Reflections about egg donation and the Jewish Faith
Obviously, the scholars and writers of the Torah, the Talmud, the Jewish Law Codes, even the traditional commentators were never tasked with the interpretation of issues relating to any form of in vitro fertilization.
Rulings made today with regard to new technologies are based on close examinations of the traditional texts. Such examinations are made with a careful eye to the ways in which specific situations mentioned in those sacred works might apply to today’s technologies. Given the wide range of perspectives and interpretations in Jewish Law, it is entirely possible for the examiner to arrive at any of a wide variety of answers.
When you are seeking your specific answers, it will be important for you to understand how the Posek (the person to whom your questions has been entrusted) arrived at his/her conclusions. However, in the Q&A section below, we have attempted to present the mainstream halakhic (Jewish law/tradition) answers to the two most frequently asked questions.
Q: Does Judaism allow a woman who cannot become pregnant using her own eggs to use donor eggs in order to build a family?
A: The simple answer is yes. A close look at traditional texts has revealed that a couple who wishes to conceive and can only do so with donor eggs is permitted to do so.
Q: Does the egg donor have to be Jewish in order for the baby to be considered Jewish?
A: Jewish tradition holds that the Faith passes through the woman who gestates and births the child. That is, if the woman who carries the child is Jewish, the child will be Jewish.
Recently, however, there have been rulings by ultra-Orthodox Rabbis stating that for the child to be Jewish, the egg donor must be Jewish. Their premise states that the true mother of the child is the one who gave that child his/her genetic information. The textual and/or traditional sources for these rulings have not been clearly stated.
Prestigious mainstream Orthodox rabbinical scholars disagree and have stated emphatically that it is, in fact, the woman who carries to term and births the child who gives that child his/her religion.
In the end, if there should be any lingering doubt, the baby can be taken through a conversion ritual to confirm that he/she is truly Jewish.
Citataion: Rabbi Rachel Brown is a Conservative Rabbi, ordained through the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles California with a special interest in Jewish law and how it is interpreted for everyday life. Rabbi Brown is currently serving as the Rabbi for a Conservative congregation in southeast Pennsylvania. She is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following was found at a blog titled: “A Question of Jewish Law”
A Jewish Mother
Question: It is well known that in Jewish law a child inherits its religious status from its mother. What is the status of a child who was born as the result of an egg donation, where the birth mother was Jewish, but the egg donor was not?
Answer: As medical techniques that enable egg donation are fairly recent, there are no direct precedents to this situation in classical rabbinic sources. There are however two possible sources to guide us in our thinking – one in the Midrash and one in the Halachic sources.
Midrash: The Torah describes Dinah as the ‘daughter of Leah’ [Gen. 30:21]. Following normal usage, we would have expected the Torah to refer to her as the ‘daughter of Jacob’. The Midrash [quoted in Targum Yonatan] explains that a pregnant Leah was carrying a male foetus, but wanted her sister Rachel to give birth to at least 2 of the 12 tribes of Israel. In a miraculous way, the male child in her womb was transferred to Rachel, and a female child was transferred from Rachel to her – and thus she gave birth to Dinah. Although the child was genetically Rachel’s daughter, she is known as the ‘daughter of Leah’ thus indicating that it is the birth mother, rather than the genetic mother that determines a child’s status.
Halacha: It is doubtful that a Midrash should be used to establish novel Halachic principles. The closest situation in the classic legal sources is a woman who converts while pregnant. In this case, the child was conceived to a non-Jewish mother, but was carried for part of the pregnancy by a Jewess. The Talmud [BT Yevamot 78a] states that when a pregnant woman converts, the child does not require an additional immersion after birth. Following this, the Shulchan Aruch [YD 168:6] rules that a child whose mother converts when pregnant, is Jewish. This indicates that it is the birth mother that determines a child’s Jewish status.
However, there is another possible interpretation of these sources. It is possible that in this case the child in the womb is not considered Jewish from birth – but rather the child was converted at the same time as its mother. If this is the case – without conversion the child would not be Jewish, and it was the genetic mother who determined the child’s status! We therefore require further clarification before we can confidently rule on this matter.
There is one further discussion in the Talmud that comes to our aid. In tractate Yevamot [BT 97b], the Talmud asserts that if a mother converts while carrying twins, the babies are siblings. Normally, a convert is considered to be ‘born again’ – and is not considered in Jewish law to be related to his natural siblings. The fact that the twins are considered to be siblings shows us that they are Jewish from birth and not by conversion. Thus – it is the birth mother who determines status in Jewish law.
Modern medicine raises many challenges to traditional legal systems. Although the roots of Jewish law are many centuries old – the principles transcend time and enable us to meet the challenges of a new age.
Kveller - Fertility Technology in Jewish Law
Kveller: A Jewish Twist on Parenting is a great starting resource for those interested in the possible Jewish ethical issues on assisted reproductive technologies.
"Family Matters: Pregnant Pause for an Answer", Talia Liben Yarmush, Hadassah Magazine, 2011.
This meditation on infertility and the Jewish couple was published in Hadassah Magazine. Here is an additional article published on Kveller after the birth of her son, Ezra.
Artificial Insemination, Egg Donation, and Adoption,, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, 1994.
This teshuva (responsum) is published by The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of rabbis in the Conservative Movement.
Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss,, Nina Beth Cardin, Jewish Lights Pub, 1999.
One element of this book that is helpful is the suggestion for small rituals that a couple can do during Jewish holidays. For the holiday of Tu Bishvat (the Jewish new year of the trees), Rabbi Cardin suggests that the couple plant an aloe vera plant together. This symbol of growth, plus the inner healing properties of aloe, was a powerful metaphor.
Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics,, Elliot Dorff, The Jewish Publication Society, 2003.
While this book is not exclusively on infertility, Chapter 3 focuses on the assisted reproduction uses the partners' own genetic material, and Chapter 4 focuses on donated eggs/sperm. Rabbi Dorff's expertise in infertility and Jewish medical ethics make him one of the foremost scholars and rabbinic authorities on these issues. This book may be more scholarly and less "self-help" than some other resources but nonetheless deals with important Halakhic issues from a Conservative standpoint.
Marriage, Sex and Family in Judaism,, Michael J. Broyde, ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University, has compiled this list of essays on Jewish topics with various rabbinic and other authors. Brodye authors Chapter 11, "Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law," which discusses similar issues to Dorff's chapters in Matters of Life and Death. Like Matters of Life and Death, this book is more scholarly but will answer questions for those interested this approach to Jewish thought.
Hannah Wept: Infertility, Adoption, and the Jewish Couple,, Michael Gold, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1998.
While this book isn't a new book, it's a great resource for Jewish couples going through fertility or considering adoption. Unfortunately, it's currently out of print, but available through places like Amazon.com. And, since it is not a new book, you won't find discussions on the latest medical advancements. It's amazing how things have changed in the past two decades.
Overcoming Infertility: A Guide For Jewish Couples,, Richard V. Grazi, The Toby Press, 2005.
This compilation offers insight from a doctor's perspective, though the book contains contributions by many leaders of American Orthodox Judaism such as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z'l, and Rabbi Avrohom Friedlander. This book is a valuable resource for those looking for a more Orthodox perspective on ART. Dr. Garzi's first book is Be Fruitful and Multiply.
Third Key: Jewish Guide to Fertility,, Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein and Michael Finkelstein, Feldheim, 2000.
This book is also from an Orthodox perspective.
Infertility in the Bible: How The Matriarchs Changed Their Fate; How You Can Too,, Jessie Fischbein, Devorah Pub, 2005.
Another resource from the Orthodox perspective; written by a woman with personal experience in infertility.