Sejal Waghray 2

Michael J. Broyde and Swasti Bhattacharyya observe reproductive technology under two very different religions: Judaism and Hinduism respectively. The fundamental difference to each author’s approach goes beyond religion. Broyde evaluates reproductive technologies through Jewish law (Halakhah) with regards with kinship. On the other hand, Bhattacharyya analyzes modern reproductive technologies through oral tradition (Mahabharata) with regards to society.

Broyde’s understanding of cloning seems to be strictly based on what is stated under Jewish law. He continues to the “analysis of implications of cloning found under Jewish law” and debates if cloning classifies as “permissible (mutar), prohibited (asur), of a good deed (mitzvah)” (Broyde 296). The ultimate conclusion is the Jewish law does not encourage cloning as a means of reproduction due to the confusion that arises in recognizing one’s kin. However, when left with no other choice, “Jewish law accepts having children through cloning [as] a mitzvah” and ensures that a child through cloning is not considered socially inferior (Broyde 315). Overall, Broyde’s analysis of cloning was analyzed through how Jewish law identifies kin. He identified in which individual situations a birth mother or father versus the cloner would be recognized as the true parent of the child. The identification of such relationships was based on what is outlined under Judaism.

On the contrary, because Hinduism has no formal law, Bhattacharyya used the story of three women (Kunti, Madri, and Gandhari) and their efforts to bear children. Her application was not based on what is right or wrong under her religion, but rather, on what important religious figures had done historically. According to the Mahabharata, Kunti and Madri use different offerings and prayers to remove a curse placed on their husband, Pandu, so that the gods would bless them with a child. Moreover, Gandhari ensures an heir for her husband, Dhartrastra, with one hundred sons and one daughter by splitting the flesh of her unborn child in one-hundred jars with oil (ghee). Bhattacharyya uses such stories to emphasize how important it is for a Hindu woman to have children for the reputation of her family, for the status of her husband, and for social acceptance in general. The faith of different offerings and prayers to god or the act of splitting flesh into jars was extrapolated into modern reproductive techniques being accepted so that a woman can have children. Essentially, Bhattacharyya seems to argue that the faith and magic that targeted infertility in the past can be replaced by the science targeting infertility today (and in the future).

Overall, Broyde based his conclusions on what seemed right or wrong under religious laws regarding kinship. On the contrary, Bhattacharyya seems to base her conclusions on what has been done by women to meet social expectations and how women today can meet those same social expectations with the help of technology.

While independent religions play a large role in the differences between both works evaluated, it is imperative the many variations in each religion. Foremost, Hinduism was founded on a geographical basis while Judaism was founded on a religious basis. In other words, people geographically located in India who were found to be practicing a similar religion were grouped together and their practices were titled Hinduism. On the other hand, people across different nations practicing a specific religion, in a much more unified manner, were titled as practicing Judaism. As discussed in class, this concept is found in the name of the religions as well. Hindustan is the name of India in Hindi and the religion practiced by a large majority of the nation is Hinduism. The root of all three words is one. On the other hand, Judaism has no root word in relation to a specific country or geographic location. It was founded when it was widespread.

Along with differences in geographical founding, both authors conceded to variations in interpretation and application of their respective religions. In his writing, Broyde explains that the use of reproductive technology is “subject to a case-by-case analysis” under Jewish law. He furthers that the Halakhah is not the sole determining set of guidelines but serves “as an attempt to outline some of the issues … [to] sharpen or correct those [case-by-case] evaluations” (Broyde 295). In her Introduction, Bhattacharyya also clarifies that the Mahabharata is “not utilized to find ‘the answer’, or to eliminate options”; instead, myths are employed for their “alternative options and applications” (Bhattacharyya 14). Because both authors agreed that their respective religions have room for variation in understanding and interpretation, each author’s personal interpretation of their religion must derive from a place outside of religion.

The backgrounds of both authors are essential to their understanding, and personal application, of religion. Broyde has a background in law while Bhattacharyya as a background in nursing. From his background, it makes sense that Broyde employs strict Jewish legal interpretation for his analysis. Bhattacharyya does not have a legal background and Hinduism does not have a strict set of laws, thus, she chooses to evaluate a sacred text that is known by most, if not all, practicing Hindus. As a female and as a practicing Hindu, her application of the text is much different than what it would be had Broyde been evaluating it. In my opinion, Bhattacharyya extrapolates religious texts more than Broyde. Broyde seemed to look at what was given and apply it to modern times while Bhattacharyya used a story, and ongoing social pressures that women face to have children, in order to come to her conclusion.

When considering new topics, such as prenatal testing, I believe that Broyde would evaluate prenatal testing independently to define it (similar to his structure with cloning). He would then evaluate prenatal testing based on its impact on kin. Broyde would emphasize the value of how that child would identify with its kin because Jewish law tends to emphasize the value of kin. On the other hand, Bhattacharyya would likely reflect on how the three queens in Mahabharata acted to determine if prenatal testing is justified by women today. Moreover, she would likely emphasize concepts like Dharma, Karma, and Ahimsa to ensure that anyone who engages in prenatal testing is still following the path of a true Hindu.

In terms of the influence of Jewish and Christian bioethics on Bhattacharyya, it seems that she generalizes western bioethics overall. Bhattacharyya consistently clarifies that Hinduism is practiced differently across different parts of India. However, when comparing her conclusions on Hinduism to western religions, she fails to acknowledge that even Judaism and Christianity face diversity in interpretation. In fact, throughout her conclusion section, Bhattacharyya specifically focuses on Roman Catholic practices. More specifically, when discussing family planning services and contraception, Bhattacharyya explicitly states that the Church finds that “distributing condoms and other forms of contraception threaten the development of, or life of the fetus and thereby threaten the sanctity of of life”. However, when discuss the same topic from the perspective of a Hindu, Bhattacharyya clarifies that “a full examination” would be needed “in light of various potential Hindu perspectives” (Bhattacharyya 119). Simply put, western bioethics has been limited to one idea in Bhattacharyya’s discussions where, in reality, they deserved the same clarification with regards to multiple perspectives as Hinduism.

Sejal Waghray

The first two chapters of Genesis focus a great deal on human reproduction and kinship. Foremost, the first chapter of Genesis emphasizes the idea than humankind was created from “His image” (1:27). Thus, all human reproduction is the replication of what God imagined it to be at the time of all creation. Moreover, God expects that humans be “fruitful”. They should reproduce and “have dominion” over all other forms of life (1:28). Through reproduction, it is expected the human population has a certain degree of dominance that will allow them to achieve legitimate leadership over other forms of life such as, but not limited to, fish and birds. With the use of the word ‘fruitful’, it is also implied that God believes humans would be beneficial, or helpful to society, if they reproduce. In other words, God focuses on human reproduction as a responsibility to the betterment of society. From the specific use of male and female throughout both chapters, I inferred that God imagined all people are born as either male or female. There are no other genders or sexualities that are reproduced. Additionally, I found it conflicting that chapter one implies male and female were created simultaneously as it states, “…male and female he created them” (1:27). On the other hand, chapter two implies that female came from male as the chapter cites, “…this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken” (2:23). Overall, while God emphasizes the value of reproduction, his view conflicts when considering the specifics of reproduction such as gender. In relation to kinship, chapter two specifically cites the relationship between both male and female: “And therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24). I found this surprising in a cultural context because in most societies it is viewed that the wife is leaving her family to join her husband’s family. The idea that God inferred the opposite was an idea that I specifically noticed when reading the chapter.

The relationship between Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Genesis chapters is explained dominantly through the understanding of reproduction. As Dr. Seeman explained in his work, “Ethnography, Exegesis and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies in Israel”, a central idea of Genesis is emphasizing the need to “bring forth children from childlessness by almost any means” (Seeman 1998). That drive to no longer be childless for a man and a woman is one that is interpreted differently in Jewish and Christian cultures. In Judaism, the Genesis content is considered a command. By remaining childless, a couple is breaking the religious law. The interpretation of a command came from the fact that Hebrew has command forms for verbs. Because the original text was written in command form, it is interpreted that Jews must bear children. As a result, they must also get married as marriage is a prerequisite to children. On the contrary, the Catholic Church interprets the Genesis as describing children as a blessing. God allows people to enjoy blessings when he chooses to give them. But it is not mandatory in the eyes of Christianity; it is merely a suggestion. One of the most fundamental examples of this controversial interpretation of the same text is that religious folk, who identify as Jewish, tend to be married with multiple children while religious leaders, who identify as Christian, tend to remain unmarried and celibate.

While the translation of Genesis language most definitely plays a key role in differences between Jewish and Christian practices, it is also likely that cultural practices have enforced these differences. Ranging from kosher meals to church practices and international dominance of both cultures, it is important to understand that there are several variables at play. Regions of the world like Israel vary significantly from regions like Western Europe. The lifestyle of both nations is extremely different. As Dr. Seeman had explained in a prior lecture, in one trip to Israel he thought the family he was speaking to was referring to a blood-related brother but they were actually speaking of a non-relative. Who one identifies as family and how one chooses to interact with others is just one example of a cultural difference that influences religious differences. On a fundamental level, Jews and Christians view God differently. Jews see God as a commander and someone to abide by while Christians view God as a mentor and someone to take suggestions from. Ultimately, this difference in perspective explains the differences between both religions and how they are practiced.

The aforementioned incident that Dr. Seeman experienced is the perfect example of the value of ethnography. Understanding cultural contexts, that vary in each society and are not limited to just one religion, indicates the value of interpretation that ethnography-based experiences allow for. The implementation of each religious text in someones everyday life cannot be interpreted from just reading the text. Furthermore, modern-day application of all religious texts would be significantly different from the traditionally understood methods. As a whole, involvement and understanding of the meaning of religious texts can only come through ‘hands-on’ experience.