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Religions under test - Biotechnology 2 - Judaism

"There is nothing in cloning that stands against an explicit halachic law"
There are no less than four halachic answers to the question of what is the mother in vitro fertilization. This is just one example of the difficulty of the Halacha to deal with the challenge posed by the innovations of biotechnology. A member of the Higher Helsinki Committee Rabbi Yigal Shafran tries to provide answers

Tamara Traubman

In recent years Rabbi Yigal Shafaran has done a lot of work. Almost every day, scientists working in biotechnology report on new developments, and a rabbi and doctor of bioethics has to deal with a growing number of disturbing questions, which pose a challenge to the laws of Halacha.

Scientists are currently developing in their laboratories genetically engineered goats that carry human genes, perfecting the technology of cloning (genetic duplication) and striving to find out which diseases the newborn will suffer from even before he is born. The scientific and technological development creates a new reality, changes ways of thinking and brings up possibilities that until a few years ago, and certainly during the times when the Gemara and "Shulchan Aruch" were written, no one thought of. The Jewish law, which specifies how a person should conduct everything in his life, is now faced with difficult dilemmas for which the answer is not clear-cut.

Rabbi Dr. Yigal Shafran is not only knowledgeable in Halacha matters; It is beneficial to also know the ethical arguments in the humanist-universal debate. He serves as a bioethics lecturer at the Technion and the Hebrew University, a member of the Higher Helsinki Committee (responsible for granting approvals for research on humans) and head of the Halacha Medicine Department at the Jerusalem Religious Council. He does not respond to the stereotype accepted in secular society of a religious man who turns his back on scientific developments ("The desire of science is to do good to the human race"), but he also expresses a religious-conservative worldview ("The plight of a woman who cannot give birth is the greatest mental plight that exists" ). Therefore, not surprisingly, he also supports human cloning.

One of the challenges to Halacha is posed by genetic research, which accelerated in the late XNUMXs with the start of the project to decipher the human genome. Meanwhile, several research groups began to claim that they had found genes that affect not only physiological traits, such as eye color, but also personality traits and behavior.

The garden of secularism

In the week in which the interview with Dr. Shafran took place, researchers reported for the u-knows-how-many time about another gene that is probably related to personality traits - the mast gene is a gene for violence. "If this is true", said Shafran, "it could create a big problem for us". After all, Rambam already spoke about a degree of free choice given to man and gives him responsibility for his actions.

These studies, he says, conflict "with the principle of free choice that a person has. Free choice is a fundamental condition for reward and punishment. I remember that when the human genome project started and the ideas emerged that perhaps not only physical tendencies but also spiritual tendencies are inherent in man, I wrote a letter to one of my friends, a very, very central rabbi. I wrote to him about the fact that French scientists claim that a gene for rebellion has been discovered in a religious conception, that the anti-religious perception is also a genetic predisposition. I wrote to him: 'How does this work out with the fact that we come to punish people for being disobedient to the Torah and mitzvot, etc.' Suddenly it turned out that a person is a rebel because of some kind of problem in his bio-psychological mechanism. So he wrote to me: 'Listen, it can't be, it's not possible.' He didn't believe there was such a thing.

"These developments pose questions in the field of religion. There are answers to them, but you can't come and say it's just nonsense. The classic example is that we punish two violent people with the same punishment according to the laws of the Torah, while it may be that one of them has greater tendencies towards violence than his friend. But we put them both in the same boat, in the same punishment, in the same class of punishments. From this point of view, it must be admitted that it requires more the existing tendency in the law of the court, not to follow the dry law, but to investigate and examine the matter on its merits.

They claim that there is also a gene for homosexuality. If this turns out to be true, will you still regard homosexuality as an abomination?

"The Gemara discusses the fact that there are people who have a tendency towards homosexuality, but they emphasize that the tendency can be controlled, in contrast to the modern perception that it is an uncontrollable urge. This urge is not like the heterosexual sexual urge, which must reach an outlet at some point, because it is part of human nature. The homosexual urge is a controllable urge. There is nothing bad in the religious concept that cannot be overcome."

According to Shaffern, free choice must be placed within its limits. "Free choice exists up to a certain limit. Ground it to the dog, who has a chain and can move around within the confines of the chain. But when he reaches the end of the chain, he stops. The same with free choice. A person has a free choice in the field of the chain".

After decoding the genes comes the stage of genetic engineering, and here the question of boundaries is absolutely critical. So far, a goat has been cloned into whose genome genes from a spider have been inserted, and from its milk, extremely strong fibers can be produced. Cows and sheep have also been cloned from whose milk raw materials for medicines can be extracted. The question is how many genetic changes can be made in an organism until it changes its essence and turns into something else. If, for example, they succeed in producing a ruminant pig through genetic engineering, will this pig be kosher?

The idea arouses in Dr. Shafran Halalah. The counter-argument he mobilizes is from the realm of Jewish emotion and folklore, not Halacha. According to him, the predation of a pig is no different from that of a camel or a rabbit. But "the pig became a symbol of denying the freedom of the Jews in their country. The Roman legion that conquered the Land of Israel, its symbol was the wild boar, and from this arose the whole ethos of the rejection of the boar."

And if we turn a less problematic animal, a camel for example, into a hooves. Will he be kosher?

"If there is such a thing, it is definitely possible that the animal will be kosher."

Duplicate and multiply

Since the second century AD, it has been customary in Judaism that if the mother is Jewish, the newborn is also Jewish. This halachic rule was preserved for many years and remained relevant even after the introduction of a new technology in the seventies, which fundamentally changed the possibilities of bringing children into the world: in vitro fertilization. However, in recent years things have gotten complicated. Women who had no eggs started using donor eggs. The reality became even more complicated about two years ago, when Israeli doctors began importing fertilized eggs from women from Romania, and then a problem arose that preoccupies many Jews: is the newborn Jewish.

Who is the mother - the woman who gave birth to the baby or perhaps the woman from whom the egg was taken?

"The answer depends on four different halachic methods, the divisions between them," says Shafran. According to one method, the mother is the owner of the egg, and hence if it is the egg of a non-Jewish woman, the child is not Jewish. Dr. Shafran says that the senior halachic judges Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv and the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach previously issued a halachic ruling stating that in the case of egg donation, the child will be attributed to the donor.

But despite the rabbinical training, this is not the most accepted method. A more accepted method is the one according to which the child belongs to the mother, and therefore will be Jewish. According to a third method, the child has two mothers and each of them has a status in relation to certain laws. A fourth method holds that the child does not have a mother, since each displaced a function of her friend. According to this method, there is no problem with taking a full-Jewish egg, "but we don't like the situation of a child without a mother," says Shafran. He himself completely denies the import of the eggs from Romania precisely for humanistic reasons. This is about the exploitation of women in distress, he says.

The controversy surrounding egg donation is a clear example of the difficulty of Halacha to keep up with the pace of changes caused by research by scientists and doctors. In the end, an ultra-Orthodox woman interested in egg donation will go to her rabbi and do as he rules. However, in a religion where we are used to receiving unequivocal answers about every detail of everyday life, even which shoe should be laced first, this reflects a difficult dilemma.

Having children is so important according to the halachic perception - Shaferan considers barrenness to be a woman's greatest predicament - that even cloning according to his opinion is a perfectly legitimate way to bring children into the world. Cloning has so far only been applied to animals. In cloning, you take a cell from the body of the animal you want to clone and insert its nucleus (which contains almost all the genetic material) into an egg whose nucleus has been removed. A weak electric current passes between the two, and at this point the egg begins to reproduce as if it had been fertilized by a sperm. The resulting offspring will be a genetic copy of the animal that donated the cell.

Dolly the sheep was the first mammal cloned using this method. Dolly's cloning is intended for the purpose of duplicating farm animals with selected traits for agricultural purposes. All the other animals that were cloned after her - goats, cows and pigs - were also cloned for the same purpose: to reproduce animals with a unique genetic load. (Goats have been cloned and engineered so that their milk contains drugs, pigs have been cloned so that their organs are suitable for transplantation into humans).

However, concepts like that of Dr. Shafran divert cloning to a completely different need: instead of a method of replication, he refers to it as a method of reproduction. Turning cloning into a fertility method entails many problems. To list a small part of them: the cloned newborn will grow up in the shadow of the "original" in whose biological form he was created, and in the shadow of the inevitable expectations that the environment will place on him. There will also be a lot of confusion within the family: the father will also be a "twin brother", the grandfather will actually be the "father".

For these reasons, many countries are passing laws today that will completely prohibit human cloning. In Israel, on the other hand, the approach of the law that matches Dr. Shafran's approach holds that there is no fundamental problem with cloning, but that the technology is not yet sophisticated enough. The solution found: Israeli law imposes a five-year moratorium on cloning, which will end in 2004

"We must believe in science and know that science and scientists are people who have a desire to do good. In my opinion, the act of cloning is part of science's desire to benefit the human race. Although cloning is not the number one solution. The concept in the halachic is that God wanted children to be born from a husband and wife who love each other, this is how the 'Sefer Hahachanuch', which is a halachic book, explains it eight hundred years ago. But this is not a solution for those who are stuck. What happens when it doesn't help them? Then it will be possible to use genetic replication.

And if indeed genetic replication will be on the agenda at some point as an aid to people who have no other alternative, I will welcome it."

But not now?

"For me, cloning involves so many problems that I don't want to be the one calling for it to be done. But I want to be the one who calls on science to try to reach a time when genetic cloning will be on the shelf for those couples for whom every other alternative has failed. Cloning is more of a problem with human arrogance, which needs to be refined, so that a person does not think he is God, than there is some concrete problem with this action that conflicts with the laws of the Torah. There is nothing in cloning that stands against any explicit halachic law."

For part 2 - Islam

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