The Embryo in Ancient Rabbinic Literature: Between Religious Law and Didactic Narratives: An Interpretive Essay

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 32 (1):21-41 (2010)
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At a time when bioethical issues are at the top of public and political agendas, there is a renewed interest in representations of the embryo in various religious traditions. One of the major traditions that have contributed to Western representations of the embryo is the Jewish tradition. This tradition poses some difficulties that may deter scholars, but also presents some invaluable advantages. These derive from two components, the search for limits and narrativity, both of which are directly connected with the manner in which Jewish tradition was constructed in Antiquity. The article accomplishes three goals: • To introduce some central elements in ancient Rabbinic literature on the subject of the embryo and its representation; • To present this body of literature as clearly as possible, noting some of the difficulties encountered by scholars who engage in its study; • To explain how the literature’s textuality came about, examining the particular sociopolitical circumstances of Judaism at that time, including the reasons for the delay in the production of scientific texts, transmitted as such, as compared to other philosophical or religious traditions. The claim is that these circumstances engendered a tradition peculiarly relevant for the study and teaching of medical ethics today.

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