Assisted Reproduction & Religion

A few weeks ago I shared some reflections on “Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel” by Susan Martha Kahn. (See “In Israel They Choose Your Sperm For You.”)

I finally finished the book. Here are a few more observations:

Contrary to what I had assumed, use of non-Jewish donor sperm is often encouraged by rabbis. This is the logic:

1-Jewishness is passed only matrilineally.

2-Since the donor is not Jewish it is okay for him to masturbate. (I always thought of masturbation as a quintessentially Jewish activity. Don’t all those Neil Simon plays involve masturbating boys?)

3-Adultery is only defined as intercourse between a married Jewish woman and a Jewish man who is not her husband.

Egg donors are a different story.

Eggs are preferably harvested from unmarried Jewish women. This is because eggs, unlike sperm, confer Jewishness, and because unmarried women do not present the taint of adultery.  I guess married Jewish men can have intercourse with any woman without Halakhic qualms. Not so for married Jewish women.

I always found it interesting that Jewishness is said to be conferred through mothers yet women’s status is traditionally quite low compared to men’s. This must have something to do with the idea that women’s bodies are empty vessels.

I did a few Internet searches on Islam and assisted reproductive technology.  Apparently Iran is one of the few (only?) Muslim countries that makes IVF services available. Islamic law generally seems to restrict gamete donation, though I would be interested to hear from those who know more about this.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Iran funds sex reassignment surgery for “diagnosed transsexuals.”  Unfortunately this seems to reflect Iranian authorities’ perspective that all individuals must adopt a conventional gender and stick with it, rather than a perspective that’s open to various forms of gender expression.


7 Responses to “Assisted Reproduction & Religion”

  1. Turkey, a muslim country, does allow ART. In fact, it’s become quite the “infertility tourism” destination as treatments are relatively cheap and success rates better than world averages.

    I don’t get all these religious restrictions. If you’re suffering to have a baby, does it really matter what religion the sperm or egg donor is? You’re going to raise that child, with your own traditions. Your children aren’t going to be “less Jewish” if they came from a non-Jewish donor. Argh! Frustrating stuff. Why make your life even more difficult than it already is?!

  2. How interesting. I guess it makes me glad when religions find ways to argue themselves into allowing various forms of ART. At least it is better than the arguments to deny it! ICLW.

  3. This is very fascinating stuff. I always find all of the religious opinions concerning ART to interesting. Some of it seems arbitrary, and sometimes I can follow the thought process. I’m not really committing to anything here, but I find it very thought provoking nonetheless.

    I saw an HBO documentary about Iran and the funding of sex reassignment surgery. Some of the stories were heartbreaking. Homosexuality is generally unaccepted by transexuals are accepted so many essentially homosexuals become transexuals so they can fit into society. It’s tragic in many cases.

    Happy ICLW!

  4. Fascinating! With regards to adultery, does this mean a married jewish woman can have sex with a non-jewish man and it not be considered adultery??? Hmmmm….

    Thanks for sharing! I love different cuktural viewpoints on just about any topic!

    ICLW #90

  5. What absolutely fascinating reading. Thanks for sharing this cultural perspective.

    Happy ICLW.

  6. Wow…I had no idea of any of those “rules” – then again I’m not Jewish. But it would be interesting to see what other religions truly think about ART and the steps taken.

    ICLW #115

  7. This is absolutely fascinating. Though Jewish, I’m quite liberal in my outlook and believe that if you want to identify with a particular religion and worship Gd in their way, then you should be able to call yourself whatever you want. However, my real interest is in the government’s meddling in very personal matters as to the physical characteristics you may be passing down to your children based upon your donor’s genetic makeup.

    What’s that really about? I didn’t like it when I learned about the Nazis’ attempt to create and/or preserve a “perfect Aryan race” and, as such, I don’t like it in this context either. If you were to have a child with a love-partner, they could be from any racial background, even if also Jewish; Caucasian, Black, Asian, etc…

    Lisa (ICLW #86)

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