Does a Clone Have a Soul?

Jewish law does not forbid cloning. But rabbis are divided over whether the clone would be human.

"In my opinion," says Rabbi Moshe Botschko, head of the Heichal Eliyahu hesder yeshiva, "a creature born through genetic duplication is not considered human - It is clear beyond all doubt that the life form created in some scientific institution will be an animal that walks on two feet, no more." According to Botschko, a highly respected rabbi in the French-speaking community, the reason for this is that the Creator only gives man a soul at the moment when sperm meets ovum. But the cloning process involves no sperm. The implications of Botschko's conclusion are far-reaching: "Anyone who kills a creature of this type will not be indicted, because he has not killed a man," he says.

A new book, which the national-religious community of Ma'aleh Adumim's Mitzpe Nevo neighborhood published in the memory of three of its members, contains many of the religious decrees and articles published in recent years about cloning and Jewish law. Botschko's article first appeared in the National Religious Party house paper Hatzofeh. The book also includes letters exchanged between Botschko and Professor Mishel Ravel, the head of the National Academy of Sciences' biotechnical committee. Ravel, once Botschko's student in the Eitz Haim yeshiva in Switzerland, wrote him that human genetic cloning is a form of artificial fertilization: "The halakha does not consider in-vitro fertilization to be a practice that deprives the newborn of his soul. According to halakha and kabbala, the stages of the soul [in its spiritual ascent] continue gradually throughout life. Would a change in the technique of fertilization, using the nucleus of a mature cell rather than a sperm cell, prevent the fetus from achieving and attaining a soul?" Ravel asked.

Botschko was not persuaded but also admits, "The rabbis who rule on this tend to be permissive regarding cloning." The truth is that if there were a way for rabbis to forbid cloning based on halakha, in the way ultra-Orthodox rabbis forbade the Internet and third-generation mobile phones, the lives of these religious rulers would become much simpler. However, rabbis agree that there is no halakhic decree that could be used to prohibit cloning. Rabbinic articles pertaining to cloning frequently cite the rule that, in the case of any practice, "If there is no known reason to prohibit it, it is permissible."

What is magic?

Catholics have a much simpler take on this matter. The Catholic Church decreed that any attempt to reproduce without sexuality is immoral. But the Church also denounces in-vitro fertilization, which Judaism considers to be a superb alternative for infertile couples determined to fulfill the biblical commandment to "be fertile and multiply." It is not that rabbis are not party to fears that cloning may be used in eugenic attempts to improve the human race and create a superior class or an army of identical soldiers. Nor are they blind to the potential threats of a fetal black market or reproduction without family and love. They are well aware of such scenarios, but must fight the battle against cloning with both hands tied behind their backs.

Judaism does not see scientific development as insurrection and cloning as competition with the Creator - Judaism's perception of scientific development is quite positive. Rabbi Elisha Aviner, one of the leaders of the Birkat Moshe yeshiva in Ma'aleh Adumim and an editor of the book the community published, explains, "We believe that major breakthroughs in scientific development are a direct result of divine intervention. Every scientific discovery appears in the world at the correct moment when humanity is capable of coping with it."

Rabbi and Professor Avraham Steinberg, head of the Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halakhic Research, explains, "According to Judaism, we are permitted and obligated to upgrade the world in any way or direction for the good of mankind." If man successfully clones a human, adds Rabbi Yigal Shilat, also of the Birkat Moshe yeshiva, it will not defy the laws of nature - it will be possible because God created nature to make it possible.

Another question that has been raised is whether cloning represents a form of magic, which is forbidden by halakha. Steinberg says, "Cloning is a process that is understood and can be explained by science." He quotes Rabbi Menachem Hameiri, who wrote, "Anything done by a natural method is not considered magic."

When is it permissible?

Rabbis cite a series of cases where cloning might be justified if and when the process becomes safe. According to Judaism, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply may justify many things, and there are those who believe that it also justifies cloning. Rabbi Yigal Shafran, head of the Jerusalem Rabbinic Council department of halakha and medicine, writes, "Cloning is a potential solution to the problems of many couples who are childless as a result of the husband's infertility. There is no longer a need for the husband's reproductive cells. It is now possible to use other cells from his body." According to him, in cases of male infertility, it is possible that from a halakhic perspective, "cloning is preferable to any other method."

Rabbi and Professor J. David Bleich, yeshiva head at Yeshiva University, doubts that cloning is permissible in the case of infertility. He permits cloning only when where there is a clear medical benefit. For example, he supports cloning when the only hope of saving the life of children with leukemia is a bone-marrow transplant. He explains that parents may then clone the sick child. "The newborn child will not be ill with the disease and will be an ideal donor," he says. Moreover, he believes that halakha permits cloning of tissues and organs for transplant. This could save lives because transplant recipients would be unlikely to reject tissue or organs cloned from their own cells.

Who is the Golem?

Rabbis naturally tend to compare cloning to the creation of a Golem, the supernaturally created human-like figure occasionally mentioned in Jewish sources. Several sources tell the story of Rabbi Zera, who killed a Golem because it could not speak. Is it then also permissible to kill a cloned individual? Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, says, "A cloned man is a man in every sense, because he has human intelligence and the power of speech. It is forbidden to kill him."

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, municipal rabbi of Ramat Gan, says, "There are those who claim a cloned individual would not be considered a human life form; it would not be a man at all, neither Jew nor Gentile, and it would even be permissible to kill it. It would, at most, be considered a non-human animal." This is because of the belief that uniqueness is one definitive quality of humanity - therefore, an individual who is not unique cannot be considered human. He continues, "If the cloned creation is capable of reason, has free will and self-control, it will be considered human. It is implausible that we would permit the spilling of blood, heaven forbid, of a human creation only because he fails to meet one criteria among others."

Who is the father?

Despite this permissive attitude, cloning poses many halakhic problems. For example, if a woman is cloned, who is the clone's father, according to halakha? Steinberg writes, "It is possible that this creation has no father at all; it is possible that the father of her mother is her father because the male genetic material came from him; it is possible that her mother is also her `father' because the fetal source is only the mother." Rabbi Yaakov Ariel is quick to deny the possibility that the mother is also the father. "We did not find a peculiar `father' like this one in halakha."

Surprisingly, there is almost no discussion in these articles of whether offspring derived from the cloning of Jews would be considered Jews themselves.

Rabbi Shilat suggests a cloned child may be illegitimate. That would be the case if an ovum containing genetic material from a male other than her husband was implanted in the womb of a married woman. "This leads to the clear conclusion that it is forbidden to create a clone of a strange Jew [not her husband] for a married woman because of the prohibition against creating a mumser [illegitimate child] in Israel."

However, Rabbi Shafran has ruled that a man may sell his genetic material. According to him, "It is permissible for a man to sell the hair from his head in return for favors, and he has the authority to sell any part of his body that is unblemished."

Who is a cow?

Is a human child born from the womb of a surrogate cow, a man, or a cow? If a cow, can he be ritually slaughtered according to Kashrut?

One thorny question raised by cloning is what will happen if female animals are used as surrogate mothers. Prof. J. David Bleich writes, "A creature resembles a man and is born from a beast. If it is born to a kosher beast, the Gemara asks if it is permissible to slaughter the offspring." He notes, "This question indicates that the Gemara does not consider such a creature to be human."

Bleich himself says, "If a fetus is cloned from a human and implanted in the womb of a monkey, despite the fact that the newborn has a human genotype and phenotype, it is doubtful that it would be considered halakhically human."

Dr. John Levica of the Columbia University department of medicine discusses the case of an ovum with human genetic material implanted in a cow. He believes that the power of speech, reasoning and human appearance of the offspring takes precedence over the fact that it was born from a bovine womb.