What do Jewish women think of breast reconstruction?

Monday, December 19, 2011

It is quite common for cancer survivors to choose to have breast reconstructions these days, though plenty of women opt out. One group of survivors who have conducted ongoing debates over reconstructive surgery is the substantial number of Jewish women in the U.S.

Whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, people from all three denominations of Judaism have argued that women should (or in some cases, shouldn't) pursue breast reconstruction, based on Jewish strictures.

A recent article in the Baltimore Jewish Times reviewed the history of Jewish thought concerning plastic surgery.

Author Simone Ellin summed it up this way: "Despite the role that plastic surgery has played in Jewish culture, Jewish attitudes toward the practice have been conflicted and ambivalent because of Judaism's prohibition against self-injury (chavala)."

The latter refers to passages in the Jewish sacred texts proscribing intentional body modification. One of the earliest and most well known is found in the Torah, in Leviticus 19:28: "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves."

Ellin explained that even though some Jewish women take a conservative approach after breast cancer and avoid reconstruction, plenty of others are happy to get new breasts and feel whole again.

She pointed to the writings of Rabbi Mark Washofsky of the Union Of American Hebrew Congregations, who states that "generally, Reform Judaism frowns upon plastic surgery unless it is for 'r'fu'ah,' for healing, for legitimate medical purposes."

This exception means that some Jewish women are quite comfortable opting for breast reconstruction. Ellin noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make generalizations about how Jewish women - or any group of women, for that matter - approach reconstructive surgery.

On the whole, this type of operation is growing in popularity. In 2010, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons recorded more than 93,000 breast reconstructions.


Ellin S. Unmasking Surprising Jewish Views On Plastic Surgery. Baltimore Jewish Times. December 9, 2011. Accessed December 9, 2011.

2010 Reconstructive Demographics. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2011. Accessed December 9, 2011.

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