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In the Genes

12/08/2016 01:47:23 AM


In this week's Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob is offered the opportunity to create his own herd by taking the least valuable of the flocks of his father-in-law Laban and breeding them to create a healthy herd.    At face value, the telling of the story seems to conflict with modern genetic science- showing colored rods to the sheep during the mating season will not change the color of their offspring.  In fact, a more careful reading of the text shows that Jacob may have been making use of centuries-old breeding techniques to increase the chances of certain traits being passed on. 
Jews have to be uniquely aware of genetics- genetic arguments have been used against us in the past, and now we face different challenges.  Since Jews are a small group, we are particularly susceptible to the transmission of over 20 genetic diseases.
   These diseases are not just medical names- they are hard facts for families in our community.   Some, like Tay-Sachs, are invariably fatal.  Others, like ML4 cause lifelong disabilities. Still others, like Cystic Fibrosis, Fragile X and Gaucher, can vary in their impact, with some of those affected able to live full lives with treatment, while others face serious challenges.  Many of diseases are transmitted when two carriers for the disease have children together- their children each have a 25% of being born with that disease. 
   What can be done about Jewish genetic diseases?  Research for treatment is ongoing, and many affected families have stepped forward to try to make a difference.  One of our congregational families facing Cystic Fibrosis has created  Another family in the community has created to provide support for those facing ML4, a much less well-known disorder.
 For now,  the best hope lies with individual couples who are considering becoming parents.  The most important step is getting screened. is a particularly useful resource, because it provides inexpensive, comprehensive screening.  Armed with that information, prospective parents can get the information they need to get all the facts and make careful, ethical choices about how to approach childbearing and the possible consequences of the particular disorder they are facing.
  If you or someone you care about, is thinking about starting a family, you can make sure you do the same.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784