Question: What is the Jewish stance on cloning?
Answer: It is a bit complicated since, as one might expect, many extrapolations must be made to get from the ancient Rabbinic literature to cloning. Much of what I read was based on the concept of a “Golem.”
The narrative in Sanhedrin (65b) records that Rava made a golem and sent it to Rabbi Zeira. Upon noting its inability to speak, the latter caused the golem to return to the dust. It is noted that, apparently, had the golem been endowed with the power of speech, Rabbi Zeira would have had no problem with its existence. Maharsha comments that speech is the “power of the soul”, and the lack thereof was evidence that the golem was not human (obviously this has no implications on a mute person). Nevertheless, many authorities rule even a mute golem to be human despite the lack of genetic material. Certainly, then, a clone would be considered human.
Furthermore, Jewish law asserts that the offspring of a creature always retains the status of the creature from whence it came. For example, were a pig to be born from a cow, it would be considered a kosher animal (this would not necessarily be true if the paternal genetic material were known to be from a male pig). In fact, the concept that the paternal seed has implications for the offspring can be seen more broadly than simply applying to sperm cells, and should even be true if the tissue was from a different organ of the body. It follows, that the halachic status of a clone would be the same as that of the offspring of sexual union. Therefore, in animals, there does not seem to be any restrictions on cloning.
In humans, however, one must consider several possible reasons to refrain from the practice. First of all, in the golem literature there is a clear concern of deification of the golem or its creator. It is unclear if this would apply in modern times. Secondly, the very real danger of an imperfect, damaged, or otherwise defective human clone would be reason to prohibit the procedure. Certainly, one must have this concern until the technique is proven safe and effective. Finally, there is the social concern of creating a society that is unbalanced by the ubiquity of certain “favorable” attributes and talents. On the other hand, cloning cells to produce tissues for the sake of transplantation seems to be a laudable goal.
If this answer seems to lack clarity and cohesion, I admit to you that it is indeed a reflection of what my brain perceives of the subject. Still, I appreciate the opportunity to have examined the issue somewhat. I welcome any question, comments, or requests for clarification you may have thus far.
Rabbi Daniel Fleksher
[Editor – See here for another treatment on the subject of cloning.