Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jewish Perspectives on Genetic Engineering

" against mixing different species even if it does not violate the letter of the law? There is disagreement among the sages as to whether the rationale behind the laws against interbreeding are within the realm of human comprehension or not. The classical commentator Rashi writes that as hukim, these laws are "decrees of the King"19 and are beyond any human comprehension. If we cannot understand the reasons for these prohibitions, then perhaps the ethical scope of these laws can be limited to the specific cases given in the Torah, just as the legal scope was limited in the discussion above. Nachmanides, on the other hand, believes that humans are capable of understanding, at least partially, the reasons for these laws. Nachmanides writes that one who mixes two different species is "changing and denying the Divine Creation of the world,"20 a sin that may well go beyond the scope of the halakhic prohibition given in the Torah.

Supporters of Nachmanides' position include the thirteenth century author of Sefer HaHinukh who writes on the prohibition of mixing species: "and all that G-d did is intended for the perfection of that which is needed in His world...and the species should not be mixed, lest it detract from the perfection and there will not be (G-d's) blessing."21 The eighteenth century German Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on the Bible:

[T]he Torah must consider this law (against mixing different species) which G-d implanted in the organic world of nature to be of the very highest importance for our human and Jewish calling, for it has interwoven consideration of it (the prohibition of mixing different species) in the whole of our life. Not only does it forbid us actual interference with this law by the prohibition of interbreeding animals and


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