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From the files of Rav Dov Popper, PUAH rabbinic advisor and genetic specialist at Hadassah Medical Center:

Wed. May 22, 2019

As a PUAH rabbinic advisor and posek, I’ve been invited to lecture at a medical conference in Rambam Medical Center.  Following the lecture, Dr. Raanan Tal, head of the hospital’s male fertility department, invites me to coffee. I’m delighted; Dr. Tal is not just one of the country’s top experts in the field of male fertility but is also an exceptionally compassionate and modest human being.

I take advantage of the opportunity to speak to Dr. Tal about one of my PUAH couples.  The husband has a condition called azoospermia, causing infertility. My general procedure in such cases is to refer the man for surgery, where the doctor attempts to locate and extract viable reproductive cells. It’s not an easy procedure, but, as I’ve seen from my many years in PUAH, couples are willing to go through quite a lot for the sake of having children.

However, when I looked through this man’s medical files, I realized right away that his condition was so severe that there was almost no chance of finding a viable cell. I knew that virtually no doctor would be willing to even operate on him, with such a miniscule chance of success.  With a heavy heart, I told the couple as much. But they begged me not to give up on them.

“Please find us someone who will do the surgery. We want to know that we tried everything possible to have a baby.”

And so, it was time for me to turn to my backup plan in such cases – what I call my Plan Raanan.  I know Dr. Raanan Tal has such a soft heart and is so dedicated to his work that it’s impossible for him to refuse a request.

And so, over coffee, I fill him in on this patient’s details.

He reviews the medical files, and then gives me a long look. “Rav Popper, you understand that the chance of success here is less than half a percent, right?”

“Yes, but we can’t just leave them without any hope at all,” I answer. “And besides, for Hashem, even half a percent is enough.”

Dr. Tal finishes his coffee, and says at last, “The only reason I’m going to do this is because it’s you asking. You know how much I respect PUAH and everything you do there.”  He wipes his mouth, and then adds, with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m a secular Jew; I don’t believe in miracles. But if I find viable cells in this man – I’m becoming religious!”

Wed. June 5, 2019

My phone rings in my office – Dr. Raanan Tal. I pick up, and, without any greeting, he says to me, “Rav Popper, I’m ready to be chozer b’teshuva!”

It takes me a second to catch on, and he cries, “The surgery was successful! We found viable cells!”

Later that day, he texts me, with his trademark humor: “So, I haven’t decided yet whether I want to go Litvish or Chassidish, or maybe Breslov…  But now I believe that Hashem runs the world!”

Wed. June 12, 2019

The receptionist sticks her head into my office and asks if she can send me an emergency case. “Cancer,” she adds.

She doesn’t have to say more; I already understand.  A young yeshiva bachur now enters, looking scared and bewildered.

“A few weeks ago, I started feeling pains in my legs,” he says. “After running around to different doctors, yesterday, they finally got results – osteosarcoma. Leg cancer.”

My heart goes out to him. And then he continues, “I’m in the middle of a shidduch right now. I consulted with a fertility doctor, who said I should undergo a fertility preservation procedure immediately, to preserve my healthy cells before I start radiation and chemo. My father and I asked Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein about the procedure, and he told us to do it through PUAH, using a gramma method.” He looks up at me. “Can you help me?”

I explain to him what the procedure entails, and that there are only a few doctors who are able to perform it. I ask him about his timetable, and he says that the cancer has already spread, and that he needs to start chemo immediately.

“My doctor wants me to get this fertility preservation procedure done today if possible.”

Okay. I realize this is another case of Plan Raanan. I call up my friend Dr. Tal, confident that he’ll squeeze in this young man today.  Dr. Tal doesn’t pick up, but I text him, and tell the bachur, “Don’t worry, he’ll get back to me soon and we’ll get you in today.”

But Dr. Tal doesn’t get back to me. He doesn’t answer my calls or my texts. Then, a few hours later, I get a call from his secretary.

“Rav Popper, I’m sorry to tell you, but – Dr. Tal passed away suddenly in his sleep the other night.”

I am in utter shock.  And what keeps running through my mind are the last words he said to me: “Rav Popper, I am chozer b’teshuva. I believe Hashem runs the world.”

Dr. Raanan Tal, a tzaddik who dedicated his life to helping others bring children in to this world – yet didn’t have any himself – was zocheh to leave this world as a chozer b’teshuva.  

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