Torah Perspectives on Cloning by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

(2004/5765) 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
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
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
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
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
Next week, Im Yirtzeh Hashem and Bli Neder, we
shall conclude our discussion of Hlachic perspectives on

Torah Perspectives on Cloning- Part 2 by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Chazal’s Interpretation of Cham’s Sin by Rabbi Chaim Jachter