Was Eve the first clone?
"If cloning was the way we were supposed to be fertile and replenish the Earth, as the Bible said, who needs Eve?" asked Rosalie Ber, an international lecturer on bioethics and head of the Medical Education Department at Haifa's Technion -- Israeli Institute of Technology.
But if Eve were created from Adam's rib, Ber noted, then she was, in a way, "the first clone."
If that were true, Genesis alone would refute the claims of the group Clonaid, which is continually generating headlines with its unsubstantiated contention that its scientists have created the first cloned babies in the United States, Holland and Japan.
Jewish experts on bioethics and halacha say the cloning claims raise important questions for Jewish law and thought.
"Cloning is really a media hype," said Rabbi Gerald Wolpe, a leading author on Judaism and bioethics and director of the Jewish Theological Seminary's Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies.
Wolpe and others doubt scientists will successfully clone humans any time soon, but while Jewish texts don't address such a possibility, "there is no real prohibition against it [in Jewish law]," he said.
Nowhere do the Talmud or other authorities address the issue of engineering-perfect replicas of human beings, Wolpe said, but Jewish law is clear about human eggs, the source of potential clones.
"Jewish law said embryos have no halachic position outside the mother's womb," Wolpe added. "There is no halachic ambiguity about that."
As for the argument that humans should not attempt to recreate other humans in God's image, Wolpe said science already does that today, with various methods of artificial reproduction such as in-vitro fertilization.
At the same time, many experts agree that "therapeutic cloning" -- stem-cell research for clinical purposes -- is not just kosher, it's crucial.
In Judaism, "we have a very simplistic approach. Pikuach nefesh [saving a soul] takes precedence over all other concerns," said Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a professor of biology at Yeshiva University in New York and chair of the Rabbinical Council of America's bioethics committee.
"Nineteen people who are candidates for organ transplants die daily in the United States," Tendler said. "The real problem is the organ shortage."
As for cloning to reproduce people, Tendler believes it is the far-fetched stuff of movies such as "The Boys of Brazil," in which Nazi scientists try to clone Hitler.
Yet, cloning has long-stirred the imagination, Ber said. Even by 1978, the book "In His Image: The Cloning of a Man," chronicled a California millionaire's attempts to clone himself.
In 1997, Scottish scientists produced the first mammalian clone, a Dorset sheep named Dolly, after 225 failed attempts.
"The first 225 produced monsters," Tendler maintained. "Who would be interested in cloning a human being?"
In the years since, scientists have found that Dolly suffers from premature aging because the nucleus that produced her was taken from the tissue of an adult sheep. Dolly stands as a frightening counterpoint to the beauty of natural conception and evolution, Ber said. In biology this is called "hybrid vigor," in which two strains of the same species mate to create a different but stronger offshoot.
In the case of Ashkenazi Jews, she said, the genetic abnormality Tay-Sachs is an example of too much intermarriage within an extended family.
"But if an Ashkenazi marries a Sephardi, there is no danger," she said.