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Making the Body Beautiful - Plastic Surgery in Judaism

Debbie Young-Somers's picture

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Sander L. Gillman is a Jewish academic who has done lots of research into bodies and self image, particularly of Jews. This is a google books link to his book on the history of plastic surgery, 'Making the Body Beautiful', which Jews have been very involved in from the early stages. Perhaps because of the stereotypes around Jewish bodies and images, particularly in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe, some very few Jews were tempted, for a time, to try to alter their bodies to 'fit in' better (the noses chapted deals with this particularly well!). Today we might try to change the steretypes sooner than the body, but both things go on!!

Of course from a position of Jewish Law plastic surgery is not so simple. Surgery for medical purposes that are beneficial to ones health are encouraged, even required, but putting ones life in danger (which surgery does) for external improvement is not necessarily allowed, unless you can perhaps show some deep psychological benefit (this is not universally accepted, but was the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Iggrot Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat 66). There is a differentiation between correcting disfigurement and surgery simply for enhancement, but overall we remember that the body ours but is on loan from God and that in some sense we are created 'in the image of God' according to Genesis (though this can be understood in a variety of ways) and therefore have an obligation to look after ourselves.

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