Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 15 February 2003 / 13 Adar I 5763

Cloning #2

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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Does a clone have a soul?

Some opinions answer in the negative, comparing a clone to a golem (a human-like being), such as the well-known golem made by the Maharal of Prague. Before refuting this comparison let’s examine the idea of creating a golem as it appears in our traditional sources.

The Talmud refers to Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creating), attributed to our patriarch Avraham, which teaches that different combinations of the 32 Channels of Wisdom, the 10 Sefirot (Divine Attributes), and the 22 Hebrew letters can be used to create beings, just as G-d did in creating the universe. The Talmud relates that Rava used Sefer Yetzira to create a person. Similarly Rav Chanina and Rav Oshiya would study Sefer Yetzira every Friday to create a calf which they would eat for their Shabbat meal. Sefer Yetzira is an accepted part of the Jewish tradition and was studied by such luminaries as Rav Hai Gaon, Ramban, the Arizal, and the Gaon from Vilna.

The Maharal, a great Jewish 16th century thinker, allegedly created a golem to protect the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitism. Some say that G-d’s name was written on the golem’s forehead, while others claim that the golem was activated or de-activated by adding or removing the alef from the word emet on his forehead (Hebrew for “truth” and without the alef means “dead”). The golem was left in the attic of the Maharhal’s synagogue and recent accounts tell of Nazi soldiers fleeing in horror after having broken into the attic.

We find a question in the Responsa about whether a golem is human and may be included in a minyan, and the answer is “No”. The golem has no internal organs or blood, and therefore it is not forbidden to “kill” a golem, just as the Maharal de-activated his golem. Furthermore, a golem cannot speak, which, according to Judaism, indicates that it has no (human) soul.

A clone, on the contrary, is created biologically, has normal body functions (like a pumping heart and circulating blood), most likely has the power of speech, and therefore presumably has a human soul, just like me.

Next installment: Is my clone me, my twin or my child?


  • Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 65b
  • Responsa Chacham Zvi #93
  • Targum Onkelos, Bereishet 2:8, and Rashi

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