Center for Biological Futures
Cooking the Books The Golem and the Ethics of Biotechnology
James Adam Redfield
Center for Biological Futures Working Paper 1 7 November 2011
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Cooking the Books: the Golem and the Ethic of Biotech t a cs hnology by J James Adam Redfield is m s licensed under a Cre eative Comm mons Attribut tion-NonCom mmercial-No oDerivs 3.0 U Unported License.
To cite th paper: his Redfield, James A. Cooking the Books: the Golem and t Ethics of Biotechnolo , C G the f ogy. Center for Biological Fut B tures Workin Paper 1. Seattle, WA Fred Hutch ng A: hinson Canc Research cer Center, 2011. C
Cooking the Books: the Golem and the Ethics of Biotechnology1
James Adam Redfield
Who makes a mouth for man? Who makes man deaf or dumb, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? -- Exodus 4:11
This working paper2 has three modest aims: (1) To present, in a succinct and accessible but not distorted fashion, ancient religious Jewish sources about a human-like entity called the golem and some of their later interpretations; (2) To distinguish our sources from the popular modern representation of the golem in Ashkenazi Jewish fiction and folktales, which has played a greater role in recent Jewish contributions to bioethics; (3) To suggest why our ancient sources on the golem, if we try to locate them in their own interpretive contexts, have a new relevance to anyone who is curious about the ethical significance of humanity’s rapidly increasing ability to intervene in biological creation. The paper is organized in three parts. The introduction offers a critical synopsis of dominant ways that experts in Jewish bioethics have recently invoked the golem. As will be shown, these experts have a high degree of consensus about the golem’s significance, they refer to a narrow range of sources, and they use a similar interpretive procedure...