Judaism & Fertility Technology

Print this page Print this page

One of the first commandments in the Torah is to "be fruitful and multiply," and procreation has always been an important value in Jewish tradition. Modern medical technologies--such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood--can help people who have difficulty conceiving and bearing children. As a general rule, Jewish authorities do not object to fertility technology, but have concerns with some of the specific methods. 

"Artificial" insemination (AI) is the oldest form of non-traditional conception, and is usually divided into two categories: artificial insemination using a husband's sperm (AIH) and artificial insemination using donor sperm (AID).

fertility technologyMost Jewish authorities allow AIH, though some, like Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, do so reluctantly and only in extreme situations. Because of the traditional prohibition against masturbation, there is some disagreement about how to retrieve the husband's sperm. Some authorities suggest that the husband use a condom during sex and then retrieve the semen from the condom. Others allow masturbation in this situation, since the semen will be used to impregnate and will not be "wasted"--which would normally be a concern with ejaculation which does not take place during intercourse.

AID is more complicated. Some authorities, such as Rabbi Judah Leib Zirelson, consider AID to be adultery; Waldenberg believes that AID is akin to adultery and calls it "a great abomination." However, according to others, such as Rabbis Moshe Feinstein and Ben Zion Uziel, there can be no adultery without intercourse.

There are other reasons why AID might be problematic. Because a sperm donor is usually anonymous, some authorities are concerned that the offspring of an AID conception might end up marrying his or her sibling, committing unintentional incest.

Waldenberg and others cite this as a reason to prohibit AID, but because of the remoteness of this possibility and the prospect of using semen from non-Jewish men, many authorities are not concerned about potential incest. Still, even those Orthodox authorities that permit AID permit it only in extenuating circumstances. The Conservative and Reform movements both permit AID.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.