Torah Perspectives on Cloning by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


There has been considerable debate throughout the world regarding the propriety of cloning.  The Torah world has also engaged in considerable discussion of this important issue and a significant literature grappling with this issue from a Torah perspective has emerged.  In this essay we shall summarize the basic Hashkafic (philosophical) and Halachic debates that have emerged regarding this issue. This essay also incorporates insights from my TABC Talmidim to whom I presented Shiurim on this topic, especially the 5764 “Y9” Gemara Shiur.

Hashkafic Perspectives

Rav Chanoch (Kenneth) Waxman of Alon Shvut frames the fundamental Hashkafic issues regarding cloning in an essay that appears in Volume 9 of the Torah U’madda Journal.  He notes that the core issue is whether cloning constitutes an appropriate exercise of humanity’s mandate to conquer the world (Bereshit 1:28) or an inappropriate intrusion into the world order similar to the sin of Kilayim (the prohibition to interbreed various species of animals and plants).  

On the one hand, Hashem commanded man to be fruitful and multiply and conquer the world.  The Ramban (commentary to the Torah ad. loc.) writes that this Biblical verse authorizes man to engage in invasive actions in Hashem’s world such as removing metals from the ground.  Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his great essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” writes that space exploration is a legitimate expression of our mandate to conquer the world. On the other hand, the Ramban (commentary to Vayikra 19:19) explains that Kilayim is forbidden because it constitutes an inappropriate reordering of Hashem’s world.  

Thus, the basic Hashkafic question regarding cloning is whether it is analogous to Kilayim or space exploration.  Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv (a leading Israeli Posek) is quoted by Dr. Abraham S. Abraham (see Torah U’madda Journal 9:195 and 216) as asserting that cloning violates the spirit of the Torah, as it is similar to Kilayim.  In addition, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 15:45:4) strenuously objects to cloning. On the other hand, Rav J. David Bleich (a leading American Posek who serves as a Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University) writes (Tradition Spring 1998) that the Halacha could potentially approve of some products of cloning if governments throughout the world strictly monitor and control cloning procedures to ensure that it is used only for moral purposes. In addition, Rav Moshe David Tendler wrote in a letter printed in the New York Times (12/12/97) that cloning is advisable under certain circumstances.  

Rav Bleich and Rav Tendler’s approach seems to be supported by comments made by the Meiri (an important Rishon who lived during the thirteenth century) in his commentary to Sanhedrin 67b.  The Meiri writes that making creatures asexually is permitted, since anything performed naturally is not defined as a prohibited act of Kishuf (sorcery). It is incredible that the Meiri notes (in the thirteenth century!) that one who understands how nature functions is aware of the fact that it is possible to produce beings asexually.    

Dr. Eitan Fiorino of Teaneck  (in the aforementioned volume of the Torah U’madda Journal) articulates Hashkafic objections to cloning.  He argues that cloning violates the Biblical and Talmudic model of reproduction since cloning does not involve the union of two individuals or of their genetic material.  The Gemara (Niddah 31a) speaks of Hashem, father, and mother being the three partners in the creation of man. Moreover, Dr. Fiorino argues that cloning radically alters the family structure, which has the potential to further destabilize society beyond the damage inflicted by the high divorce rate, surrogate mothers, and homosexual unions.  Other potential problems include cloning for profit, for spare parts or other uses, and differential access to cloning among socioeconomic classes. Other authors mention the potential nightmare of evil individuals such as Osama Bin Laden cloning themselves on a large scale.

On the other hand, Rav Bleich (in the aforementioned essay in Tradition) argues that if cloning were conducted in a manner that is strictly supervised by government authority, cloning could potentially yield some positive products.  These include cloned animals as well as tissue and organs for therapeutic purposes such as to produce bone marrow for someone afflicted with leukemia. Cloning animals is clearly permitted as is evident from Sanhedrin 65b that we shall cite later in this essay.  

Halachic Issues

Cloning raises a host of Halachic issues.  These include the questions of whether Halacha regards a clone as human, whether a man who produces a child by cloning has fulfilled the Mitzva of Pru Urvu, and the propriety of an unmarried man or woman cloning himself or herself.  A particularly tantalizing possibility has been raised that cloning can prevent a Mamzer/Mamzeret from passing his/her status to the next generation.

Is a Clone Human?

Poskim in the modern context are constantly challenged to precisely define Halachic concepts that have not been explicitly defined by earlier generations.  For example, the discovery of electricity compels Poskim to precisely articulate the Halachic definition of fire - whether an incandescent light constitute a fire despite the fact that there is no fuel consumption.  The introduction of in vitro fertilization motivates Poskim to define whether motherhood is established by providing the genetic makeup of the child (i.e. by donating the egg) or by giving birth to the child. Rav Hershel Schachter once remarked that the emergence of new issues requires us to rigorously define each of the thirty-nine categories of forbidden labor on Shabbat.  Similarly, cloning challenges Halachic experts to articulate a Halachic definition of humanity.

A potential Talmudic source to answer this question is the highly unusual passage regarding the creation of a Golem (Sanhedrin 65b).  The Gemara says:

“Rava stated: If they wish, Tzadikkim [Rashi: who are free of sin] could create a world.  Rava created a man [Rashi: by using the book called Sefer Y’tzirah which teaches how to combine the letters of the Divine name] and he sent it to Rabi Zeira.  Rabi Zeira spoke with it and it did not respond. Rabi Zeira then stated “You are created by my colleague (see Maharsha ad. loc.), return to your dust,” (i.e. die).  Rav Chanina and Rav Oshiah would sit every Friday and study the Sefer Yitzirah and create a calf that has reached a third of its potential development (this was considered a great delicacy in the times of the Gemara) and subsequently eat it.”

My Y9 students understandably found this Gemara quite odd.  We suggested that perhaps the entire reason that this passage is included in the Gemara is because Hashem wished to provide precedents and insights for many generations later regarding cloning.

At first glance, it would appear that this passage indicates that a clone is not human.  Rava’s Golem was not considered human, as Rabi Zeira “killed” it and the Gemara does not record any objection to this action.  Thus, one might be tempted to argue that since a clone is not a product of sexual reproduction, it is not human. Indeed, the Chacham Zvi (Teshuvot number 93) argues that Rava’s Golem was not considered human because it was not created in a woman’s womb.  

This definition of humanity is problematic, as noted by the Radzhiner Rebbe (Sidrei Taharot Ohalot 5a), because it leads to the absurd conclusion that Adam Harishon was not human.  Accordingly, we must search for a different definition of humanity. The Maharsha (commenting to Sanhedrin 65b) seems to say that the Golem created by Rava was not human because of its inability to speak.  This approach seems rooted in Onkelos’ translation of the Pasuk (Bereshit 2:7) “and man became a living being,” as “and man became a talking being.” This definition of humanity, though, appears problematic; as it would also lead to an absurd conclusion that one who is unable to talk due to illness does not have the status of a human being.  It appears that Rav J. David Bleich (in the aforementioned Tradition article) offers a very fine definition of humanity. He writes

The matter of identification as a member of a species is best summed up in a pithy comment attributed to Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.  It is reported that Rav Chaim explained a certain Halachic concept by posing the following query: Why is a horse a horse? Is it a horse because it manifests certain characteristics which are necessary conditions of being a horse, or is a horse a horse because its mother was a horse?  The answer is that a horse is a horse because its mother was of that species. For that reason the Mishna, Bechorot 5b, declares that the offspring of a kosher animal is kosher even if it has the appearance and physical attributes of a non-kosher animal and, conversely, the offspring of a non-kosher animal is non-kosher even if it has the appearance and the physical attributes of a kosher animal.  Thus identity as a member of a particular species is determined not by distinguishing characteristics, but by birth.

Rav Bleich cites one of Rav Chaim’s primary Talmidim, Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz He’arot 8:33), who argues that the principle articulated by the Mishnah in Bechorot (Yotzei Min HaMutar Mutar and Yotzei Min HaAsur Asur) applies to all areas of Halacha and not just to Kashrut.  Accordingly, a clone is human because it is created from a human being. Thus, Rav Bleich argues that the fundamental difference between a Golem and a clone is that a clone is a product of a human being and a Golem is not. It seems to this author that the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 116:1) adopts this approach as well.  Accordingly, the Golem is not human, whereas a clone is most definitely regarded as a human being.


Next week, Im Yirtzeh Hashem and Bli Neder, we shall conclude our discussion of Hlachic perspectives on cloning.

Torah Perspectives on Cloning- Part 2 by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

The Keriat Hatorah of Rosh Hashana by Rabbi Chaim Jachter