Is DNA testing OK?

June 22, 2020 by J-Wire
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why do Judaism and Christianity have such different ideas about spiritual leaders being married?

A. The Torah takes it for granted that the patriarchs and prophets were married. Their family situations were sometimes difficult but no-one argued against marriage and family life in principle.

From Adam and Eve through the Chumash to the prophetic books, marriage was axiomatic. Even when Hosea had problems with his wife, no-one said that life without a wife was a better idea.

Moses had to face criticism from and about his wife and Aaron was challenged by young kohanim who refused to get married, but the principle was always that of the Mishnah Yoma which said that a kohen could not officiate if he had no wife.

The Codes of Jewish Law advise a community not to prefer an unmarried over a married prayer leader.

Marriage was not only the way to national continuity, but it enabled the leader to understand from within how life could and should be lived.

Classical Christianity generally declined to think of Jesus having a wife and children, though there are writers who take a different view.

One of the cultural dilemmas of Christianity is why medieval religious art made a feature of Jesus’ genitals whilst later scholarship preferred the notion of Jesus being almost sexless.

A Jew wonders how a celibate spiritual leader can give marital advice.


Q. The Hallel says, “The dead praise not God, nor do those who go down to silence” (Psalm 115:17). How does this correlate to our belief in “Olam Haba” (the World to Come)?

A. Our Biblical ancestors saw that when a person died, they stopped breathing, moving and speaking. They were in a state of silence and were no longer able to utter praise to God.

This thought appears frequently: Psalm 88:11, 94:17, etc.

God Himself would lose out, in a sense, if we died. Therefore it would be to His advantage to keep us alive.

Samson Raphael Hirsch says in his commentary to T’hillim, “The purpose of God’s rule does not consist in death and destruction, but in the advancement of life and having men develop and unfold to the greatest possible extent…

“It is not the dead and those who go down in silence that proclaim His power. It is life, growth and development that declare His greatness and might”. (Commentary to Psalms, Eng. trans., p. 307).

How, then, can the Psalmist say, “Precious (‘yakar’) in the sight of the Lord is the death of those who love Him” (Psalm 116:15)?

It may be that the verse is saying that the death of the pious is too precious to be easily allowed.

According to another view, “yakar” is a euphemism and the meaning is that the death of the pious is grievous in the sight of God.

The Midrash puts into the mouth of God the words, “Grievous it is for Me to say to the righteous that they must die. Grievous was it for Me to say to Abraham that he must die, seeing that he had proclaimed Me the Maker of heaven and earth, had gone down into the fiery furnace for My sake, and hallowed My name in My world”.

But a person still has to die, even a righteous person. According to the Midrash, God asks, “Had Abraham gone on living, how could Isaac have come into authority? And Jacob? Moses? Joshua? Samuel? David and Solomon?”

The sages continue, “In truth, the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let these depart to make way for the others.”

The questioner asks how the silence of death can correlate to “Olam Haba”, where the soul basks in the radiance of God’s glory (Ber. 17a), where the talmidei chachamim have no rest from their studies, and the intellect remains active.

But there is no physical body in the World to Come, and the way the soul praises God or studies Torah is not physical. The Perek says, “‘When you awake, it (the Torah) shall talk with you’ (Prov. 6:9): ‘when you awake’ – in the future world” (Avot 6:9). But the way the Torah talks with us after death is non-physical.

The Baal Shem Tov asks, “Do you think there is such a difference between heaven and hell? Not at all; they are one and the same. Heaven, for the righteous, is to bask in the radiance of God. This is their reward.

“And what is the punishment of the wicked? They too will be brought to heaven to behold the radiance of the Divine Presence, but they will not know what to make of it. To experience the Presence of God but at the same time to recognise how distant one is from its reality – there is no greater anguish for a soul”.


Q. Does Judaism agree with DNA testing?

A. The question arose a hundred years ago when blood tests were developed as a means of investigating paternity.

The principle behind the testing method was that a person’s blood type was determined by a combination of both parents’ blood.

There is however a Talmudic statement which says that blood is determined by the mother (Niddah 31a).

This is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 263) and was supported by modern halachic authorities such as Rabbi Benzion Uziel and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg, but others such as Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog said that rabbis should listen to medical science.

Some recognise that the paternity blood tests are important and useful but are indications without being absolutely decisive.

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach was prepared to sanction DNA testing in a situation in which babies were mixed up in a hospital and it became necessary to know whether baby A could really be the child of a given set of parents.

The tendency these days seems to be that if science and Talmudic positions are in conflict, the scientific position carries weighty status.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.


2 Responses to “Is DNA testing OK?”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    I guess this would say it all whether church leader or not….
    Marriage provides the ideal environment for the procreation and training of children – (Ephesians 6:1-4; Psalm 127:3-5)
    It’s a wise child who knows their father in the Old and New Testament.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    I have use for 5 years or so and often the DNA says that I and others were 1 or 2% “Jewish” but not Middle Eastern were the Semite race originated from. None of my ancestors were Middle Eastern as all were from UK, Ireland and a small strand from German (Bavaria). I am a blue eyed, fair skinned, brown haired (grey now) Anglo-Saxon Celtic type who sometimes like Wagner’s music.

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