Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 

Richard Greenberg
Author of the book "Pathways: Jews Who Return," published by Jason Aronson Inc

"Today," President Clinton declared at a recent White House ceremony, "we are learning the language in which God created life." No, he didn't mean Hebrew, although that would have been a nice touch. Clinton was referring to the human genome, the multi-billion-letter "operating manual" for homo sapiens that scientists have finally deciphered -- surely the most eagerly awaited literary release this side of Harry Potter.

This cracking of the genetic code promises to revolutionize medicine, but it also raises a host of moral and ethical questions that Judaism speaks to. The genome, for example, will no doubt help us better understand human behavior-and misbehavior-by identifying its genetic components. Consider where that might take us. Fast-forward to the year 2015: Is it farfetched to imagine, say, enterprising defense attorneys concocting "genetic defenses" for their clients?

Judaism wouldn't buy it. Our tradition maintains that biology is not destiny, and therefore holds people accountable for their actions-whether or not they have whatever syndrome is momentarily fashionable. There are legitimate mitigating factors, of course, such as mental incompetence, but Judaism otherwise consistently affirms the ability of people to exercise their free will and make moral choices. In fact, in general the Talmud says a person is always liable for his actions, whether awake or asleep.

Unfortunately, Judaism's position runs counter to a growing societal tendency to diminish personal accountability, often using medical or psychological "explanations" to excuse evil deeds. Does the term "Twinkie defense" ring a bell? That argument was used in a celebrated 1978 case by an attorney who maintained that his client was driven to commit murder by his addiction to junk food.

Time will tell whether the human genome is abused in this and other ways. The possibilities are endless. Will it be used, for example, to invade individual privacy through the unauthorized release of sensitive genetic information? Moreover, will man use it to play God through selective breeding or the engineering of desirable traits?

As for privacy, Judaism certainly values it-to the extent that it opposes even subtle forms of snooping. The Torah speaks of the Gentile prophet Bilaam praising the Israelites for dwelling arrangements that prevented unwanted intrusions and other invasions of privacy.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, no one is fit to play God, genome-enhanced expertise notwithstanding. This category, however, does not include a wide range of scientific endeavors, such as legitimate medical intervention and research, which Judaism encourages. The human genome promises to be an invaluable tool in this area. What Judaism discourages is interfering with God's natural plan for no good reason. This theme is reflected in the Torah, which forbids the mixing of distinct plant and animal species. Disrupting the natural order is not only arrogant; it can be downright dangerous, too. It's common sense. It's also the law-the law of unintended consequences.

Mr. Greenberg's book, "Pathways" is a collection of stories told by once-assimilated Jews who have rediscovered their spiritual roots. Mr. Greenberg is available to discuss his book at RickG613@aol.com or 301-649-0846.


Copyright 2000 by Richard Greenberg.
Reprinted with permission from JLaw.com.

We welcome your comments.

 

ARTICLES ON TAZRIA AND METZORAH:

View Complete List

Remember What G-d Did To Miriam
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5763

Speaking of Freedom...
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5760

Everyone Is Vulnerable
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5768

Looking for a Chavrusah?

The Real You
Rabbi Shlomo Jarcaig - 5763

Why We Count
Shlomo Katz - 5766

Down & Out: Down & Up
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5773

> One Step at a Time!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5756

Good News and Bad News
Rabbi Label Lam - 5772

Changing the "Eye"
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5757

ArtScroll

Bringing the Baby to the Bris
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5757

Learning A Lesson From G-d Through Punishment
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5768

Getting Beneath the Skin
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5760

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Battling the Serpent
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5764

... Speaking of Loshon Hara...
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5759

The Holy Land
Shlomo Katz - 5774

Learning A Lesson From G-d Through Punishment
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5758



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information