When Does the Fetus Receive Its Soul. Thoughts from Talmud

When Does the Fetus Receive Its Soul…the Talmud gives us the answer

By the end of the 19th century, it had become clear to science that the human brain produces measurable electrical currents. This discovery eventually led to the electroencephalograph (EEG), a device which enables doctors to measure the electrical activity in the brain, through electrodes attached to the head.

It is obvious that when a person dies, the brain ceases to function, which is represented on an electroencephalogram as a straight line, devoid of the waves and peaks that signal brain activity. Based upon this observation, scientists have suggested that the onset of human life can also be defined by brainwaves; that is, the day when the brain begins to function and emit electrical currents. For if an EEG displaying no brain activity testifies to the death of a person, then the beginning of brain activity must testify to the fact that a fetus is a living human being in every way.

The challenge inherent in this idea lies in determining the exact day when electrical activity in the brain of a fetus begins – a challenge that no scientific researcher had attempted to confront. Who could imagine the possibility of testing the brain function of a fetus, whose body was the size of a bean, and brain the size of a pinhead?

This situation existed for much of the 20th century. By the end of the century, however, technology advanced to the point that such experimentation became possible. Professor David Lygre, of the Central Washington University, author of Life Manipulation, is considered one of the leading experts in the field. He writes: “We do not know much about the development of the brain of the fetus… until about the fortieth day of life, at which point the basic structure of the brain is in place, and it becomes possible to discern slight electrical activity.”

The identical conclusion – though from a different perspective – was reached by a team of British scientists, who published their results in New Scientist.(1) According to this study, fetuses can experience pain from approximately the fortieth day of life onward. In the conclusions of their findings, they suggest that all women considering an abortion should be informed of this discovery, and that laws for protecting the rights of fetuses should be established. Publication of the article resulted in major protests against abortion practitioners.

In light of this, it is clear to scientists that at around the fortieth day after conception, the fetus gains the status of a complete human being – a living and feeling entity like any one of us. This further implies that even according to science, the act of abortion – or “terminating pregnancy” as it is sometimes called (in order to silence human and particularly maternal conscience) – can actually be considered an act of murder!(2)

This is truly a unique and interesting discovery. But could it be possible that the Creator of the Universe would leave us without knowledge about an issue so crucial to human life, until technological advances of the late 20th century allowed us to measure the brain’s activity? Or would God, as Creator of man and author of the Torah, reveal to us this essential information within the context of Jewish law?

The following mishnah deals with the ritual purity of a woman who experienced a miscarriage. It draws a distinction between a fetus that was lost before it was considered a complete entity and one that was lost after it was considered human in every way

“A miscarriage up to the fortieth day is not considered an embryo [in matters of ritual purity].

[If a miscarriage occurs] from the forty-first day, she [the mother] is ritually impure…”

How did the mishnah, composed two thousand years ago, know information that was only discovered at the beginning of the twenty-first century using the most advanced equipment in the world?

It is worth noting that even today, scientists have not yet determined the exact day upon which the fetus can be considered fully human. Professor Lygre merely stated that it is “approximately the fortieth day.”

Thousands of years ago the mishnah already gave us an exact answer.

What is the source of this knowledge?

For us, the answer is clear.

According to the Kabbalah, a fetus receives its soul with the first three days after conception. This spiritual force illuminates it and engenders its growth. Without this, the ovum would simply decay. Terminating pregnancy even at an early stage is thus considered snuffing out the soul of a human being. See Rabbi Isaac Luria, Otzrot Chayim, Sha’ar A’nach , chap. 3.
source: goo.gl/KkzY3t

For us (Catholics) the answer is clear: life begins at conception. We need not try to determine “when” God infuses a soul. That is a metaphysical event, not a scientific one.

I agree. Some few years ago I asked a learned Canon at what stage the soul was infused and he replied that ‘at the present time Holy Mother Church has not decided’.

Ensoulment must occur at the moment of conception, for several reasons.

  1. At the Incarnation, the Son of God assumed a human nature composed of a rational soul and a body.

Council of Ephesus: “For if it is necessary to believe that being God by nature he became flesh, that is man ensouled with a rational soul…”

Council of Ephesus: “We confess, then, our lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God, and perfect man of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the virgin, according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place.”

The dogma is that, at the Incarnation, the Divine Nature was united to a full human nature, that is “man ensouled with a rational soul”.

Christ is like us in all things but sin, so His ensoulment of His human nature must have taken place just as ours does.

  1. The Saints and Doctors of the Church taught that at the Incarnation, the Divine Nature was united to the body and soul of Christ, and that the body (flesh) of Christ did not exist prior to that Incarnation. So there was no soulless body, awaiting ensoulment and awaiting Incarnation.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint Gregory the Great: "On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xviii): ‘As soon as the angel announced it, as soon as the Spirit came down, the Word was in the womb, within the womb the Word was made flesh.’ "

Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint John of Damascus: "On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii): ‘At the very instant that there was flesh, it was the flesh of the Word of God, it was flesh animated with a rational and intellectual soul.’ "

Saint Thomas Aquinas: "On the contrary, Augustine says (De Fide ad Petrum xviii): ‘Hold steadfastly, and doubt not for a moment that Christ’s flesh was not conceived in the Virgin’s womb, before being assumed by the Word.’ " [Summa III Q 33 and 50]

  1. In His human nature, Jesus is like us in all respects except for sin, and is consubstantial with us in humanity. Therefore, like the human nature of Christ, each human being is conceived such that body and soul are created in the same instant, and with body and soul united. The body is not created before the soul, nor is the soul created before the body; body and soul are created, as one human being, in the same instant. And the union of body and soul occurs at the same instant that both body and soul are created.

  2. The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved free from all effects of original sin at her conception. Original sin effects both body and soul. Therefore, in her conception three things occurred: the creation of her body (a single cell), the creation of her soul, and the preservation of both from the effects of original sin.

If ensoulment occurs after conception, then Mary would not have been preserved from the effects of original sin on the soul “in the first instant of her conception”.

  1. Specifically on the creation of the soul from conception:

Pope Pius XII: “The soul is not a person, but the soul, joined to the body, is a person.” [Munificentissimus Deus, n. 32.]

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.”

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “The human being must be respected – as a person – from the very first instant of his existence.” [Cardinal Ratzinger, CDF, Donum Vitae, I, 1.]

Therefore, every human being, beginning at the first instant of conception, is a human person, having both a body and a soul.

The soul is the life, so where there is life, there is soul.

While useful for determining the end of life (because a body without an active brain cannot breathe, therefore cannot hold life), brain waves are much less useful to find the beginning, because the conceived embryo has no head, no brain and so no brain waves, yet is nonetheless alive.


I agree with 1ke that ensoulment happens at conception. There is a second reason I do not.agree with the OP.and that is that 40 days would.be about the 6 or 7 week. I had an ultrasound at the fifth week of pregnacy and in the ultrasound they were able.to het the baby’s heartbeat. There is no way no one is going to make me.believe that my baby had.no soul.at five weeks when I.was.There listening to her hearbeat. Enrollment does happen at conception.

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