On Tuesday evening, November 12, community members gathered at Congregation Bais Dovid (Rabbi Rubin’s shul) in Kew Gardens Hills, to hear a thought-provoking shiur from Rabbi Aharon Pessin, well-known speaker, author, and magid shiur who lives in Israel. The shiur was hosted by the renowned Chazaq organization. Rabbi Pessin spoke about cloning of humans and animals and the halachic ramifications and questions this involves. He focused on deep, important ideas that we can learn from studying this issue.
He began with the example of the first cloned animal, a sheep named Dolly, who was cloned 24 years ago and lived for seven years. Dolly was a female domestic sheep, and the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. It took 230 attempts to actually clone her. Many questions arise from the idea of artificially creating a living creature. Is it permissible according to halachah? Is there more benefit than harm?
Psychologists claim that creating large groups of identical people will diminish respect people have for one another. What about respect for a cloned individual? Also, he suggested that human cloning will create a black market of embryos. Cloning may bring eugenics. Also, there is the danger of cloning many copies of evil people. That would be disastrous. Is one fulfilling the mitzvah of P‘ru u’R’vu in this manner? How do we define parenting? Is the donor considered the father? Will cloned humans have to honor their parents? Who can a cloned person marry? Is a cloned kohen considered a kohen? Is a cloned Jew considered a Jew? Is killing a cloned person considered murder?
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach taught that there will be issues of mamzeirim with cloning. The Igeres Moshe differs. He taught that mamzeirus only comes through relations.
Rabbi Pessin suggested that “the history of science shows that this will happen soon. A lot of money is being spent on this research. We will have to address these sh’eilos.”
Cloning can create problems in terms of ascertaining who the parents are. When children are not born from parents, this changes the whole structure of the family. This is problematic; but on the other hand, it would be a brachah for barren women.
The Arizal wrote that the body is just a garment for the real person, which is the soul. So cloning is external, and it doesn’t mean the personality will be the same. The Gemara teaches that there is free choice. The Meiri wrote 700 years ago that a man or woman practicing magic deserves capital punishment. Something that is done naturally is not considered magic, even if they are able to create creatures without relations. Rabbi Pessin pointed out that it was amazing how he was predicting what we are dealing with today.
The Tiferes Yisrael taught that anything we don’t have a reason to prohibit is permitted. The Torah doesn’t list everything that is permitted. Cloning in itself is not intervening in the work of Hashem, so it is not considered creating new species. This is because it is not created ex nihilo (from nothing).
He then quoted a Gemara that teaches that a very tall person shouldn’t marry another very tall person, and very short people shouldn’t marry very short people. Someone extremely white shouldn’t marry another person who is extremely white.
Rabbi Pessin noted that in sifrei Kabalah and in m’farshim, Chazal speak about creating humans. He said that there was a sefer with r’fuos to every disease, written by Shlomo HaMelech, which was stored away because people used it to kill people.
Rabbi Pessin then focused on the topic of cloning with animals in order to grow meat in the laboratory. Stem cells are taken while the animal is alive. The stem muscle cell is then fed sugar and fats and it multiplies. It has hundreds of stem cells, and they are microscopic. A tremendous amount of meat can be produced from one stem cell. Animal lovers and environmentalists will love this, because you don’t have to kill the animal to procure meat. The question that arises is: Is this type of meat considered kosher? He explained that the prohibition of eiver min ha’chai applies only to kosher animals. Also, they soak the stem cells in blood, which is another kashrus problem. On the other hand, stem cells can be taken from kosher fish, because fish do not require sh’chitah. He taught that cloning animal stem cells is done to produce better meat, and it can also be used for medicinal purposes.
He then went into the problems with gelatin. He said that this is not a good comparison to the above, because gelatin is flavorless and dry.
He concluded with an idea taught by the Rambam that when a person does t’shuvah we should consider that person to be a new person. A convert is a new entity. He then suggested, “I think we should reaccept on ourselves the 613 mitzvos and all the d’Rabbanans. This is the way we can clone ourselves.”
Rabbi Pessin went on to advise that the test for us is being able to do the right thing when no one sees you doing it. “Are you willing to do it when no one is watching?”
He added, “In Parshas Lech L’cha, Avraham was asked to leave his past behind. We have to be willing to sacrifice our past for Hashem.” When Avraham willingly accepted the directive to sacrifice Yitzchak, this showed that he was willing to sacrifice his future for Hashem. “We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice our future for Hashem.”
He imparted that when we are willing to give everything for Hashem, then this creates the biggest kiddush Hashem. “We should all merit to perform kiddush Hashem in our lives.”
Special thanks go to Rabbi Naftoli Rubin (the rav of the k’hilah), Danny Simon (shul coordinator), and Henya Storch.
This shiur can be viewed on www.Torahanytime.com.
By Susie Garber