Search Menu Globe Arrow Right Close
Cedars-Sinai Blog

Cedars-Sinai Rabbi Publishes Book About Bioethics

Cedars-Sinai Rabbi Dr. Jason Weiner talking

Although Rabbi Dr. Jason Weiner never picks up a scalpel or prescribes medication, his interactions with patients help accelerate the healing process.

Weiner, director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai, provides compassionate, nonjudgmental emotional support to patients while learning about their personal circumstances. He also helps healthcare providers understand patients’ wishes when they can’t articulate what they need.

For the past 16 years, Weiner has served as a chaplain and spiritual leader at Cedars-Sinai. Because of his interest in bioethics—the study of moral and ethical decision-making relating to healthcare and medicine—he received a doctorate in clinical bioethics.

In a new book, Care and Covenant: A Jewish Bioethic of Responsibility, Weiner writes about several modern bioethical dilemmas, sharing lessons from historic Jewish texts to provide context to each situation. Although the book focuses on the Jewish perspective, it’s aimed at people of all faiths who wish to expand their understanding of ethics and moral values.

Weiner sat down recently to talk about the ways healthcare providers who grapple with bioethical concerns can gain new insights by learning about different perspectives from ancient Jewish texts.

“I’ve found that bioethics and Jewish values can assist people with decision-making by helping them learn how to think through difficult, seemingly intractable subjects and have conversations about them.”

How do you use your expertise in bioethics in your work?

As a rabbi working in a hospital, my goal is to help and support people. One thing I learned very quickly in my early years is that many healthcare decisions are not black and white—there’s a lot of gray. Some difficult decisions don’t have one simple, obviously correct option. People struggle with decision-making, both at the time of the decision—making a very hard choice that oftentimes holds someone’s life in the balance— and afterwards, with grief, stress or guilt, as a result of their decisions.

I’ve found that bioethics and Jewish values can assist people with decision-making by helping them learn how to think through difficult, seemingly intractable subjects and have conversations about them. It’s a way, as a chaplain, that I can provide more support for the patients I meet in the hospital, as well as their families, clergy and healthcare team.

Your book examines modern bioethical dilemmas through the lens of Jewish texts that are thousands of years old. How can such ancient ideas seem insightful and relevant today?

For some people, texts that are ancient, formative and foundational provide the weight of tradition, as well as a certain authority. If we can apply ancient values and wisdom to modern cases, it gives it a little bit more grounding. For example, the Talmud’s nuanced interpretations of the Golden Rule—love your neighbor as yourself—can help guide physicians’ decisions when they’re caring for patients who can’t speak for themselves.

You wrote about the importance of self-care in preventing physician burnout. That must be so relevant for healthcare providers, many of whom worked through the height of the pandemic, when physician burnout reached new heights.

Yes. I’ve been sharing the ideas of that chapter, and the chapter itself, with a lot of staff. I get good feedback about it. They say that it’s impactful.

A major part of avoiding burnout is trying to understand and contextualize one’s actions and one’s role, and understanding one’s overall desire to help patients. Judaism says that individuals have an obligation to care for their mental and physical wellbeing. Taking breaks and setting limits is an important part of self-care, which should prevent physician burnout and reduce the risk of medical errors when physicians are tired.

You shared a Jewish perspective about ways physicians should care for unrepresented patients— those who can’t speak for themselves, whether they’ve had a stroke, are affected by dementia or have another condition that prevents them from communicating. Why was this important for you to include in your book?

It’s a very common issue, especially with patients experiencing homelessness or very elderly patients. And there had been nothing written on that subject from a Jewish perspective.

So much of bioethics, chaplaincy and being a rabbi is being supportive and helpful to those who are vulnerable. Patients who can’t speak for themselves are the most vulnerable patients. They really struggle and are in need of support. I was trying to articulate Jewish values and give concrete advice for how to be most supportive of the people who are the most vulnerable.

Which part of the book is most meaningful to you personally?

I wrote a chapter about Jewish hospitals, which play a unique and important role in the modern tapestry of American healthcare. At one time, there were 113 Jewish hospitals in the U.S. Now, Cedars-Sinai is one of only five left.

This chapter explores the detailed history of Jewish hospitals: Why they’ve existed, what they’ve meant to America, and why they should still exist and maintain their Jewish identity.

The perspective of Jewish hospitals has been about caring for the vulnerable in a way that’s inspired and dedicated, making space for religion to flourish without forcing it on anyone, being a strong anchor and foundation for the concept of diversity and inclusion, and much more.