May one use data derived from unethical research (an extreme example of which would be data from Nazi research that used human test subjects instead of lab rats and caused unimaginable suffering)?
It is tempting to think that using data from the research of diabolical sadists might serve some productive purpose. It can be construed as making the torture and death of the victims slightly less gratuitous, perhaps even adding an element of purpose. We should utterly resist such thinking.
Even assuming that the science derived is legitimate and not distorted by the twisted minds that produced it, use of this data is grossly immoral and would tend to legitimize what is perverse and insufferable conduct. If the question is asked this way – Should Dr. Mengele be construed as a genuine scientist and researcher? – the answer becomes much clearer.
Jewish law deems certain objects assur b’hana’ah. We are proscribed from deriving any benefit or pleasure from them. In terms of foodstuffs, the issur hana’ah supplements the prohibition of consumption. It is not just that a certain food item cannot be eaten or drunk – yayin nesech, for example – it also cannot even be given away to someone as a gift. Any type of benefit is precluded. That is how this data should be treated – total ostracism.
To conclude otherwise is to sanction the worst atrocities under the guise of serving a greater purpose, which invariably cheapens human life and incentivizes mass murderers. Nazis should not be glorified as scientists nor their dastardly deeds rationalized as even a partial good. That is the only way to avoid the subjectification of evil, the necessary prerequisite to identifying and then eradicating it from the face of the earth.
— Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, mara d’asra
of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ
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From a halachic perspective, it is prohibited to cause pain to something or someone and derive benefit from it. The same would be true about doing unethical research and deriving benefit from it.
However, after the fact, if the research was already done – and the research wasn’t done on behalf of the person benefiting from it (i.e., he is using unethical research done years ago) – then there is no halachic prohibition to use that research.
Yet, taking into account the spirit of the law and lifnim m’shuras ha’din, it would be prudent not to use (or profit from) such tainted data even after the fact, except in a case of pikuach nefesh.
— Rabbi Simon Jacobson,
renowned Lubavitch author and lecturer
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In the world, there exists the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam HaRishon was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. After he did partake of its fruit, he could no longer eat from the Tree of Life.
What’s the meaning of this?
It’s a sin to transform life into mere facts of knowledge – to make knowledge the most important thing in life, and not life itself. People who engage in immoral research allow themselves to desecrate and terminate life in order to gain a few more pieces of knowledge. This was precisely the sin of Adam HaRishon.
When one places the Tree of Knowledge before the Tree of Life, one forfeits life. Therefore, we prefer to live in a true, clean and proper fashion rather than live a life of pollution and learn about truths of life. Research conducted in an inhuman manner is like eating from the Tree of Knowledge and abandoning the Tree of Life. It is not the Torah way.
— Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzefas
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We want the answer to be no, but why should it be? Isn’t truth truth – no matter how it’s found? How does sticking our heads in the sand help?
The Internet brought me to an article by R. Dr. Asher Meir; he was asked about banks accepting deposits from criminals, and his answer is useful in this context as well.
He notes that halacha prohibits us from helping a sinner sin (mesaye’a). Indeed, the Rambam writes that even “after the fact” help is forbidden under this prohibition (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft 5:1).
The existence of a market for stolen goods implicitly fosters theft. If thieves knew they wouldn’t be able to find buyers for their items, they wouldn’t steal (or they would steal less often). The Rambam links mesaye’a to lifnei iver, the prohibition against causing others to stumble by, among other things, sinning.
Making use of ill-gotten intellectual property – Nazi research, for example – seems to be a form of lifnei iver. If people who did such research knew in advance that they would garner only scorn, and no recognition, for it, they would think twice. We thus must make sure there is no market for sin – because the absence of such a market in itself makes sin less likely.
We must make clear that we do not condone or benefit from evil. We trust Hashem to show us the truths we need; He will let us find them in legitimate ways. To act otherwise would not only encourage sin but would unacceptably desensitize us to evil.
— Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein, author,
regular contributor to www.Torahmusings.com.