All summaries below are done to the best of my abilities and are for the purpose of informing and not paskening. In all cases, a posek should be consulted.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kashrut of Turkey - Meishiv Davar YD 22

In this teshuva from 1884, the Netziv deals with the question of the kashrut status of a bird that had been thought to be some type of a goose, but upon further inspection was sufficiently different in its physical characteristics that it was supposed that it could be an entirely different species. Since birds require a mesorah in order to be declared acceptable to eat, this bird would potentially be deemed non-kosher if it would be found to be a new species altogether. Further complicating the picture is the fact that people had been eating this bird on the assumption that it was essentially a goose, and only now did someone come forward with this question.

The Neztiv begins by noting that unlike other "new" birds which possessed the signs of a kosher bird mentioned in the mishna in Chullin 60 and which had the testimony of someone that it was eaten by Jews elsewhere, the bird in question here was significantly different from other kosher birds, and was not known to be eaten elsewhere. He then mentions the hybridization test, which is mentioned in the Gemara in Bechorot 7 and which claims that kosher and non-kosher species cannot produce live young. Thus, if two different animals can produce children, and one is known to be kosher, then the other one should be kosher as well. While the Netziv feels that this rule may not be 100 percent accurate, he does qualify it by saying that if a bird from one species will mate with a bird from another one in the presence of birds of his own species then that is an indication that they are all of the same species.

However, the Netziv concludes that this is all academic, and would only be relevant if the question had been brought before people had begun eating this bird. However, once the bird has been eaten on a regular basis, only proof that it is not kosher (such as proof that it is a predator) would disqualify it from being an acceptable bird to eat.

[While it is not clear what bird the Netziv is discussing, this issue is one of the key issues involved in the eating of turkey, which, as a New World bird lacked a mesorah for its kashrut status, but which was ultimately subsumed under the mesorah of chickens, ducks, and geese - and once it gained acceptance it never lost it.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More on Artificial Insemination - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 1:71 and 4:32.5

In 1959, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a married woman who was having trouble becoming pregnant from her husband and was considering artificial insemination. Apparently, there was a practice known as adding a "booster," which would be some semen from the husband added to that of the (anonymous) donor. According to Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler (Rav Feinstein's son-in-law and a physician as well as a Rav), the booster was merely a ruse to calm the husband and to make him feel that the child was at least in part his.

Several issues come out of this point. First, Rav Moshe writes that any artificial insemination should use a non-Jewish donor, as that will pre-empt any potential issues of the child one day marrying a relative, since he will not be halachically related to his unknown father's family. Second, if the woman is concerned that her husband's fertility issues (in this case taken to be low sperm count) will heal in the next few months, then she should not be intimate with her husband during the next three months so as to confirm that the child belongs to the donor.

Rav Moshe also notes that if the identity of the donor is not known at all then it can be assumed in America to be that of a non-Jew, since most of the population is non-Jewish and since the way in which the semen is obtained is against halacha and thus it is unlikely to be from a Jewish donor.

Rav Moshe rejects the view that being artificially inseminated is tantamount to promiscuity, but he does note that it should be done with the consent of the husband since if the woman does become pregnant that will place burdens on the husband both financially, emotionally, and will limit his ability to be intimate with his wife.

In the final paragraphs of the teshuva Rav Moshe discusses a situation where the husband's issue is more that his strength is such that he cannot impregnate his wife, although his semen can if it could be made to reach the ova. In such a case the question becomes whether it is permissible for the husband to become his wife's artificial donor. In addressing this, Rav Moshe discusses some of the methods by which the semen is obtained from the donor (I am not going to get specific, although the teshuva does), and he concludes that since the purpose of obtaining the semen is in order to impregnate his wife, it would not be considered הוצאת זרע לבטלה and therefore he could be דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ.

In the second teshuva, written in 1981, Rav Moshe defends his earlier teshuvot, noting that he does not recommend artificial insemination as it does not constitute a fulfillment of פרו ורבו and it is possible that it will cause the husband to become jealous. However, in the case where the plan is to use the husband's semen, either because regular intercourse is not succeeding but both husband and wife have been determined to be fertile, or because the woman's menstrual cycle is such that it is virtually impossible for them to ever have a halachically acceptable opportunity to conceive, then Rav Moshe stands by his view that such a plan could be carried out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Artificial Insemination - Status of the Woman and the Child - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 1:10

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in 1961 about a woman whose doctor had artificially inseminated her insofar as she and her husband had been unsuccessful in having children and the suspicion was that it was a deficiency on his part, not hers. The question raised was whether the woman would be forbidden to her husband like an אשת איש שזינתה and what the status of the child would be.

In terms of the woman, Rav Moshe ruled that she would still be permitted to her husband, since a woman is only forbidden to her husband as the result of having illicit sexual relations, which did not occur in this case. The mere presence of another man's semen in her uterus is not, in Rav Moshe's view, sufficient cause to force her to separate from her husband.

In terms of the child, Rav Moshe is similarly lenient. He postulates that the child would only be a mamzer if there had been forbidden relations, but since there were not the child is thus כשר. As proof, he cites the case of Ben-Sira, who was allegedly conceived when his mother absorbed a man's semen by entering a bath after he had been in there - and yet Ben-Sira was considered to be ולד כשר. Even further, Rav Moshe rules that even if the doctor claimed that the semen was from a Jewish man he is not to be believed (this is assuming a non-Jewish doctor in America), since we assume that he only said that knowing that the woman was Jewish and that she would have preferred that the donor be Jewish. However, since most donors in America are not Jewish, we can rely on that רוב and the child would be permitted to marry anyone. If the child were to wind up being a girl, Rav Moshe is prepared to allow her to marry a kohen, demonstrating just how far he is willing to go with this line of thinking.

The only way in which Rav Moshe sees some deficiency in the lineage of the child is that he absolves the husband - who is not the father - from having to provide for this child or from having to pay for the delivery, although that latter ruling is due to the fact that he was not complicit in the decision to inseminate the woman.

(Note that unlike the teshuva posted from Rav Sherlo on this topic, in this case the woman was married and had not succeeded in conceiving. I am not sure what Rav Moshe would rule about a single woman who wanted a child without marrying - but stay tuned.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Having a child without having a husband - Rav Yuval Sherlo

In a recent teshuva posted online, Rav Yuval Sherlo, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder in Petach Tikva, deals with a question painfully posed by a 36-year old unmarried woman. In her query, the woman lays out her pain over not having found a husband despite 15 years of trying, and her realization that her biological clock is ticking and her chance to conceive a child is quickly slipping away. As such, she asks point-blank what avenue is available to her to be able to bring a child into the world.

Rav Sherlo begins his answer by emphasizing the stress that halacha and Jewish tradition place on the family unit and on having a child within the context of marriage. That being said, he notes two schools of thought regarding a woman who has not had success with creating such a unit. One school of thought obligates the woman to subjugate her personal desire for a child to the more global and universal requirement to do so within the context of marriage. On the other hand, there are those who think that if a woman has exhausted all options in this realm and still has been unsuccessful, that perhaps we can look to alternative methods of helping such a woman bear a child, inasmuch as a woman who does not have children is lacking something crucial in her life (as seen by Rachel Imeinu's plea to Yaakov to have a child with her).

Rav Sherlo himself favors this second view and thus he proceeds to investigate the different options that are available. He lists three ways in which a woman could conceive a child - through relations with a man (obviously in this case either without marriage or through a sham marriage that would be done only to validate the conception), through artificial insemination, or through in vitro fertilization. Rav Sherlo weighs the pros and cons of each approach, and concludes that artificial insemination would be most preferable.

Once that question is decided, the issue becomes who should be used as a donor. Ideally, the woman should try to find a known Jewish donor, and make a contractual agreement in terms of any future responsibilities. Knowing the donor will obviously be helpful in terms of yichus issues. If that option is not available and the donor will be anonymous, then Rav Sherlo suggests using a non-Jewish donor so as to avoid the possibility that the child will be a shtuki and thus disqualified from marrying another Jew.

In a follow-up and much lengthier part to this teshuva, Rav Sherlo defends his position from numerous criticisms that he received online. He begins by rebuffing those who attacked him as an enemy of the Jewish family, noting both his opening to his teshuva as well as his involvement in organizations that work to strengthen Jewish families. He further rejects those who object on the grounds of the welfare of the child that will be born, noting that there are plenty of children raised by one parent who turn out fine, and many raised by two parents who have troublesome home situations. He also rejects the notion that the woman involved is only in this for her own ego. To that last point, Rav Sherlo notes that the questioner had clearly exhausted her options and that accusations of egomania are insensitive to the highest degree.

At the end of the day, Rav Sherlo sees his ruling and his publicizing of it as a necessary response to not only the desperate case of one woman, but also to the perception that halacha is not responsive to the needs of individuals. He notes that there are certainly cases where halacha's limitations prevent us from solving certain problems - but that only makes it more important to make it known when halacha is capable of relieving someone's pain.

(Thank you to Dr. Scott Chudnoff for bringing this teshuva to my attention)