Judaism and Infertility Treatment

Yom Kippur, an important high holiday in the Jewish New Year is being celebrated this week. It is a time of reflection and taking time out to engage in prayer and thinking about choices you made in the previous year and resolving to make more thoughtful decisions in the coming Jewish New Year. This week I was talking with a friend who like me is Jewish and had a child through egg donation.

My friend raised a really important question that had not previously occurred to me. In Jewish tradition if the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish. My friend asked because our children were conceived using an egg donor how does that impact whether or not they are considered Jewish? This can become a very important issue for boys and girls beginning to study for their bar and bat mitzvahs or adults who want to get married. Would it be problematical that they were not really Jewish under Judaic practice and would they be prohibited from having a bar, bat mitzvah or wedding because of this? This is especially a concern in the Orthodox Jewish community.

As I began to research this question I realized that this can be an issue for many Jewish men and women who became parents thru assisted reproductive treatment. It can be challenging finding Jewish donors which adds to the anxiety.

Dr. Miryam Wahrman, a biology professor and scholar who specializes in bioethics and Judaism addresses these issues in her article, Assisted Reproduction and Judaism. She reports language in the bible directing "be fruitful and multiply" has been cited by many rabbis as sanctioning infertility interventions to build families. She reminds us that Genesis in the Torah describes "the suffering of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel due to infertility." Dr. Wahrman concludes that "it is generally agreed by rabbinic authorities that IVF and related techniques are acceptable for Jewish couples when the husband's sperm and wife's eggs are used."

What does Judaic law say about the use of donor eggs, sperm, or surrogacy? Dr. Wahrman explains that members of the various rabbinical communities do not offer a clear opinion regarding using donors when infertility exists. She offers examples of some of the various interpretations of Judaic law:

"It is clear that more rabbinical authorities approve of artificial insemination

if the husband's sperm is used.

  • While the use of donor sperm is not considered adultery per se, it is still considered an abomination and is discouraged by many.
  • There are rabinnical authorities who reject outright the idea of using donor eggs.
  • Others believe that a woman may receive donor eggs as long as her husband consented.
  • In traditional Jewish law the status of 'who is a Jew' is determined by whether or not the mother is Jewish.
  • Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Rabbinic Administrator of Star-K Kosher Certification states unequivocally that if the egg is from a Nonjewish woman than the baby is not Jewish.

Other rabbinic authorities have addressed this question and have concluded there is halachic (Jewish law) uncertainty regarding who is the mother

It is incredibly painful when people who simply want to fulfill their dream of becoming a parent are forced to choose between their faith and building their family. The examples I cited show the complexity of these choices and it is clear there are no easy answers. In many instances the religious doctrine we choose to follow offers mixed messages. Those that follow reformed, conservative, and orthodox models of Judaism have different beliefs about what is considered acceptable practice within the confines of their religious doctrine.

Dr. Wahrman concludes "The challenge of reproductive technologies will be to sort out the complex relationships created by artificial reproductive processes, and to determine where to draw the line in terms of what techniques are permissible, which advances are questionable, and which are unacceptable."

People who practice other religions besides Judaism also can find themselves in the position of making this seemingly impossible choice. It is important to consult a trusted religious advisor to get guidance in determining how your religion addresses your individual situation.

Ultimately after gathering all the information you can you must look deep into your own heart and make the choice that feels right for you and your partner. It is not an easy process but one that must be embarked on to determine the right path for you.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles. She has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility

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