Involvement of rabbis in counseling and referral for genetic conditions: results of a survey

Am J Hum Genet. 1993 Dec;53(6):1359-65.


Members of the New York Board of Rabbis were surveyed in the summer of 1991 to assess their activity in counseling congregants on issues related to genetics. Of a sample of 257 members, 181 (70.4%) responded to the questionnaire, and 175 of the responses were analyzed. More than half (56.0%) of the rabbis discussed health issues as a routine part of premarital counseling, and 22.3% had counseled a couple after prenatal diagnosis of an abnormal fetus. Orthodox rabbis were more likely than rabbis from other branches of Judaism to have contacted medical personnel in these cases, and they reported more involvement in helping families after the birth of a child with a hereditary condition or birth defect. However, a majority (90.9%) of rabbis from all branches would refer such a family for genetic counseling. Ninety-four rabbis (53.7%) discussed Tay-Sachs carrier testing with congregants. These rabbis tended to be Reform, to be younger, and to have fewer years in the rabbinate. Reform rabbis also scored significantly higher than did Orthodox or Conservative rabbis on knowledge questions about Jewish genetic diseases and were more active in distributing pertinent literature to congregants. Even though nearly 90% of the sample viewed counseling on genetic issues as part of their rabbinical role, most rabbis, even those who actually counseled on these issues, felt poorly prepared to do so. Recommendations are made for increased programming in rabbinical schools and for outreach from the genetics community.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Clergy*
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling* / statistics & numerical data
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Judaism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Regression Analysis
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / genetics