This studies considers:
- Stem cell research and Jewish Law
- In Vi trio Fertilization and Jewish Law
- Abortion and Jewish Law
- "Pre-embrionics" and Jewish LawI feel I should note before beginning this that the material sciences have never been my forte. The development of the human being, from the guff, to conception, to birth, to the grave and beyond, while interesting and obviously important, remains in many ways a mystery. The Torah is a pragmatic work that focuses on the here and now. Now that the Jew is here, what is required of him by his Creator? How he came to be here and even the Olam Haba, his destination, is not a topic that attracts a lot of attention in our writings, although many of us spend innumerable hours contemplating such things.
For the Jew truth must always be harmonious with Torah. Within this demarcation there is room for much diversity of opinion however. It is for this reason, as Rabbi Aryel Nachman ben Chaim has noted, that Judaism is 'the perfect religion for heretics'. The diverse views of our teachers and sages are varied, and yet their unshakable commitment to Torah protects us all from drifting into actual heresy. I can not herein propose to offer an absolute 'Jewish view' on any of these controversial topics because one does not exist. I can merely present my views, based on my research, which I believe are harmonious with Torah and traditional Rabbinic insights.
Each of these topics have implications for other areas of concern and hence should not be considered in a vacuum. For instance, early stem cell research used cells taken from aborted babies. Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have been discovered 'harvesting' marketable 'materials' from children whose lives they have taken. If abortion is murder, as I contend, can scientific breakthroughs that rely on them be religiously, morally and/or ethically acceptable? When considering an abortion, the use of stem cell technologies in health care and so on, my recommendation is always to consult ones rabbi and do hitbodedut (note 1) before deciding. These can be very difficult decisions with far reaching implications for the mother, the family, and even the future of our people. When an aborted child dies so do all those he/she may have parented and their descendants for generations to come. We have no way of knowing the potential blessings of the aborted child and his/her potential descendants.
Stem Cell Research and ManipulationsStem cells are each unique. Modern research into their manipulation is offering amazing possibilities into human health and well being. These cells have the unique property of being able to divide, while maintaining their totipotent or pluripotent (note 2) characteristics. Manipulation of cellular differentiation have the potential to create replacement cells and even complete transplantable organs. Such stem cell manipulations and the potential replication of human organs provide not only potential cures, but even an end to illnesses such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and others. (note 3) My brother and I live with type 2 diabetes and our father of blessed memory died with Alzheimer's disease. I therefore have 'skin in the game' as these new insights could have direct applications to restore our health and even potentially to save our lives at some point. But what are the halachic considerations? While such research promises incredible potential, the Torah of HaShem is the foundation stone of all righteousness and medical ethics.
For the sake of pikuach nefesh (the preservation of life) Halacha permits many otherwise violations during times of distress, but where are the lines to be drawn? These methods are preemptive, does that matter? Does 'anything go' in the development of new technologies? Most Jewish thinkers, medical personnel and ethicists agree, saying Jewish tradition allows embryos to be destroyed if the research has the potential to benefit society. (note 4) If not, what are the halachic boundaries humanity should adhere to? While much of this has been addressed by various rabbis, we await more concise rabbinic rulings on these emerging topics. As a general statement I find no halachic issues with the advancements in stem cell technologies, but when it comes to destroying human embryos I'm not so sure.
Early, and in some cases ongoing, stem cell research utilizes and disposes of human embryos as material with seemingly little regard to the humanity inherent within them. While the technology itself seems halachically accepted, this aspect raises serious alarms for me. Halacha generally forbids abortion except in cases where the mother's life is in clear jeopardy and yet aborted children provide a large percentage of the stem cells. The question of whether it is permissible to benefit from a process that begins with and/or includes such a fundamental violation of halacha as the destruction (murder: ratsach - רָצַח) of millions of innocent human lives should be a most serious consideration. It is to me. I discuss abortion more fully below. This concern is central to my views about the use and medical manipulation of stem cells.
Today stem cells can be harvested from sources that do not require the death of a child. Unfortunately while stem cells can be harvested from adults, these tend to be less useful and manipulable than those taken from pre-embryonic babies according to most researchers. Because of this, aborted babies continue to be harvested in what I believe to be violation of Jewish law and biblical ethics.
When does human life begin? The murder of a new born child is almost universally prohibited while late term abortions, even into the ninth month, are generally permitted in countries like the United States. Its more than semantics. Human life is being cheapened and devalued. Our civilizations are suffering and becoming ever more barbaric as a result. If human life does not begin at conception, when does it begin? The scientific designation pre-embryo refers to “the small clump of cells that compose the early zygote only a few days following conception.” (note 5) Stem cell aficionados prefer these. Is the post-conception pre-embryonic zygote a human being? If not, again, at what point is there a human child present within the womb? Who but G-d is qualified to make this determination? At what point does the child acquire the right to life, the most basic of all human rights? If life begins at conception, then our generation is engaging in barbaric actions and many of our Jewish leaders are supporting it! Without certain evidence of when the soul takes up residency in the body, surely the best view is to err on the side of protecting and honoring human life. But this is not the case.
Pro-abortion language intends to dehumanize the human being even as the Nazis and others use dehumanizing euphemisms to justify their atrocities against our people and other minorities. We of all people should never deny the humanity of others, especially of our own children! How many precious Jewish babies are annually murdered and harvested through abortion? Hans Frank, governor-general of Nazi Occupied Poland for instance said the following to his staff: “I could not eliminate all the lice and Jews in only one year. But in the course of time, and if you will help me, this end will be attained.” (note 6) Herr Frank might be pleased that many Jews are doing his work for him. There is nothing new about denying the humanity of those one hopes to genocide or enslave. And yet Torah remains consistent and clear: לֹ֖א תִּרְצָֽח You will not murder, and, 'choose life that you and your offspring might live'.
Since Torah is the foundation of our legal, religious, and ethical codes, as Jews we are halachically forbidden to murder children and/or to benefit from such abhorrent practices. At the same time, it is against human nature to 'put the jen back into the battle'. Having unlocked these possibilities scientific advancement is going to continue. Jews are often at the forefront of these emerging technologies. Jewish scientists have the ability to advance these researches and their practical applications in ways that are Torah consistent. They should seek alternatives to practices and methods that are not life affirming. To do otherwise is to desecrate the Name of our Creator. In this way our people and our nation can be the leaders in advancing these breakthroughs for the good of humanity without engaging in actions and methods that violate the sanctity of human life and our Torah.
There are now other humane means of harvesting human stem cells. And yet, just as the inhuman experimentations of Josef Mengele provided usable information that is still employed by modern scientists despite its horrid origins, so too using what has been learned through these methods, scientists should now be able to avoid such practices and to focus on adult stem cells or artificially created stem cells. The extent of the abortion murders is almost beyond belief. Approximately 893,000 babies were 'legally' murdered in the United States in 2016 alone. This was down from approximately 914,000 abortions in 2015. (note 7) Almost a million murder babies in the United States alone! As if from a Steven King horror novel, there even exists a cache of “approximately 100,000 'excess' frozen pre-embryos that are 'left over' from earlier IVF attempts.” If 100,000 frozen human corpses at various stages of development being held on ice for later harvesting is not a violation of human dignity, the term has lost all meaning and we as a species have abandoned our humanity and love of our children.
Beyond the widely acclaimed promises of the end of many diseases through these technologies, we also must consider that stem cell research goes hand in hand with cloning technologies. By cloning stem cells it is believed that one day entire organs could be created. Imagine growing replacement hearts, kidneys, and other organs! A person with a diseased heart or lungs could have stem cells removed from his body and by the time the organ was ready to fail it could be replaced with a working organ, the product of his own body! Amazing possibilities to be sure.
But would it end there? No, humans are too inquisitive and greedy for that. These same technologies are already being used to clone artificial animals and, according to some reports, even human beings! Imagine a despot growing his own army of genetically superior, soulless soldiers. A horror film playing out in real life. What makes a person “human”? Would such created beings be granted human rights or used as slaves? “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Would they become genetically superior to we mere humans? Could they breed with humans and if so would their kids be humans? Could this technology do away with the aging process? Consider a dictator who could maintain his hold over his people for ever by becoming virtually immortal through replacing his organs. Such a despot could literally grant virtual eternal life to those who submit this him and withhold it from those who did not!
If humanity allows such researches to move forward without establishing and enforcing clear hedges around its development, such possibilities may no longer be the stuff of science fiction! Or then again, it could lead to Gan Eden! Given human history the prior seems far more likely.
In Vitro FertilizationWhile the majority of Orthodox rabbis have ruled against in vitro fertilization in most instances, many make an exception when there is no other way for a man fulfill the mitzvah of fathering a child (women of course are exempt from this law). The practice is becoming increasingly common. The practice of artificial insemination is ancient, going back well over 2500 years.
500 years ago Rabbi Yitzchok of Kurbil discussed artificial insemination, as did the Maharsham, the Divrei Malkiel, and R. Yaakov Lisa, in the early 19th century. Modern debates draw heavily from such sources. (note 8) Yet, perhaps the modern technological twists may invalidate the former rabbinic rulings as the issues become increasingly more complex. When artificial insemination is coupled with cloning not only must decisions be made on the Jewishness of the child, but potentially even the very humanity!
In the popular drama Fiddler on the Roof Reb Tevya speaks of difficult questions that would 'cross a rabbis eyes'. The questions raised by these new technologies are unimaginably complex. How is a rabbi to decide?
AbortionAbortion remains one of the most heated debate topics today both within and without Judaism. As we examine the rabbinic rulings on this topic we find examples of our diversity. While most Orthodox rabbis are united in their objection to abortion many non-Orthodox approve of it, there are exceptions of course on both sides. In my opinion the Torah is quite clear on this matter. It seems to me that those who support the taking of these innocent lives usually do so because of political correctness and/or cultural assimilation. I see no way that any Torah observant person could support this.So to sum up my understandings on these topics: Human life is sacred at all points of its development. Hence we are commanded: “... I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live— Deuteronomy 30:19. All life, especially human life, is to be treated with honor and dignity at all times regardless of its age, health, or other considerations. Treating human beings as objects, harvesting them for lab experiments, buying and selling their stem cells etc, taking their lives through needless abortions – meaning other than to save the life of the mother – are monstrous activities in violation of Torah and our Holy Religion. Such actions are violations of the sanctity of the Sacred Name As Rabbi Hillel said, “That which you find detestable do not do to another.” I choose to live, hence I am pro-Torah and pro-life.
Were Judaism strictly a Torah based religion there would be no question in anyone's mind in my opinion. We also look to the Talmudic debates however, and there things are not quite as clear on this issue, and yet still the general paradigm is one of pro-life. As noted above HaTorah specifically states, “You will not murder.” (note 9) and “...choose life, if you and your offspring would live.” (note 10) This principle is often expressed throughout the Scriptures. Therefore we find the following from the Jewish Virtual Library.The shedding of blood (shefikhut damim) is the primeval sin (Gen. 4:8) and throughout the centuries ranks in Jewish law as the gravest and most reprehensible of all offenses (cf. Maim. Guide, 3:41, and Yad, Roẓe'aḥ 1:4); "violence" in Genesis 6:13 was murder (Gen. R. 31:6), and the "very wicked sinners" of Sodom (Gen. 13:13) were murderers (Sanh. 109a). Bloodshed is the subject of the first admonition of a criminal nature in the Bible: "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man" (Gen. 9:6). God will require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man (Gen. 9:5). Blood unlawfully shed cries out to God from the ground (Gen. 4:10) and "pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it except by the blood of him who shed it" (Num. 35:33) (see *Bloodguilt). Blood unlawfully shed is innocent blood (dam naki) (Deut. 19:10, 13; 21:8; 27:25; I Sam. 19:5; II Kings 21:16; 24:4; Isa. 59:7; Jer. 2:34; 7:6; 19:4; 22:3, 17; Joel 4:19; et al.), of the righteous (Ex. 23:7; II Sam. 4:11; I Kings 2:32; Lam. 4:13), or blood shed "without cause" (dam ḥinnam) (I Kings 2:31; I Sam. 25:31). "Blood" is also often used as a term indicating general lawlessness and criminality (Isa. 1:15; Prov. 1:16, 18), "men of blood" are lawless criminals (II Sam. 16:7–8; Prov. 29:10), and "cities of blood" places of corruption and wickedness (Nah. 3:1). Following the biblical reference to the image of God (Gen. 9:6), it is said that all bloodshed is a disparagement of God's own image (Tosef., Yev. 8:4; Gen. R. 34:4), and caused God to turn away from the land, the Temple to be destroyed (Tosef., Yoma 1:12; Shab. 33a; Sif. Num. 161) and dispersion (galut) to come into the world (Avot 5:9; Num. R. 7:10). (note 11)The conditions against murder listed above must include the pre-born who are the most innocent and helpless of all victims. It is not listed here specifically because the idea that people would become so fallen that they would slaughter millions of their own children doubtless never occurred to them.
While the Torah is completely clear in its condemnation of murder, as Jews we are also carefully to consider the Talmud and the rulings of our sages. When differentiating between “murder” and “killing” we are required to find a clear element of premeditation. Was the loss of life due to intention and aforethought or was it an accidental taking of life. The penalties are quite different. In the case of abortion the intention is clear. Throughout Jewish Tradition and Law the role of kavanah or intention is paramount because HaShem's judgments are always tempered with compassion based in part on our intention. On this point, the above source continues:Talmudic law also further extended the principle that premeditation in murder is to be determined either by the nature of the instrument used or by previous expressions of enmity. While there are deadly instruments, such as iron bars or knives, the use of which would afford conclusive evidence of premeditation (Maim. Yad, Roẓe'aḥ, 3:4), the court will in the majority of cases have to infer premeditation not only from the nature of the instrument used, but also from other circumstances, such as which part of the victim's body was hit or served the assailant as his target, or the distance from which he hit or threw stones at the victim, or the assailant's strength to attack and the victim's strength to resist (ibid. 3:2; 5,6). Thus, where a man is pushed from the roof of a house, or into water or fire, premeditation will be inferred only when in all the proven circumstances – height of the house, depth of the water, respective strengths of assailant and victim – death was the natural consequence of the act and must have been intended by the assailant (ibid. 3:9). There is, however, notwithstanding the presence of premeditation, no capital murder in Jewish law, unless death is caused by the direct physical act of the assailant. Thus, starving a man to death, or exposing him to heat or cold or wild beasts, or in any other way bringing about his death by the anticipated – and however certain – operation of a supervening cause, would not be capital murder (ibid. 3:10–13). The same applies to murder committed not by the instigator himself, but by his agent or servant (ibid. 2:2; as to accomplices see *Penal Law).In the case of abortion or infanticide the mother either intentionally goes to the abortionist requesting the death of her child, or she intentionally takes some agent that she knows will destroy her child. In either case the mother is clearly guilty of the murder of her own child. Cases of forced abortion in places like China are not part of my considerations here. I speak of those who choose this path for themselves.
As for the halachic punishment, the complexity of the Talmud leaves the sentencing to the discretion of the beit din. We can say however that if the mother hired an abortionist to commit the murder, her child did not die directly at her hand and so the abortionist would be liable to the death sentence, while the mother would be held to a lesser punishment (a ruling I would not personally support as I feel her participation in the murder demands the same punishment as the abortionist). If the mother took a 'morning after pill' she would be liable to the death penalty according to my understanding of the halachot as well as the biblical mandate. In the Tanach capital punishment is not dependent on the age of the victim nor the aggressor (Nid. 5:3; Maim., ibid. 2:6). Justice mandated the extreme penalty in cases of any murder. We no longer applies these laws of course, but the Divine Law remains in play. HaShem executes His judgments.
Daniel Eisenberg, M.D. notes for Aish.com:The traditional Jewish view of abortion does not fit conveniently into any of the major "camps" in the current American abortion debate. We neither ban abortion completely, nor do we allow indiscriminate abortion "on demand."…The easiest way to conceptualize a fetus in halacha is to imagine it as a full-fledged human being – but not quite. (note 12) In most circumstances, the fetus is treated like any other "person.” “Generally, one may not deliberately harm a fetus." (note 13)As stated in Torah:When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a premature birth results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life – eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25.This verse must be carefully understood. Many translations read “and a miscarriage occurs” rather than as “a premature birth results” as I have it here. The passage, in my opinion, is to “a premature birth” when the context is considered. The text actually says that if the child “departs” [“yasa”] the womb and no other damage ensues from the event. In other words, if because of the struggle the baby is born early but is otherwise fine, then the men may be required to pay damages for their carelessness but no more. “But if other damage ensues,” i.e. the baby is born with some deformity or born dead, then the standard penalties will apply, 'an eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. If the child dies as a result the men are guilty of the murder, a life for a life. The text makes no sense any other way. The Hebrew term shachol references an abortion or miscarriage. That word is not used here. There is conclusive evidence that both Torah and Rabbinic halacha regarding the pre-birth child as fully human and subject to the same protections and respect as all other people.
The only biblical or halachic justification for an abortion is when the mother's life is clearly in jeopardy. In such cases the rabbis have ruled that the baby is like a rodef, a pursuer seeking the life of its prey. While halacha demands each of us to protect the lives of others to the best of our abilities, it does not require us to martyr ourselves to do so. Likewise the mother is not required by halacha, neither biblical nor rabbinic, to lay down her life so that her child might live.
So serious and sad is such a rare situation that the Mishna adds, that if it would be possible to save the mother's life by maiming the baby, such as by amputating one of the child's limbs, abortion would then be forbidden, so that both the child and mother could both live. Despite the classification of the pre-birth baby in such cases as a rodef, once the baby's head or most of its body has been delivered, the baby's life is considered equal to the mother's, and we may not choose one life over another, because it is considered as though they are both pursuing each other. (note 14)
We see therefore that the pre-birth child is considered fully human from conception onward, with the exception that while the child is within the mother her life takes priority in the event of medical emergency. Our Law therefore rejects abortion and in my opinion, despite the views I acknowledged above, the use of so-called pre-embryonic zygot for harvesting stem cells. Human life is sacred and Torah demands it be treated as such.
The Aish article continues with the following point that is directly relevant to our question of stem cells, transplants, and so on:It is important to point out that the reason that the life of the fetus is subordinate to the mother is because the fetus is the cause of the mother's life-threatening condition, whether directly (e.g. due to toxemia, placenta previa, or breach position) or indirectly (e.g. exacerbation of underlying diabetes, kidney disease, or hypertension).8 A fetus may not be aborted to save the life of any other person whose life is not directly threatened by the fetus, such as use of fetal organs for transplant.
… As a rule, Jewish law does not assign relative values to different lives. Therefore, almost most major poskim (Rabbis qualified to decide matters of Jewish law) forbid abortion in cases of abnormalities or deformities found in a fetus. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one the greatest poskim of the past century, rules that even amniocentesis is forbidden if it is performed only to evaluate for birth defects for which the parents might request an abortion. Nevertheless, a test may be performed if a permitted action may result, such as performance of amniocentesis or drawing alpha-fetoprotein levels for improved peripartum or postpartum medical management.
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