Question: We have been trying to have a child for several years and, after numerous fertility treatments, have been told that egg donation is our only option. But we are worried that our child will not be accepted as part of the Jewish community. I am halachically Jewish, but the donor is not?
Rabbi Naftali Brawer
Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.
V The question you raise is one of the most complex in the area of medical halachah and I don’t feel I can do it justice in 400 words. The best I can hope to do is to sketch some of the many issues and concerns relating to it. For a definitive psak (halachic ruling) I refer you to an expert in this field. The Puah institute would be a good place to start, at http://www.puahonline.org/
The axis on which this entire area of Jewish law revolves is the question of who is the mother. There are four possible options; the egg donor, the host/birth mother, both, or neither.
A minority view held by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren is that the egg donor /genetic mother is considered the mother. One of the sources upon which he bases this ruling is the Talmud Sanhedrin 91b, which asserts that the soul of the child enters the body at the time of conception and not at birth.
The majority of rabbis, however, are of the opinion that the host/birth mother is considered the mother and they cite a number of halachic and midrashic proofs to this effect. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg is of the opinion that a test tube baby has neither a halachic father nor mother, while Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that both women are to be treated as the halachic mother.
What are the practical ramifications of these diverse opinions?
The obvious consequence has to do with the Jewish status of the baby — the question you raise. The simplest way to avoid this dilemma is to find a Jewish egg donor. Yet while this might solve the Jewish status question, there are a host of other questions that arise from having a Jewish egg donor. They include the following. Who are the halachic siblings of this baby and who is she/he permitted to or prohibited from marrying?
From whom does this child inherit? If one of the women is the daughter of a Cohen or Levi, does this child require a pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn ceremony) if he is firstborn?
I apologise for raising more questions than answers but in this case the questions are crucial not just for yourself but for anyone reading this column who might also be contemplating in-vitro fertilisation. Proper halachic guidance from the outset is essential to help navigate what is already a complex and emotionally fraught experience. May the Almighty bless you with success.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain
Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.
Any person who reads this and has children of their own should pause to give thanks for the ability that they probably take for granted but which is certainly not guaranteed. We assume there will be a pattern to our lives: we date, get engaged, marry, have children; but your case is typical of many who find that path blocked.
It comes as an enormous shock and attempts to remedy it can be time-consuming, expensive, physically invasive and emotionally exhausting. It can also affect your relationship with each other. So those with children, even difficult ones, should still be giving thanks.
Of course, there are plenty of biblical precedents that indicate the problem is not new, but for each person to whom it happens, it is new. Fortunately you have options that were unavailable to previous generations.
The technical answer regarding egg donation is that the status of the child follows that of the biological mother (who was not Jewish) rather than that of the mother whose womb incubated it.
However, there is no reason why the child, once born, cannot be presented to a Beth Din and awarded Jewish status in his/her own right. I cannot answer for the conditions imposed by an Orthodox court, but the Reform Beth Din will simply want to know that the child will be brought up Jewish, ie with Jewish home practices from birth, formal Jewish education later on (be it at school or cheder) and involvement in communal life.
There are other factors that you need to be consider. One is that you and your husband are fully comfortable with the child only being half yours biologically. This need not be a problem, but should be talked through first. Another option is adoption and thereby give a home to an already existing child. If no Jewish ones are available, the Reform Beth Din would happily award Jewish status to any child brought up with the same conditions above.
In all these instances, your child will grow up with a strong sense of Jewish identity and should feel fully part of the community, while there will be a certificate in a drawer should anyone be rude enough to question it. Judaism sees having children as a good thing, so you are entirely right to pursue such possibilities and you can rely on rabbis to help you.