Rabbi Braun: Genetic Testing in Halacha




    Rabbi Braun: Genetic Testing in Halacha

    A collection of halachos related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, imperative to being able to serve Hashem properly, from Halacha2Go.com and AskTheRav.com by Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun • Plus: The Rebbe’s answer to Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow concerning the Tay-Sachs test (“Dor Yeshorim”) • Full Article

    By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, Mara D’asra and member of the Crown Heights Beis Din

    May I allow my Kids to eat candy?

    Guarding one’s health, according to the Rambam, is mi’darchei avodas Hashem (a part of our Divine service). It’s a mitzva to look after one’s health, and in some respects it’s more important than other mitzvos, since neglecting one’s health poses a sakana (danger). In fact, Torah places a higher priority on avoiding danger than on avoiding other prohibitions, as it says, “Chamira sakanta mei’issura” (a danger is graver than a prohibition). Specifically, the Rambam says that unhealthy food should be regarded as a deadly enemy and interprets the pasuk, “Shomer piv u’leshono shomer mi’tzaros nafsho” (He who guards his mouth and tongue guards himself from harm) as a caution against harmful eating habits, such as overeating or indulging in unhealthful food.

    However, it would be wrong to argue that it’s therefore forbidden to give sweets to children. Doing so is clearly an accepted practice among Jews, so we can’t go so far as to say that it constitutes endangering lives. We must obviously educate our children about healthy eating, but there’s room for giving them treats in moderation. Halacha2Go #565

    Can I Swallow Non-Kosher Pills?

    It is a rabbinic prohibition to eat something non-kosher, even if not eaten in the normal way of eating. However, swallowing pills which may be non-kosher is permissible for a person who is unwell, for a combination of two reasons: 1) because the pills are swallowed whole, and 2) because they are tasteless. Regarding this halachah, illness is defined as a general feeling of malaise, or what is termed miktzas choli, a minor sickness or pain. (The halachah is different for a child; anything a child needs is considered an illness.)

    However, if an alternative kosher medication is available, the heter does not apply. If a pill has a taste, a solution would be to enclose it in a kosher capsule or wrap tissue paper around it before swallowing it. Healthy people may not take non-kosher vitamins or supplements to strengthen their bodies in any way, as the heter only applies in a case of illness. Halacha2Go #180

    What does Halacha say about Genetic Screening?

    There are various reasons a person would undergo genetic testing. For those suffering from certain conditions—both children and adults—the presence of chromosomal mutations may reveal a diagnosis (or prognosis) for follow-up medical care. Genetic testing can also prevent two carriers of certain medical conditions from marrying each other, thereby averting the heartbreak of bearing affected offspring. Contemporary poskimask: are these tests halachically sanctioned?

    These are the arguments against testing: In connection with the prohibited practice of consulting seers and psychics, the Torah says, “Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha” (Be complete [i.e., trusting] in Hashem, your G-d). Does this perhaps extend to all engagement with foretelling the future? In addition, being too cautious may be halachically frowned upon, as the Chovos Halevavos cautions us, “Min ha’zehirus shelo tarbeh l’hizaher” ([the obligation] to be cautious includes [the warning] not to be overly cautious). Another Torah principle can be extrapolated to forgo screening: since we follow the majority in all matters, perhaps we should ignore the possibility of a medical problem, since it is found only in a tiny percentage of the population (a lower frequency than the halachic conditions of miut hamatzui—see Halachah #578 for an overview of this phenomenon).

    Additionally, some may argue:

    “Ein ha’bracha metzuyah ela bdavar hasamui min haayin” (blessing is found only in those things that are hidden from the eye). The Gemara speaks of noteworthy people who would keep their illness a secret—so that Hashem’s deliverance may more readily come without the need for an open miracle. Others note that perhaps we should be especially circumspect about pre-screening shidduchim. Matching zivugim (couples) is a matter of Hashem’s special intervention and we should not interfere by engaging in such pragmatic assessment.

    Most poskim reject these arguments. Something that is considered proper medical procedure is supported by halacha as protecting our health. We need not fear violating “tamim tihyeh” when consulting with expert doctors whose professional background assure verifiable results (not conjecture like fortune-tellers)—although some do remain cautious about publicizing negative results. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein states that straightforward medical testing is warranted; refusing a screening would be akin to entering a danger zone with eyes shut tight. It has become accepted in virtually all sectors of Klal Yisrael to utilize genetic screening. Halacha2Go #823


    The Rebbe’s answer to Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow concerning the Tay-Sachs test (“Dor Yeshorim”):

    כלכל שאלה רפואית – (ומה נשתנה?) לשלוח לרופא מומחה במקצוע זה

    As with every medical question (and why would this be any different), this should be referred to a physician who specializes in this field.


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