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How can the complex dilemma of genetically predetermined behavior versus the Torah axiom of human free will be bridged? ∞ A geneticist describes how his discovery of the role of methylation in the formation of DNA supports the claim of the Talmud Sages that some traits are inherited from the mother only and other traits are inherited from the father only.

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.

To receive a free PDF file of an individual article, send the author, title, and volume number to:
bht@jct.ac.il
This offer is limited to three articles.

Rabbi Professor Moshe Dovid Tendler

The focus of this paper is to analyze the many research studies on the interrelationship of genes and traits of moral behavior. The claims of genetically predetermined behavior present a dramatic challenge to our fundamental theological axiom that humankind was granted free will by our Creator. Genetically predetermined behavior also challenges the secular legal system, which assigns personal responsibility for actions only if they are done voluntarily, without coercion. If genes are implicated as coercive forces in such behavioral traits as aggressiveness, drug addiction, and sexual orientation, how can any system of reward and punishment be operative?

An analysis of biblical and postbiblical literature will be presented to elucidate this dilemma.

 

Professor Marvin Gold

The genetic expression of a small number of the 30,000 or so genes in human cells is not derived from both inherited parental chromosomes, but is exclusively expressed from either the maternal or the paternal partner. This process, whereby only one version of a gene is expressed, depending on whether it was passed on to the fetus through the egg or the sperm, is called genetic imprinting. Imprinting is a reversible modification of DNA that can lead to differential expression of maternally or paternally inherited genes. Since this process adds additional information to the DNA sequence, it has been called “epigenetics” (epi=on). Our Sages described genetic imprinting a long time ago when they revealed the source of some human characteristics as coming directly from God, others from the father, and others from the mother. We now understand how this differentiation works.

There are two proposed mechanisms for the differentiation, each backed by experimental evidence: the postreplicative methylation of specific DNA cytosine residues; and post-translational modification of histones. It is not yet clear if these mechanisms are universal. The hidden fingerprints of the God are thus found in the pattern of human development at the molecular level.

Professor Miryam Z. Wahrman

Scientists are now able to manipulate the traits of plants and animals to produce genetically modified (GM) organisms with novel features. The successful production of GM fish, pigs, and other species leads to the speculation that genetic engineering could alter previously nonkosher species, transforming them into kosher species. In addition, might plants or animals genetically altered with DNA from nonkosher animals be rendered unkosher? Does genetic engineering provide a way to produce kosher pork and treife tomatoes? Would plants genetically engineered with animal DNA lose their neutral pareve status? Is it permissible under Jewish law to alter species and produce barnyards, ponds and fields filled with GM animals and plants?  These questions will be addressed by considering rabbinic and talmudic perspectives on issues involved in genetic engineering. The principles of kilayim (forbidden mixtures); V’rappo yirappe (“Heal, he shall heal”); and tsaar baaley hayyim (concern for the suffering of animals) will be addressed.

Professor Fred Rosner MD, FACP

This paper will discuss the medical writings of Moses Maimonides and his practice of medicine. He stands out as one of the most illustrious physicians of all times. Maimonides died on December 13, 1204, and was buried in Tiberias. The Jewish, Christian, and Moslem worlds mourned him. His literary ability was incredible, and his knowledge encyclopedic. He mastered nearly everything known in the fields of theology, mathematics, law, philosophy, astronomy, ethics, and, of course, medicine. As a physician, he treated disease by the scientific method, not by guesswork, superstition, or rule of thumb. His attitude toward the practice of medicine came from his deep religious background, which made the preservation of life and health a Divine commandment. His inspiration lives on through the years, and his position as one of the medical giants of history is indelibly recorded. He served as the physician of sultans and princes, and, as Sir William Osler said, was the “Prince of Physicians.” The heritage of his great medical writings is increasingly appreciated. To the Jewish people, Maimonides symbolizes the highest possible human spiritual and intellectual achievement.

Yakir Kaufman, MD

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), through advances in research technologies, has shown that the mind affects the body. We now know that different states of mind have an effect on our health. “Negative” states of mind, such as stress, anger, anxiety, and sadness, impair immune and endocrine system functions and thus increase risk for disease. On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that “positive” states of mind, stress reduction and higher well-being levels all reduce risk for disease.

We live in an exciting period in which advances in scientific knowledge are bridging a conceptual gap between science and spirituality and religiosity. This gap was caused by decades of alienation and conflict. Science increasingly acknowledges the significance of spirituality and religion in our health and lives. Scientists now are presenting a large body of research data in this growing field. Studies show that spirituality and religiosity have beneficial effects on mental and physical health and reduce morbidity and mortality in many diseases.

The World Health Organization defines health as a complete state of physical, social and psychospiritual well-being. Spirituality and religiosity enhance all three of these components of health.

Rabbi Aaron Eli Glatt, MD

End stage cirrhosis—liver failure—secondary to many different etiologies or illnesses is a major cause of death. Cadaveric liver donations do not suffice to meet the current transplantation needs, and hence alternative options are necessary. The adult liver can regenerate, and modern surgical techniques have progressed to the stage where the donation and transplantation of part of a living donor’s liver to another person is technologically feasible. Numerous medical, ethical, and halakhic issues are raised by this procedure. Is this surgery comparable to blood donation, or bone marrow, kidney or other tissue transplants taken from a live donor? What is the true risk to the donor? Under what, if any, circumstances is any living donor bequest permitted? Is one required to donate if this will save a life? Does it matter if the recipient is a child or an adult? A relative or a friend? Using halakhic sources, we shall explore potential answers of Jewish law to these and related questions.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD

Repeated studies leave little doubt that prayer has a salutary effect on recovery from illness. What is not as clear is the mechanism whereby this effect occurs.

Religionists have no problem in attributing the effect of prayer to Divine benevolence, God’s responding to prayer. They struggle, however, with the problem of how a person’s prayer can cause God to act differently than He would have without the prayer. It is a tenet of faith that God does not undergo any change.

Those who do not ascribe to Divine intervention say that the serenity and reassurance brought about by prayer are responsible for its effects. That emotions can affect disease and recovery is no longer debatable, and the mechanism whereby this occurs has essentially been elucidated. The effect of others praying for the patient can be similarly explained. However, the studies that show salutary effects of prayers for a patient even when the patient is unaware that he is being prayed for are more difficult to explain.

Pamela Elfenbein, PhD, MSW Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar

The Shul of Bal Harbour, under the direction of Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, conducts a program of service and prayer to enable residents of the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged to experience healing by discovering their uniqueness and potentiality at the end of their lives. We shall discuss the project rationale from both secular and religious orientations and give an overview of the project and some case examples.

Robert Bergman, MD

Family, work, and community provide meaning to a person’s life. How can we try to preserve an uprooted elder’s sense of meaning on his or her difficult day of moving into an assisted-living facility or a nursing home? A ritual called the New Horizon has been developed at the Miami Jewish Home to help the new resident experience meaning and continuity during the transition.

Aaron Rabinowitz, PhD

Our sages teach that the unity of God is the cardinal principle of Jewish theology. This idea is articulated most clearly by Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (Ramhal), who explains that God wishes to be accepted and crowned by beings who willingly and freely choose to do so. This is the reason for creation and the meaning of history. But how can evil exist alongside this unity?

This paper explores the human role in this unfolding drama. What is the relevance of unity and duality in understanding the human personality? Is there a basic core to the human personality that dictates behavior, or are human actors forever changing character in response to the pressures of the moment? Psychologists are divided over this question.

The Jewish point of view postulates a good and evil inclination, a divine and an animal soul struggling to dominate each person. The models of the Kabbalah, the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, the Alter Rebbe, and the Ramhal will be discussed.

Professor Menachem Kovacs

The Maharal of Prague analyzed the dominant traits of the five major civilizations in which the Jewish people were exiled: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Although these cultures have disintegrated, their dominant traits are found in the ersatz attempts of secular Western societies to reach transcendence. The persecuted, lonely faithful Jew knows that true transcendence can be reached only by obeying the will of God.

Professor Samuel W. Spero

In this paper the experiments that have been conducted by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Project will be described. These experiments have demonstrated that human consciousness can affect the random nature of certain physical devices. To explain these anomalous phenomena, the scientists associated with these experiments have introduced the concept of a consciousness field. These experiments can help us understand something about the mechanism of prayer and how we might do it more effectively. We shall describe their results and how these relate to the Jewish laws on formal and informal prayer, as well as the laws of communal prayer, and the concept of a minyan (prayer quorum).

Professor Gloria Pollack

Bittul ha’yesh (self-nullification) is a teaching prominent and integral to Judaism, its literature, and its philosophy from biblical to modern times. The Sfat Emet stated, “the foundation for everything is bittul [submission] to the Creator.”

I hope to briefly demonstrate the pervasiveness of self-nullification in Jewish thought: how it originated in the Bible and in the Oral Law, is prominent in rabbinic Judaism, mysticism, and Hasidism, and, lately, in contemporary scholarship. In the process, an attempt is made to unravel the many facets and paradoxes of this concept.

Seymour Hoffman, PhD

The Torah forbids talebearing, and the Hafets Hayyim says that gossiping about other people—even if what is said is true—may cause the speaker and the listener to transgress thirty-one commandments. The Sages of the Talmud consider gossiping a sin equivalent to idolatry, murder, and prohibited sexual relations. Nevertheless, who doesn’t suffer from the urge to gossip?

We present a suggestion based on a literary discussion group in Hungary of women who sublimated their urge to gossip by analyzing the characters in books they read. This could serve as a model for other groups to meet and discuss literature. This would extend the observation of the wife of Rabbi Nahman that “for everything prohibited by the Torah, there is something similar to it that is permitted”(Talmud Hulin 109b).