Examining Religious and Ethnographic Interpretation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in Jewish and Christian Societies.
Human reproduction centers Jewish and Christian ideologies in the religion sphere and helps construct the concept of kinship and societal relations, as seen by examining the Book of Genesis. In chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis, God creates male and female (1:27), to who he “blesses” with the goal of reproduction, or so it is interpreted. When God blessed them in 1:22 to be “fruitful and multiply…”, the process of reproduction comes to light as a way to not only sustain the human population, but to carry on the words of God. God blessed them to give them a productive free will, one that will be used to make the right decision toward furthering the human race. 1:27 looks at this concept, of “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The term image can be interpreted diversely, as it could mean that humans take a quite physical image or at least similarity to the entity of God. Or the image could encompass how humans and God share an immortal soul that is far different from any other of God’s creations. The interpretation that seems to fit is the ability to morally discriminate between two choices. God created humans to “take dominion…” (1:26) over all creatures because he gave humans the very capability that he possesses in order to sustain his own unique creations.
How does reproduction play a role in these comparisons? Reproduction takes one of the central roles in this chapter knowing what God’s intent of creating humankind was. The whole purpose of the chapter was to create humankind and give them the ultimate power: to reproduce in his sacred image. This can be interpreted as reproduction causes the lineage of God to be carried, or moral discrimination to be upheld in human society. The view of human reproduction being highlighted is 1:28 shows that God said “”Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,” which can be applied to the importance of reproduction as it is taken as God’s commandment which must be fulfilled through marriage. The end of chapter 2 signals how God made woman from, “[2:22] had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. [2:23] Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’” How God created woman from man portrays the raw, intimate connection that the pair have been given.
Kinship, in the form of marriage, in religious context agrees with this context as marital union is sacred and one of the most important concepts in religion. A man was not complete by himself, he needed “a helper as his partner (2:18),” and after a woman from his flesh was created, he was complete. An interpretation of why God didn’t want man to be alone could be the birth of the concept of kinship. God creates a companion for man, a woman, for the rest of his life and to reproduce. A family is born. Kinship is created not only for the sole purpose of reproduction, but also for the diffusion of sorrow, happiness, and thoughts. A single human being has an infinite amount of feelings and thoughts, that kinship in any form, in my opinion, is crucial to the fostering of their growth. Similarly, reproduction is also not for the sole purpose of creating offspring but to create kin. The first two chapters of Genesis lead to how man and woman “become one flesh” (2:24) or join in a sacred act of matrimonial union to serve the needs of each other and to produce kin.
Interpretation of the religious text is critical to differences in understanding and forming opinions about human reproduction. Jewish and Christian interpretations revolve strictly around the commandment of being “fruitful and multiply”, mainly or usually through natural reproduction because marriage is a sacred precedent in both religions. The Christian uses of Genesis are clearly highlighted in Respect for Human Life, as the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith provides their opinions, to be taken from authority of the Church, to assistive reproductive technology outside of normal reproduction. Their main position emphasizes that assistive reproductive strategies can only be considered legitimate in the context of a legal marriage and no interference by a third party. For example, if they are unable to conceive naturally, the Church can allow implantation of sperm of husband in the wife, but any procedure that requires sperm or egg from third party or womb is illegitimate. The Congregation uses natural law, as opposed to Jewish Rabbis, to reason how there is agreement with religious scripture and justify religious teaching using rationale and authoritative answers, via the Magisterium. In Judaism, rabbis follow similar reasoning, but use more positivistic laws, as a result of not only religious scriptures, but also cultural ideologies and evolution.
From my understanding and research, most rabbis permit other options to reproduce when natural reproduction does not work. However, some believe similarly as the Church because the usage donor sperm and eggs are usually rejected as they create “halachic problems.” Some rabbis permit the usage of donor eggs as long as the husband gives consent. The problem arises when the identity of mother is decided, because Jewish lineage is passed through the mother. The status, if the genetic mother differs in her identity from the gestational mother, is hard to decipher. In a specific example from “Jewish Medical Ethics: Assisted Reproduction and Judaism,” Dr. Wahrman says that “Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Rabbinic administrator of Star-K Kosher Certification states unequivocally that if the egg is from a Non-Jewish woman, then the baby is not Jewish. In this very stringent ruling, when a donor egg is used, the birth mother is not considered the halachic mother.” Rabbi Heinemann also stated that “the use of donor sperm was a private matter for the couple to decide, and in certain situations it would be recommended in order to fulfill the first commandment as well as to keep the marriage together.” (Silber 2010) To add, the majority of Jews nowadays accept the use of third party donor gametes due to the pro-natal nature of the state of Israel, as Rabbi Heinemann cites as the reason. The key to truly understanding how unnatural reproduction plays a role in society involves not only religion, but the ethnographic framework of a country or population.
By examining the cultural context of gamete donation and other assisted technologies, we can understand diverse analyses outside of solely relying on religious texts. Susan Kahn, in Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel, takes readers into her life researching and learning about new reproductive technology shaping Jews in Israel and her personal accounts of conducted work. She provides detailed insight of her anthropological work on IVF in Israel. The central importance of reproduction from Judaism is prominent in Jewish culture from how Kahn discusses specific examples and analyzes the Israeli acceptance of newer technologies to help in reproduction. She states how IVF is centralized through the government due to the high importance placed on fertility, in contrast to other countries where reproduction is decentralized, such as the U.S. Conducting research on “unmarried, secular, Jewish American woman without children,” observing fertility clinic activities, and interviewing rabbis on their opinion, Kahn explored the diverse atmosphere of opinions and beliefs about reproduction. Kahn states in her conclusion in chapter 2 that “Within a society where marriage is so deeply entrenched as a religious and divinely inspired institution and where it has been integrated as such into the secular legal foundation of the state, exposing it as a social construct may have particularly profound and subversive implications.” (Kahn 86)
Kahn’s statement constitutes how ethnography and religion are intertwined because extrapolation from religious texts makes up cultural expectations and policy. Moreover, Kahn emphasizes the positivistic outlook that remains in Jewish society, as she states, “From the rabbinic social practice of mining traditional texts for coherent kinship metaphors, to the ongoing efforts of contemporary Israeli Jews, both secular and religious, to make sense of this technology while using it to realize their reproductive futures, there is a range of coexisting kinship ideologies from which to choose in the ongoing cultural effort to reproduce Jews,” (Kahn 174). In conclusion, religious text interpretation establishes concrete context to reproductive importance set in place, but ethnographic context presents societal and adaptive insight to how evolving practices such as reproductive technologies can establish a malleable view on kinship and reproduction in a particular society.
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987.
Kahn, Susan Martha. Reproducing Jews: a Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel. Duke Univ. Press, 2006.
Wahrman, Miryam Z. “Jewish Medical Ethics: Assisted Reproduction and Judaism.” Claus Von Stauffenberg, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/assisted-reproduction-and-judaism.
Silber, Sherman J. “Judaism and Reproductive Technology.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3071555/.