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Siamese Twins

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 27/5/2019

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Siamese Twins

Many Sefarim report cases of Siamese[1] twins.[2] The Ritva[3] (1250-1330) writes that a Gadol testified about a woman who had two backs and two spines and yet lived a long time.[4] Similarly, the Minchas Elazar[5] (1868-1937) testified to seeing 9-year-old Siamese twins. The Chida (1724-1806) relates that he saw in פסקי ר' ישעיה הראשון מטראני of a case of Siamese twins where they were around 20 years old.[6] The שו"ת הלכות קטנות[7] (1620-1674) writes that in Italy he saw Siamese twins that were about 25 years old. R’ Moshe Sternbuch (born in 1926) tells us that in America in תשל"ז Siamese twins were born to Charedi parents.[8] On Chanuka תס"ח (1708), the Shvus Yaakov[9] (1661-1733) writes that he saw Siamese twins and said the Bracha of משנה הבריות; who diversifies creatures.[10]


What are the Halachos concerning Siamese twins? The Gemara[11] records a story that someone who had a child born with two heads came to Rebbi to ask how much money must be given to the Kohen for the פדיון הבן- five Selaim just as for one child or ten? The answer: the father must give the Kohen ten Selaim as it says ...חמשת שקלים לגלגלת; take five Shekels each according to the head count.[12] In a similar vein, the Chassam Sofer writes regarding the census that one with two heads was counted as two as it says שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל...כל זכר לגלגלתם; take a census…each male according to their head count.[13]


Regarding Tefilin, the Shvus Yaakov concludes that each head must put on Tefillin. Likewise, since they are two bodies, they receive two portions of inheritance.[14] If one of the Siamese twins is a boy and the other a girl, their father has fulfilled the Mitzva of פריה ורביה; be fruitful and multiply. The words of the Minchas Elazar are: since from the stomach upward they are two people and they each have a separate head and heart, they are like two people and thus each head requires Tefilin. Concerning counting them as two for a Minyan, R’ Moshe Sternbuch says that where it is not possible to get ten people, it seems we can be lenient and count them as two people.[15]

R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] According to the University of Maryland Medical Center one in every 200,000 live twin births worldwide are conjoined, though 40 to 60 percent are stillborn and 35 percent of those who survive only live for a day.

[2] Adam and Chava were Siamese twins as it was two faces back to back (Eruvin 18a, Breishis Rabba 8:1). The term 'Siamese twins' derives from Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874) who were the first pair of conjoined twins to become internationally known. The brothers were from Siam (today Thailand), hence the name.

[3] Nida 24a, s.v. רב סבר. See the Ben Yehoyada (Menachos 37a, s.v. מי) who brings a story of one who gave birth to Siamese twins. Also, Sefer Yuchsin, 6th Maamar, s.v. הזמן.    

[4] At 66 years old, Ronnie and Donnie Galyon are the world's oldest living conjoined twins. When they were born in 1951, doctors didn't even expect them to make it through the night. 

[5] אות חיים ושלום, 27:13

[6] Machzik Bracha, Yoreh Deah 13:5. He also tells of another case of Siamese twins he heard from the non-Jews.

[7] 1:245

[8] שו"ת תשובות והנהגות, 1:893. In that case, one of the twins had a proper heart whereas the other had only a half a heart. The liver was shared and they were connected from the chest. In the rest of the body, each one had separate nerves and it was two separate bodies. The doctors said that one had to be sacrificed in order for the other to have a chance of living. R’ Moshe Feinstien permitted this and they performed surgery with the agreement of the courts. In the end, one died while the other was left to live. 

[9] 1:4. He also wrote a Sefer titled עיון יעקב on the עין יעקב. In the Hakdama to this, he writes that he was blind in both eyes and he davened to Hashem to heal him. He accepted upon himself that if he is healed from this illness he will complete his Sefer on עין יעקב to ‘pay’ עין תחת עין. In the year תפ"א, his Tefila was heard as he went to an expert doctor who healed both of his eyes.

[10] See Brachos 58b

[11] Menachos 37 

[12] Bamidbar 3:47

[13] Chassam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, 294. Bamidbar 1:2.

[14] Tosafos (Menachos 37a, s.v. או) brings a Midrash that אשמדאי brought before Shlomo a man with two heads who married and also had one with two heads. When they wanted to divide the father’s property the one with two heads wanted two portions. They came before Shlomo who covered one head and poured hot water on the other head. Due to the pain of the hot water, they both screamed. Shlomo then ruled they are like one person, thereby getting one portion (Shita Mekubetzes 18).

[15] אוצר פלאות התורה, Breishis, pg 54

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