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    Cannibalism – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is cannibalism kosher? There was an incident in 1977 when survivors of a plane crash in the Andes ate the flesh of dead fellow travellers.

    andes flight plane crash cannibalismA. The Torah makes it clear that the only meat permitted for human consumption is that of specified types of animals and birds if they have been killed and prepared in a set way. But in dire emergency, when one’s own survival is at stake, would we be allowed to eat human flesh?

    The whole notion is morally repugnant. Secondly, the human body is not the property either of its “owner” or of anyone else; there is a well-known principle, “the body is the property of the Holy One, Blessed be He”. No-one has the right to mutilate or desecrate a body or dispose of it in any other way than regular, respectful burial. One may not derive any benefit (hana’ah) from a dead body. Though certain types of transplants are permitted in order to save life, e.g. transferring the cornea from a dead body to a living person, this is not regarded as a desecration because it is giving new life.

    It may be that eating part of another person’s body might supply sufficient nourishment to keep the living person going. But even presuming that the body is already dead and one has not committed murder in order to acquire it, it is highly doubtful whether pikku’ach nefesh (“emergency to life or health”) can be invoked to justify eating it.

    Rabbi Ephraim Oshry states in his 5-volume Holocaust responsa work, “MiMa’amakim” (“Out of the Depths”) that in theory there could be a case for eating the flesh of a corpse for survival, but he had never heard of Jewish cannibalism despite the hunger, privation and suffering of the concentration camps. He observes, “The Jewish people never descended from their level of sanctity; they never ate human flesh” (“Responsa from the Holocaust”, an English abridgement, 2001, p.222).

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