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With new technology comes new halachic questions

With recent advances in technology there are bound to be a whole bunch of halachic issues that arise. In order to preempt these issues I have thought about the following issues that may be debated amongst the great rabbis of our time, even if they happen to be in jail.

Technology related halachic issues:

If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?

Can ten people in different places daven in video conference mode?

Can one tweet their prayers?

Does yichud count when it comes to your smart phone?

Can one lain from their iPad Torah?

If your iPhone drops while you are using the siddur app, do you have to kiss it?

Will the siyyum hashas committee accept people who completed shas on an electronic device?

Is it assur to drive a non-hybrid vehicle if you can afford one?

Do you have to put your iPhone in shaimos if it dies?

Can you use a smart phone application to check lettuce for bugs?

Would milk be considered cholov yisroel if someone was watching via webcam?

If they can create leather in a lab, can you use it for tefillin?

If there’s a webcam in your room, is it still yichud?

Can someone be yozte from a blessing done online?

Do you have to close your blog on shabbos?

Is auto-tweeting assur since it may tweet on shabbos?

Do you have to check yes on a school application where it asks if you have a TV, if you watch TV on your computer?

If you and your wife have a joint facebook account do you have to separate it it during niddah?

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  • “If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?”

    Harry Turtledove, the acclaimed alternate-history writer, wrote a short story called “The R-Strain” which focused on that very question.

    The rabbi in his story ended up eating the pig. I wouldn’t use HT as a source for halacha, however.

    The Wolf

  • mark fried

    If theres a webcam in your room, is it still yichud?
    If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?
    Would milk be considered cholov yisroel if someone was watching via webcam?

    Good Questions.

    • AMR

      Actually

      if one were to genetically modify a pig, would it still be a pig?

      • A. Nuran

        Is it when it doesn’t look like a pig anymore?
        Is it when it won’t breed with other pigs?
        Is it when there’s a certain degree of genetic difference between it and all the things we call pigs?

        Welcome to the wonderful world of taxonomy!

        The classic working definition is that two segsually reproducing organisms are of the same species when they can interbreed in the wild and produce fertile offspring. Of course, there are all sorts of extensions and restrictions and special cases and guidelines, but that’s the basis.

        • People interested in learning about the exceptions to this should for example look at ring species which are species where we have three collections A, B and C, and A can interbreed with B and B with C, but A can’t interbreed with C. Essentially, under the naive biological species definition, the relation of being the same species is non-transitive, which is bad for classification purposes.

          (I’m not at all sure that any of this is halachically relevant since biological categories and halachic categories aren’t the same thing. Thus, bats can be birds from a halachic standpoint even though they aren’t really under biology. Note how many important biological categories can’t even be talked about in halacha. For example, mammal is not a term with any halachic meaning).

  • BS”D

    If you can get Apple to put out a Lettuce Checking App it would make my life great.

    If you clone a Jew, can he count in a minyan?

    If I have frum music on my iPod, am I allowed to bring the iPod into a washroom?

  • If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?

    Probably not. There seems to be a general halachic consensus that things descended from treif things remain treif and things descended from kosher things remain kosher. (There’s a Gemara that supports this but I don’t have a citation off the top of my head). What this means exactly is complicated if one accepts evolution since everything is descended from the same common ancestor. Presumably status at Matan Torah would be what matters.


    Can ten people in different places daven in video conference mode?

    No.


    Can one tweet their prayers?

    No. No more than you can write them to fulfill a halachic obligation. If you want to tweet prayers go ahead, but it you won’t be yotzei anything.


    Does yichud count when it comes to your smart phone?

    No. And uninteresting.


    Can one lain from their iPad Torah?

    No. Anymore than you could lain by heart or from a book.


    If your iPhone drops while you are using the siddur app, do you have to kiss it?

    Kissing a siddur is minhag. But I’d be inclined to argue that if that is your minhag than you should still kiss the iPhone since it has kadusha when it is being used this way. But since it is not a primary purpose of the iPhone maybe not. Suppose you had a book that contained a lot of historical texts including a copy of davening. Mincha comes around and you realize you forgot your siddur. You use the copy in the book and in the process drop the book at one point. Do you kiss it? If you answer yes to this then yes you should kiss the iPhone. Note that the reverse implication does not follow since the iPhone was actually modified with the intent to be used as a siddur, so there’s a stronger argument for the iPhone having sanctity.


    Will the siyyum hashas committee accept people who completed shas on an electronic device?

    Well, one reasonably should. If anything, this is closer to the original method of transmission orally than the method we use of using written texts. In practice, people are reactionary enough they’d probably veto it.


    Is it assur to drive a non-hybrid vehicle if you can afford one?

    I can probably find some MO who would argue that it is assur. But this is silly, the halachic obligations to not wreck the world are in practice quite weak especially for something like this which has a diffuse problem. Being inefficient is not in general assur. You should probably drive a hybrid whether or not you think you have a halachic obligation.


    Do you have to put your iPhone in shaimos if it dies?

    I don’t know. If you think so, then the answer to the kissing question is yes.


    Can you use a smart phone application to check lettuce for bugs?

    Sure. Why not. There’s no halachic requirement to really even check, this is a modern thing. Using an automated process should certainly be fine.


    Would milk be considered cholov yisroel if someone was watching via webcam?

    I don’t see why not. Cholov yisroel is a practical check.


    If they can create leather in a lab, can you use it for tefillin?

    No. For the same reason that chemically identical objects can have one be treif and one be kosher. Halachic categories care about the history of objects.


    If theres a webcam in your room, is it still yichud?

    Given that visible windows are according to most opinions not sufficient, I would guess no.


    Can someone be yozte from a blessing done online?

    No.


    Do you have to close your blog on shabbos?

    This might depend on your readership. If you think your readership is generally non-frum Jews then maybe. If you think that you have many non-Jews reading, presumably not. Note also that if using computers is at most assur by minhag klal yisrael then there really shouldn’t be a problem.


    Is auto-tweeting assur since it may tweet on shabbos?

    No. No more than a timer on a light is a problem.


    Do you have to check yes on a school application where it asks if you have a TV, if you watch TV on your computer?

    Not a halachic question. More of a question of whether they would expect a yes answer given that you do so. This is a question of social norms.


    If you and your wife have a joint facebook account do you have to separate it it during niddah?

    Ah, and now we get to the point where Heshy is just being Heshy.

    Frankly, very few of these questions are very interesting. I’ve blogged before about the much more serious issues of hilchot Star Trek and whether one can make a Horcrux (probably). Those are things that, you know, actually matter.

    • It wasn’t meant to be a serious post – but I guess I could thank you for taking the fun out of it.

      • Dave

        What if the ruminant pig embroyo were to be implanted (and carried to term) in a cow?

        • That’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure. Note that the halacha is generally for egg donors in humans is that even if the egg is not from a Jewish female, if the person who brings the fetus to term is Jewish, then the kid is Jewish. I’m not sure if this logic would apply to animals. Certainly I would think that if one took a cow and genetically modified it so it had offspring without split hooves they would still be kosher.

        • A. Nuran

          There was mention on VIN of a recent decision that the egg donor, not the host mother, was the determining factor. It flies in the face of some old rationalizations, but that’s par for the course.

          Now that Venter has taken an inert, dead cell, added a completely synthetic genome and got it happily replicating it gets really interesting.

          1) Is it the egg or the nucleus? If a Jewish woman’s genome is inserted into a Gentile woman’s egg is the baby Jewish? How about vice versa? How about a pig genome in a cow egg (assuming it were viable)? How about the other way around?

          2) Creating completely artificial animal genomes is a matter of years, not decades. Suppose we created a ruminant, cloven hoofed animal from scratch. Would it be kosher? I don’t really care much about what percentage of the genome is copied from a pig or cow. You and I are better than 50% genetically identical to oak trees.

          3) It wouldn’t take much to kick the North Sulawesi Babirusa over into a true ruminant if it isn’t actually already. But they are nasty-looking things, and I believe we are forbidden from eating things which are disgusting 🙂

    • “Rabbi No”

      Get a life.

    • R’ Moshe Feinstein paskened that using timers on Shabbos is Assur.

      • I was not aware of that. Do you have a citation for that?

        • Hmmmm I don’t have an Igros Moshe on hand but I suppose I could find out.

  • Esther

    “If you and your wife have a joint facebook account do you have to separate it it during niddah?” – my fave! Made me smile.

    Btw, Heshy being Heshy is what makes this at least a daily read for me… actually, its more like multiple times a day 😉

    Gotta love it.

  • Rabba bar bar Chana

    If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?

    No.
    See page 29 at http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/buffalo.pdf

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  • Dead on! We actually get questions such as can I bring my iPhone to the bathroom if it has our iPhone Siddur on it. No kidding. We have the answer at http://www.rustybrick.com/jewish-iphone-siddur-bathroom.html

  • Radical Centrist

    When I was in Israel, I wondered if a rifle strap counted as a four cornered garment…
    – RC

    • awesome

      • Anonymous

        no they actually dont have 4 corners

  • Bubba Metzia

    “If they were to genetically modify a pig to chew its cud, would it be kosher?”

    GMOs are kilayim so it would be assur to do that regardless of whether or not the resulting product would be considered kosher.

    • A. Nuran

      This one could come in under a completely different category if the rabbonim were being honest.

      In a very few years we will be able to create genomes completely from scratch. No crossbreeding of any sort required. Just plan the sequence, assemble the genome from synthetic reagents in the lab, plop into an egg, and off you go. Creating an egg from raw materials will take longer, but we will live to see it. Even using a natural animal egg there is no mixing of “seed”. The nuclear DNA comes entirely from what the scientist puts there.

      • Bubba Metzia

        They can already do that. They did it for the first time last week. But all the GMOs currently on the market as food are created by taking genes from one organism and putting it into another, which is kilayim.

        But you do raise an important question for a few years down the road when creating lifeforms from scratch becomes commercially viable on a larger scale. What would be the Halachic implications of such technologies?

        • A. Nuran

          Venter made his bacterial genome completely artificially. Essentially, he created the DNA base-pair by base-pair, strung it together and inserted it into a cell which had no DNA of its own. It is now happily replicating away. By this time not a single molecule of the original cell is left in its descendants.

          The main implication is that the rabbonim need to learn some biology. If they want to make decisions that are true to fact and true to G-d’s will they need a deep understanding of the science and technology. It won’t be enough to quote Gemara or invoke a 12th century Arabic doctor no matter how brilliant he was. This sort of thing is new territory. They’ll need charts and a sextant to navigate it.

          A year ago I would have said we were ten years away from having to deal with the practical issues. Now I’m not so sure.

        • A. Nuran

          Heshy’s simple-minded bad words filter gobbled my reply. It should show up soon.

          • My simple minded filter keeps out about 2,000 spam comments a day thank you very much.

  • Isaac

    Would you put T’fillin on a prosthetic arm if it was high-functioning?

  • D

    In hs, a girl in my class seriously asked my Rabbi if video chatting is untznius. The funny/sad part is, only half the class thought she was cracked up and ridiculous, others thought she had a real point.

    • A23

      What are you trying to say? That it is tznius?

  • D

    I meant to say Yichud not just untznius.

    • A23

      Much more interesting question than tznius. Some rabbonim would say that there is an issue of yichud though.

  • ari

    There are many Rabbis that say there is an issur yichud with the internet; that would apply to smart phones as well.

    The brocha question is a good one. I was told I wasnt yotzeh havdalah over the phone b ecause a phone breaks down the voice and recreates it as opposed to a microphone.

  • ari

    if theres a webcam with people watching and you wouldnt do anything in front of them than it wouldnt be yichud.

  • Julie

    I’ve been under the impression that if someone sees you eat the kosher pig but could be led to believe it was regular treyf pig instead and could be led astray, then it probably wouldn’t be considered kosher.

  • Chris_B

    Wait… I thought the whole point of Orthodoxy was that everything had already been decided in 18th century Poland?

    /ducks