I'm 38 years old and would like to have children before it's too late. I just broke up with someone, and feel that my time might run out before I find Mr. Right. What is the Jewish view on single women using IVF to bring kids into the world? I think I would make a great mom, and I have a lot to give a child / children.
What an important question! Ever since Abraham and Sarah had to use a surrogate (the Egyptian woman, Hagar) to give birth, we Jews have had issues with building families and fertility. Even during the time of the Talmud, there were people who understood marriage and fertility as two separate issues.
The first mitzvah given in the Torah is “pru ur’vu – be fruitful and multiply.” This mitzvah precedes any idea of marriage. And although this commandment is understood by Jewish legal decisors (poskim) to be a commandment specifically required of the male (not the woman), it still stands as a separate mitzvah from establishing a family or a marriage.
Also, in a time when the Jewish birth rate is very low, and infertility affects a higher proportion of Jews (perhaps mostly because we so often stay in school longer, putting off the beginning of attempts to give birth until age 28, on the average, when fertility is much reduced from that of 18-year-olds), the urge and desire to bring new Jewish children into the world is not only (only!) a mitzvah, it becomes a high value.
You thus have reason to be interested in being fruitful and multiplying from a number of important Jewish perspectives.
There is, actually, no halachic prohibition of reproducing using technology rather than intercourse. The Talmud records an opinion of Ben Zoma that individuals had been conceived in material left in bathwater. For a society that considered intercourse as one of the methods of contracting marriage, there was often not even a distinction between permitted sex and marriage. Premarital sex, a great bugaboo of Western society, is not even a term that is traditionally expressed in Hebrew or Aramaic, thus demonstrating that it is a foreign concept grafted onto Judaism at some late point to conform with a host society.
That having been said, our sources DO see Judaism as a system that calls for a high level of morality (certainly no less moral than the prevailing social norms). Thus, if the standard thinking in the United States deems “sleeping around (for which there IS a Hebrew term, pritzut)“ to be immoral and unseemly, Jews ought not make that their habit.
Also, Judaism sees the family (with two parents, etc) as being the ideal way to raise a family and to teach values, ideals and mitzvoth from one generation to the next. So although it may not be forbidden halachically to raise a child as a single parent, it is certainly not the desired state.
Although you should definitely find a rabbi with whom to share your concerns and queries, as well as the difficult journey of IVF, I would venture to say to you:
1) pursue parenting. It is one of the greatest challenges we have
2) Don’t, however, give up on marriage. That is generally the best way to raise a child and to live a life of mitzvot.
A bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael – a faithful home among the Jewish people – presupposes a married life with a Jewish mother and Jewish father rearing authentically Jewish children. Not every home in all circumstances is blessed with two parents. A father tragically might die at war or of a disease before his child is born. There could be a divorce, G-d forbid, with the father gone thereafter most of the time, whether by court order or by abandonment. Other scenarios similarly could account for de facto one-parent households. Nevertheless, despite an eroding secular American culture dating back to the “Murphy Brown” episode where a fictional television character was characterized approvingly and then adulated in magazines as portraying a new social era where unmarried women could bring babies into the world without fathers as parenting co-partners, Judaism deeply discourages the notion of an unmarried woman having a baby through artificial insemination. Any outlier case would need to be presented privately to a properly trained and learned rabbi, who could determine whether enough uniquely exceptional factors combine to justify otherwise. It is hard to imagine how such an exception could be validated, even in a most outlier set of circumstances. The preferred approach might be to adopt a child and bestow upon him or her a warm home environment, rearing that child with the loving maternal instincts you would proffer.
Your heartfelt question raises two different issues: one about the acceptability of IVF and a second concerning single parenthood.
Rabbinic authorities have considered the acceptability of artificial means of insemination since the introduction of artificial insemination in the 1880’s. While most authorities have endorsed these procedures, some Orthodox respondents have been skeptical. The Reform response has been uniformly supportive of those who opt for these paths to parenthood, whether artificial insemination, IVF or other proven technologies. For example, a recent (not yet published) Reform responsa affirms, “In vitro fertilization is a legitimate medical therapy, offering realistic hope to many who seek to build families.” Rabbi Mark Washofsky, in Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice, writes (pg 236). “We consider IVF a medical procedure, a legitimate measure undertaken in response to the disease of infertility. Since it does not entail unacceptable physical risks to the woman involved, there is no reason to advise against it.” While you are not considering this as a response to infertility, I see objection to your using IVF.
While the tradition prefers marriage over single parenthood, the ideal is not always possible. It is not only a matter of not yet having found “Mr. Right”. Divorce, death, and even political forces sometimes create single parent families. It is not a rarity in our world. It sounds as if your decision to pursue single parenthood reflects your commitment to family and your love of children. The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is particularly true when there is only one parent. Among the roles that a caring Jewish community can play is to provide support in the form of parent-child programs or extended social networks. It can be one source of support among others for you as you raise your child to a Jewish life filled with good deeds and a family of their own.
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