Schmoozing With Schapiro

In this segment, Mrs. Schapiro circles the school schmoozing with different teachers about the subject they teach and how it relates to the weekly Torah portion.

Mrs. Schapiro:

What is the perspective in science about cross breeding plants. Is there a moral or ethical issue?

Mr. Riley:

The one I can tell you is that, for example- chickens. They’re highly bred along only one line because the only thing the producer cares about is “How many eggs can I crack out of this chicken?” So you breed chickens for very short lives where they’re bred just to crank out eggs like egg factories. One of the ethical concerns, is “What’s the actual quality of life for that kind of a chicken?” There are other, more traditional breeds, that are less intensely bred, they call artificial selection in Biology, that live longer lives. They don’t produce as many eggs, but those eggs tend to be more nutrient rich, more nutrient dense, and the chickens themselves live much better lives. So from animals, that’s a perspective. From plants, obviously you are not concerned as much with the plants welfare. It’s difficult to work around plant breeding because that’s one of our main defenses against hard climates. One of the things that amazes me is that Israel, I’m sure has to cover a lot of these bases when dealing with plants, but they’re also growing in a very difficult area. They’re dealing with aridity and salt stress. How do you do that without plant breeding? There are other ways to go about it. The field that I worked in was plant microbe interaction, so you might go with the traditional breed that has less artificial selection and then adapt it by using a certain microb that enhances its tolerance. So, there are ways to work around it.

Mrs. Schapiro:

So from a Torah perspective, from the Bible’s point of view, you are permitted to cross breed plants as long as they are of the same species. You can cross breed the apple, lets say, any which way you want to go just to get a better apple, or a stronger apple, a different tasting apple. You just are not permitted to literally cross breed totally different like an apple and an orange.

Mr. Riley:

Because it’s the wrong species.

Mrs. Schapiro:

Right. If it has been already done by someone else, as a Jew we are permitted to eat that and the same thing with animals. You are permitted to cross breed the animal within the same species, as we were talking about the chickens or to get a stronger bull or to get a more adaptable bull. But to take a horse and a donkey to produce a mule, that is against the Torah.

Mr. Riley:

So this is like genetic engineering.

Mrs. Schapiro:

Exactly. Genetic engineering within the species is just the way science is going to meet the needs of the times and the environment. But once that animal has already been crossbred, you are allowed to own it. You can use it… you can’t eat it, it’s probably not kosher, but a mule cannot reproduce. So even though you did cross breed the two, you might be good as a burden of beast. It cannot reproduce and the basic basic idea of why the torah does not allow us to do that is because we’re interfering with God’s creation. Of course this is going to overflow down the road into human genetic tenting. All that was discussed if they formed a person is, “Will that have the Jewish law of a human being with a soul? Is he responsible to fulfill commandments?” This is a very interesting and fascinating topic and the Torah does give us some direction. Of course the Rabbis, based on whatever were evolved at a particular time in history, it is their responsibility to determine what is actually God’s will.

Mr. Riley:

We’re talking about transgenics, what we call them in biology, when you take the genes from one species and put them in another. There are many reasons to be wary, not that I’m saying all transgenics are bad or anything, but there is a certain degree of unpredictability when you take a gene from an organism and put it in another when they’re very different. It’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen because it’s not like gene “A” makes protein “B” makes metabolite “C”.

Mrs. Schapiro:

It’s really interesting because it may not discuss issues in great detail, but the concept of the issue is there, and then it would require directions from our Rabbis. Thank you very much.

Mr. Riley:

This was very enlightening. Thank you.

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