Dear Rabbi Fried,
I am confused regarding your position concerning artificial insemination. In your column of Nov. 4 in this paper you discussed the question of embryo donation and its relation to sperm donation, implying that artificial insemination would be permitted for the husband and wife themselves. In the letters to the editor, however, Rabbi Adam Raskin seemed to take issue with your complete rejection of artificial insemination. Perhaps I misunderstood your comments; could you please clarify?
Mitch W., M.D.
Dear Dr. Mitch,
Although the letter you refer to seems to take issue with my supposed stance on artificial insemination at large, I believe it was only addressing the specific issue of donor insemination where I mentioned the opinion of many authorities that this would be a type of adultery by the spirit of the law.
Concerning the larger issue of artificial insemination as an infertility treatment as is commonly performed with couples that cannot conceive naturally, I, of course, wholly support that. It is one of the modern miracles of medicine which grants the precious gift of parenthood to couples that would have, just a generation ago, remained barren.
The biggest concern with that treatment, especially in Israel, is the practice of some doctors to mix a “booster” into the father’s sperm when his own sperm is weak. This “booster,” in fact, is simply other healthy sperm from the sperm bank, which is what usually will actually impregnate the mother. An organization has been created as a type of “vaad hakashrut” to control oversight of this and other applicable infertility treatments, such as IV fertilization. When this concern is accounted for, and when the semen is properly procured according to halachah, this procedure is a tremendous blessing.
That which Rabbi Raskin claims, that to use a donor is not adulterous because there is no physical contact and it is by consent, shows that he must not have seen the many halachic proofs cited by a number of contemporary sages that the impregnation of a married woman by the semen of another man has an adulterous aspect to it, although I also mentioned that it is not technically adultery because of the lack of contact. An act which is adulterous in nature is not excusable in Jewish law even by consent of both spouses.
Although Rabbi Raskin cites the conclusion of Conservative Judaism that the surrogate mother is considered the mother for all questions of the child’s Jewish stature, the traditional Jewish sources are inconclusive on this issue. Hence, the opinion of the leading halachic sages of this generation is that this issue remains unresolved, necessitating a conversion out of doubt if a surrogate situation is presented.
Rabbi Raskin maintains that Jewish tradition supports a couple who chooses to go this route. There is certainly no “Jewish tradition” to support that opinion. His quote of “adding a Jewish soul is considered as having created an entire world” (the correct actual wording is “saving” a Jewish soul) does not support the dubious creation of a doubtful Jewish soul. Finally, his allusion to my insensitivity to the plight of a couple in this situation contradicts my mention of the couple’s tremendous pain and difficulty, citing my own prior situation enabling me to empathize with them.
Obviously, no family should make a life decision of this magnitude based on a newspaper column; they need to work it through with their rabbi, who can account for the human side of the equation as well. Our purpose here is to bring forth the issues as they are, to understand the timeless, unchanging and profound instructions as given in the “manufacturer’s instruction manual” better known as the Torah.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Dear Rabbi Fried,