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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Gene Therapy

The Genome Project is looking like it will change the entire future of the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Does Judaism have anything to say about this? Are there dangers to watch out for? Are there ethical issues involved?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The potential of gene therapy is truly awesome. Many diseases like cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could be curbed or eliminated. And as gene therapy moves from the realm of theoretical to practical, it will undoubtedly raise many questions in Jewish law.

From a Jewish perspective, the underlying principle is that doctors are allowed to heal with anything accepted by conventional medicine. The Torah commands us to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). This means that we should use whatever methods at our disposal to heal and repair the world.

The Tiferet Yisrael wrote in the 19th century: "Anything that we have no reason to forbid, is permissible without reason. The Torah did not mention all of the permitted things, only the forbidden" (commentary to Mishnah Yadayim 4:3). In the case of a threat to human life, it is even permitted to violate the Torah to save the person, as long as it does not involve idolatry, murder or sexual immorality (Talmud – Pesachim 25a).

With gene therapy, there are other issues to consider. Our bodies are composed of about 100 trillion cells, and each one of these cells contains the complete genetic code of 3.5 billion letters. That's a lot of possibilities. Is gene therapy tampering with something bigger than our ability to perceive?

Perhaps. Prof. Adam Friedman, a genetic expert at Hebrew University – Hadassah Medical School, says there is evidence that some disease genes help us ward off other illnesses. For example, people in Africa who often have the sickle cell anemia gene are more resistant to Malaria. The matrix is quite complex, and genetic diversity may in fact be a strength for humanity.

Then there is always the question of potential abuse. As Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, Professor of Medical Ethics and Biology and Talmudic Law, from Yeshiva University, says: "Are we good enough to handle this good technology? Of course we are, if we set limits on it. And when can we train a generation of children not to murder or steal, we can prepare them not to use this technology to the detriment of mankind."

By the way, gene therapy has raised some interesting questions in the laws of kosher food. The Talmud (Bechorot 5) discusses a case where an animal that appears like a cow (a kosher species) is born to a camel (a non-kosher species). Is this new animal kosher or not? The Talmud concludes: Anything that comes out of a non-kosher animal is considered not kosher. Applying this principle to genetic engineering, the question is whether recombinant DNA from something non-Kosher is also considered as "coming out from." This issue is currently being researched by the great rabbis.

Where will this all lead? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the most important thing is to proceed with eyes wide open. As King Solomon said: "Someone without knowledge is surely not good. Yet he who moves hurriedly, blunders" (Proverbs 19:2).

Earliest Time for Morning Prayers (Shacharit)

I’ve noticed that our synagogue has morning services (Shacharit) quite early during the workweek, after which most of the congregants hurry off to work. During the winter months it is still dark outside for most of the services. Shouldn’t morning services be held when it is daytime already?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

What you describe is a fairly universal practice – very early morning services after which the congregants hurry off – trying their best to beat rush hour traffic. However, yes, there are a few issues in Jewish law of concern.

There are 3 relevant times when discussing the earliest times for morning prayers. I list them here together with the prayers which may be said at each time:

(a) Dawn – when the first light of day appears on the horizon. Most of the blessings and prayers at the beginning of morning services may be said at this time. This is roughly 90 minutes before sunrise (more on the precise times below).

(b) Partial light - when one can recognize an acquaintance standing 4 cubits (6-8 feet) away (Talmud Brachot 9b). This is the earliest time for reciting the Shema, the first blessing preceding the Shema, and for donning Tallit and Tefillin (Shulchan Aruch 18:3, 30:1 & 58:1; see also Biur Halacha s.v. “b’lo brachot”). This is roughly 50 minutes before sunrise.

(c) Sunrise: This is the ideal time to recite the Shemona Esrei (Amidah), beginning it the moment of sunrise. It should preferably not be recited before this time. It is also permissible to recite Shemonah Esrei for the first 4 hours of the day (Shulchan Aruch 89:1).

Regarding the Shemona Esrei, there is one important exception. One who is about to embark on a journey (and in Talmudic times would have no choice but to take the outgoing caravan), may recite Shemona Esrei from dawn (Shulchan Aruch 89:8). Contemporary rabbis extend this to people who have need to commute to work early, even though they do so on a daily basis (see e.g. Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:6).

Putting all of this together, a synagogue may have early Shacharit services (beginning after dawn), but they must be mindful of a few things:

(a) People should not put on their Tallit or Tefillin or begin the blessings of the Shema until the time of “partial light.” Many congregations which want to start as early as possible will begin services before that time, and then right after Yishtabach (before the blessings of Shema) put on Tallit and Tefillin and continue. In other congregations, the congregants put on Tallit and Tefillin without a blessing at the start, and then after Yishtabach touch each of them and recite the appropriate blessings (Rema 18:3; Shulchan Aruch 30:3). (First touch the Tallit strings and recite a blessing on it, then touch the Tefillin boxes and recite the blessings on them.) I feel the first method is preferable since when following the second, people not familiar with the issues will put on their Tallit and Tefillin with the blessings too early.

(b) All of the above is not advisable for someone who does not have early work obligations. Someone who does not need to commute to work early but who just wants to get an early start on his day should really not attend services which recite Shemona Esrei before sunrise.

When exactly are all of these times? The best and most accurate resource for worldwide times is


I was reading in an online forum that Judaism advocates that a rapist marry his victim. This sounds so backward and oppressive, and difficult to reconcile with the compassionate Judaism that I know and love. Is what I read accurate?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Highly inaccurate. (Are you surprised?)

Judaism takes a strong position against rape, with the Talmud comparing it to murder. As such, Judaism permits one to kill a rapist who is in pursuit of a woman, in order to save her from attack.

Rape of a married woman is a capital crime. (Deuteronomy 22:25)

Rape of a single woman carries a heavy monetary fine (depending on the age of the victim), plus the rapist has to pay reparation for damages, as well as for her suffering, embarrassment and emotional anguish. The rapist also incurs lashes. This is all intended as both a deterrent and a punishment (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, see also Rambam Rotzai'ach 2:4-5).

As regards to what you read, it is true that the Torah states that the rapist must marry (and may never divorce) his victim (actually only if she is at a certain young age at the time), but both she and her father can refuse the "match" – which they are extremely likely to do. I believe the message of the Torah is not that the rapist can have whom he wants, but quite the opposite. If he wants to enjoy another human being, he cannot just do so and split. He becomes responsible for her – for the rest of his life.

Feel free to post this response on that online forum.