12 thoughts on “Week 4 Reflection and Summary on “Reproducing Jews”

  1. I really appreciate how you dive into the book in your blog post this week. The textual evidence really helps to ground me in part of the book’s argument about the many facets of life that affect the Israeli view on reproductive technologies. Specifically in the book, I really appreciate how the author goes into the different cultural and social implications in addition to the religious ones. It is not just about religion; just as Donum Vitae was not just about the text. As we discussed in class, the religious argument for or against reproductive technologies can stem far beyond natural law or what is written in the Old/New Testament. Including those other aspects that influence women in Israel helped make the book’s argument stronger for me. As a reader, seeing the perspectives of different women experiencing these issues helped show me how complicated this issue is and how long the process is. When talking about reproductive technologies, we cannot just think about the actual act of insemination or other technologies–we have to consider the build-up and the aftermath. Of course, the consequence is a child with a parent(s) who chose to get pregnant. But the book also goes into the steps prior, including clinical evaluations and donors. It’s incredibly interesting to see how our depictions of this process in media differ from the actual process in Israel. This may be due to cultural differences or the way we view IVF versus the Israeli view, but the differences are quite striking. For example, I thought that you can choose a donor because of how one drama depicted this process, but in Israel, the book states that is not quite the case. A lot of trust is needed between professionals and the patient, and it is unclear to me how clinical the process is because there is such a variety of experiences described in the book.

  2. Hi Sophie! Thank you for such a focused response: you delicately connected the personal accounts from this week’s reading with our previous look at the book of Genesis, and I commend your comparison of each. It is important to understand the biblical context for the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” especially when, as you eloquently presented, such a command was directed at one party. This made me think back to “He Won’t Be My Son” and Inhorn’s discussion of paternity in the Muslim world. What’s interesting to me, though, is that most of the women Khan got to know shared their own desire to fulfill the command to reproduce, independent of any male influence or pressure; this is particularly interesting when considering that most of the stories Khan includes in the book are those of relatively secular Jewish women. I wonder if their distance from traditional Judaism may affect their interpretation of the command? Or if their desire for children could be attributed to more of a biological force? It would be interesting to discuss this further.

  3. Hi Sophie! Thank you for your thoughtful response to the reading. I thought you hit on some key points of Kahn’s as well as posed some good thought-provoking points for further discussion. I appreciate how you discussed the inherently contradictory nature that comes along with the simple existence religious text and religious authority. There’s commandment to multiply, but also an emphasis on the nuclear family; there’s the biological desire for motherhood for women, but the responsibility to procreate is on the man–there’s so much contradiction when someone is trying to decide what is allowed and what the right decision for them would be.

    Furthermore, I think what you said at the end of your blog rings so true to some of the big ideas about culture that we talk about in this class. There is an inextricability of the social, political, religious, and cultural from each other. The same goes for the specific topic of IVF within Jewish communities. It would be so simple to be able to understand why women choose to utilize IVF or decide against it if it all came down to religious doctrine, personal choice, money, etc. But, obviously nothing can be attributed to just one area–the way that religious and cultural practices interact defines attitudes about reproductive technology. I think that, often, religious and cultural practices are at odds with each other when it comes to this topic, which is what makes it so controversial and so variable. Again, I really enjoyed reading your blog and I appreciate the insight it gave me as I continue to reflect on the reading.

  4. I truly enjoyed reading your blog post. I especially enjoyed reading about what you decided to focus on: the availability there is under Jewish law (especially in Israel) to undergo IVF or other treatments so that infertile couples can have children which is tied together to the obligation/commandment in Judaism to have children (specifically for males). I would like to focus on the point made by Susan Martha Kahn in “Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel” about innovation regarding new reproductive technologies. If Rabbis were to maintain a strict ruling against allowing any kind of reproductive treatment to enable infertile couples to have children, then it would be impossible for those couples to follow the commandment to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.Instead, what Rabbis opted towards was allowing Jewish couples to undergo treatment to have children, enabling them to follow G-d’s commandment that they would otherwise be unable to keep, albeit their desire to. In this way, men can complete their obligation to have children (according to Jewish law), allowing their wives to raise their children under the realm of Judaism (which is – according to Jewish belief – in their nature). In other words, instead of making reproductive technologies taboo and inaccessible to infertile Jewish couples (as other religions have), Rabbis have decided to embrace the fact that there is a possibility in which infertile men can have children with their wives, and encouraged them to do so, so that the commandment of having children is fulfilled.

  5. Hi Sophie! Thank you for sharing your very thoughtful summaries and reflections. I appreciate your discussion of Susan Kahn’s interviews. As you note, one of the things Kahn’s ethnography highlights is the emotional and physical turmoil experienced by women who utilize various reproductive technologies in Israel. Use of these technologies is by no means the norm, and certainly not a woman’s first choice. Like you I also found it interesting to think about the ways the unmarried women Kahn writes about are negotiating or seeking to fulfill both cultural and religious expectations. I think the emotional responses Kahn records, and which you quote, reflect the difficulty of the expectations placed on women by their cultural and religious environments, as well as their own personal desires or aspirations. On one hand, women are to a certain extent expected to find a husband, and often desire the fulfillment that comes with this sort of kinship. They are also expected to reproduce. I found it very interesting the various ways women navigated these expectations or desires, and how this ultimately led them to the decision to utilize various reproductive technologies. I think Kahn’s quotes also highlight how much these issues go beyond (or perhaps beneath) very broad cultural or religious concerns and are really very emotional and specific.
    Relatedly, I found it interesting to consider the new sorts of families that arise from science—specifically, in the clinics Kahn writes about in which nurses and doctors to some extent view their patients’ babies as their own. These descriptions especially made me wonder about the culture surrounding clinics (or medical institutions in general) in environments that are, if not more secular, more individualistic. In the US, it is difficult to imagine women receiving this sort of familial support from doctors or nurses—though I’m not sure if this is just a shortcoming in my own imagination. Does this have to do with religiosity? With stigma around reproduction or reproductive technologies? Or with a more concentrated belief in the traditional nuclear family that does not include non-biological kin?

  6. Sophie. This is great! I really like how you incorporate much of the deeper parts of IVF in Judaism and how it affects people in this reflection. You touch upon the shame that may come, you touch upon how people are replacing loss, you speak of the nuclear family and how it is maintained for even single mothers doing IVF, and you touch on the familiar implications with the children. That is a great job. What I wonder though is if it is the women taking the agency to interpret the torah to support their use of IVF or if it is the Rabbis telling and supporting the women. You mentioned this in the reflection and it was something unclear to me.

    I like how you synthesize the ethnographic parts into the text and people’s real-life experiences. What I would have though to be a great addition to this paper was possible comparisons with other texts that we have read so far. You set this text up well to be put up side-by-side with Donum Vitae, and Inhorn’s article as well, because you look into the many layers of IVF in Judaism, and to compare those layers with that of Islam and Catholicism would have been real cool. But overall, awesome work!

  7. Really well written, thoughtful reflection and synthesis of the text. I think it’s very cool that you noted the incongruence between the rabbinic understanding of the commandment “be fruitful and multiply” as only pertaining to men, and the enormous social pressure put on Israeli women to become mothers. How can a religion or a society claim to be pronatalist while theologically excluding women from the mitzvah? The author notes that women are considered in Israel a reproductive “resource” – the orthodox understanding of reproduction seems to only make space for women to the extent that they are willing (and capable) of helping Jewish men fulfill their commandment to reproduce. Under this framework, their bodies merely enable the performance of the mitzvah as passive, reproductive objects.

    Also striking is the rabbinic concern with preventing incest. Dr. Seeman noted last class that nearly all societies have an incest taboo, but here in the States we don’t go through such great lengths to eliminate the potential for incestuous marriage. This may be a function of Israel’s smaller, less-dispersed population, where there’s greater risk of encountering genetic relatives. This approach of aggressively “fencing off” even the remote possibility of halakhic violations with stringent prohibitions is characteristic of Jewish religious law. For example, orthodox jews are forbidden from moving tools on Shabbat, this is not a biblical commandment but a “fence” that reduces the possibility of Sabbath desecration.

    I also appreciate that you made a point of noting the other cultural factors spurring the imperative to reproduce for Israeli Jews. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the theological understanding of a concept or practice and then generalize to the rest of society. As you aptly put, “this type of elective procedure cannot just be understood in one context, but instead is a combination of different sectors of life.” I think while the author does touch on the memory of the holocaust as a factor, there could have been more analysis.

  8. Hi Sophie, great job on this week’s blog post. I liked how you focused on the commandment to procreate and the view that this obligation only applies to men, not women. I would like to learn more about a potential response to this argument — that some women may be helping their husbands who have reproductive difficulty have children , and are supporting them in fulfilling this obligation.

    You also bring up an interesting point with Jewish people’s fear of annihilation and the massive depletion of the Jewish population due to the Holocaust. This viewpoint is likely especially prevalent in Israel, since the country was established after the atrocities of the Holocaust. I have heard about some studies that certain characteristics of Holocaust survivors can be passed down — a multigenerational trauma. I wonder if a stronger drive for reproduction is included in this?

    I am also intrigued by the part of the reading you mention that there is concern that artificial insemination could result in incest, if someone does not know who their father is. This viewpoint was surprising to me. While the Jewish population is small in comparison to other religions in the world, I would think the chances of accidental incest occurring would be quite low. I suppose this is possible in small towns, but I would assume this is still quite rare.

    Thank you for sharing these interesting points, Sophie!

  9. Hi Sophie! I really enjoyed your blog post for this week because it incorporated your own opinions as well as extensive textual evidence. I love how you highlighted how religion encourages women to be fruitful and multiply. Many religions will not even encourage birth control as a means to for women to have as many children as God will allow. However, there is also the argument of reproductive technology being acceptable form of being fruitful and multiply. In class we have discussed a few times, creating loopholes around these problems. To me, I believe new reproductive technologies were created in response to this problem. Also, I appreciated that you mentioned the impact that the Holocaust and other persecution of Jewish people has really encouraged Jewish women to continue their families by any means. This is a similar notion held to African American families as well due to the slavery. I think this history also contributes to how religious leaders accept this new technologies. In Israel, it seems that it matters less how the child is conceived, but the faith and the culture the child is raised in.

  10. Hi Sophie! I deeply appreciate the thought you put into your paper and how you highlighted the complexities of the use of reproductive technology in Israel. I think the final two paragraphs of your paper really touched on the nuances of the politics and the victims of these politics, especially when a woman’s choice of using reproductive technology is boiled down to one factor. I agree that “going forward, in order to understand and compile the most accurate ethnographies and information on artificial insemination, it should be examined not just from the religious standpoint, but from the social, cultural, and political ones as well (4). Without using the word “intersectionality,” you essentially underscore how important it is to analyze societal problems and questions by holding the complexity of the multiple facets that play a role in such problems.

    I appreciated how you used textual evidence to highlight the different voices and narratives of why women choose to use artificial insemination. One thing that I appreciated within Khan’s work was her utilization of female voices, an essential yet ironically overlooked element of these discussions in society. Thank you for your awesome work and contributions!

  11. Hi Sophie,
    Thanks so much for your analysis of these readings! I really appreciate the interpretative angle you took of Khan, and I think it synthesized the religious and political factors in Israel well. While we often make the assumption that religious leaders are above politics or are non-partisan, its clear that that assumption doesn’t always hold true. Understanding that, it becomes a lot easier to understand the importance that Rabbi’s opinions have over how reproductive technologies exist in Israel. I find the interpretation of Jewish law that you mentioned as common among the laity to be compelling. After all, why should people restrict their behaviour based on a broad interpretation of religious law when a narrower interpretation would help them to both achieve their goal of conceiving and still meet their religious obligations. Thank you again for all your insights and analysis!

  12. Hi Sophie, sorry for the late response, but you did an incredible job summarizing this week’s articles and adding your own personal insight into the topic for the week! I agree that the statement in the Torah to “be fruitful and multiply” is certainly one of the driving factors behind the Jewish culture of procreation, but your insight into the Holocaust’s effects was also incredibly interesting. I had not thought about it before, but Jewish people are definitely still stigmatized and persecuted today, and the notion that there may be another time where they may be suddenly sought for destruction is one that would definitely advocate for the creation of more Jews. The split among scholars over what technologies are allowed is also interesting, as other faiths such as Christianity and Islam have much more dogmatic views on the topics. The fact that there is discussion among Rabbinic experts over these technologies that are categorically disallowed by the other Abrahamic religions goes to show Juadaism’s more liberal stance on these.

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