Stem-cell research is one of the few issues that bring together Jews of all denominations and political streams. In fact, Israel has been a pioneer in this cutting-edge field. The Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem opened a unit geared exclusively to such research in 2003, and has since drawn scientists -- and admiration -- from around the world.
Here in the United States, Hadassah's women's organization has been a leader in lobbying for funding such research on the federal and state levels. So it's not surprising that the group was quick to celebrate Obama's order, "wholeheartedly" thanking him for his action. "Those suffering from debilitating diseases and disorders for which stem-cell research holds great promise now have a renewed sense of hope," Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah's national president, said in a news release.
The Orthodox Union also lauded Obama's move, noting that the traditional Jewish perspective emphasizes that "the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life."
The words are practically identical to ones the Orthodox group penned in protest to former President George W. Bush when he issued his restrictions in 2001.
Bush's move to limit funding for stem-cell research was widely seen as an effort to appease religious conservatives, who believe that destroying human embryos to derive stem cells -- even those never implanted in the womb -- is tantamount to murder.
In contrast, the traditional Jewish view is that an embryo is not considered a human being until it is in the mother's womb.
While we need to be sensitive to other religious perspectives, we as a nation cannot be held hostage to such views. America has always been in the forefront of medical advances, but that will only continue if research is unimpeded by political considerations.
Obama was right to caution that there are no guarantees that renewed research will produce the hoped-for cures of some of the most debilitating illnesses. But we can be optimistic now that American scientists will be allowed to pursue the path that makes such discoveries at least possible.
Editor's Note: You spoke, and we listened. The transfer of candlelighting times inside the paper clearly did not sit well with some of our readers, who depend on the front-page visibility to help them usher in Shabbat each week. So it's back on the cover. Shabbat shalom!