24 BHT 24 Abstracts

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Greenway and the Torah Blueprint for Creation

Robert R. Appleson, PhD

abstract

The Zohar and Midrash Rabbah say G-d used the Torah as a blueprint in creating the world. Based on the Torah itself, the Talmud states this creation involved the Hebrew letter ה (hei), as illustrated by its shape presaging tshuvah (repentance) in our environment. Beyond that spiritual contribution are signs of a material aspect involving the iterative structure of the Torah, based on the five shared principles of the Ten Commandments taught in Midrash Mekhilta. In particular, this structure appears in the mathematical constant phi (roughly 1.618) embodied in a regular pentagon, which geometrically represents the number five. Research has shown that our sense of beauty is neurologically sensitive to phi. This confirms G-d’s blessing of the gift of aesthetics to Yefet, progenitor of the early Greeks, who discovered this constant. We have long recognized the role of phi in a host of growth phenomena in ways worthy of a blueprint. Thus, we can read the Zohar and Midrash Rabbah as saying G-d used the Torah’s fivefold iterative structure to model phi in creating the world.

 

 

A Fresh Look at Genesis Chapters 2–5:

Activation of Our Divine Potential

Professor Joseph S. Bodenheimer

abstract

The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation ex nihilo of the entire universe and Man. The second chapter is usually understood to give a different account of creation. This paper suggests that, rather than presenting an alternative version of Creation, the second chapter and those thereafter are actually a continuation of the first chapter, describing how the latent potential of humanity was activated and expressed. Essential steps in the making of Adam and Eve into self-aware human beings were their empowerment to communicate with G-d and with one another, and realization of their responsibility for their deeds. Following this analysis, it is possible to distinguish between two elusive terms, tselem and dmut.

 

 

New Biotechnological Ways to Begin Life

John D. Loike, PhD

Based on a presentation at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

 

abstract

Cloning technology has been used successfully in the past fifteen years for over twenty different species to produce embryonic stem cells or for reproductive purposes. The application of this technology for human cloning, however, has been a scientific challenge until very recently. In May of 2013, a seminal paper was published in the journal Cell that described innovative cloning technology used to create human embryonic stem cell lines from healthy individuals and from patients with genetic diseases (Tachibana et al. 2013). These scientists were not interested in using this technology for human reproduction to clone people. Nonetheless, this technology is transforming theoretical human reproductive cloning into a potential reality. The possibilities enabled by this recent breakthrough in cloning technology raises significant and challenging halakhic issues. I shall discuss the scientific basis of this technology and raise halakhic questions that emerge from this technology that our rabbinic authorities will have to adjudicate.

 

 

 

Defining the Father in Modern Fertility Techniques

Presented at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD

 

abstract

Fatherhood is one of the most basic concepts; yet, we do not find a direct definition of this term in Talmudic and Rishonim sources.

Deduced from various halakhot (rulings of Jewish law), a father is defined as the man from whose sperm a woman became pregnant and delivered a child. In ancient times and until recently, this happened primarily after a direct relationship between a man and a woman.

Modern fertility technologies enable the introduction of sperm into the womb of a woman by artificial insemination without physical contact between them. Moreover, it is possible to obtain sperm from a man, save it frozen, and inseminate it into a woman after the death of the man. Even more striking is the option to obtain sperm after the man died and inseminate it into a woman. Are the men in the above examples defined halakhically as fathers of the offspring?

In the future, it might be possible to clone a child not only without direct contact between a man and a woman, but even without using sperm. How would fatherhood be defined in various situations of cloning? If stem cell research will come to fruition, it will be possible to create both a sperm and an egg from the same person. Who will be the father if the source of the stem cell will be a woman?

 

 

Halakhic Parameters of ART (Assisted Reproduction Technology)

Presented at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tendler

 

abstract

This paper will focus on several halakhic (legal/ethical/moral) dilemmas resulting from widely used ART (Assisted Reproduction Technology). A basic underlying question is whether a Jewish woman is required to fulfill the command to procreate. Is a woman allowed to risk self-injury in order to produce a child? In order for one woman to donate an egg to another woman, the donor must be prepared with physiologically unsafe dosages of reproductive hormones to force multiple ovulations, and the ovum must be removed surgically. In surrogacy, the surrogate assumes the health stresses of pregnancy and birth. Are both procedures in violation of the Torah law forbidding self-injury even for monetary compensation? Who is the true mother of a child born this way—the genetic mother or the gestational mother?

Does the use of donor sperm raise a concern for accidental incest? The risk is increased by sperm from one donor being inseminated into many recipients. How is the “Jewishness” of such offspring determined?

 

 

Egg Donation and Gestational Carriers–a View from the Field

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman

 

abstract

Rabbinic authorities are debating who is the halakhic (Jewish legal) mother of a child born by gestational surrogacy, wherein one woman donated the ovum and another woman carried the pregnancy and gave birth. For instance, the author of this article differs in approach from two other authors in this volume. Torah-observant couples are availing themselves of the new technologies, and it is essential that they seek appropriate halakhic guidance and supervision before embarking on such assisted reproduction technologies.

 

 

Medical and Halakhic Considerations in End-of-Life Care

Rabbi Barry M. Kinzbrunner, MD, FACP, FAAHPM

 

abstract

While Judaism teaches that life is of infinite value, Ecclesiastes tells us “…there is a time to live and a time to die…” Based on both Talmudic and Midrashic sources, we also learn that our patriarch Jacob asked G-d to create terminal illness in order allow us to have time to settle our affairs before death. Hence, there is a detailed account of his death in the last four chapters of Genesis. In spite of this, many rabbis are reluctant to allow patients under their consultation to access hospice services during the last phases of life. This is due to a number of barriers and misconceptions regarding how care is provided in a hospice program. Key barriers, including overall decision-making near the end of life, the management of pain, do-not-resuscitate orders versus cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and artificial nutrition and hydration, will be discussed from a medical perspective in order to show how they can be managed in ways consistent with medical halakhah, the extensive corpus of Jewish law dealing with health and the preservation of life.

 

 

In Blessed Memory of Professor Jason Wolfe

Yosef ben Avraham Isaac (1941–2014)

A tribute by his wife, Professor Vera Schwarcz

Jason Wolfe studied cell death out of a keen appreciation for life in all its forms. When he delivered this paper at the B’Or Ha’Torah conference in December 2013, only a few people there were aware of his serious illness (myelofibrosis, which is a cancer of the stem cells in the bone marrow). The audience did not know how much it had cost him to rush to the podium after days of delayed travel and exhaustion. Jason took his place among the distinguished physicians and rabbis  on the podium and within minutes delivered this lucid, informed, and at times even humorous paper about the marvelously effective mechanisms for programmed cell death which keep us alive, and which were at that very moment also hastening his own demise. Jason did not speak about his cancer. He chose, instead, to focus on what makes each of us deeply alive. In this conscious appreciation of human existence lay his nobility of spirit.

A highly trained scientist, Jason also studied Torah with passion. His remarks for the conference were framed by two quotes from Jewish texts. The opening epigraph comes from Rabbi Shlomo Ha’Levi Alkabets’s Shabbat evening song “Lekhah Dodi”:

Arise and depart from amid the upheaval.

The closing reference is from Psalms 116:9:

I will walk before the L-rd in the lands of the living.

 

 

Death of the Whole by Death of the Parts

Professor Jason Wolfe

Based on a presentation at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013

 

Abstract

Whether an organism dies by accident, murder, disease, or old age, ultimately that death results from the death or malfunction of a sufficient number of cells that make up the organism, often cells in critical organs such as the brain or heart. For example, if an artery bringing blood to the heart becomes constricted or is torn, those heart cells that depend on the artery’s supply of oxygen and nutrients may die, possibly leading to the failure of the heart and death of the organism. Similarly, but for different reasons, cumulative cell death in the brain can lead to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia.

Surprisingly, most cells die by a mechanism that could almost be described as “voluntary.” Deprivation of nutrients triggers a molecular pathway that causes the cell to self-destruct by a mechanism that involves precise snipping of DNA into small pieces, the degradation of the cell’s internal skeletal system, outpouching of cell fragments, and the uptake and digestion of those fragments by neighboring cells.

All multicellular organisms demonstrate this type of cell death; it is a well-conserved mechanism, involving the same genes and proteins. Moreover, the proteins involved in cell death are premanufactured in all cells. That means that the system, the pathway that leads to cell death, is already in place even in healthy cells and can be triggered instantaneously by the right signals. These facts suggest that regulation is essential for the life of an organism.

That seems like a paradox; how could a mechanism that leads to cell death be essential for the life of the organism? Regulated cell death is Janus-like, contributing to the viability of an organism or to its death, depending on the circumstances. I shall describe the characteristics of regulated cell death, discuss the ways in which it is essential for the life of the organism, how it can save an organism from cancer, and how it can be triggered by faults in a cell and contribute to the death of an organism.

Arise and depart from amid the upheaval. (Rabbi Shlomo Ha’Levi Alkabets, “Lekhah Dodi.” Shabbat evening hymn)

 

 

Halakhah Meets DNA Fingerprinting

Harvey Babich, PhD

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Derech HaTeva: A Journal of Torah and Science, volume 19 (2014–2015), published by Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University.

 

abstract

Determination of the entire sequences of nitrogenous bases on DNA of nuclear chromosomes and on mitochondrial DNA was shown to be approximately 99.9 percent equivalent in cells from all human beings. The small variations that differ greatly among individuals serve as genetic markers to distinguish one person from another. Such variations arose from single-point mutations, accounting for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and from errors in DNA replications, accounting for copy number variants (CNVs). SNPs and CNVs arose in history, were transmitted to descendants, and serve as genetic markers. In the technique termed DNA fingerprinting, DNA is isolated from cells, purified, cut with restriction enzymes, separated according to size by DNA gel electrophoresis, and identified with probes. Forensic scientists use different probes to identify distinct DNA fragments, whose frequencies of occurrence are known within a population. The DNA fingerprint pattern that develops is unique and the chance of it matching two persons is about one in a trillion. DNA fingerprinting is used to identify cadavers and human remains resulting from natural catastrophes, military actions, and terrorist attacks, and has legal applications for certifying death certificates and wills, in the distribution of benefits to survivors, and in cases of an agunah who is unsure of her marital status. DNA fingerprinting is not unique to humans, and has been used in the kashrut (kosher food) industry and to ascertain the purity of etrogim (citrons). 

 

 

Jews on Campus: A Crisis and an Opportunity

Professor Cary Nelson

 

Abstract

Over the last few years, the long history of attempts to boycott or delegitimate the State of Israel have intensified with the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Campuses in both North America and Europe have become centers of efforts to win students and faculty over to a view that demonizes the Jewish state. This has made rational and evidence-based conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict difficult or impossible to sustain. Over the last year the campus atmosphere has become still more hostile as the accusations against Israel have been newly racialized. Too often anti-Israel faculty now feel justified in using the classroom to recruit students to their cause. All these developments make it difficult to promote the mutual respect and empathy required to understand the conflict and promote ways to resolve it. In response, people who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians should use reasoned argument and rely on factual evidence, even if their opponents fail to do so. While a strong majority of Americans overall still offer Israel their support, campuses are increasingly graduating future professionals who do not. That represents a long-term threat to Israel’s special relationship with the US and its European trading partners.

 

 

The Diamond Necklace

A story by Wendy Dickstein

 

Now which gemara, which tractate of the Talmud, was it that discussed this matter? Kiddushin? Ketubos? He couldn't quite recall. He did remember, though, that it was a mahlokes, one of those famous disputes among the Talmud Sages, about a woman who was three times a widow. She was known as a katlanis, a “killer.” He shuddered at the thought, and his hand rose instinctively to his throat. The dispute, as he recalled, was over whether she was to be considered a killer after the second husband died or only after the third. There were two opinions, but the upshot of the argument was, for all practical purposes, that a man should not take the chance of marrying such a woman.

When he spoke about it the next evening during their nightly Talmud learning session to his dear friend and learning partner, Reb Haim Shlesinger, Reb Haim leapt out of his chair, knocking it over in his haste, and almost danced over to the bookshelf. He pulled out not one but two different volumes of the Talmud and opened the first one to the argument which Isaac had groped for in his memory the night before.

Here it was, Tractate Yevamos. It was not exactly what Isaac had thought, at least not this particular discussion. But it answered his question perfectly.

 

 

Comments by Rabbi Pinchas Kahn on “The Diamond Necklace”

This story hinges upon the halakhic legality of marrying a woman whose two previous husbands have died. In practice, when interested in clarifying any such specific and applied law, one should go straight to the Shulhan Arukh, rather than merely looking up Maimonides’ opinion. The two scholars in the story would have better gone to a rabbinic authority conversant with the pertinent halakhic literature, who would have set their minds at rest. As they were evidently not equipped to clarify the law on their own, they should not have tried to resolve the issue by themselves.

 

Bar Mitsvah and the Discovery of Self: The Blossoming of Human Consciousness in Halakhah and Kabbalah 

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

 

 

This invitation to researchers and scholars to explore the ideas in this article is based on a presentation at the Tenth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, December 13–16, 2013.

Sefer Yetsirah, the basis of Kabbalah, identifies nefesh (consciousness) as a building block of the universe, along with time and space. The Talmud Sages astutely determined puberty as the coming of age for social responsibility: age twelve for girls (bat mitsvah) and thirteen for boys (bar mitsvah). I propose that this is the stage of life when consciousness blossoms because this is when the internal dialogues of the mind begin to be heard. Language is necessary for the degree of reflective consciousness requisite for responsible action. The modality of daat corresponds to the brain stem. It is suggested that the changes in the brain stem that trigger puberty also allow for the internal dialogue to become the heightened, almost visceral, experience that the Talmud recognizes as true human consciousness.

I am not an expert in either cosmology or brain science. Therefore, this is not an academic paper but rather an invitation to experts in these fields to explore the ideas raised here.