Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog
Friday, December 30, 2005
NEW BOOK and Cloning in Jewish Law
I am happy to announce a new book published by Yashar, Medicine and Jewish Law volume III edited by Drs. Fred Rosner and Robert Schulman. The topics covered by the respected authors include those that are very timely and of public interest: infertility, genetics, end of life issues, and other miscellaneous topics. See more about the book here, as well as an excerpt chapter: Impact of Medical History on Medical Halachah (PDF) by Edward Reichman, M.D.
What is the position of Jewish law and tradition on the cloning of humans, assuming that it can be done successfully and without defective products? Disagreement.
R. J. David Bleich (Judaism and Healing, 2002 edition, pp. 146-147) refers to cloning a child afflicted with leukemia in order to obtain bone marrow as "moral and even laudatory." He states the same about cloning in order to find a cure for a disease from which people are currently suffering, assuming that the cloning is "scientifically prudent and undertaken with appropriate safeguards."
Furthermore, "although the cloning of human beings is highly problematic, the cloning of tissues and organs for therapeutic purposes is entirely salutary."
In Medicine and Jewish Law volume III, Dr. Abraham S. Abraham quotes R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as telling him that "the creation of a new species of 'man' without the mating of man and woman [i.e. cloning] is forbidden... [C]loning of tissues or organs is permitted if done for the benefit of mankind" (p. 87).
As posted in a previous post, R. Michael J. Broyde (Voices Across Boundaries 1:2 pp. 31-34) argues in favor of cloning.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
The Sefer Ha-Hayim newsletter vol. 1 no. 7 is out. Read it here.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
The Case of the Poison Sandwich
Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law
buy the book now
The Poison Sandwich
A medical student was not doing well and was picked on by his fellow students. It got to the point that his lunch was secretly stolen on a regular basis. This student then devised a trick to find out who was stealing his lunch: he put poison in his lunch. When one of his fellow students started vomiting violently, it was clear who had been stealing his lunch. The student then heroically saved this poisoned student.
The question is whether this student was halakhically allowed to poison his lunch. In the journal Pa'amei Ya'akov (Kislev 2000; Nisan 2000), R. Yitzhak Zilberstein ruled that this student acted properly. Since the thief was a habitual sinner, he qualified for the following Talmudic judgment:
We mark kerem reva'i [produce from a tree's fourth year] with clods off earth and orlah [produce from a tree's first three years] with pottery shards and graves with limestone that is smoothed and poured. R. Shimon ben Gamliel says: About when is this speaking? Shevi'is [the Sabbatical year]. (Mishnah, Ma'aser Sheni 5:1)In other words, according to R. Shimon ben Gamliel, on normal years, we are not concerned that a thief might come and steal food that is forbidden to be eaten. Let him eat it, since he is stealing anyway.
On the Shevi'is year, when the food is ownerless. But on other years, leave it for the wicked person and let him die [hal'itehu le-rasha ve-yamus]. (Gemara, Bava Kamma 69a)
Let Him Die
R. Zilberstein rules that the thief in the above case is similar to the thief in the Mishnah. Not only do we not try to help him avoid other prohibitions, but we say that all negative results of his sins are appropriate. Let him rot. Even though we certainly cannot kill him, we can set up traps that, by sinning, he falls into. Therefore, the poisoning is not only not bad, it is good. He dies, or almost dies, due entirely to his sin of theft.
The negative response to R. Zilberstein's ruling was quick to come. A number of articles were published in the journals Pa'amei Ya'akov, Or Yisrael and elsewhere disputing his ruling. R. Aaron Levine discusses this issue in his new book Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law, in his chapter on setting booby traps for thiefs on one's property. R. Levine follows the ruling or R. Menashe Klein on this subject, that the student who poisoned his sandwich violated the prohibition of lo sa'amod al dam rei'ekha, the biblical prohibition against standing by idly when one's fellow is in danger.
[I]f M knows that the sandwich the thief stole contains poison, he is duty bound to inform the thief as fast as he can so that the thief will be saved from death or even from sickness. Now, if M must extricate the theif from the danger of the pilfered poisoned sandwich, he certainly should not poison the sandwich in the first place. La ta'amod requires this. (p. 506)R. Levine analyzes this case at more length.
R. Dovid Gottlieb (Ateres Ya'akov ch. 8:2) posits three views on the concept of letting a sinner suffer from his sins:
1. There is no obligation to be concerned for sinners.
2. There is an obligation but it is negated in a limited fashion in the Mishnah's case.
3. One is obligated to be concerned for sinners but only when that does not imply approval of the sinner's deeds.
R. Gottlieb (8:7) argues that we would only want the sinner to suffer according to the first view but not according to the other two. He also points out that nowhere do we see any permission given to perform any action to deepen the suffering of the sinner.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Electric Hanukah Menorahs
R. Chaim Jachter wrote an article in the RJJ Journal about electric Hanukah menorahs that is to appear in his shortly forthcoming book from Yashar, Gray Matter volume 2. The following is a brief synopsis of the reasons electric menorahs cannot be used to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting on Hanukah.
1. There is no act of kindling the menorah, which is a requirement of Hanukah lights (as opposed to Shabbos lights). This is proposed by R. Tzvi Pesah Frank and R. Ovadiah Hadayah but rejected by R. Moshe Stern.
2. An incandescent light bulb is considered a torch (R. Eliezer Waldenberg and the Kaf Ha-Hayim).
3. Electric lights are too different from the menorah in the Temple, lacking wicks and flames (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and R. Ovadiah Yosef).
4. Electric lights that are plugged into the wall socket do not contain internally the required amount of fuel to last one half hour (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). This would not apply to battery-powered lights.
A Google search led me to this page of Haburos by, I think, my old pal R. Aharon Ross. See here for his haburos on Hanukah. Electric menorahs is number 15.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Is there anything wrong with telemarketers for a charity using pressure tactics to get people to donate?
R. Aaron Levine, Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law, pp. 241-242:
A variation of the above case occurs when Arrow [the telemarketer] is a charity solicitor. R. Bezalel Stern dealt with an analogous case: A Rabbi (R) had in his possession matzah for the night of Passover in excess of his own religious requirement (mitzvah) needs. His friend (F) had no matzah to fulfill his mitzvah need and therefore requested R to either sell or give him the excess supply. Here, F’s efforts to overcome R’s initial resistance to make the matzah available to him violates neither the lo tit’avveh nor the lo tahmod interdicts. This is so because absent F’s pleadings and exertions, R, is, in any case, obligated to make the matzah available to F so that he can fulfill his mitzvah need. Similarly, in the case at hand, Oak [the person being called] is obligated to give charity as a religious duty. Making use of persuasion of all sorts to overcome Oak’s initial rejection to contribute to the charitable cause should therefore not entail a violation of lo tit’avveh and lo tahmod on the part of Arrow. Similarly, Arrow’s persistence and persuasion to overcome Oak’s resistance should not amount to causing him needless mental anguish and should therefore not violate ona’at devarim. One caveat, however. To be sure, Oak has a religious duty to give charity. But, Oak may feel that he is not obligated to support the particular organization Arrow is soliciting funds for. Accordingly, Arrow does not have an unlimited license to push his cause on Oak. At some point, Arrow’s persistence and pestering become a violation of ona’at devarim.
 R. Bezalel Stern, Be-zel ha-Hokhmah 3:43.
 Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 15 7–8, 10. In respect to agricultural produce, the Torah prescribes a ten percent obligation (Deuteronomy 14:22). Talmudic decisors differ as to whether the ten percent benchmark applies to income as well. Opinions in the matter range from an income tithe requirement arising from biblical law to one established by rabbinical edict. In his survey of the Responsa literature, R. Ezra Basri concludes that the majority opinion regards the ten percent level as a definite obligation, albeit by dint of rabbinical decree. In any case, devoting less than ten percent of one’s income to charity is considered by the rabbis to reflect an ungenerous nature. (R. Ezra Basri, Dinei Mamonot vol. 1, p. 405).
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The Chief Rabbi Has Good Taste
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks with R. Daniel Z. Feldman, looking at the latter's book The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations. Taken at YU by Menachem Butler.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Proper Attribution of Secondary Sources
From R. Aaron Levine, Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law, pp. 31-35:
Using Secondary Sources Without Attribution
I. Geneivat Da'at
The reasonableness criterion provides the starting point for analyzing the ethics of [Rabbi] Samson not disclosing to his audience that he made use of Berit Yehudah to prepare his lecture. Consider that thorough preparation combined with the knowledge of which sources to consult will assuredly generate goodwill for Samson for the lecture he delivers. There can be no doubt that this goodwill is his legitimate entitlement. Accordingly, if the audience generally presumes that Samson makes use of secondary sources and eclectic works to prepare his lecture, his failure to give attribution to Berit Yehudah does not project him as more scholarly and learned than he actually is. Does Halakhah give Samson a license to rely on his own intuition that this is in fact the case?...
What adverse consequences does Samson face in the event his assessment is wrong? Because punishing consequences do not follow on the heels of error, Samson’s intuition in the matter must be regarded as self-serving and hence unreliable.
Why is it wrong for Samson to rely on his intuition in this matter? The operative principle here is the mi’ut ha-matzui (small, but significant percentage) rule. This rule states that Halakhah concerns itself with a condition as prevailing even though it is not based on observed fact but, rather, only on a small, yet significant statistical probability...
The mi’ut ha-matzui rule tells us that there will certainly be some people in the audience who will gather an overly favorable impression of Samson’s scholarship on account of the rabbi’s failure to disclose that he used Berit Yehudah to prepare his lecture. Failure to make the disclosure hence puts Samson at risk of violating the geneivat da’at interdict. But, what of the principle, discussed earlier, that an individual is not responsible for disabusing others of a false impression when that impression is the product of self-deception? There must be a quantitive measure for mi’ut ha-matzui. If the percentage of people in the audience left with the misimpression falls below this threshold number, then, the judgment will be that these people were guilty of self-deception. If, on the other hand, the percentage of people left with the misimpression is higher than this benchmark, then Samson’s nondisclosure of his sources is not acceptable.
How is mi’ut ha-matzui translated into quantitative terms? Addressing himself to this issue, R. Jacob b. Aaron (Karlin, d. 1844) regards mi’ut ha-matzui as generally translating into a 10 percent benchmark. Disputing R. Jacob b. Aaron, R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (Israel, contemp.) feels that mi’ut ha-matzui translates into a 15–20 percent range...
Suppose that Samson conducts the necessary survey and the data confirm his intuition. What the outcome of the survey does is only to make Samson’s nondisclosure of Berit Yehudah free of a geneivat da’at violation. Not telling the audience of his debt to Berit Yehudah may, however, violate other ethical duties.
II. The Law of Attribution
One problem Samson’s nondisclosure entails is that his conduct falls short of the demands of the law of attribution. Repeating a saying in the name of the person who said it is counted by the Tanna in Avot as one of the 48 qualities necessary to acquire the Torah. The Tanna goes on to say: “Whoever repeats a thing in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world, as it is said: ‘And Esther said to the king in the name of Mordecai’ ’’(Avot 6:6). To be sure, Samson gives proper attribution to the originators of all of the concepts and rulings he mentions. But, he does not look up these sources in their original works, but instead relies on R. Bloi’s summaries [in Berit Yehudah] of these works. R. Bloi hence assumes the role of the first teacher in a chain of teachers. In this regard, the Talmud at Nazir 56b informs us that for a teaching reported in a chain of three or more teachers, we mention, in the attribution, the first and last conveyors of the law, but we need not mention the intermediate conveyors. Thus, R. Yehudah ha-Nassi presents in his Mishnah a teaching of R. Elazar in the name of R. Yehoshua b. Hananya; even though R. Elazar did not learn the dictum directly from R. Yehoshua b. Hananya, but instead only from R. Yehoshua b. Mamal, who, in turn, learned it from R. Yehoshua b. Hananya. Since R. Bloi is for Rabbi Samson the first teacher in a chain of teachers, the law of attribution requires Samson to mention R. Bloi.
A variation of this case occurs when Samson looks up all the sources R. Bloi quotes and studies them in the original. Because Samson is now in a position to directly report on what these authorities have to say, these authorities now become Samson’s first teachers in a chain of teachers and the role R. Bloi plays here is reduced to someone who made Samson aware of their teachings. In the latter scenario, the law of attribution does not require Samson to make mention of R. Bloi. Samson’s failure to acknowledge R. Bloi not only violates the law of attribution, but also bespeaks of ingratitude and disrespect for someone who has effectively become his teacher of Torah. We need only take note of the dictum of the Tanna in Avot (6:3): “He who learns from his fellow a single chapter, a single Halakhah, a single verse, a single Torah statement, or even a single letter, must treat him with honor . . .”
The upshot of the above analysis is that without a validating survey to confirm his intuition that the audience is well aware without being explicitly told that he uses secondary sources to prepare the lecture, Samson’s silence on the role Berit Yehudah played in preparing his lecture violates geneivat da’at law. Moreover, even if Samson has this validating survey in hand, not to acknowledge R. Bloi does injustice to the law of attribution and bespeaks of ingratitude and disrespect to someone who has effectively become his teacher of Torah. The extent to which Samson should acknowledge R. Bloi will depend on the degree to which Samson relied on Berit Yehudah in preparing his lecture. Greatest acknowledgment will be owed if Berit Yehudah both laid out his lecture for him and made him aware for the first time of the issues he spoke about.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law -- A Podcast
To celebrate the publication of Rabbi Aaron Levine's masterpiece Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law (see here), I have posted my first podcast ever. In it, I discuss the book and give specific examples of interesting topics that can be found in it.
Load the podcast (13 minutes, 12 seconds)
New Book on Jewish Business Ethics Published
Yashar Books is proud to announce the publication of Rabbi Aaron Levine's Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law.
The press release is available here.
More information about the book is available here.
You can buy the book here.
Coming later today... a podcast about the book.