Stem cell research ‘consistent’ with Jewish law, rabbi says

Medical bioethics expert Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University in New York City recently told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 in Boca Raton that Judaism permits embryonic stem cell research and that there exists a mandate to seek cures of diseases that cause great human suffering.

“One of the great tragedies of the Bush administration has been the weakening of the wall between church and state, between the religious and the medical,” the rabbi said in a lecture sponsored by the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.

Citing Torah sources, the 80-year-old biology professor and Rosh Yeshiva of the university’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) explained that harvesting stem cells from an early-stage embryo on day five or day six does not violate Jewish law concerning when an embryo achieves legal status as a human being. That only occurs after 40 days when the embryo has already reached human form and developed all of its organ systems, including having a heartbeat, Tendler said.

The different regulations set by the FDA regarding cigarettes and similar others include:

  • Right to regulate the production and distribution of tobacco products including electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah, nicotine gels, pipe tobacco, and dissolvables
  • Issuance of health warnings
  • Restrictions on access to tobacco-related products by the youths, mainly to those under the age of 18 years

However, the number of active electronic cigarette users have increased compared to the number of users in the past.

In addition, he said, embryos in a laboratory in a Petri dish have no chance of becoming children without being implanted in a womb. Some Christian groups equate embryonic stem cell research with abortion, but that is not Judaism’s position, the rabbi said. The groups oppose the culling of stem cells, which by necessity results in the destruction of embryos.

In 2001, President Bush announced that the federal government would only fund research for existing stem cell lines.

Rabbi Tendler said many of America’s leading stem cell scientists are now working in other countries where they have more freedom in research.

Because of their regenerative properties, scientists believe that stem cells can be used to treat a variety of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and spinal cord injury.

“My stance can’t change the controversy,” said Tendler, rabbi of the Community Synagogue in Monsey, N.Y. “I can only resolve the controversy by saying that if the instruction of the Torah was followed, there would be no controversy. But people don’t follow the Torah.”

The program also included remarks from attorney Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute in Wellington. He predicated that it is only a matter of time before funding restrictions are lifted.

“I am proud that so many came out to discuss this revolutionary topic,” said JCRC Chair Steve Mendelsohn. “There appears to be a consensus that Jewish law and ethics supports stem cell research including embryonic cells. Hopefully, our voices can be heard in this national debate.”