A First Century Rabbinical Controversy: Preserving Human Life and Its Ethical Implications

 Another one of the most interesting questions found in the Talmud dealing with the matter of human survival in a hostile environment where the possibilities of survival remain limited. [1]

Two are walking on the road. In the hand of one of them is a canteen of water. If they both drink-both will die. If only one drinks—he will reach his destination alive. Ben Petura contends that it is better that both drink and they both die, rather than one see the death of his fellow. This was the accepted teaching until Rabbi Akiba came and interpreted the verse from “That thy brother may live with thee,” (Leviticus 25:36), i.e., “your life precedes the life of your fellow.” [2]

There is an interesting parallel to the Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiba debate that may be found in the Stoic writings of Cicero, who cites the Stoic Hecataeus, regarding two equally wise men who survived a shipwreck and were holding to the same wooden spar that was capable of supporting one of them. The question posed was this: Should one relinquish his hold and to save the other, and if so, which one? The Stoic thinkers reasoned that the decision had to be made based on the individual’s utility to society. The person whose objective value is less to the republic, has the duty to sacrifice himself for the more “valuable” citizen. Continue reading “A First Century Rabbinical Controversy: Preserving Human Life and Its Ethical Implications”

Does a clone have a soul?

Does a clone have a soul? God creates human who have souls, but when people create people, do they have a soul? Where do they go when they die? If a clone is not considered to possess a soul, would it be permitted to clone a human being for merely its spare parts? Is Cloning permitted according to the Halacha?

A. Some years ago, the Israeli Chief Rabbi Lau offered an opinion on cloning. The Chief Rabbi said that although there is no specific prohibition in Jewish Law to utilize artificial genetics to reproduce a human being, it is entirely against basic Jewish conceptions to do so. “The Torah gave a specific dispensation for doctors to use their knowledge to cure, and even to lengthen life, but the formation of new life goes way beyond that. We have no permission to enter the domain of the Creator on questions of life and death.” He said that he does not know of one rabbi who permits genetic engineering in this manner.

The Chief Rabbi’s comments, although provocative, makes one wonder: Is the Halacha as obvious as the Chief Rabbi thinks? Perhaps the matter is not as simple as Rabbi Lau. Continue reading “Does a clone have a soul?”