Uncountable as the stars: Inheritable genetic intervention and the human future - A Jewish perspective

Laurie S Zoloth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


The first promise of the covenantal relation that forms the basis of Judaism is the one of a predictable fecundity. Abraham is promised children, not empires or kingship. However, while the people of Israel are promised uncountable generativity, it has been an assumption of the texts that the future generations would be unknowable-but linked together by the Law, backward to that moment of covenant, present with us at Sinai, and forward to an imagined future-hence the ongoing need for the study and practice of the commanded law, which creates a central way to shape the character of the children entrusted, l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation. But in our time,"generation" assumes ironic meaning as we turn our attention to new ways of making children that question the moral enactment of family, culture, and religion. Since the discovery of techniques to alter the human genetic code, scientists, ethicists, and legal scholars have sought to address the ethical issues created alongside the new organisms that molecular biological research has generated, in both federal regulations and standing commissions.1 In the crafting of normative guidelines and in the search for the framing language to define the scope, nature, meaning, and goals of the research, society has sought justification and argumentation to understand the enormous challenge such a discovery represents. At stake in this is a central Hellenistic idea that the narrative of the natural world is both sacred and inviolable, and that in tricking about with its alteration, we risk erring in the most ancient and classic ways-by unlocking secret knowledge and sending danger into the world. It is a theme that underlies many theological and philosophical traditions, the fear that knowledge is hubris, threatening the very order of the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDesigning Our Descendants
Subtitle of host publicationThe Promises and Perils of Genetic Modifications
PublisherJohns Hopkins University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9780801881299
ISBN (Print)0801872316, 9780801872310
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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