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Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

The Ethics of Cloning

My experience is that scientific breakthroughs (e.g. man on the moon, invitro fertilization, etc.) are greeted by the general public with accolades and enthusiasm. The idea of human cloning, meanwhile, has been typically received with disdain and trepidation. Why?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

People perceive cloning as an affront to their humanity and sense of individuality. Beyond this, there is great potential for abuse.

We could imagine certain scenarios where cloning could help save a human life. For example, let's say you only have one kidney, and then discover that you are the only exact-match donor for your brother, who will die if he doesn't get a new kidney. You could clone yourself, and then use one of the new kidneys to save your brother's life.

On the other hand, the potential for abuse is enormous. The most frightening idea is "growing" humans in cages, in order to "harvest" their bodies for spare parts. It is not far-fetched to imagine an unscrupulous multi-millionaire cloning himself in this manner – in case he should ever need a kidney, heart, eye, bone marrow, etc.

Another potential abuse is creating a class of mindless worker-clones. If the goal of cloning is to mold a being who mindlessly follows prescribed dictates, this is antithetical to Judaism. Our tradition encourages independent thought. In fact, the goal of a Jewish parent, teacher or rabbi is to create independence. That is why the Talmud states that parents are responsible for teaching their children how to read and write, learn Torah (gain wisdom for living), earn a livelihood, etc.

So... is cloning good or bad? Judaism says there is nothing in the world that is INHERENTLY good or evil; there is only the POTENTIAL for good and evil. Even something we typically associate as "bad" – for example, outrage – can be used for good – outrage against injustice. Similarly, even something we typically associate as "good" – for example, giving – can be used for bad – over-giving, or smothering. Talent, education and wisdom only have POTENTIAL.

Surveys show that the majority of people oppose human cloning because of the great likelihood of abuse. Apparently, people perceive society as essentially irresponsible and untrustworthy. Nuclear power, with all its potential positive uses, remains a threat to all humanity. Like Frankenstein, it is created by human intelligence, but at the same time may have a dangerous tendency to outgrow human control and become destructive. Rabbi Moshe Tendler says: "The real problem is that whenever man has shown mastery over man, it has always meant the enslavement of man."

It is our prayer that the world will use its powers only for purposes which are good, holy, and truly "human."

Visiting the Sick

I work near a hospital and on my lunch hour I have been volunteering to visit the Jewish patients. Are there any specific Jewish traditions regarding visiting the sick?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are engaging in the mitzvah of "Bikur Cholim" (literally: "Visiting the Sick") which is a Jewish tradition dating back thousands of years.

The Talmud (Sotah 14a) relates that when God came to Abraham in Genesis 18:1, Abraham was recovering from the painful surgery of circumcision at age 99. We find that God does many things in the Torah through angels, but when it came to visiting the sick, no messenger would suffice. The Talmud explains: Just as God visits the sick, so too is it incumbent upon us to imitate God and visit the sick. (Maimonides - Avel 14:4-6; Shulchan Aruch - Y.D. 335)

Many Jewish communities have a Bikur Cholim Society, which insures that sick people are visited regularly, and that all their needs are attended to - e.g. food in the house, rides to the doctor, plus cheering up and companionship. Indeed, a person's psychological state in large part determines their recovery and state of health.

When a person is sick, they want compassion. They want people to be sensitive to their needs, and to help alleviate the discomfort - both physical and emotional. Just by being there, much good will be accomplished. You can spare someone from loneliness, or be there to listen to them take a burden off their chest. Or just chatting with them distracts them from their condition and lifts their spirit. The Talmud (Baba Metzia 30b) says that "He who visits a sick person takes away one-sixtieth of their illness." The idea is that your visit helps reduce/mitigate/lighten the sick person’s suffering.

At times, visiting the sick may even be a matter of life and death. By visiting a person who is ill, you might be able to advise him about a doctor he should consult, or obtain medication for him.

Part and parcel of this mitzvah is to pray for the sick person's recovery. When one visits the sick, one should pray that God should heal him (using the person's Hebrew name and mother's name), along with all the sick people (Code of Jewish Law - YD 335:5-6). It may only take the inspiration and heartfelt prayer of a close friend to tip the scales in favor of a speedy recovery. We should never underestimate the power of prayer.

It is also customary to say Psalm 121.

According to the Talmud, visits should not be made very early or late in the day, and one should not stay too long.

Can a person fulfill this mitzvah via telephone? According to most opinions, a phone call only suffices if there is no other option. However, if a person has the chance to pay a live visit, they may not discharge their obligation via telephone, since visiting allows one to help the patient in more practical ways and has inherent concrete value. (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:223; Yechaveh Da'at 3:83)

Even if one finds the patient asleep, the visitor is still in fulfillment of the mitzvah, as the patient will be informed about the visit after awakening, which will give them encouragement. (Derech Sichah, p. 66.)

Further, Rabbi Yisrael P. Feinhandler (Avnei Yashpe 1:230) observes that even if the patient is a baby and not aware of anything, the parents are aware, and certainly benefit tremendously from the support; thus the idea of bringing comfort is applicable, even if not directly to patient.

Unfortunately, many people reason that it's better not to visit the sick, because "maybe I will say something that will unintentionally hurt them, or make them feel bad just by the fact that I am healthy," and many other similar evasions. These justifications are poor excuses, perhaps because we prefer to live comfortably without confronting these issues. That may be one reason why God gave us this mitzvah - to help get us out of ourselves and feel the needs of others.

For more on how to fulfill this wonder mitzvah, see: http://www.heritage.org.il/innernet/archives/bikur.htm

Jewish DNA

I did DNA testing recently and was surprised to find that I am partially “Ashkenazi Jewish.” I have always felt an affinity for the Jewish people and this confirms it! Does this mean I am Jewish? Is there anything more I need to do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for sharing the interesting info about yourself. The truth is, we generally do not consider DNA to be a complete proof of Jewishness. You didn't mention what percentage of your DNA is “Jewish" but even if the percentages were quite high, it would not be taken as conclusive proof. Human DNA has been pretty well mixed up today, and there are many impeccable Jews with "non-Jewish" DNA, as well as non-Jews with "Jewish" genes. (Imagine two sisters who lived hundreds of years ago, and one of whom converted. The non-Jewish sister would have descendants with "Jewish" genes.) Thus, DNA evidence is certainly grounds for further research but on its own is not conclusive.

In addition, Jewishness follows the strictly maternal line, so it would have to have been your mother's mother's mother's mother etc. who was Jewish for you to be as well. If your Jewish ancestry came via any other route, it would not make you Jewish.

Thus, as it stands, you would not consider yourself Jewish – although if your DNA percentages are fairly high, it is certainly good reason to research your ancestry more fully. I will write that we often hear from people like you who have some Jewish roots, even if they are not technically Jewish, and they often feel a natural affinity for Judaism and for Israel.

If you do feel very “Jewish” inside, you might want to look into conversion. Sometimes, if a conversion court feels there is a reasonable chance a conversion candidate is Jewish already, they will have him undergo conversion without reciting the blessing, just in case the ceremony is not really needed.

Alternatively, you may find the Noahide movement most appropriate for you. A Noahide is a person who believes in the God of Israel and observes the Seven Noahide Laws given to all mankind. A non-Jew who believes in and prays to God and who observes these universal laws can have a warm relationship with God and earn his share in the hereafter. (Note that according to Judaism, one does not have to be Jewish to earn a share in the World to Come.)

Today there is a fairly widespread movement of Noahides (also known as Bnei Noach). There are several websites devoted to Noahide law and practice, with much information, guidance and support.

Here are some links about the Seven Noahide laws as well as our main article on conversion:

http://www.aish.com/jl/jnj/nj/48961716.html

http://www.aish.com/atr/Seven_Laws_of_Noah.html

http://www.aish.com/jl/jnj/nj/80405497.html

http://www.aish.com/jl/jnj/nj/48962366.html

Here is also a past response about researching one’s roots:

http://www.aish.com/atr/Tracing_Jewish_Roots.html?catid=907779

My wishes that God guide you along the path best for you!