B’OR HA’TORAH JOURNAL OF SCIENCE, LIFE AND ART IN THE LIGHT OF THE TORAH
A peer-reviewed journal on the interrelationship of Judaism, science and technology, psychology, the arts, and social issues, B’Or Ha’Torah illuminates a range of topics from the cosmology and ecology of Genesis; the creation ex nihilo vs. evolution and faith vs. reason debates; the views of halakhah (Jewish law) on stem cell research and genetic engineering; and the soul-mind-brain-memory-body connection. Rabbis and religious Jews with no science background as well as professionals in all fields with no Torah background can enjoy this inspiring publication in hardcopy and digital formats.
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Professor Miryam Z. Wahrman
The ethical implications of turning humans into instruments—but at the same time the potential to use human clones to save other human lives—has led to a divergence of opinions among rabbinical scholars who have tackled the question of human cloning. While no clear consensus exists as to whether human cloning is “kosher,” Jewish scholars have analyzed the situation and have identified some major halakhic (Jewish legal) issues, of which this paper discusses the following points: Can human cloning be accepted on any level? Analysis of this question will include discussion of Torah sources as well as writings by modern experts in Jewish bioethics. Does cloning entail the creation of life? Does the production of clones usurp the role of the Creator? The concept of creation from nothing versus creation from something, and the relationship of cloning to the production of a golem will be discussed. What are the family relationships of a clone? Does cloning fulfill the biblical obligation to be “fruitful and multiply?”or does it violate G-d’s mandate to us?
Professor Fred Rosner MD, FACP
Genetic screening, gene therapy, and other applications of genetic engineering for the treatment, cure, or prevention of disease fulfills the bibilical mandate to heal. If Tay-Sachs disease, diabetes, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, or other genetic diseases can be cured or prevented by “gene surgery,” it is permitted in Jewish law. Genetic premarital screening is encouraged in Judaism for the purpose of discouraging at-risk marriages for a fatal illness such as Tay-Sachs disease. Neonatal screening for treatable conditions such as phenylketonuria is certainly desirable and perhaps required in Jewish law. Preimplantation screening and the use of only “healthy” zygotes for implantation into the mother’s womb to prevent the birth of an affected child is also probably sanctioned in Jewish law. Whether or not these assisted reproduction techniques can be used to choose the sex of one’s offspring to prevent the birth of a child with a sex-linked disease, such as hemophilia, has not yet been ruled out by modern rabbinic deciders. Prenatal screening with the specific intent of aborting an affected fetus is not allowed according to most rabbinic authorities, although a minority view permits it “for great need.” Not to have children if both parents are carriers of genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish option. Preimplantation screening is preferable. All screening test results must remain confidential.
Rabbi Professor Moshe D. Tendler
New developments in transplantation medicine are of significant ethical import. Liver lobe transplant from live donors, an extension of the protocol for life-saving liver transplant from brainstem dead (BSD) patients, has become accepted therapy. Liver and heart transplants from non-beating donors (NHB) previously considered unsuitable for transplantation are becoming routine in response to the critical shortage of vital organs. The risk/burden evaluation must be done on a patient-by-patient basis rather than on general surgical principles. However, the checklist for all organ transplants remain the same: primacy of concern for donor safety in case of live donations; guarantee of fully informed voluntary consent; recognition that the recipient will suffer transplantation sickness and require life-long immunosuppression with its dangers of infection and neoplastic disease. Conservative management by dialysis or pharmacological modalities should be encouraged when feasible even if it restricts travel. By Torah ethics, organs should be assigned on the basis of the greatest likelihood of success, not to the sickest patient as is currently done. Although there is concern for increasing commodification of human organs and cells, remuneration for these life-saving therapies may be offered to increase the supply of donor cells and organs. Whereas direct payments should be forbidden, benefits in the form of tax credits or priority listing for organs should be given to consenting donors.
Professor Herman Branover Professor Tobiy Gurvich, MD, DSc
The relationship between the soul and the body is one of the most fundamental philosophical problems in medicine. It is widely accepted in Judaism that a human being has two souls—‘divine’ and ‘animal’—closely related and interacting. Genesis 9:4 relates the animal soul with the blood; the Tanya relates the divine soul with the brain. A model schematically describing the relationships between the divine and animal souls and between soul and body is proposed in this study. The model is based on one hand on concepts propounded in the Zohar and on the other hand on conclusions reached by the great neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. Penfield saw the “brain as computer, mind as programmer.” According to our model, if the brain is a computer, then both souls are programmers, and their permanent struggle for the dominant role in determining a person’s behavior is the manifestation of free will. This model may be proved by studying examples of monozygote twins, especially, conjoined twins. Monozygote twins share an identical physical and genetic constitution, but have different personalities and moral qualities. If human cloning could be accomplished, genetically the clone would have the status of a monozygote twin in respect to the person who provided the cell nucleus for the cloning. But what would his or her spiritual identity be?
Rabbi Kenneth Brander
Scientific breakthroughs are giving hope to many who once only dreamed of having a family, while simultaneously creating a host of dilemmas for halakha (Jewish law) to decide. The particular focus of our discussion will be the establishment of parenthood in two particular contexts. What establishes a male as the father of a child? Is it the act of sexual intercourse, which in many modalities is nonexistent, or the contribution of the sperm that fertilizes the egg? What if a male’s sperm fertilizes the egg only after the man has passed on? Does Judaism consider the deceased donor to be the father? A more complicated matter is the issue of maternal status. This issue arises, in particular, with a surrogate mother where the egg donor and the host are different women. Who is the mother of the child? The woman who genetically contributes or the one who nurtures the embryo through the gestational period? This affects various issues, not limited to, the definition of the child's family, issues of Jewish identity, and the identification of prohibited incestuous relationships.
Daniel Kantor Professor Jeffrey Kantor Jonathan Kantor
In recent years the debate concerning the cloning of mammalian life has generally turned from a debate whether cloning is ethical, to one of when is cloning not ethical. This paper, reassessing the question of cloning from both a Jewish ethics and a general Western ethics perspective, was prompted by recent conflicting reports of genetic defects found in Dolly, the cloned sheep. Traditional arguments against cloning, such as the loss of individuality and uniqueness, and the dangers of taking creation into our own hands, are juxtaposed against an alternative version of the golem legend and the potential use of cloning in studies of brain structure and development. We recommend a functional approach to cloning, and a shift of the cloning debate from when is cloning not ethical to when is cloning necessary. Finally, the lessons learned from cloning are applied to the future debate concerning the permissibility of turning off biological computers.
Professor Emeritus Velvl Greene
Although the term Jewish Medical Ethics first came into use in the 1950s, and the popular interest is a recent phenomenon, their relevance and acceptance has been part of the fabric of the Jewish people since Sinai. Rabbinical rulings dealing with health and medicine, based on the commandments in the Pentateuch and their elaboration in the Talmud and codes of Jewish law, have come down to us over the centuries, and new ones are issued every year. The collection of such rabbinical rulings is know as halakha—the right path. Halakha is a dynamic and ongoing process covering all aspects of life. It is not derived by philosophic speculation about contrived situations. This is why most Jewish medical ethicists emphasize the doctor-patient relationship; most of the questions presented for adjudication belong to this category. They were posed by doctors or patients or their families. In the future, it is expected that more questions will be submitted in non-medical areas that have a profound impact on health and medical treatment. Halakha will have to come to grips with a shrinking world and its sociological overtones: how Jewish doctors (and a Jewish state) deal with communities that have different values from ours about life and death, who practice idolatry, non-Western medicine, and what we might consider cruelty—the whole field of cross-cultural ethics. But the much more serious problem will be the very status of medical halakha in a Jewish community, the majority of which are apathetic to (and even antagonistic to) halakha.
Professor Louis Flancbaum, MD
Contemporary Jewry faces many challenges, including how to reduce rampant assimilation and intermarriage, how to best educate Jewish youth, and how to foster Jewish continuity and identification with the State of Israel. Yet, many believe that the most serious problem confronting world Jewry is internal strife. This is most dramatically illustrated by interdenominational conflicts over such issues as personal status and the role of women in religious practice. Unfortunately, discussion of these issues has been punctuated by excessively negative rhetoric from all sides. Numerous attempts have been made to (re)establish civil dialogue between the leaders and adherents of the different branches within Judaism. Among the most successful interactions have been those that revolve around Torah study—utilizing textual analysis to emphasize common heritage and history, creating an environment conducive to fruitful discussion of Jewish concepts. One such discipline that has successfully served as a vehicle to bridge this divide is biomedical ethics. Study and analysis of areas of interest in bioethics, such as birth control, abortion, smoking, the definition of death as it pertains to organ transplantation, and treatment of the terminally ill can enhance communication and understanding among Jews. Each of these topics can be studied from the perspective of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, using responsa from rabbinic authorities of each denomination, and broad areas of interdenominational agreement concerning the resolution of these ethical dilemmas can be demonstrated. Hopefully, such consensus building will highlight the potential for study of other relevant ethical topics in order to bring Jews closer together.
Jonathan Braunstein, MD
Illness is a spiritual event, raising troubling questions of a transcendental nature about the meaning of life, the values in life that are most important, and the kinds of activities and relationships that should take precedence. Research suggests that clinical decision making in medical practice should consider the strength and prevalence of religious beliefs and practices among patients. Patients want physicians to take their religious commitment into account in planning their treatment.
Rabbi Arthur Seltzer, PhD
Through the theory and observation of cardio-energetics, and through the technology of heart transplantation, we witness the emergence of a new way of looking at the heart and its energy. This new view is based on quantum perspectives of energy and the multiple levels through which the heart can be perceived and experienced. In effect, the study of cardio-energetics provides us with new and clearer insights into the teachings of the Kabbala and Hasidism concerning the heart and its ability to elevate the universe through the transformation of our own hearts. Both cardio-energetics and our sages understand—despite differences in time, context, language, and intent—that we establish essential harmony within ourselves through the heart. This harmony reflects the harmonies of above and below inherent within the Creation.
Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar
According to Jewish tradition, every human being has an animal soul related to the blood and a divine soul related to the mind. These two souls struggle for control of the entire personality. The natural method to change behavior is for thought to affect emotion, which affects action. The Torah method of behavior modification reverses this hierarchy: The action of performing Torah commandments affects emotion, which affects thought. Performing Torah commandments allows the animal soul to fully function but subordinates it to the divine soul. Proof of the effectiveness of this system is the meaningful continuity of the Jewish people. This system has been applied with great remedial success to Jewish prisoners and their families by the Aleph Institute in Miami.
Professor Yitzchok (Irving) Block
Without G-d there is no valid justification for a morality of any kind, new or old. The pivotal point of this argument is to notice that what distinguishes moral judgments and makes them unique is that they are categorical. What is meant by 'categorical' here is basically what Immanuel Kant meant when he said that moral judgments are binding on all human beings no matter what kind of society they live in. Many people are inclined to say that the only thing that can justify the categorical element of moral judgments is the fact that G-d commanded them. However, being commanded by G-d is not a necessary and sufficient condition for something being a categorical, moral judgment. What then is the justification of a moral judgment? This is a difficult question to answer, but I believe it is connected with the idea that we were made in the image of G-d, and therefore contain innate elements of natural goodness which is part and parcel of the soul and life of every human being, and is expressed in the two basic moral senses of justice and compassion.
Professor James E. Huchingson
Science and religion are popularly known for their tempestuous relationship. But this simplistic and distorted characterization misses the complex ways in which these two major authorities actually interact. This range of engagement includes conflict as well as claims of mutual independence and efforts at dialogue. However they choose to interact, the question of Divine action in the world is crucial for both parties. Science adamantly opposes interference in the orderly patterns of nature, and yet with equal conviction theology insists on G-d's providential involvement in the Creation. How is the discussion of science with religion offering constructive insights into this divisive issue? The answers reveal insights into both the progress and the frustrations involved in the contemporary engagement.
Pamela Elfenbein, PhD, MSW
An obvious by-product of the ever-increasing range of life expectancy is the myriad of problems that range from chemical and medical debilitation to emotional and mental problems, such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, and fear among the elderly. The lack of purpose and meaning and a feeling of uselessness is a major problem of this demographic segment. While rigorous scientific research has clearly identified salutary effects of religion on health, and well-thought-out hypotheses describe the mechanisms believed to impart these effects, a tremendous chasm remains—the gap between empirical findings and post hoc explanations. Using an experimental design, we are proposing research based on informal programs and studies initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, under the aegis “School for the Elderly,” that successfully overcome much of the aforementioned dysfunction. Through reacclimation to languages and lifestyles of their youth, the inner spirituality of elderly Jews surfaces.
Shira Leibowitz Schmidt
In the current debate raging in academic literature on the differences between men and women, at one end are ‘essentialists’ who maintain that destiny is determined completely by biology. At the other end are ‘difference deniers’ who maintain that though there are a few physical differences between men and women, destiny is determined completely by cultural conditioning, and differences can be leveled out almost completely. Normative Judaism resolves this dialectic by incorporating these seemingly mutually exclusive views. The Torah expounds an axiom of dissimilar equality of the two genders. On the level of Creation, women and men have equal moral potential and responsibility. On the level of halakha (Jewish law), women do not have the same obligations as men do. The moral quality of a person’s life is more important than his or her biological functioning.