Religion: Judaism and Fertility (Part 2 of 3)

This is Part 2 of a three-part series exploring the views of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on infertility treatments. This is an important and intensely personal topic, and one that we encourage you to discuss with your faith leaders.

Broadly speaking, in Judaism if IVF is required, then it is permitted, although the exact process differs by Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, and by each Rabbi's point of view.

Back when in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures resulted in what were referred to as “test-tube babies,” Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, considered a religious authority at the time on medical subjects, wrote that any baby thus created wouldn’t be considered related to the biological parents, says an article on fertility in the Washington Post.

But attitudes and outlooks on fertility in Judaism soon began to change – particularly once specifics of the procedures involved were better understood. As with other world religions, though, Judaism includes several different branches which profess sometimes differing beliefs and practices. And as one Rabbi who helped found the Genesis Fertility and Reproductive Medicine clinic in Brooklyn told the Post, “When you are dealing with God’s creation, you want to make as sure as possible that things are being done right”.

Which, for Jews of all varieties, means what, exactly?

According to NH Sallam’s March 2016 study, the 14 million people globally who identify as belonging to some form of the Jewish faith – Orthodox (10% of followers), Conservative (5%), or Reform (85%) -- are generally encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply”.

When it comes to issues of death, birth, divorce, and marriage, all Jews observe the Ten Commandments – but the three sects don’t quite agree on matters of assisted reproduction. Generally speaking, if IVF is required, then it is permitted.

However, Orthodox Rabbis hold that men may not provide semen specimens by way of ejaculation, as this would constitute “spilling of the seed”. Rabbis considered more liberal do permit ejaculation if the intent is to help with procreation.

Sallam goes on to note that artificial insemination is allowed by all sects if the sperm isn’t wasted (and, for Orthodox followers, if special condoms are used for collection purposes). Donor insemination, though, is frowned upon by most Rabbis. When it is allowed, a non-Jewish donor is preferred to avoid issues of adultery. Other directives allow egg freezing and use under certain conditions, though destroying them actively is forbidden (thawing is permitted).

In any case, it’s best to consult with your faith leader for specifics; some Jews have even been known to find a Rabbi who will support their choices rather than choose to proceed the other way around, says Hallam.

As always, fertility issues are human issues. And there’s no shortage of opinions, many informed by real-life experience, about how fertility is a Jewish issue and what can be done about it.

In an article published by Reform Judaism, Michelle Ben-Aviv of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency notes that funding has recently been made available for IVF and adoption through various U.S. agencies.  After all, she adds, "’L’dor v’dor’ — ‘from one generation to the next’ — is the bedrock of a thriving Jewish community.”

On the Orthodox side of matters, Naomi Zeveloff, writing at Forward.com, points out that women can sometimes encounter something known as “halachic infertility”, when it becomes impossible to conceive due to adherence to religious dictums. This can happen because an Orthodox woman is forbidden from engaging in sexual activity with her husband during her menstrual cycle, and for seven days after its end. Those with irregular cycles can experience complications.

Another issue, Zeveloff writes, concerns the aforementioned “spilling of the seed” for men. Some Orthodox men use the specially made condom described earlier, and a few even puncture it with a small opening so that the sperm can’t be said to have completely gone to waste. Collected sperm is then delivered to a lab and frozen until it is needed for the appropriate use.

Understandably, these issues and the attendant procedures they create can bring a great deal of stress on all involved. Dr. Richard Grazi, founder of the Genesis clinic (above), advised one patient named Rachel to take a break from treatments that had not proved successful. They agreed to talk about resuming them after she took a much-needed vacation.

“I can say to God, ‘I tried last year — I tried my heart out,’” Rachel told Forward.com. “’I am continuing to try, and I did my best and it is up to You.’”

As you consider your best path forward, Legacy’s choices for preserving your assets can help you achieve your goals in ways that are right for you and your partner.