Cloning Controversy Multiplies

In the Brave New World of cloning, most Jewish ethicists and organizations are staking out the middle ground.

A general consensus appears to be emerging in the Jewish community that therapeutic cloning — using cloning technology for medical research — is acceptable, but reproductive cloning — using the technology to copy someone — is not.

Reproductive cloning is unproven, risky and represents a "tragic misunderstanding" of human identity, according to Laurie Zoloth, director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Francisco State University and an associate professor of social ethics and Jewish philosophy.

Advances in therapeutic cloning, which could lead to transfers of compatible tissue in transplants, would not necessarily lead to the dangerous practice of reproductive cloning, Zoloth said.

"Not all slopes are slippery," she said.

Zoloth is serving as the principal investigator of a new grant to facilitate meetings over the next three years among Jewish scholars, ethicists and scientists to discuss the implications of advances in genetics.

Reproductive cloning raises ethical, theological and moral concerns, in addition to fundamental questions such as "Who is considered the clone’s father and mother?" and “What happens to cloning experiments that fail?”

Some take the view that cloning can be a commandment, for example, if it is used to help infertile couples. Others consider it immoral to make a genetic copy of someone.

Clones would be born from eggs stimulated to divide after their DNA was removed and replaced with DNA from other cells. Cells from an infertile father, for example, could be injected into an egg, which then would be implanted in the mother’s uterus to create a pregnancy.

The resulting child would have the same physical characteristics as the father, and infertile parents would not have to rely on sperm donors.

Yet many people have visceral, negative reactions to cloning, fearing that the practice lacks a basic humanity.

Some believe that cloning would fly in the face of lessons derived from the Holocaust, when Nazi doctors experimented on humans in an effort to create a "master race."

Some rabbis are particularly troubled by the notion of a human made in one’s own image, rather than the image of God.

Britain’s chief rabbi recently called planned experiments to clone humans "a new low in playing roulette with human life."

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said human cloning is dangerous and irresponsible because of the threat it poses "to the integrity of children so born."

Britain adopted guidelines years ago that allow for therapeutic cloning.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic. Some Jewish groups, however, worry that a complete ban could end up being more harmful than a carefully structured one.

Important advances in medical research might be lost because of a legislative ban, said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

"We don’t want to paint with too broad a brush," he said.

In a journal published last year by Yeshiva University, a number of ethicists and thinkers weighed in on cloning.

Reactions in the journal, part of the university’s "Torah U’Madda Project," which explores the interaction of Torah and secular studies and the challenges posed to the community, ran the gamut.

"Cloning does not involve the union of two individuals; it is therefore not an act of creation but rather one of duplication, and as such is completely at odds with any Jewish understanding of conception," wrote Dr. Eitan Fiorino, a pharmaceutical industry analyst.

But Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, believes that cloning can be proper — if done with appropriate supervision.

Broyde bolsters his argument with the scenario of a sick person who could be cloned to insure a match in a bone marrow transplant.

"Jewish tradition might regard this procedure as involving two good deeds: having a child and saving a life," he wrote.

Many recommended more discussion and a cautious approach.

President George W. Bush’s administration is continuing its conservative approach to genetic research, and the president reiterated his strong opposition to cloning.

"We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience," Bush said last week.

The president named Dr. Leon Kass, a biomedical ethicist from the University of Chicago, to chair a presidential council on bioethics and biomedical innovation.

An outspoken critic of human cloning, Kass believes that cloning constitutes unethical experimentation and threatens identity and individuality. Babies will be manufactured, and allowing such technology to go forward would bring about a perversion of parenthood, Kass believes.

"We sense that cloning represents a profound defilement of our given nature as procreative beings, and of the social relations built on this natural ground," he wrote recently in The New Republic.

Kass also said a ban only on reproductive cloning would be unenforceable.

Zoloth says the talmudic tract of "Sanhedrin" may offer potential guidance for cloning technology. The rabbis determine that forbidden knowledge might be permissible — if it is used only for teaching, Zoloth said.

Perhaps, she said, that means medical research of cloning is acceptable, but actual cloning of humans is not.

"We’re at the beginning of understanding," she said.

The Fountainhead

My friend Roth is dating a girl named Erica. By religion, she is Swedenborgian. He’d never even heard of this (neither had I), until she came along and spelled it all out for him.

Emanuel Swedenborg was an 18th-century multidisciplined scholar in Sweden — their version perhaps of Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin — whose scientific discoveries included the function of the cerebral cortex, among other things. He had a series of visions about which he wrote 30 theological works, which, after his death, served as the basis for the Church of the New Jerusalem both in England and Bryn Athyn, Pa.

Erica grew up never knowing a single Jew, and though she had met many during and since college (she worked in the movie business, after all), Roth was the first Jewish man she ever dated. As such, he took on an added sense of responsibility as the unofficial spokesman for the Chosen People. Erica, who minored in journalism, was always questioning some arcane point of order beginning with "Why." It was like living with a 4-year-old. Why do you wear those little round hats? Why don’t you eat all day on Yom Kippur? Roth always tried to explain these things as best he could from his distant Jewish education, colored with his rather considered opinion. Her Jewish knowledge was more cultural, consisting of "Seinfeld" episodes and mostly failed attempts to pepper her conversation with Yiddish words.

After the theater one night, Roth took Erica to Jerry’s Deli. He ordered borscht and brisket for them to split, with a side of latkes and two diet Dr. Brown’s cream sodas. In his attempt to explain 4,000 years of folklore, he told her what we all know by heart: "Every Jewish holiday basically boils down to, ‘They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.’ That’s what my father says before we sit down to eat any holiday meal, like saying grace.

"Why are you guys so paranoid?" she said.

That one got Roth’s attention. "You’re not necessarily paranoid if it turns out that everyone is out to get you and kill you. The truth is an accepted defense against libel. First it was the Pharaoh, then the Romans, then the Christians, then the Nazis. Now the Arabs are acting up again.

"And do you know why they all tried to kill us? I’ll tell you why. Because they’re jealous, that’s why. And do you know why they’re jealous?" Erica knew better than to hazard a guess when he got like this. "I’ll tell you why. They’re jealous because they know we have the four things that every woman wants in a husband. We’re smarter, funnier, richer and more sexually active than they are. You don’t believe me? I read it in The New York Times. It was in the Week in Review section with a table. That’s why even youz Swedenborgian mother tells you that Jews make great husbands. Smart, funny, rich, gentle, loving people. And we rarely beat our women. What else is there? You want tall, dark and handsome? I’m dark and my mother thinks I’m handsome. Stand me on top of my money and I’d be playing for the Lakers," he told her.

Roth wanted some dessert, but Erica wasn’t feeling so good after eating all that heavy food. "Shecky Greene used to say, ‘I grew up thinking you were supposed to feel bad after eating Jewish food,’" Roth told her.

"Who’s Smecky Greene?"

Roth waved the waiter over and said to Erica, "Let’s have a little noodle kugel and I’ll tell you all about it."

The Chief of Staff


Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he prayed for one thing: the giftof wonder. He prayed for astonishment, for the capacity to besurprised. As he wrote, “I try not to be stale. I try to remainyoung. I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendouslysurprised at life and at ideas. This is to me the supreme Chassidicimperative.”

Heschel asked for surprise, and he gave surprise to the world. Hesurprised his faculty peers at the Jewish Theological Seminary; hesurprised his students and his friends.

What in the world was this man, named after his grandfatherAbraham Joshua Heschel, the Apter Rav, the last great rebbe ofMezvisch in the province of Podolia, Ukraine, doing, marching inSelma alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. RalphAbernathy and the Rev. Andrew Young?

What in the world was this Jew from Warsaw, whose life was sodeeply immersed in Chassidism and whose last two volumes, written inYiddish, on the life and thought of Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, doingin a march from Selma to Montgomery on behalf of the civil rights forAfrican-Americans?

What was this Jewish scholar, immersed in kabbalah, doing, leadinga delegation of 800 people into FBI headquarters in New York? Whatwas this bearded rabbi, surrounded by 60 police officers, doing,presenting a petition of protest against the brutality of the policein the South?

What was this pietist doing, heading a national Committee ofClergy and Laity Against the Vietnam War?

Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, the distinguished Protestant clergyman,told me how important Heschel’s anti-Vietnam War protests were andhow his theological views impacted Catholics and Protestants alike,including the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, who referred to Heschel as”Father Abraham.”

Heschel was severely criticized by Jewish leaders because anobsessive President Johnson had not too subtly threatened Jewishleaders that opposition to his war on Vietnam would adversely affectthe cordial relations between his administration and the State ofIsrael.

What was Heschel, whose father was buried next to the Baal ShemTov, doing, flying repeatedly to Rome during the deliberations ofVatican II, negotiating with Cardinal Bea, urging the elimination ofits mission to convert Jews? What was he doing, trying to affect theschema on the Jews and the mythic charge of deicide — the murder ofChrist by Jews?

Here again, Jewish leaders criticized him. They told him that itwas not dignified for him to fly back and forth to Rome. They saidthat they did not believe he would be successful. Heschel’s response:”What right have you not to believe and, therefore, not to attempt?”Heschel tried and succeeded. Heschel is the only Jewish thinkerquoted by a pope in this century. The pope was Paul II. AfterHeschel’s death, the Catholic publication “America” devoted an entireissue to his memory.

Heschel the Jew knew his place. His place was alongside King andwith the hounded marchers who were surrounded by the furious whitemobs.

Heschel the rabbi knew his place. After the march, he wrote, “WhenI marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” And with characteristichonesty, he added: “I felt again, as I have been thinking about foryears, that Jewish religious institutions have again missed a greatopportunity: namely, to interpret a civil rights movement in terms ofJudaism. The majority of Jews participating actively in it aretotally unaware of what this movement means in terms of the prophetictradition.” That was an important critique. Judaism is not areligious faith that can stand idly by as history passes. Judaism hassomething to say today to America and to the world, just as it did tothe Canaanite and Moabite and Amorite in the times of the Bible.”

The single deepest influence upon Heschel was the Jewish prophet.The prophet was his doctoral dissertation. The prophet drove his lifeand teaching. It was as a Jewish prophet that he addressed theConference on Religion and Race in Chicago in 1963. Before anaudience of blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, he started inthis manner: “The first conference on religion and race took place inEgypt. The main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses said,’Thus saith the God of Israel, “Let My people go.”‘ And Pharaohanswered, ‘Who is the Lord that I should heed His word? I will notlet them go.’

“The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end.Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began, but it is farfrom being complete. It was easier for the children of Israel tocross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain universitycampuses.”To understand Heschel, one has to understand his prophetictheology. Heschel’s God was not like the conventional God of thephilosophers or the theologians, including those of Judaism, such asPhilo or Moses Maimonides. Their philosophic conception of God waslogical, analytic and refined. Their God was modeled after Greekphilosophy, after the likeness of the God of Aristotle and Plato.

The God of the philosophers is perfect, by which they mean that Heis immutable and unchangeable — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.God has it all. God has no needs — no need for human affection, noneed for sacrifice or prayer.

This Hellenistic philosophy converges with much of Hindu andBuddhist viewpoints. The Hindu doctrine of karma, the law ofconsequences, operates inexorably, automatically. The deepestspiritual wisdom of karma counsels us to escape this wretched world,full of struggling and endless craving. Its wisdom counsels us toblow out the candle. Extinguish the self. Tear out the roots ofdesire.

Heschel sees God differently.

He sees God and human suffering through the eyes of the Jewishprophets. Judaism loves life and appreciates the desires of the heartand celebrates its Joy. It does not deny that there is suffering, butit does not remedy its pain by escaping from this world: Yes, thereis suffering, and we have an obligation to relieve suffering, tospread balm upon the wounds of the human being, to use science andcompassion, and to beautify life here in this world.

Unlike the Indian philosopher, the prophet declares: Do not blowout the candle of desire. Do not paralyze yourself with theanesthetic of nirvana. Recognize the pains and trials of life. But donot deny or abandon its reality. Transform it. Repair it. Mend it.While you emphasize the transmigrations of your past life, youforsake the holiness of opportunities in the present here and now.

Contrary to the Hellenistic theological point of view, Heschelsees God as anything but neutral or indifferent, cool or remote.Heschel understands God as caring, as being concerned, as needingfriends, as needing people, as entering into covenants with Israeland with humanity.

We are raised with the God of the philosopher. But this impassiveGod Heschel denies. God did not create the universe and humanity andthen resign from the world and from man. Heschel, deeply influencedby the Jewish mystical tradition, contends that God needs man, Godneeds allies, God needs help. Heschel’s God is marked by pathos,rachmonis. God feels; the prophet feels. The God of the prophets isangry at justice. The God of the prophets is moved to tears by theoppression of the weak. He is outraged by the humiliation of theweak.

For the classical theologians, God is concerned with eternalessence, with definitions and proofs. But the Jewish prophet’s God isconcerned about widows, and orphans, and poor people, and pariahs,and strangers, and aliens, and the submerged and the beaten. TheJewish prophet’s God is angry at the corruption by kings, priests andunscrupulous entrepreneurs. God is not aloof. God cannot standslavery, humiliation, oppression. He condemns it whether it comesfrom Jews or non-Jews.

The prophet is not the philosopher. The prophet feels fiercely.Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony of voice,to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. TheJewish prophet is not tranquil. He is no Zen master beyond humanstress and tears. He is filled with agitation and
anguish, andrefuses to acquiesce and accept. The prophet cannot sleep, and hegives no sleep to those he addresses.

The Jewish prophet hates bribery and ritual deceit. God will notbe fooled by sacrifices and incense. Listen to the voice of Jeremiah:”Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incenseto bow and go after other gods that you have not known and then comestand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say, ‘Weare delivered.'”

So, what was this man, this rabbi, this Jew, doing in Selma and inRome and in Vietnam? He was there because he was a serious Jew whotook the prophets seriously. He was in Selma, Rome and Vietnam, justas Abraham was at Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet refuses to be mute.

Heschel’s critics have derided his theology as filled withanthropomorphisms, images that are taken from human beings. Thecritics may be right: Heschel’s God is morally all too human. Butthere is something that is deeply persuasive in Heschel’s God ofmoral pathos. He may not be right about how God feels or reacts, butis he not right about the attributes of God that are revealed in theconscience of the prophet? We may have philosophic quarrels aboutHeschel’s conception of God, but not with his morality. The propheticexperience of God as a Being filled with pathos, must be behaved byhuman beings. Men and women who believe in God behaviorally cannot beindifferent. For, as Heschel writes, “the opposite of good is notevil but apathy.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right), Ralph Bunche,Martin Luther King Jr., and Ralph Abernathy in 1965 on the Selma toMontgomery march.

How did such a friendship develop between Martin Luther King Jr.and Abraham Joshua Heschel? How is it that on the occasion of the60th birthday of King, Heschel said, “The whole future of Americawill depend upon the influence of Dr. King.”

And it is King who described Heschel as “one of the great men ofour day…a truly great prophet…. All too often, I have seenreligious leaders amid the social injustices that pervade our societymouthing pious irrelevancies. But Rabbi Heschel is one of those whorefuses to remain silent behind the safe security of stained-glasswindows. He has been with us in many struggles. I remember marchingfrom Selma to Montgomery, how he stood by my side.”

Heschel knew where his place was as a Jew.

Heschel marched because it is not only important to protest but todo so in public, in the sight of men and women.

Heschel was able to reach out to non-Jews, to Christians of allcolors and of all creeds, because he understood that, while we maypray in different languages, our tears are the same. That profound,deep, Jewish theological humanism and universalism is needed todaymore than ever.

“What do we need to attain a sense of significant being?” Heschelasked. He answered, “Three things: God, a soul and a moment.” Thesethree are always here. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live isholy.

Saluting Heschel

Celebrate the life and work of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. at these events:

Jan. 16

* Temple Israel of Hollywood

7300 Hollywood Blvd.

(213) 876-8330

Excerpts of Heschel’s theology (Part 1) at the Family ShabbatService, 7:30 p.m.

* Kol Tikvah Congregation

20400 Ventura Blvd.

Woodland Hills

(818) 348-0670

Rabbi Steven Jacobs and Dr. Clinton A. Benton of the CalvaryBaptist Church of South Central Los Angeles will hold a jointcelebration of Heschel and King at the Sabbath services, beginning at7:30 p.m. Cantor Caren Glasser and the Calvary Sanctuary Choir willparticipate. The service is open to everyone.

Jan. 17

* Excerpts of Heschel’s theology (Part 2) at Temple Israel’sShabbat Service, 10:00 a.m.

Jan. 18

* Temple Israel’s Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh teaches a class onHeschel’s theology

* Rabbi Laura Geller will teach three seminars on Heschel and Kingat the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Yom Limud at Taft High School.For times and information, call (818)587-3250.

Jan. 23

* Temple Emanuel

Beverly Hills

(310) 288-3742

The seventh- and eighth-graders of the temple’s day school willlead a special Erev Shabbat service honoring Heschel and King at 8p.m. Guest speaker will be Genethia Hayes, executive director of theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and aleading African-American educator.


Highlights from a Life

Jan. 11, 1907: Born in Poland to distinguished Chassidicfamily. Educated at the University of Berlin and in Talmud andkabbalah.

1937: Appointed by Martin Buber as his successor at aJewish college in Frankfort am Main.

1938: Deported to Poland by Nazis, then immigrated toLondon, where he created the Institute for Jewish Learning. Hismother and several other family members are killed by Nazis.

1940-45: Professor at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.He marries Sylvia Straus.

1945: Professor at Jewish Theological Seminary.

1963: Heschel meets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago.

1965: Marches beside King from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

1965: Co-founds Clergy and Laymen Concerned to oppose theVietnam War.

1966: Meets with Pope Paul VI and becomes involved inSecond Vatican Council.

Dec. 23, 1972: Dies in his sleep in New York City.

Major Works:

“Man Is Not Alone” (1950)

“The Sabbath” (1955)

“God In Search of Man” (1955)

“Israel: An Echo of Eternity” (1969)

“The Prophets” (1962)

Source: “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays ofAbraham Joshua Heschel,” edited by Susannah Heschel (Farrar StrausGiroux) *