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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

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GENESIS — 1:28 rule

Are GMOs (generically modified organisms) a Jewish issue? The steadily increasing presence of genetically modified foodstuffs on our supermarket shelves raises a number of important and difficult questions … most definitely worth asking because they touch upon some of the most central elements of our relationship as religious Jews to our tradition and to the natural world around us.  1. Are We Playing G-d?  Does genetic modification of existing species of plants and animals constitute an improper interference with the order of the universe (sidrei b’reishit)?  By engaging in these procedures, do we usurp the authority of G-d or of nature, arrogating too much power to ourselves? This is the sort of question that any religious tradition might ask, and ours is no exception.  We find a classic expression of this view in the commentary of Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, or Ramban) on the Torah’s prohibition of kilayim: “You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind [kilayim]; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seeds” Leviticus 19:19.  This commandment teaches us, he writes, that G-d’s creation is perfect and that we deny this perfection when we engage in the mixing of the distinct animal and plant species. One could rely upon this insight concerning our relationship to the natural world in order to prohibit the new technologies of genetic engineering that blur the lines between existing species and that create new ones.  Yet Jewish tradition, in the main, does not take that step.  Most contemporary rabbinic authorities read the kilyaim texts strictly.  In their view, the mitzvah forbids only the actual physical mating of animals and the sowing of seeds, and it does not cover the sort of “mixing” that takes place in a laboratory and that we call genetic engineering or genetic modification. [Rashi, in his commentary to Leviticus 19:19, writes that the prohibition of kilayim has no discernible rationale (Taam).  Thus, not everyone agrees with Ramban that the prohibition has a specific “purpose” that we might use as a basis to oppose the genetic modification of species.]  This more restrictive reading of the text coheres with another traditional Jewish understanding of our relationship to nature.  That understanding is classically exemplified by none other than Nachmanides himself, in his commentary to [this verse], a verse in which G-d grants dominion over the earth to humans.  Nachmanides explains this “dominion” as the right of humans to “do as they wish” with the animals, “to build up, to tear down,” and to exploit the resources of the physical world.  His comment reflects an instrumental conception of the world-that is, that we are entitled to make use of nature and bend it to our purposes.  Such a conception is of pivotal importance in the history of our culture for if we did not view the world in an instrumental manner, we humans might never have felt entitled to pursue science and technology, activities that suggest a sense of mastery over nature.  With respect to our particular concern here, we should note that some contemporary authorities cite this latter comment of Nachmanides as evidence that Jewish tradition would permit us to engage in the processes of genetic modification. These two conflicting viewpoints present us with an interpretive dilemma.  Does Nachmanides to Leviticus 19:19 contradict Nachmanides to Genesis 1:28? Is there a way to accommodate both points of view in our Judaism, or does consistency demand that we choose one approach and reject the other? However we resolve this conflict, its existence indicates at the very least that Jewish thought does not obviously prohibit genetic engineering. There may be other reasons to worry about these technologies. … Perhaps even if we are entitled to manipulate the natural world for our own purposes, it is a good thing to do so in a spirit of humility, remembering at all times that it is G-d’s universe that we are manipulating.  Nonetheless, there is no convincing proof that our tradition rejects the genetic modification of existing species as an unwarranted transgression of the line that separates human action and divine prerogative. SACTAB 183-4
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GENESIS — 1:28 rule

The starting point for a religious consideration of man’s relations with his natural environment is the divine blessing to man in [this verse].  [This] passage, mandating man’s conquest of nature, has recently come under attack by those concerned with protecting natural resources and environment from the excesses and abuses of man.  Some theologians have even seen in this verse sanction for man’s mindless rape of nature and an impediment to the search for knowledge and the advancement of science.  This charge, particularly as it is refuted by an analysis of the manner in which the same Biblical verse is interpreted in the tradition, is an empty one.  The Torah’s respect for non-human nature is evident in the restrictions that follow immediately upon the “subdue” commandment: man is permitted only to eat herbs and greens, not to abuse the resources of nature Genesis 1:29.  Furthermore, this mastery over nature is limited to vegetables for the first ten generations.  Vegetarianism yields to carnivorousness only after the Floor when, as a concession, G-d permits the eating of meat by the sons of Noah.  Even then the right to devour flesh is circumscribed with a number of protective prohibitions, such as the warnings against eating blood and taking human life Genesis 9:2-6.  The law of kashrut preserves the kernel of that primeval vegetarianism by placing selective restrictions on man’s appetite for meat.  His right to “subdue” nature is by no means unlimited.  GOODSOC 214-5
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GENESIS — 1:28 rule

The Torah clearly establishes the relationship between man and animal.  Man is to rule over and dominate the fish, birds, and all animals in the world.  Later on, after the flood, this relationship is spelled out even more clearly, as G-d tells man that the animals will fear man, and all creatures have been given over into man’s hands.  Genesis 9:2. AMEMEI 9 
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GENESIS — 1:28 rule

Two significant verses from Genesis help form the basis of the Rabbinic view of the relationship between humanity and the animal world. When G-d creates the first people, they are told [this verse]. Later, they are told “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.” Genesis 9:3-4  Clearly, the Biblical world-view inherited and adopted by the halakhah was one in which humanity was given dominion over the animal world. However this is itself problematic since dominion can infer both free usage and responsible guardianship. … both aspects of this relationship find their way into the halakhic material. A final significant Biblical vefrse states “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees” and has been generalized and interpreted as the basis of the prohibition against bal taskhit, wanton destruction of all property or animals. Thus, Talmud Hullin 7b notes that the killing of animals for no purpose is prohibited based on this verse and Maimonides extends the verse to include all needless destruction in Mishneh Torah, Melakhim 6:10. These three Biblical verses and the prohibition against tzaar baalei hayim [compassion for animals; ban on needless animal suffering – AJL] whether Biblically or Rabbinically based, establish the basis tension between human domination of the world, the sanctity of human life and the responsibility of humanity toward the world. It is this tension that is the root of the struggle with the later source material. REFJEW 112-3
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GENESIS — 1:28 subdue

… the same opening chapter of Genesis, in which man is given the right to “subdue” the earth and to “have dominion” over all living things does not even permit him to use animals for food.  For the very next verse – Genesis 1:29 – declares: "… I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruits; you shall have them for food.”  This is surely a drastic limitation upon man’s rights.  Not until many centuries later, after the Flood, is man (in the person of Noah and his family) permitted to eat meat Genesis 9:3-4.  And even then, all men are forbidden to eat the blood of the creatures they have used for food, because the blood is the seat of life.  Reverence for life dictates that the blood be poured out and not consumed.  This ritual is a symbolic recognition that all life is sacred—all life, even the life of animals that men kill for sake of sustenance.  Actually the paradigm of man’s relationship to his environment is expressed in the task assigned to Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall: “He placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and to guard it” Genesis 2:15.  What is the meaning of the Hebrew phrase in the opening chapter of Genesis, “and subdue it”?  The truth is that the passage in Genesis was never used to establish a principle of aggressive action by man vis-à-vis the environment. GORLAW 113-4
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GENESIS — 1:28 subdue

R Soloveitchik understands this blessing [G-d conferred on Adam the first] as a divine mandate to mankind to subdue the earth and aster the environment (hereafter, kibbush).  In R. Soloveitchik’s thinking, the kibbush mandate amounts to a charge to man to self-actualize himself by realizing his G-d like potential as a creative being.  Fulfillment of the mandate bids man to achieve dignity but along with it to attain a rarefied sense of responsibility.  Man achieves dignity when he reclaims himself from coexistence with nature, rising from a helpless existence to a powerful existence that is intelligent, planned, and majestic.  … What emerges from the kibbush mandate is a criterion for evaluating the inherent worthiness of economic activity.  If an economic activity contributes neither to advancing man’s dignity nor to his sense of responsibility, it has no rational for existence.  Illustrating a perversion of the kibbush mandate is the production and sale of cigarettes.  This judgment is not predicated on the ability of Halakhah [Jewish law] to establish a clear-cut prohibition against smoking.  … the causative links medical science has established between cigarette smoking and various dreadful diseases is undeniable.  Far from advancing human dignity, the tobacco industry degrades human existence by causing disease, misery, and pain.  Its very existence perverts the kibbush mandate. … Investment in [a cigarette company] would represent a clear-cut perversion of the kibbush mandate and therefore should not be made.  CASE 373-4
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GENESIS — 1:28 subdue

There is a view of man’s obligations under the Torah, found in the writing of Bachya Ibn Paquda, which leaves no room for the morally optional. Duties of the Heart, pp 213-217. In examining the nature of the service that ma is duty-bound to render G-d, his creator and benefactor, Bachya initially speaks of a threefold division of human activities: those that are commanded, those that are prohibited, and those that are permitted. The commanded and prohibited are, of course, all of those beliefs and emotions, speech acts, and deeds, whether by commission or omission, which are the subject of specific rules in the Torah. But when he begins to examine the area of the permitted, which covers all of the practical activities involved in preserving one’s health, managing one’s affairs, and transacting business and basic social activities, Bachya makes some further distinctions depending on the manner in which these aforementioned activities are performed. If, for example, one provides for one’s basic needs in a way which can be regarded as adequate and sufficient, and one does this for the sake of G-d, then one has actually fulfilled a divine command. For man has been told, “…be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it,” and “Good is the man who … guideth his affairs with discretion.” [this verse, Psalm 112:5]  However, should one go about these practical affairs in a manner which is extravagant and excessive; should one overindulge in the pleasures of life and the pursuit of riches, against which we have been warned that they may lead to transgression and immorality, then one is doing what has been forbidden. For the Torah warns us: “Be not among winebibbers, among greedy eaters of meat,” and, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin,” and, “Labor not to be rich.”  Proverbs 23:20, 10:19, 23:4 Should a person deny himself what is necessary in any of these, but if his motive is neither piety nor a desire for closer communion with G-d, then he too is doing that which is prohibited. Bachya therefore concludes that in reality all human actions fall into two classes only: those that are commanded and those that are prohibited. SPERO 172
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GENESIS — 1:28 subdue

There is no justification to the accusation that the ecological crisis has its roots in attitudes engendered by the biblical doctrine that gives humanity dominion over the world of nature.  The Bible cannot be blamed for the damage caused to the environment by irresponsible employment of technology.  The charge “fill the earth and subdue it” [this verse] is counterbalanced in the next chapter with the observation that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and guard it.”  This implies that human beings are responsible not to nature but to G-d for proper stewardship of resources placed at their disposal. Although the bulk of ethical commandments address themselves to interpersonal relationships, the Torah also contains many laws designed to protect the animal world from unnecessary pain Deuteronomy 25:4 or extinction Nachmanides, Torah Commentary, Deuteronomy 22:6 and to prevent the wanton destruction of fruit trees. Deuteronomy 20:19-20. The Rabbis extended the prohibition to encompass all unnecessary destruction of propery and even to the wasting of materials.  ETHRESP 12
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