web analytics
November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Genius Fetus

fetus-Gentleman

The rabbis teach that as a fetus we were much more actualized than we could ever imagine. In fact, we were geniuses!

[During the period of gestation] a light burns above the fetus’ head, and it gazes and is able to see from one end of the world to the other… There is no time during which a person abides in greater happiness than during those days… It is taught the entire Torah, all of it… But as it comes into the air of the world, an angel comes, strikes it on its mouth, and makes it forget the entire Torah (Niddah 30b).

This is a remarkable teaching, reminding us that we do not just learn Torah as humans but relearn it from our fetal days. Further, it reminds us that while the details and applications of Torah are very complicated, the essence of the word of God is very simple. All people can learn just as every fetus was capable of mastering our tradition.

The gestational (the period from conception to birth) development is a fascinating biological process, but it is not linear. First, there is an embryonic stage for 10 weeks during which there all essential organs begin to form. During the fetal period (staring with week 11), the fetus begins to produce red blood cells, make active movements (including sucking motions), hear sounds, and has defined gender, although the fetus’ brain makes up half its size, its eyes remain shut from weeks 11 until week 28, and the lower lung, while developed, will not be capable of air exchange until about week 30. During weeks 31-34, the fetus rapidly stores fat and minerals, and begins rhythmic breathing with immature lungs. By the final weeks of gestation, the fetus has fully grown fingernails, breast buds, and some hair on top of the head. The fetus is now ready to be introduced to the world.

While we see that from a biological perspective a newborn brings a genetic makeup, from a spiritual perspective an infant is a tabula rasa. While a fetus is not considered a full life (and thus the mother’s life takes precedence if God forbid there are complications) that this potential life still has immense value. If one, God forbid, has a miscarriage, we can see that the potential life had great virtue and spiritual value (knew the whole Torah).

Biologically, what abilities do we have when we are born? Anecdotally, many believe that the fetus in the womb is helped by (and reacts favorably to) music, particularly classical music (and Bach and Mozart, at that). However, this theory lacks hard scientific proof. On the other hand, another trait from birth may have been proven. Recently, Finnish researchers published the results of a study to determine whether babies can remember things they heard before birth. During the final weeks of pregnancy, pregnant women listened to a recording of a nonsense word played repeatedly with an uncharacteristic drop in pitch at one point. Then, on an average 5 days after birth, the same recording was played for the babies (with a control group that had not been exposed to the recording). Significantly, all the babies who had heard the recording before birth reacted when they heard the pitch drop in the recording, while the control group did not react. While the sample size was small (17 pregnant women and their children plus a control group), the findings do appear to confirm that the babies retained a memory of something they heard in the womb, although this memory appears to disappear some time after birth. Some learning remains but the Torah is gone!

Interestingly, these findings fit well with the teachings of the rabbis. Perhaps most significantly, though, the rabbis teach us something about how we learn. Torah is about dependence (between the fetus and mother, human and God, people-to-people). We truly learn most appropriately when we learn through humble dependency.

Religion and science appear to indicate that when we are born, our hearts and minds are still wide open and we have the innocence to truly engage in transformative learning. But as the fetus is struck by the angel and forgets all of her Torah, so as time goes on we have a tendency to close our minds to learning. This reminds us that the constant journey for self-discovery, God discovery, and ethical growth is what is most important. Mastery and perfection is just for the fetus.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the founder & president of Uri L’Tzedek, the founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of books on Jewish ethics, most recently “The Soul of Jewish Social Justices.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “The Genius Fetus”

  1. I will write my Law upon your hearts-Jeremiah 31-33

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
What, me incite terror? Abba: "The Jews must be barred by any means possible."
Ex-Senior Justice Official Asks Homeland Security to Ban Abbas from US
Latest Indepth Stories
Jo-map

As Arabs murder and maim Jews, Jordan’s leaders bark the blood libel of “Israeli aggression.”

bulb

Perhaps attacking a terrorist’s legacy broadly and publicly would dissuade others from terrorism?

Medics evacuate the dead and injured after attack on Har Nof synagogue Tuesday morning.

R’ Aryeh yelled “Run, I’ll fight!” Using a chair against terrorists to buy time so others could flee

Kfar Kana Riots

Riot started when Muslim students wore the Pal. kaffiyeh and Druze students demanded them removed

The “Media” didn’t want us to know what a kind, giving, loving young woman Dalia was.

A “Palestine” could become another Lebanon, with many different factions battling for control.

Maimonides himself walked and prayed in the permissible areas when he visited Eretz Yisrael in 1165

Having a strong community presence at the polls shows our elected officials we care about the issues

Israel’s Temple Mount policy prefers to blames the Jews-not the attackers-for the crisis.

When Islam conquered the Holy Land, it made its capital in Ramle of all places, not in Jerusalem.

I joined the large crowd but this time it was more personal; my cousin Aryeh was one of the victims.

Terrorists aren’t driven by social, economic, or other grievances, rather by a fanatical worldview.

The phrase that the “Arabs are resorting to violence” is disgraceful and blames the victim.

Tuesday, Yom Shlishi, a doubly good day in the Torah, Esav’s hands tried to silence Yaakov’s voice.

Because of the disparate nature of the perpetrators, who are also relatively young, and given the lack of more traditional targets and the reverence Palestinians have for their homes, one now hears talk of Israel returning to a policy of destroying the houses of terrorists’ families.

More Articles from Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
book-Unify-A-Nation

While Lipman comes from an ultra-Orthodox background and is an Orthodox rabbi, he offers a breath of fresh air when he suggests that “polarization caused by extremism and isolationism in the religious community may be the greatest internal threat to the future of the Jewish people”

Brain-waves

Medical practitioners have been observing neuroplasticity for many years in patients following a stroke.

Man has been in descent since revelation and that we have been rendered impotent.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz prohibited guide dogs from the lower plaza of the Western Wall.

Religion and science indicate that when we are born, our hearts and minds are still wide open and we have the innocence to truly engage in transformative learning.

As the Chasidic teaching illustrates, we often seek the guidance of religious leaders and texts to find ourselves.

Big tobacco promotes one of the most addictive and life-threatening substances known to humanity.

Many adults can now take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for an ill parent without losing their job, under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-genius-fetus/2013/10/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: