Gene Editing and the Transformation of Human Life: Perspectives from Jewish Ethics

By :  The Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Nov 21, 2019 | Natural World Philosophy

The Henry N. and Selma S. Rapaport Memorial Lecture, Fall 2019

Revolutionary technology known as CRISPR has enabled scientists to change human genes, holding great medical promise. But it also raises significant ethical questions. Should there be restrictions on the development of this technology? How can we avoid abuse? Should we be able to design human beings and control evolution? Join us to explore these vital issues from the perspective of Jewish ethics.


Samuel H. Sternberg, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University; co-author of A Crack in Creation 

Paul Root Wolpe, PhD, Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, and Director, Center for Ethics, Emory University

Laurie Zoloth, PhD, Margaret E. Burton Professor of Religion and Ethics in the Divinity School, and Senior Advisor to the Provost for Programs on Social Ethics, University of Chicago 

Cosponsored by the Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice at JTS, Arizona State University, and Dr. Georgette Bennett in memory of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum

About the Speakers

Samuel H. Sternberg, PhD, runs a research laboratory at Columbia University, where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. His research focuses on RNA-guided bacterial immune systems (CRISPR-Cas) and on the development of these systems for genome engineering. His work has been published in the journals NatureScience, and Cell, and been covered in The New York TimesScience News, and The Scientist, among others. An invited speaker internationally, he is actively involved in public discussions on the ethical issues surrounding gene editing. Together with Dr. Jennifer Doudna, he co-authored A Crack in Creation, a popular science book about the discovery, development, and applications of CRISPR gene editing technology, which received enthusiastic reviews from The Wall Street JournalThe New York Review of Books, and many other outlets.

Paul Root Wolpe, PhD, is the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neuroscience, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics, at Emory University. He served for 17 years as the bioethicist for NASA. Widely published, his work focuses on the social, religious, ethical, and ideological impact of medicine and technology on the human condition. He also speaks on Jewish thought. He is the bioethics advisor to JScreen, which promotes preconception genetic carrier screening among Jews, and was a major contributor to a guide to Jewish end-of-life issues, Behoref Hayamim: In the Winter of Life. Chosen by The Teaching Company as a “Superstar Teacher of America,” his popular TED Talk has reached over 1.5 million views. A frequent commentator in broadcast and print media, he has been featured on 60 Minutes.

Laurie Zoloth, PhD, is the Margaret E. Burton Professor of Religion and Ethics in the Divinity School and the Senior Advisor to the Provost for Programs on Social Ethics at the University of Chicago. A leader in the field of religious studies with a particular interest in bioethics and Jewish studies, her research explores religion and ethics, drawing from sources ranging from Biblical and Talmudic texts to postmodern Jewish philosophy, including the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. Her scholarship spans the ethics of genetic engineering, stem cell research, synthetic biology, social justice in health care, and how science and medicine are taught. She is the author of Health Care and the Ethics of Encounter: A Jewish Discussion of Social Justice and co-editor of five books, including Jews and Genes: The Genetic Future in Contemporary Jewish Thought.

About the Rapaport Memorial Lecture

The annual Henry N. and Selma S. Rapaport Memorial Lecture was established in 1982 by Selma S. Rapaport (1916–2010), who served as president of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and as a longtime JTS board member, in memory of her late husband. A distinguished attorney and committed Jew, Henry N. Rapaport (1905–1980) served as president of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York, and as president of United Synagogue. He was an active member of the JTS board, and a generous benefactor of JTS’s scholarly programs.