10 thoughts on “Law, Politics, and Kinship Reflection

  1. Hi Ari! First of all, I just want to thank you for your thorough reflections on the reading and for sharing your own very personal experience with this subject matter. I think what your story exemplifies is what one of my main takeaways from Kahn’s book was–the fluidity and variation exists within Rabbinic authority not only just about reproductive technologies, but also about kinship, relatedness, etc. I think that Kahn’s book is so exemplary of the power of ethnographic study. I think most topics of controversy seem so black and white until you get the perspectives and experiences of real people.

    I think Kahn’s piece helps to give us a totally different perspective on reproductive technology within religion after reading Donum Vitae last week, not necessarily in the sense that Jewish authority is totally the opposite on this matter than Catholic authority is–although I think we can gather that their is more consistent consideration of technologies and significantly more acceptance of reproductive technology happening within Judaism in Kahn’s piece–but, I think what Kahn’s ethnographic piece shows us, as well as Ari’s own story shows us, is that religious doctrine and authority are not representative of the behavior, acts, and beliefs of the members of that religion. I think it will be crucial throughout this course to refrain from generalizing a group of religious people as rigidly following their religion’s authority on topics related to reproductive technology. I think something that will be interesting to think about and discuss further is how people who go against advisement from religious authority grapple with that opposition. I think that reality is especially interesting for people like Jewish Israeli’s who utilize reproductive technology, where there is variation in stance coming from authority–where do they find their place in their religion afterward?

  2. Hi Arianna! This is such a beautiful post – I appreciate how thoughtfully you connected this week’s topics with those we have preciously covered, especially the reference to “He Won’t Be My Son.” I also found myself reflecting on this text as Khan presented the stories of the women she interviewed. Even more than your analysis, though, I admire your willingness to be vulnerable about your own experience and background. I think your perspective is particularly enlightening on this week’s topic, and I hope that you continue to explore your understanding of kinship with the same open-mindedness. One thing that I have learned so far about Jewish perspectives on reproductive technologies is that they are not rigid, but instead accommodating to both advances in the medical field and progression in our societies. However, I think it would be interesting to discuss further the idea of a “nuclear family.” I noticed Khan using this phrase throughout the book, but it would be helpful to evaluate various definitions for the term in relation to the concept of kinship as a whole.

  3. Arianna, it was interesting to learn how you are uniquely qualified to speak on this topic. Your perspective adds a lot to our discussion about IVF and sperm donation. When you mention learning about kehillah/community at synagogue and experiencing the sense of unity that comes with being Jewish, I was reminded of Khan’s descriptions of how unmarried Jewish women view the circumstances of the conception of their children. For these women, their children are born into and integrated into traditional kinship networks, a fact which is almost mandated by the social workers and psychiatrists that evaluate their fitness for motherhood. In addition to these ties, Kahn’s ethnography highlights the many extrafamilial relationships that develop through the use of new reproductive technologies involving medical staff, fertility experts, and even maschgicha who facilitate the conception of Jewish children. In this way, reproduction of Jews using new technologies is a community and collective effort. The legal regulation of reproductive technology in Israel mirrors these personal experiences as it is a product of collaboration between Jewish religious authority (i.e., rabbis) and its secular legislative body (i.e., Knesset).
    I think that your exploration of the differing levels of acceptance of reproductive technology among the Abrahamic religions is fascinating. You question whether a society such as the one described in Marcia C. Inhorn’s ethnography would be more resistant to reproductive technology because it is closed off to secular individuals. On the other hand, I think of America, a country that imagines itself as a secular state, yet does not embrace reproductive technology in the way that Israel has. I wonder if more individualistic cultures find modern reproductive technologies to be more radical because the kinship networks that help to support the upbringing of a child are rarer. Or is it the fact that biological and social notions of kinship are so closely associated because the society is so individualistic?

  4. Hey Ari! I initially want to recognize your approach you took not only with this week’s reading, but also the inclusion of elements from Genesis and “He Won’t Be My Son” from last week’s discussion. Your combination of an analytical discussion compounded with the narrative of your personal experience of identity relating to reproductive technology deeply enhanced my perspectives. As a Religious studies major, I always appreciate when I hear the personal stories of students from a variety of religions. The final discussion in your paper that touches on the beautiful flexibility of kinship and reproductive options today that enhances your understanding of self pushed me to continue to approach these topics with a sensitive yet critical openness. Our identities, though all uniquely different, are powerful platforms we can lean on within the complexities of these topics.

    I also appreciate how you touch on the overall themes of Susan Khan’s work while also providing more specific examples and textual evidence. By delving into the examples of Ben Zoma and Ben Sira’s legitimizations with different mechanics of conceptions with the comparison to the resistance of such mechanics in the Middle East, you effortlessly outlined how different elements of the argument–social, political, and geographic alike–come into play. Sophie Ravina touched on this in her paper, as she critiqued that Susan Khan could have included more information about these elements in her ethnographic research. This, I believe, would have added a more intersectional element to the text.

    When you mentioned the very cultural and widespread desire for Jewish people to produce as a mitzvah, you prompted me to wonder about the epigenetics of reproduction in Jewish people. There has been research done that children and grandchildren of Holocaust are more likely to develop PTSD. I am not extremely educated about the field of epigenetics, but I do wonder if there is any epigenetic component that influences Jewish people to “be fruitful and multiply” outside of just adhering to the mitzvah.

    Again, I enjoyed reading your piece and look forward to discussing it in class!

  5. Ari. This was a great reflection on the reading and also your own personal experience. It is quite interesting how flexible the Rabbis are with IVF, and this article surely opened me up to that even more. What I am still unsure about though is why rabbinic word can differ so much from Torah word. You did say that much is left up to interpretation however and that is said repeatedly throughout the readings. I also like how you title the paper “Be Fruitful and Multiply”. I had learned about this from my contemporary Israel-Palestine class, learning that a large value of Israeli society is pronatalism. I ask: Where do pronatalism and Torah word rank next to each other when deciding upon IVF?

    Ari this is written very well. It would be great though if you expanded upon certain other topics within IVF that and how they relate to this pronatalism, such as the importance of motherhood in Israeli Jewish society, or the how kinship is affected. Although you mention the Rabbi’s flexibility, things such as surrogacy, or the different fertility clinics add a new dimension. But since you mentioned so much about your experience, you might as well have said all of this stuff because your experience involves so much of the reading’s topics. Great work!

  6. Hi Arianna, I really liked your post! Although you didn’t have to, your disclosure of your own experience with the subject matter was very moving. I’m sorry that you have struggled with identity because of this, but I believe it has helped you form an opinion more mature than those who have not gone through such an ordeal.
    In addition, your comparison of attitudes between the major Abrahamic religions was an interesting one. Personally, I am of the belief that Judaism, as a whole, has come to be more accepting of alternative reproductive technologies due to their sheer population numbers compared to Islam and Christianity. Compared to the Christian population of 2.2 billion and the Muslim population of 1.8 billion, the worldwide Jewish population is only a fraction of those at 15 million. This could definitely cause a cultural shift that would make the average Jewish person more accepting of technologies that, although they could be interpreted as adulterous, would help bolster the Jewish population. It could explain why “be fruitful and multiply” was interpreted so liberally in Judaism yet was not for Christianity. Kahn states it best in chapter two discussing unmarried women. Describing the limitations posed on those seeking alternative reproductive technologies, she states that “all these dynamics are taking place within a state that has an explicit interest in supporting policies and legislative actions that encourage the reproduction of Jews” (60).
    An example from my life is that one of my friends was born to a Jewish father and gentile mother which meant that, according to Jewish tradition, he was not Jewish by birth. However, his father had he and his siblings converted to Judaism so that the religion would spread with their families as well.

  7. Hi Ari!

    Before I respond on the rest of your reflection, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your personal connection to this story! I am glad that you chose this reading because it does seem pertinent to your story, and gives us a real insight into this work that we read this week. I agree with your point that at the end of the day, people do have free will to become parents, even if it is not ‘religiously’ supported.

    Earlier in your reflection, I agreed with you in saying that the kosherness of Reproductive Technologies is fluid especially after reading Khan’s work. I thought it was really interesting seeing the differences from the Catholic literature we read last week, where it seemed to be very rigid in contrast to being fluid. I also liked how you compared it to the reading “He Won’t Be My Son,” because I did make this connection as well while reading the book, and how the fluidity was very different, but in some aspects they were the same. Similarly to what was said to your parents, some people in the Jewish community agree that the children who are born through reproductive technologies will not have a father. Lastly, I really liked your point about how there can be such different interpretations of the same texts that can form views on reproductive technologies. We saw this across the board with many of the readings that we have done, and it makes you think about how the difference of ‘authoritative figures’ within a religious group can really be what makes the difference.

  8. Hi Ari! Your blog was amazing to read and it truly moved me. First, I appreciate how you incorporated other texts we have read into your blog to make more connections with other religious beliefs. The topic of how sex can be considered adulterous or not adulterous in different situations where the sperm does not directly touch a woman’s reproductive organs has interested me because of how differently it can be interpreted. I have heard of other cases where it is not adulterous for a man and a woman to produce a child if they are not purposefully performing sexual intercourse. I believe that this allows room for people to defend themselves.

    Additionally, I love how you mentioned that there are many religious texts with contrasting and evolving viewpoints on infertility and its technologies, so it can only serve as guidance to couples. I love this viewpoint and how you mentioned that we are constantly adapting despite contrasting religious perspectives because new generations are becoming more considerate and flexible towards contrasting viewpoints. New generations are more accepting to change, and I am also excited to see how religious beliefs will adapt as we progress. Your blog was well written, organized, and easy to follow. I would not change anything.

  9. Hi Ari! Thanks so much for your insight on these readings. I found your analysis to be particularly helpful as framing our class discussion of Israel pro-natal policies in a religious context, rather than just a political or scientific one. Khan helped us understand the reasoning behind why Israel acts in such a substantially pro-natal way, especially in their actions relating to individuals who are having difficulty conceiving. The line you quoted from Khan about how the word of God appeared to vary depending on who you ask stuck out in particular to me. I wonder how much that sentiment exists across religions and faiths. In theory, each religion would seem fairly concrete. Religions often have specific religious texts that they follow, and some, most notably Islam, have particular sets of laws that regulate their behaviour. But even in spite of what would appear to be a relatively concrete set of written texts, as Khan writes with Judaism, opinions of religious leaders and even the laity can vary widely. This was something I realized as I was writing my position paper for our project. As I was writing, it was evident to me that the texts we were discussing could be interpreted in a number of different ways, and I think as I ended up finding, even religious leaders could support a wide variety of different things.

    Additionally, as others have said, I greatly appreciate your personal contributions to this topic! There are points, especially in discussing some of the more theological components of these reproductive technologies, where I find myself having some difficulty understanding some of the higher-level philosophy, and find personal anecdotes as being helpful in understanding.

  10. *Note: When this was originally posted we did not know we were supposed to comment on all the blog posts when there was more than one. Professor Seeman said not to worry about it for this week, but I am posting just in case.

    Hi Ari, thank you for your thoughtful insights! I especially was intrigued by your discussion of Leviticus 18:20 and what is considered adulterous. Sometimes I wonder if religious texts are intentionally vague in order to leave room for interpretation? It seems that so many texts are hotly debated because there is not always a clear answer that can pertain to modern technology and times. You raise an interesting point that most people try hard not to think about their own conception. This is true of myself – it can often be uncomfortable to think about. However, this course has caused me to ask a lot of questions about how I came to be and it sounds like it has raised similar questions for you. Thank you for being so open in sharing your personal experiences and perspectives.

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