Overcoming the tension between scientific and religious views in teaching anatomical dissection: The Israeli experience

Netta Notzer*, David Zisenwine, Libi Oz, Yoel Rak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


More than three thousand years of Jewish historical and scholarly writings have addressed the problematic relationship between anatomical dissection for the purpose of medical education and Judaism, which values the wholeness and sanctity of the human body. The Department of Anatomy at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine has sought to bridge the gap between science and Jewish religious-cultural values. The Department requires students to conduct laboratory dissections on cadavers in an ethical and respectful manner. Student emotions are also addressed by the Department as students are encouraged to share their apprehensions and concerns about participating in dissections in discussion groups. At the same time, the high academic standards of the medical school are strictly upheld, ensuring that each student has a thorough knowledge of human anatomy. Teaching anatomy in Israeli medical school involves reconciling two conflicting approaches to dissection: (1) The scientific-medical approach, which views the human body as inert material and anatomical dissection as a means of studying anatomy and gaining medical knowledge. (2) A Jewish religious point of view, which perceives anatomical dissection as a threat to the sanctity of a human body and leads to the defilement of those participating in the dissection. In this article, the views of major Jewish scholars regarding dissection are presented and discussed in relation to their implementation in the dissection theater. These views are examined in an anthropological light based on observations in the dissection room and interviews with students and faculty members. The findings reflect the emotions and concerns of Israeli medical students at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine in particular as well as those of the Israeli-Jewish population as a whole. In the dissection theater, medical students must gain a comprehensive understanding of human anatomy while dealing with their own personal ethical, cultural, and religious views on death and dying. Confronting these issues enhances both personal growth as individuals and professional behavior as future physicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-447
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2006


  • Gross anatomy
  • Jewish religion
  • Medical education
  • Professional behavior
  • Professionalism


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