is a non-literal translation. (2)
An ancient Midrashic text draws on that verse to explain how Abraham discovered his inner conviction when there was no one to teach him.
Said Rabbi Shimon: His father did not teach him, his rabbi did not teach him,(3) so from where did he (Abraham) learn the Torah? Rather the holy blessed One appointed his two kidneys like two rabbis, and they poured out and taught him Torah and wisdom. That is what is written: “I shall bless God, who counsels me, and at night even my kidneys instruct me.” (4)
The rabbis were thinking about kidneys as symbols of spiritual impulses:
Our Rabbis taught: Man has two kidneys, one of which prompts him to good, the other to evil; and it is natural to suppose that the good one is on his right side and the bad one on his left, as it is written,(5) “A wise man’s understanding is at his right hand, but a fool’s understanding is at his left.” (6)
I remember feeling grateful after learning this Talmudic passage and hearing that the medical team was planning, as usual, to remove the left kidney. I can report, though, that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) was still alive after the surgery. I wonder what the rabbis meant.
An old English expression associates kidneys with one’s temperament or nature. One might say of one’s son, “I hope he will be of similar kidney to his mother.”
In some passages, the rabbis invoke both organs: “The kidneys prompt, the heart discerns.” In the Selichot liturgy, (7) we say “bochein kelayot valeiv” (God searches one’s kidneys and heart). There is wisdom and truth there. In a radical passage in the Book of Psalms, we learn that God “acquired” our kidneys in our mothers’ womb. (8) This is to say that our kidneys never belonged to us! Was God already planning to use one of our kidneys for someone else’s body? Was God preparing a cure before an illness even existed?
- Psalms 16:7
- In the singular form, the Hebrew word for kidney is kilya. The verse uses the possessive kilyotai (“my kidneys”).
- Meaning, of course, that Abraham had no rabbi.
- Bereishit Rabbah 61:1
- Ecclesiastes 10:2
- Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 61a
- Selichos, Artscroll, p. 498, based on Jeremiah 11:20. Selichot are special prayers recited for several days leading up to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
- Psalms 139:13