By Yaacov Moshe Moses
Q: I am a physician by profession, in fact a researcher in
pharmacology, and I tell you that many young scientists today are out of
control; they have no morals; they commit research fraud in a minute, just to
win grants and achieve fame, and I am worried about what is going on with all
this cloning business.
Could you, Yaacov, provide us with some of your own insights
into the process of cloning from an orthodox Jewish perspective? Where are we
heading with this? Are science and Torah at all compatible when it comes to
issues of scientific innovation?
A: Dear reader, you indeed have given me a tall order, but
what jumps to mind immediately, when it comes to issues of science and Torah, is
something the Rebbe said with regards to Einstein. The Rebbe pointed out that
Einstein received acclaim for demonstrating that energy and matter are one, but
the scientist who demonstrates how all forces are one in a unified theory will
receive even greater acclaim, so why not accept this fact right now and call it
The Rebbe’s point is that everything is created as a means to
know G-d, even science, and every discovery we have ever made was planted here
in the six days of Creation in order that we utilize it for a G-dly purpose.
In fact, over 1700 years ago, in advance of science and Dr.
Stephen W. Hawking’s visit to the White House, where he announced that he
believed we were on the verge of a unified field theory by the year 2000, the
author of the Zohar predicted a revolution of science and scientific theories
that would take place around the date 1840, and in the Zohar it describes the
fountains of wisdom bursting forth from the ground and flooding the earth - all
in preparation for an era when the world shall be filled with wisdom and
knowledge of the Oneness of its Creator, as an advent to the era of Moshiach!
From this statement, we know that the true purpose of all
technology and modern science is neither convenience nor power, but a means to
discover G-dliness within the physical world.
The Rebbe stresses that science presents no challenge to
Torah and that true science can only enhance Torah by demonstrating its truths
in the empirical realm.
To quote the Rebbe, he once answered a young college student
who asked him how he found the time to keep abreast of scientific developments,
by saying, "The universe, having been created by G-d, works according to laws
defined by G-d’s way of thinking. So, though the understanding of science in all
its detail is achieved by intensive study and by mastering the scientific
method, when one masters G-d’s wisdom, he learns how G-d chooses to think.
"He can, therefore, derive the general thrust of true
scientific ideas - the fundamental principles and forces G-d uses to run this
"And most important, he can recognize when a scientific
theory is in sync with these principles. This, of course, greatly lessens the
time required to study the details of science and the need to slowly build the
picture piece by piece."
Now what does all of this have to do with cloning, you say?
To review the process of cloning, I am sure that most people
have read in the newspapers and magazines, the simple version of what takes
place, and I myself recently attended a lecture at the University of Cincinnati,
given by Kenneth J. Ryan, M.D., on March 19th, on "The Ethics of Human Cloning."
In all cases, the details for the layman are reasonably consistent.
What happens is this: Scientists remove the nucleus from an
egg cell and replace it with the nucleus from another cell. The egg is then
placed into the uterus of a surrogate mother who then gives birth to an
offspring that has only the genes of the original cell.
The step-by-step process involves the following: cells from a
donor, the original cells to be cloned, which contain in their DNA all of the
genetic information necessary to direct the reproduction of the entire organism
from which the original cell came, are put into a culture dish and deprived of
nutrients, in other words ‘starved,’ until they ‘die’ and thus make available
their entire genetic code.
The reason the ‘dying’ cells make active their complete
genetic code is not known, but what is known is that ‘live cells’ have whatever
part of their genetic code repressed by their ‘aliveness,’ so that a nose is
growing out of the middle of your face and not a foot, so to speak. In other
words, if the entire genetic code of a ‘live’ cell were active all the time,
then a complete organism would be developing from the cell all the time, and not
the correct body part that is appropriate to the correct place.
The next thing that happens, I have learned, is that the
‘dead’ cell’s nucleus is removed (the brains of the cell, so to speak, where the
complete instructions for the genetic code are housed, and this surgically
removed nucleus is then set next to an egg cell that has had its nucleus
removed, and for some unknown reason, when an electric shock is applied, the
nucleus of the original cell ‘jumps’ into the center of the egg cell that has
had its nucleus removed, then this ‘fertilized egg,’ so to speak, begins to
divide and develop according to the genetic code of the donor cell.
This process is not so easy, however, as Dr. Ryan points out,
and many malformed embryos are destroyed (r’l), until a selected,
normally developing embryo, is allowed to continue development to maturity.
The stumbling block to cloning from adult cells that contain
all of their genetic code, in the past, has been that cells in an adult have
already chosen what they want to be when they grow up, so to speak. They are
liver cells, or skin cells, or neurons, for instance. Any gene not needed in a
cell is switched off, though still present.
As a result, skin cells do not make estrogen, brain cells do
not make insulin, because proteins seem to block a cell’s access to those genes.
For this reason, scientists had never cloned an adult cell because they could
not get to all the genes needed to make a complete being.
The Scottish scientists who cloned Dolly, the sheep, however,
discovered how to make adult cells live up to their full potential. First the
researchers removed udder cells from a pregnant sheep, then they grew the cells
in lab dishes, immersing them in nutrients; then they dialed back the nutrients
to one twentieth of what cells need to grow, and then the ‘starving cells’
became quiescent, in other words they ‘died,’ and then ‘stilled’ so to speak at
exactly that stage in their life cycle when the genes are open to "reprogramming
of gene expression," the genes then could be gotten to, so that they could
receive signals from an egg, whose nucleus had been removed, so that they should
start making a lamb embryo.
The end result was that out of 277 adult cells fused with
ova, only 13 pregnancies resulted, and only one, Dolly, was born alive, and that
is perhaps the main reason why the experiment is now so difficult to duplicate,
although it should be remembered that on January 20, 1998, it was announced that
American scientists had cloned two identical, genetically engineered calves.
Now what does all of this detail about procedure have to do
with Yiddishkeit, you may ask? I propose that the process of cloning may
be a scientific model for the process of T’chiyas HaMeisim, resurrection
of the dead!
Religious Jews have always known that resurrection of the
dead and the coming of Moshiach are verifiable facts, as real as the sun coming
up over the horizon tomorrow morning, but secular minded Jews have lately and
often expressed their doubts.
What I am saying is that science is now perhaps providing us
with clues and rational explanations as to the process of resurrection of the
I am not saying, on the other hand, that science is giving us
the full or complete picture. We still do not know exactly how resurrection of
the dead will take place, but we do have some explicit pictures drawn for us in
the Talmud and in other numerous Kabbalistic and Chassidic sources.
Part of what we know goes like this: There is a tradition
that one small bone in the Jewish body is indestructible. Luz is its
name, and from it the whole body will be built at the time of Resurrection.
References for this tradition can be found in B’Reishis Rabba
28:3; Zohar I, 69a and 137a; II 28b; Tosafos on Bava Kama 16b, Mishna Brura, and
Booklet 7 of the recently discovered Reshimos of the Rebbe, page 14.
Also, in the words of the Midrash (Koheles Rabba 12:5),
"Hadrian once asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya: ‘From what will G-d resurrect
man in the future world?’"
"R. Yehoshua replied, ‘From the luz in the spine.’
Once G-d has softened this bone with the Dew of Resurrection, it will become as
yeast is to dough, and from it the body will be built. The same body that
decomposed will be reconstructed. This is implied by the verse, ‘Your dead
people shall live’ (and not "shall be created")."
As to identifying the luz, some say that it is the
coccyx, a small bone at the base of the spine; others say that it is the bone at
the back of the skull where the knot of the t’fillin shel rosh is placed.
To provide more details, as recorded in the Midrash (in
B’Reishis Rabba 14:5), Beis Shammai holds that the body will begin to take shape
with sinews and bones, and the skin and flesh will follow; Beis Hillel holds
that the Resurrection will parallel the formation of an embryo in this world,
whose skin and flesh precede its sinews and bones.
Also the author of Ben Yehoyada on Sanhedrin 92a makes
an important observation by noting that Daniel is told by the angel (see Daniel
12:13), "and you shall arise to your destiny at the end of days." In the
original, this last phase is keitz ha’yamin - but "yamin" also
means "the right-hand side." In Kabbalistic terms, moreover, being "to the
right" of something signifies not location, but progression!
Now, the letters that stand "to the right" of each of the
four letters of the Divine name, Havayeh, are the letters which immediately
follow them in the Alef-Beis, namely Chaf, Vav, Zayin, Vav.
Significantly, their numerical equivalent total that of the Hebrew word, "tal,"
(Tes, Lamed), which means "dew."
Several problems remain, however. According to the view held
in Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer, the reconstruction of the body based on the
luz is a construction of an entirely original body, a new body, so to speak.
In other commentaries, in the Zohar for example, the reconstructed body is a
duplicate of the old body that has been buried, and will be recognizable as
Also the problem remains, if the body has decomposed and the
bones have decomposed, from where will this luz bone come? In a Midrash
found in B’Reishis Rabba 28:3, it is explained explicitly that the luz is
indestructible (also see commentaries of Rashi, Matnos Kehuna, and Yefei Toar).
This problem, however, is clearly laid to rest by the author
of Tzor HaMor, who writes in the name of Sisrei Torah, as he comments on
this verse found in B’Reishis 2:22, "and G-d built the tzela," that the
Luz bone is in the neck, and is very hard, and it will neither burn nor perish.
And just as G-d built the body of Chava from a bone, so too will He reconstitute
the body from the Luz. Mishna Brura cites early opinions that resurrection will
center on one bone that does not decompose and is nourished by the food eaten at
a Melaveh Malka. R. Chaim Kanievsky, thus, notes that even one who learns
Torah or dies al kiddush Hashem will be resurrected only by regularly
partaking of a Melaveh Malka.
And, sadly, it should also be noted, that eye-witness
accounts during the Holocaust describe the predominance of one small, apparently
indestructible bone, amidst the ashes of the remains of countless, hapless,
Now what does all of this have to do with cloning, you say? I
suggest that if we look carefully at the language used to describe the process
of resurrection of the dead, as this develops from the Luz bone, we will see
intense parallels to the process of cloning.
First, notice that the Luz bone is softened by the dew of
resurrection. Perhaps this process is parallel to the ‘nutritious solution’ I
described, when I explained how the Scottish scientists prepared the Dolly cells
for releasing their entire genetic code.
And do note that the Dolly cells had been ‘starved’ until
they were described as ‘quiescent,’ or in other words, ‘dead.’ Therefore, their
resuscitation is clearly akin to resurrection of the dead.
But, most interesting of all, note that the cloning process
gets kick-started by electricity, although no-one seems to know why.
I suggest that the reason can be found in the Gemara, in
Nedarim 86, where it states explicitly that in the time to come G-d will take
the sun out of its sheath and heal the righteous (resurrect them!).
Now what does ‘sun out of its sheath’ mean? Talmudic scholars
don’t comment, but perhaps this time science can come to the rescue and
demonstrate that ‘sun out of its sheath’ is the electricity that kick-starts the
cloning process, and the Torah can come to the rescue of science to explain why
the knowledge of how to clone has now become authorized by Hashem as human
knowledge, the reason being that we are now in the Era of Moshiach, as the Rebbe
has told us many times, and such knowledge is now appropriate for humans,
because we are soon about to experience the resurrection of the dead, and
instead of being completely overwhelmed, we will be able to rationally cope with
such a phenomenon, because science has prepared our rational minds with
explanations involving the cloning process!
After all, remember that Beis Hillel did argue that
resurrection of the dead would be similar to the growth of a human embryo, and
the author of Ben Yehoyada did say that the process of resurrection would
require a progression that begins with dew from heaven. The parallels seem
obvious to me, and if they are indications of how resurrection of the dead will
take place, then may we soon be entering into the era of Moshiach, mamash,