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A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 12/12/14

Ever hear of a twin-twin blood transfusion? Me neither until Mel Hoch spoke about this medical phenomenon during Torah Study this past Sunday. We were reading Genesis 25 which speaks about the birth of Esau and Jacob. “When her (Rebekah) time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob.” (verses 24 & 25)

Dr. Mel Hoch, a devoted member of our Torah Study, also is a distinguished physician. As someone who has decades of experience as a pediatrician, he was familiar with a rare phenomenon by which twins, in utero, have an interconnected blood circulation. It is possible under certain conditions for blood to be transferred disproportionately from one twin to the other. In such cases, the donor twin has a decreased blood volume and may be in fact anemic while the other twin will have an abundance of red blood cells.

In reading this passage in Torah, wherein Esau is clearly identified as red, and furthermore, he is soon described as “a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp;” Mel wondered aloud whether Esau’s skin color and his robust character in contrast to his twin, Jacob, may be the result of this scientific phenomenon of twin-twin transfusion syndrome.

Again, I was completely unfamiliar with this medical term. But what a wonderful insight into a passage in Torah!

Days later, I did a search on the Internet to see if anyone else has made this connection between science and Torah? The answer is: Yes. In a publication of Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women entitled “Derech HaTeva,” Rebecca Benhaghnazar has written a highly nuanced analysis of the twin-twin transfusion syndrome and its potential application to the story of Esau and Jacob. Her article is too long to summarize, but suffice to say, she sees the real possibility that a medical condition first described in 1875 may well shed light on a passage in Torah that is thousands of years old.

I find it wonderful and inspiring when insights from modernity bring depth and meaning to our study of Torah. Science and Torah; Reason and Faith are not mutually exclusive categories in Judaism. Indeed, these polarities need not be opposites but instead can serve to inform and enrich one another.

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