Genomics and Jewish Identity

Feb. 13 Student Medical Ethics Society Conference to Explore Genetics from Halakhik, Ethical and Scientific Perspectives

Yeshiva University’s Student Medical Ethics Society (MES) will be hosting a half-day conference on Sunday, February 13, entitled Genomics and Jewish Identity at YU’s Wilf Campus, 500 West 185th Street, New York, NY.

The conference will provide participants with a broad foundation for the medical background needed to understand the genetic code, as well as the advanced research pertaining to the Jewish population. Topics covered include the halakhic [Jewish law] challenges that arise from human genetics, how individuals count themselves and genetic privacy. Participants will also be introduced to an overview of the fundamental ethical dilemmas surrounding genetics, as well as how the system of halakha approaches these complex issues.

“Understanding and utilizing genomic techniques may help one understand his or her genetic heritage in a capacity that was never achievable in the past,” said Stern College for Women’s Jennie Kraut, who along with Adiel Munk of Yeshiva College, serves as co-president of MES. “Our hope in hosting this conference is to explain to the broader Jewish community the importance and significance of this cutting-edge field of research through the guidance of some of the greatest leaders in the field.”

Conference sponsors include YU’s Center for the Jewish Future and New York University.

“Genomic analysis is changing, but also cementing, how people think about themselves and others,” said Dr. Harry Ostrer, director of the Human Genetics Program at the NYU School of Medicine. “This conference is the first of its type to explore how genomics affects Jewish identity.”

In addition to Dr. Ostrer, the conference will feature leading experts in medicine and halakha, including Dr. Edward Burns, executive dean of YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, associate professor of philosophy and history of medicine at Einstein; and Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, the newly appointed vice provost for undergraduate education at YU.

Reichman, who also serves as mentor to MES, said the recent advances in genetics raise “almost as many halakhic questions as there are genes in the human genome.”

Some examples he cited: “Can we trace our genetic lineage back to Avraham Avinu? If so, what is the halakhic significance? Do genes define the Jew? What is the halakhic significance of the Kohen gene?  Must every Kohen now take a cheek swab before he gets called up to the Torah? Should you check genetic lineage before you date someone? And how does this knowledge enhance or affect our belief?”

The conference is open to the public but pre-registration is required. For more information or to register visit or contact

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