Artificial Insemination in Jewish Law

Most rabbis permit artificial insemination using the husband's semen, but donor insemination raises more complicated questions.

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There are a multitude of Jewish legal and moral issues relating to artificial insemination, and Jewish authorities have staked out the entire range of positions on this matter. Rulings often distinguish between artificial insemination that uses the semen of the husband (AIH) and artificial insemination using donor semen (referred to as DI in this article, but also referred to in other literature as AID). In what follows, the author, a Conservative rabbi, surveys some of the issues and rulings pertaining to artificial insemination and provides his own answers to some of the questions he raises. Excerpted and reprinted with permission from Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

AIH

Most rabbis who have written about AIH have not objected to it. Because Judaism appreciates medicine as a divinely authorized aid to God, AIH is not prohibited among Jews, as it is among Catholics, merely because it is artificial. 

Some rabbis, though, worry about the means by which the husband's sperm is obtained. To ensure that there is no "destruction of the seed in vain," in violation of the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 38:9‑10, these rabbis advocate collecting it from the vaginal cavity after intercourse. However, an obstetrician I consulted, who has many observant Orthodox and Conservative patients, told me that collecting sperm in that way is simply "unrealistic." Moreover, the vaginal pH kills the sperm, since it is more acidic than cervical mucus.

artificial inseminationOther rabbis permit the husband to use a condom (clearly, one without spermicide) for the purpose of collecting his semen for AIH. Some of these rabbis insist that the condom have a small hole in it so that there is still some chance of conception through the couple's intercourse.

While I have no particular objection to couples using such constraints, it does seem to me that they are unnecessary, for producing semen for the specific purpose of procreating cannot plausibly be called wasting it. Even some Orthodox rabbis agree and therefore permit a man to masturbate to produce semen for the artificial insemination of his wife. I endorse this last approach. […]

DI: Adultery and Illegitimacy

Since in DI a married woman is being inseminated with the sperm of a man other than her husband, some rabbis construe DI as adultery. This would make any child born through DI illegitimate (a mamzer); according to the Torah, such a person and his or her descendants may not marry a Jew for ten generations. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, for example, takes strong exception to donor insemination on these grounds:

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Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is Rector and Sol and Anne Dorff Professor of Philosophy at the American Jewish University in California.