Paper in honour of Rabbi Dr. Walter Jacob

by Peter S. Knobel Pittsburgh June 2, 1997





    Technological advances are constantly, and with increasing rapidity, transforming science fiction in ordinary living.  This is especially true in the bio-technology field which has made it possible for us to cure diseases and treat conditions which were fatal only a few short years ago.  Our ability to prolong life and postpone death presents enormous ethical challenges. Greater longevity is a blessing for some and curse for others.  From the beginning to the end of life the impossible has become reality.  From conception outside the womb to a transplanted heart, we are witness to and the recipients of medical miracles. These developments raise numerous ethical questions.  .

     For example: how do we distribute costly procedures fairly in a world of unequal distribution of wealth?  In a world of limited resources are these medical miracles too expensive when measured against other basic needs?  If one person has to die so that another can live, how do you prevent the murder of one to save the other?  How will greater longevity affect our understanding of marriage?  How does greater longevity affect the relationship between parents and children, especially when people must care simultaneously for the own children and their aging parents? The manner in which we respond to these and a myriad of others, question the quality of the society we will create.             

    As Jews, we are the heirs to a rich ethical tradition which is enshrined in the panoply of our sacred texts.  Over the years, individual rabbis and now committees of rabbis seek to respond to ethical and ritual enquiries in carefully reasoned reflections on these texts. In many cases, rabbinic texts did not address directly the problem on which the rabbinic decider was expected to adjudicate because the specifics of the situation were unknown to previous generations. This difficulty increases as the pace of technology continues to extend the range of the possible. Therefore, he, and now she, used analogical reasoning to extract principles which apply to the new situation.  Rabbi Dr. Walter Jacob has been in the forefront of those who have used the insights of the halacha to help us face these conundrums.  His many volumes of responses, as well as the thousands of questions which he has answered in writing and orally are a treasure trove of practical guidance for individuals and for the Jewish community. 

   This afternoon I wish to address a question which was addressed by Walter Jacob in Responsum #20 Genetic Engineering dated February 1978 in his volume Contemporary Reform Responsa.  Long before Dolly was a glint in her creators’ test tube, Walter Jacob was being asked to speculate about what if.  The responsum deals with what is the latest, and now understood to be in some ways the most striking and controversial breakthrough in reproductive technology – i.e. cloning. 

   The birth of Dolly, the sheep in Scotland, has created a fire storm of conflicting opinions.  For some it is a great boon, for others their worst nightmare realised.  If we can clone sheep the argument goes, it will not be long before we can clone human beings.  While we have many technical hurdles to overcome, the cloning of humans is more than Frankenstein fantasy.  There have been many voices which have called for a ban on cloning of humans and a halt to federally fund research.  We wonder:  are we on the verge of a new era of medical progress and economic prosperity or is this the beginning of the end of human life as we know it?  If we can reproduce ourselves exactly from a single cell, are we in danger of disconnecting reproduction from love and as well as sexual intercourse?  What will constitute a family in this brave new world? Who should be cloned?  Imagine a world of thousands of Einsteins or Michael Jordans? Or Adolph Hilters, as imagined in the novel, The Boys from Brazil?  Such selective breeding presents us with the potential dangers of cloning on the basis of social worth,  i.e. societal need or economic gain or diabolical plan. This represents the ultimate commodification of individuals.  Clones for sale manufactured on demand. Selective breeding conjures images of Nazi eugenics. However, because a technology is subject to misuse and abuse, does not in and of itself justify its banning. Selective breeding of animals and plants as well as newly created microbes and species have created heartier crops, more efficient techniques for producing new medicines, or cows which give more milk. Genetic engineering and new reproductive techniques have had innumerable positive results and will prove increasingly beneficial in the future.

   Our desire to improve on nature is an example of the creativity that we share with God.  The question is how far should we go?  Azriel Rosenfeld in a 1972 article in Tradition, after discussing the clear permissibility of genetic surgery to correct serious defects pre-natally – even if the surgery puts the fetus at risk suggests:

           “Our sages recognise and perhaps even encourage, the use of prenatal (or better

             pre-conceptional influences to improve one’s offspring.”

    He then cites a very interesting story about the sage R. Yohanan: R.Yohanan used to go and sit at the

gates of the place of immersion, saying:

           “When the daughters of Israel come out from their required immersion,

             they look at me and may have sons who are as handsome as I, and as

             accomplished in Torah as I .[1]

Rosenfeld says:

          “This concept might well be extended to allow the use of gene-surgical    techniques to produce physically and mentally superior children.”

    This certainly smacks of eugenics.  While it can be couched in phrases like tikkun olam or divine human partnership in perfection of the world, it is fraught with danger.  A good thing namely to correct a serious illness or physical defects is transformed into selective breeding.  To deliberately breed for intelligence or physical beauty may be “playing God” in a negative sense of that term. Rosenfeld continues:

                      “On the other hand, turning a person into a monster by surgical means would very likely be forbidden, unless it was necessary to save his life and creating a monster through gene surgery might thus also be forbidden.[2]

    The word “might” is disturbing.  While the issue of eugenics raises significant concerns, let us return to a prior question from a Jewish point of view: is it permissible to clone human beings?  If  it  is permissible, under what circumstances and with what safeguards?

I now wish to return to Dr. Jacob’s responsum. His questioner asks:

          “Would a person produced through genetic engineering rather than natural reproduction possess a soul? Does a clone have a soul?”

    He discusses the Jewish views of “ensoulment” and cites the legend of the golem, a creature created of wood or clay through the use of magical incantations and the insertion of the divine name in its mouth or its placement of the name on its forehead.  In determining the status of the clone, he cites a responsum of Zvi Ashekenzi and Jacob Emden who rule that a golem cannot be counted in minyan, implying that a golem is not fully human and therefore has no soul.

    In two very intriguing recent articles, Professor Byron Sherwin explores in depth the status of the golem and the moral implications of the Golem legend. He points out that in many versions of the golem legend the word golem is not used but “a man created by means of sefer Yetzirah.”[3]   He makes a distinction between artificial life and artificially created life.  He makes a distinction between golems of the past and modern golems.  He analogises the clone with a fully developed golem and points out that medieval texts use the term golem for embryo and he also explores the midrashim that Adam was originally created a golem and only at the final stage of creation does he become fully human.  We will return to some of Dr. Sherwin’s material later in the paper.

   Dr. Jacob continues:

            “We are, however concerned with an entirely new being which might conceivably begin its life in a test tube from a fertilised ovum or a variety of genetic material and would be capable of sexual reproduction. We shall not discuss the desirability of such an undertaking, but, at some time in the future it will, undoubtedly, occur with or without approval. We could well consider such a being to have a soul. It will have been formed from human material despite all genetic alterations. Its development will have taken place in an artificial environment rather than the womb, but at some point it will emerge as human being. Hopefully, it will then not be enslaved to its maker or master, but will develop independently as other human beings.  Unless such possibilities of independent intellectual and moral development are genetically removed, this would be a human being.”

     Walter Jacob raises a number of very important issues: the most serious deal with status of a clone,

 as a human being.  If a clone is not granted the status of human being, it could become a being which is enslaved its creator like the Golem of Prague or it could potentially become simply a source of spare parts for its older sibling. 

     Recently there was a case of a couple that conceived a baby for the purpose of providing a bone marrow transplant to an older child.  While it seems clear to me that such an act would constitute an act of pikuach nefesh and, therefore, be permissible, there are some significant medical concerns especially about the lack of the ability of the younger sibling to consent to a procedure which has some risks.  There are also grave psychological concerns whether the procedure succeeds or fails.  We must also be concerned about the precedent that this establishes and how much risk a parent could subject a minor to for the benefit of another child or for that matter for the benefit of the parent.

    The issue is similar to whether a person is required to donate an organ to save the life of a person who needs it.  Dr. Solomon B. Freehof concludes, following an opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, an individual who is an acceptable donor is not duty bound to donate the organ, such an act would be an impermissible wounding of the body.

                      “A person is certainly not required by law to donate an organ of his body in order that it   may be planted into the body of another. If he is endangered by the removal of the organ, then he is actually forbidden to risk his life.  Of course if the danger to his life were minimal it would be a good deed; but otherwise one should not endanger his life in this way because one life – in this case his own—is as valuable as the life he wished to save. Waldenberg then uses the Talmudic dictum: ‘What makes you think that his blood is redder than yours?’ ¼ Its meaning is clear¼ Every life is as equally valuable as any other life.”[4]

      A second point is made by Walter Jacob in dealing with the status of a clone as a human being is “unless such possibilities of independent intellectual and moral development are genetically removed.”  The possibility of manufacturing human beings which Aldous Huxley describes in his Brave New World is the ultimate nightmare – we could create humans without mothers or fathers.  We could create a society of all males or all females – genetically identical, genetically manufactured, and conditioned to perform specific roles. Imagine as Huxley did human reproduction removed both from sexual intercourse and from gestation inside the mother, a society which produces individuals according to a central plan which decides what society needs and deliberately adds formaldehyde to developing embryo for a class of menial workers.    Huxley’s vision serves as a constant reminder of the dark side of technology.  Just as in the Legend of the Golem, although it was created to protect the Jews of Prague one Friday it begins to destroy the ghetto.  Fortunately Rabbi Judah Loew, its creator had the power to destroy it.  Yet when the cat is let out of the bag…..

   However just think of it: if we could clone a single organ, a perfect match, an infinite supply? However if we clone an embryo, use it and then abort it?  By the way it is not clear that under Jewish law this would necessarily be prohibited.  As we develop the technique we will have to consider what would constitute good results and bad results. What do we do with our mistakes? 

      I wish to repeat genetic engineering, cloning, artificial embryonisation, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation all have their positive side but darker possibilities always remain. This was recognised by the rabbis in their discussion of artificial life.  The character of the creator is crucial.  Judaism does accept the concept that scientific experimentation as morally neutral but it demands of the scientists that they be responsible for the results of their experiments. It may be understood as having Faustian potential for the demise or domination  of humankind or it may be viewed as one more expression of human creativity.  It is either the work of the devil in which one seeks to supplant God or it’s an example of imitateo Dei, one aspect of what it means to be created in the image of God.

   Byron Sherwin points out

           “Classical Jewish literature stresses these features of the creative act¼ moral technical and intellectual prerequisites of one who would deign to create life. Furthermore Jewish literature refuses to sever creature from creator. Not only is the creator responsible for what the creature does but the creator is responsible for what the creature becomes. The creature reflects not only technical skill but the moral nature of its creator”[5]

   The role of scientists and regulators, as well as the distributors of this technology, are crucial.  As we move ahead in these areas we must not panic as I believe has been the case in the early reactions to the cloning of Dolly but we must anticipate both the positive possibilities and the worst case scenarios and try to institute checks and balances. Walter Jacob in his Responsum also reminds us that from a practical perspective, banning cloning will not work.  Therefore we must be concerned about its regulation.

   A similar statement was made by Rabbi Jacobovits in the 1975 edition of his Jewish Medical Ethics. He writes:

            “It is indefensible to initiate uncontrolled experiments with incalculable effects on the balance of nature and the preservation of man’s incomparable spirituality without the most careful evaluation of the likely consequences beforehand¼ Spare-part” surgery and “genetic engineering” may open a wonderful chapter in the history of healing.  But without prior agreement on restraints and the strictest limitations, such mechanization of human life may also herald irretrievable disaster resulting from man’s encroachment upon nature’s preserves, from assessing human beings by their potential value as tool-parts, sperm-donors or living incubators, and from replacing the matchless dignity of the human personality by test-tubes, syringes and the soulless artificiality of computerized numbers.”

   How we get prior agreement when it is clear that we are dealing with a worldwide phenomenon with broad economic and political implications is no easy task.  The fact that we can now in this country patent new organisms raises questions of ownership and use.  The complexity caused by our progress must be faced.  To withdraw Federal support for research will merely places our heads ostrich-like in the sand. 

   I wish now to turn to an issue that is sometimes lost in these discussions.  While the clone may be identically genetically to its progenitor, it is not the same person. Personal identity is a combination of genetics and experience.  Genetic predisposition is not necessarily destiny: 

         “Man, as the delicately balanced fusion of body, mind and soul, can never be the mere product of laboratory conditions and scientific ingenuity. To fulfil his destiny as a creative creature in the image of his Creator, he must be generated and reared out of the intimate love joining husband and wife together, out of identifiable parents who care for the development of their off-spring, and out of a home which provides affectionate warmth and compassion.”[6]

   The Talmud says:

            “There are three partners in man:  the Holy One, blessed be He, his father, and his mother.  His father supplies the semen of the white substance out of which are formed the child’s bones, sinews, nails, the brain in his head, and the white of his eye.  His mother supplies the semen of the red substance out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair, blood, and the black of his eye.  And the Holy One, blessed be He, gives the spirit and the breath, beauty of features, eyesight, the power of hearing, the ability to speak and walk, understanding and discernment.”[7]

   The complexity of what constitutes an individual person ought not to be lost. We know this from studies of identical twins.  The Talmudic adage that when God creates he makes a mould and each coin comes out different, unique but when a human does the same, each coin is the same, ought to remain a warning but also a reminder that personhood is more than a collection of genes.  A clone is not a copy of me now.  It is a genetic duplicate that is yet to have a history.

  The following Talmudic passage is such that cloning may be understood as a return to the original creation of Adam.  Following the creation of both Adam and Eve, sexual union became the norm. Sexual union is the Jewish norm and reproduction is an important mitzvah which permits us to use all of our technological ingenuity.  However the use of  technology  remains the exception and not the norm.   In fact the use of technology to replace intercourse would be prohibited except where fertility or genetic problems make it a necessity.

            He said to them, “At first Adam was created from dust and Eve was created from Adam’s rib.  From that time on (man propagates) ‘in our image, after our likeness.’ (That means) a man must have a woman, a woman must have a man, and both must have the divine presence (together with them in order to propagate).”[8]

   In Talmud a human being is both body and soul.  The question of ensoulment while interesting does not seem crucial for the status of potential life or actual life and it is clear that when a clone emerges from the womb it has a soul.

Antoninus said to Rabbi: ‘The body and the soul can both free themselves from judgment. Thus, the body can plead: The soul has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day it left me I lie like a dumb stone in the grave [powerless to do aught]. Whilst the soul can say: The body has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day I departed from it I fly about in the air like a bird [and commit no sin].’ He replied, ‘I will tell you a parable. To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now, he appointed two watchmen therein, one lame and the other blind. [One day] the lame man said to the blind, “I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Come and take me upon your shoulder that we may procure and eat them.” So the lame bestrode the blind, procured and ate them. Sometime after, the owner of the orchard came and inquired of them, “Where are those beautiful figs?” The lame man replied, “Have I then feet to walk with?” The blind man replied, “Have I then eyes to see with?” What did he do? He placed the lame upon the blind and judged them together. So will the Holy One, blessed be He, bring the soul, [re]place it in the body, and judge them together, as it is written, He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people: He shall call to the heavens from above – this refers to the soul; and to the earth, that he may judge his people – to the body.’[9]

     Rosenfeld  writes: “More over this spiritual heredity is at least as important as the physical” and then he points to three Talmudic passages.  In our context, the sexism of the passage is disturbing but the point is clear.

                       “One who raises an orphan in his house is regarded by Scripture as if he had given birth to him.. One who teaches his friend’s son Torah is regarded by scripture as if he had given birth to him.”[10]

A father endows (zokheh) a sons with beauty, strength, wealth, wisdom and longevity.[11]                But the sages say: Until he comes of age his father endows him thereafter               he endows himself.[12]

  He concludes:

                      “As we move into an era of genetic engineering when fathers may be able to choose and control the qualities of their children, let us hope that we don’t forget our ultimate dependence on the merit of our forefathers and on our Father in Heaven.”[13]

   This leads, however, to a consideration of our role in the universe.  It may be argued that God deliberately left the world incomplete for us to complete it. In Reform Judaism our concept of tikun olam means that we will use our God-given talent as being created in the divine image to correct the flaws and repair the breeches in creation.  Our creative ability is what we share with God.  The Talmud teaches that our ability to create is limited only by our sinfulness.

Raba said: If the righteous desire it, they could create worlds, for it is written “But your iniquities have distinguished between you and your God (Isa 59:2) Rabba created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera spoke to him (the artificially created man) but received no answer. Thereupon he (Rabbi Zera) said to him (the artificially created man); You are from the companions. Return to you dust. Rabbi Hanina and Rabbis Oshaia spent every Sabbath ever Studying the Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation) by means of which the created a third grown calf which they ate. [14]

   The artificially-created man is flawed and not fully human as the commentators[15] discuss and therefore Rabbi Zera is permitted to kill him without being subject to the charge of murder.  However, the flaw is only because of limited righteousness of Rabba. This does not mean that a more righteous person might not be able to create artificially a human being.  In the meantime the Talmud reports with approval the fact Hanina and Oshaia produce and eat a third grown calf by means of the same book.  It is clear, creativity is a trait we share with God.

  Elliot Dorff in his recent testimony before the President’s National Bio Ethics Advisory Committee[16] remind us:

                      “Adam and Eve are put into the garden “work and preserve it.” (Gen 2:15)

As long as we preserve nature then we have the right and the duty to work with it to fulfil human

 needs. In a parallel Talmudic phrase we are God’s partners in the ongoing work act of creation  

when we improve the human lot in life.

   David Lilenthal, our colleague in the Netherlands, reports the following from a Rabbi R. Evers a Dutch Orthodox Rabbi.“ The Bible (in Leviticus 19:19) prohibits the cross-fertilization of animals and plants, but in my opinion that prohibition does not apply to cloning. Nachmanides (1194-1270) writes concerning this text: “He who grafts or cross-fertilises two sorts, changes the Creation. By this he implies that the Creation is imperfect.” However, the scientist who clones has no intention of changing the Creation; he only wants to multiply characteristics that are wanted.  In the Midrash-literature many sources point out God intentionally created the world imperfect, so as to give the human being the opportunity to perfect the world as God’s partner.”

   This is an interesting aside which is reported in a number of places but is also stated by Rabbi Evers, a Dutch Orthodox rabbi.  Another argument why cloning is not prohibited by Biblical Jewish law is the action takes place on the microscopic level, invisible for the human eye.

   In a famous responsum, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading American rabbi of this century, decided that microscopic facts do not count in Jewish law. We are not allowed to eat “swarming” animals, but this does not mean that we should stop breathing, because there are all kinds of microbes circulating in the air. Cloning takes place on the microscopic level and seems permitted according to Biblical norms.

  An issue which is much in the minds of ethics is the concept of  “playing God.”  What are the

limits of the use of human power?  This is an issue which is already addressed in the book of

Genesis and was used as a matter of concern by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, one of the leading Conservative Rabbinic experts on medical ethics.  He said referring to human hubris as described in the story of

the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

         “There is a boundary between what we do and what God does, that God refuses

          to allow a situation in which nothing  that people may propose will be out of their reach. 

         Moreover even when we accomplish things within the proper bounds for human beings,

         we must take due note of God’s role in our achievement for the essence of human hubris

         is to brag that “ my strength and  the power of my hand accomplished these things”(Deut 8:11-20)

   Gershom Scholem in his article The Idea of the Golem, translates two texts from the Midrash  to express the concern that as we become technologically more astute we begin to believe in our own omnipotence. They worry that the worship of humankind will replace the worship of God. 

           “Ben Sira wished to study the book Yetsirah. Then a heavenly voice went forth:

            You cannot make him (such a creature alone} He went to his father Jeremiah. They

             busied themselves with it, and at the end of three years a man was created to them,

             on whose forehead stood emeth as on Adam’s forehead. Then the man they made said to them God alone created Adam and when he wished to let Adam die He erased the aleph from emeth and he remained meth dead. That is what you should do with me

            and not create another man lest the world succumb to idolatry as in the days

            of Enosh. The created man said to them, Reverse the combinations of letters

            (by which he was created and erase the aleph of the word emeth from my

            forehead and immediately he fell into dust.”[17]

      In a pseudo-epigraphon attributed to the Tannaite Judah ben Bathyra, we read:

            “The prophet Jeremiah busied himself alone with the Book Yetsirah.  Then a

            heavenly voice went forth and said:  Take a companion.  He went to his son Sira,

            and they studied the book for three years.  Afterward they set about combining

            the alphabets in accordance with the Kabbalistic principles of combination, grouping, and word formation, and a man was created to them, on whose forehead stood the

            letters YHWH Elohim Emeth.  But this newly created man had a knife in his hand,

            with which he erased the aleph from emeth; there remained: meth.  Then Jeremiah

            rent his garments (because of the blasphemy:  God is dead, now implied in the inscription) and said: Why have you erased the aleph from emeth?  He replied:  I

            will tell you a parable.  An architect built many houses, cities, and squares, but no one could copy his art and compete with him in knowledge and skill until two men persuaded him.  Then he taught them the secret of his art, and they knew how to do everything in the right way.  When they had learned his secret and his abilities, they began to anger

            him with words.  Finally, they broke with him and became architects like him, except that what he charged a thaler for, they did for six groats.  When people noticed this, they ceased to honour the artist and came to them and honoured them and gave them commissions when they required to have something built.  So God had made you in His image and in His shape and form.  But now that you have created a man like Him, people will say: There is no God in the world beside these two!  Then Jeremiah said:  What solution is there?  He said:  Write the alphabets backward on the earth you have strewn with intense concentration.  Only do not meditate in the sense of building up, the other way around.  So they did, and the man became dust and ashes before their eyes.  Then Jeremiah said:  Truly, one should study these things only in order to know the power and omnipotence of the Creator of this world, but not in order to really practice them.”[18]

   Sherwin concludes:

            “In the kabbalist view of golem making two contradictory motifs meet. Here the story is reinterpreted as a moralistic legend and a warning becomes more profound. To the Hasidim the creation of a golem confirmed man in his likeness of God; here thanks to the daring amplification of the inscription on the golem’s forehead it becomes a warning in the real and not merely symbolic creation of a golem would bring with it the ‘death of God’! The hubris of its creator would turn against God.”p.191

   It should also be remembered that the golem of Prague had to be destroyed by its creator because it attacked the Jewish community it was created to protect.  The temptation of the Jews of Prague to re-waken it from its sleep in the attic of the Alt-Neu Schul was powerful especially in times of trouble.

   Sherwin recounts that 150 years after Judah Loew consigned his dead golem to the attic of Alt Neu Schul no one dared try to enter the attic and revive the golem. Ezekiel Landau, a late eighteenth century successor of Loew, decided to try. He prepared himself spiritually with prayer, fasting, repentance and ritual immersion.  He ascended wrapped in his tallit.  But as he ascended he was seized by an overwhelming dread and he descended without entering the attic. Landau decreed that entering the attic was forbidden even to the chief rabbi of Prague.[19]

   Sherwin speculates on what he feared: “I believe it is warning that we can never be sure what forces we unleash when we create life.  We should approach these new abilities with the proper awe and not without some fear.”

  In an interesting contrast to Sherwin’s view, the Rabbi Evers suggests that clones are not to be analogised to the Golem of Prague.  He writes:

            “If it in the future becomes possible to let embryos grow to full-grown and healthy babies artificially and entirely outside the uterus, which may become possible when the cloning techniques of humans develop further, then the Jewish sages have already now decided that such clones in any case cannot be compared to the legendary “Golem of Prague”, which was not regarded as human since it was created in a superhuman manner [the original sentence is also impossibly long D.L.]. From the Jewish point of view is cloning  in principle a natural process, whereby the modern technique only offers a helping hand?

   Sherwin points to a dispute between Gershon Hanokh who argues for the full human status of golem and Judah Loew, Zvi Ashkenai and Jacob Emeden who argue against the full human status of the golem.

            ”In making his claim that a Golem might be considered human, Gershon Hanokh articulated his disagreement with the position of Judah Loew of Prague and others, who maintained that a Golem could never have all of the human characteristics, and hence, could never be considered a human being.  For Judah Loew, and for others previously noted, a human artifact could never be a human being.  Gershon Hanokh’s view is willing to eradicate any absolute distinction between humans and Golems.  For Gershon Hanokh, a Golem that meets certain prerequisites can be considered human.  Judah Loew, on the other hand, would insist upon a firm line of demarcation between humans and Golems.  For Loew, a Golem by definition cannot be considered a human.[20]

            The daring late Hassidic master Gershon Hanokh Leiner of Radzyn, in his controversial Sidrei Taharot went even further than the Sefer ha-Bahir.  Gershon Hanokh agreed that Rabbi Zera was justified in killing Rabbah’s Golem because it lacked intelligence and consequently was regarded “as an animal in human form and it is permissible to kill it.”  However, he added, if an intelligent Golem had been created, “he would have the legal status of a true man¼ even as regards being counted in a minyan¼ and he would be the same as if God had created him.”  Thus, Gershon Hanokh admitted the possibility of considering an artificially created being, who had all the normal human traits, including intelligence, as a human being.  Gershon Hanokh would grant human personhood to such an “artificially” created human being.  Destroying such a Golem, it would follow, would be murder.”[21]

   How a human being is created does not change his/her status.  Artificially created life is not

artificial life.  In slightly different language, this is the point that Walter Jacob makes near the end

of his responsum that the newly created being will have a soul and being entitled to full protection.

   There are other important, ethical questions such a cloning used for gender selection and as Rabbi Evers points out:

         “If people will be cloned, a surplus of men could arise. From research in the United States it appears that many parents-to-be have a clear preference for boys. This preference is mainly present among couples who only want one child. If the cloning techniques in the future were to lead to a situation wherein parents can choose the gender of the child, the percentage of boys will rise considerably. This would lead to a situation in which many men would not be able to marry. This prospect clashes with the Jewish “Weltanschauung”. The prophet Ezekiel says that the world was created in order to be populated. A distorted men-women proportion would prevent this.”

     Even at these early stages it is necessary to worry about the potential misuse of technology. It is clear in Jewish law that we are permitted to go to great lengths in order to heal or to preserve human life.  One is not only permitted but required to perform prohibited activities on Shabbat to save a life. It is equally clear while cloning would not be the preferred technique for solving the problem of childlessness since peru uvrevu is such an important mitzvah, cloning would be permitted.  Yet it also raises many of the same ethical issues as the other new reproductive techniques. Since the cloned embryo would still for the conceivable future have to be implanted into a women’s womb issues of maternity as well as the potential exploitation of women who are paid to be hosts for clones require consideration. Hertz- rent- a-womb could become a profitable and exploitive enterprise. There seems also to be little doubt that in a case of pikuach nefesh where the clones’ rights would be protected that cloning would not only be permitted but might be required.

            Another issue which has been raised by Rabbi Evers concerns resurrection of the dead  He writes:[22]

                       “It is remarkable to what extent the modern technique places the prophetic promises for the future within the context of the human reality. In Ezekiel chapter 37, the dead in the valley of Dura are brought back to life, which is understood as a foretaste of the final revival of the dead. This revival of the dead is the last of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith: ‘I believe with perfect faith the dead will be revived at a time which God will decide.’

                        It is striking that it is possible, through the cloning technique, to reproduce a new human being from only one cell. The Talmud says that there always remain a number of cells of every person who was ever buried, which then form the raw-material for the revival. The belief in the resurrection of the dead was until recently only something in the distant future. But these modern techniques show us that this no longer is impossible. The real benefit of the development of the cloning technique is the fact that even the most inveterate atheist can again believe unconditionally”.

     The desire of scientific verifiability is a constant desire especially for a religion which asserts that God acts in history. Only last week a leading Conservative thinker Rabbi Neil Gilman published a new book The Death of the Death of God:  Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought.:

           “At the end of days God will bring my body and soul together and I will be reconstituted as I was during my life on earth … I insist that resurrection affect all of me in my concrete individuality because I understand the central thrust of the doctrine of the afterlife as establishing the everlasting preciousness to God of the life I led her on earth. “[23]

  Our finitude remains a central issue for most of us.  While our limited life span may teach us to number our days so we grow wise in heart, death is still the great enemy and immortality a fervent dream.  Reform theology denied bodily resurrection while supporting immortality of the soul.        Increasingly within Reform Judaism we remind ourselves that we are embodied.  To use Neil Gilman’s wonderful phrase, I am my body.  Without my body there is not me. It is interesting to note that this discussion about resurrection of the dead is taking place at the moment in Reform Jewish history when some have suggested that it is time to restore the concept mechaiyei meitim, resurrection of the dead, officially to our liturgy and it is ironic that we  should be discussing this in Pittsburgh because it was the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 which explicitly excluded it from Reform Jewish theology. Some may find it tempting or comforting to know, even if I am no longer around my genetic duplicate will be around.  It presents the danger of what Elliot Dorff has called self- idolisation. 

The central question is one of me enough? I think that answer in most case must be “yes.” 


 In 1978, when Walter Jacob first discussed these matters the technology was not nearly as advanced as it is today and we still have a way to go before human cloning will be a reality. Dr Jacob was rightly concerned that newly created life might be exploited and that we had to be prepared to recognise the rights of sentient beings created artificially.  He rightly points to the legend of the Golem as a place to begin our consideration. He also distinguishes between permissibility and desirability. A human being no matter how created is a human and potential life is potential life and it is to be destroyed only after due consideration.

   In summary, cloning will take place. As with any new technology its full implications cannot be known at the outset. While from a halachic point of view, it is certainly permissible there are significant concerns. Human hubris knows no bounds and the Huxley’s fantasy of  technology run amuck is certainly a warning.  It is important that we conceive of possible uses of cloning and explore their ethical implications.  To fail in this endeavour is to ignore our role as betzelem elohim and divine partners in the completion of world.  To fail in this endeavour is to fail to recognise our ever present temptation to play God and not only like Prometheus steal the fire but to supplant God.  Safeguards are important. National and international governmental regulation will certainly be required but the results will ultimately depend on the scientists and the institutions that will do the cloning and provide the services.  Technology may be morally neutral but scientist may not be morally neutral.

   I close with my thanks to Walter Jacob for teaching us how to think Jewishly and for providing us with guidance along the slippery slope of decision making.  May God grant him and Irene many more years of good health and blessing.  We all look forward to his continually teaching us in the year ahead.

[1] Berakot 20a

[2] Azriel Rosenfeld Judaism and Gene Design  Jewish Bio-Ethics  1979 p. 403.

[3] Sherwin p.194.

[4] American Reform Responsa p.249

[5] Sherwin Implications of the Golem Legend page. 204.

[6] I. Jakobovitz, Jewish Medical Ethics (New York:  Bloch, 1975), pp. 261-266

[7] Niddah 31a

[8] Yerushalmi Berakhot 9:I

[9] Sanhedrin 91ab

[10] Sanhedrin 19b

[11] Edduyot 2:9

[12] Tos.Edduyot 1:14

[13] Rosenfeld, p.403.

[14] Sanhedrin 65B

[15] Sherwin p. According to the Sefer ha-Bahir, Rabbah’s Golem did not have the power of speech because it was not created by the completely righteous.  However, if it were so created, it would have had the power of speech and would have been intelligent.  Hence, the inability to create an intelligent Golem reflects a flaw in the creator of the Golem that is reflected in the Golem he created.


[17] (Gershom Scholem On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism “The Idea of the Golem p. 179)

[18] (The Idea of the Golem, pp. 180-181

[19] Byron Sherwin  Implication of the Golem Legend  In Partnership with God  Syracuse 1990, page 184.

[20] .(Implications of the Golem Legend, pp. 202-203)

[21] Ibid.

[22] Translation of the text of an article in the Dutch Christian Daily newspaper “Trouw”, March 7, 1997, by Rabbi R. Evers, rabbi of the Dutch Orthodox Union and Rosh Yeshiva at the Nederlandsch Israëlitisch Seminarium in Amsterdam.

[23] Gilllman p. 274.

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