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Making A Baby

by Rabbi Manis Friedman

  

Library » Life Cycle » Birth » Reproductive Issues | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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One of my favorite stories is about the Kotsker Rebbe who, sitting at the table one Shabbos afternoon with his disciples, described with great insight the different personalities of many of his Chassidim. Finally they asked him, “How much insight do you have into your son’s personality? How well do you really know him?” To which he responded, “I know with what thoughts I brought him into this world.”

Before we consider the radical new reproductive technologies, I think we need to reflect on our attitudes and ideas about reproduction in general. Why do we have children? What are our responsibilities as parents and, particularly, as Jews, in the reproductive process? At what point do our responsibilities to our children begin?

In that terribly misunderstood quote, King David says, “I was born in sin, and in iniquity my mother conceived me.” The Midrash1  explains that King David was referring to his conception. At the time of his conception, his father believed he was with another wife, not David’s mother.

David was affected by this, and seeks forgiveness for his own failings which he attributes to the circumstances of his conception: his father was thinking of another woman at a time of intimacy with the woman who would be David’s mother. 

By Jewish law, a husband is required to move out of his house if he has decided to divorce his wife so as to prevent any possible intimacy between him and his wife. Because it is unhealthy, says the Talmud,2  for a child to be conceived in a situation described as “grushat halev” or divorce of the heart.

I would speculate that much of the unexplained dysfunction that we see in children may have its roots in the circumstances of their conception
The Talmud says that a child conceived by two people who are not interested in each other may be rebellious and unstable. A child conceived when the minds and hearts of the parents are not in the same place, and where their pleasure is not focused, will reflect that kind of split in his personality that will hamper his ability to focus his presence and his interests.

In fact, the Talmud describes nine situations in which children are born harmed. Essentially, these are nine different circumstances where the parents are distracted or otherwise disinterested while conceiving.

And now mental health experts have established birth traumas as being responsible for various psychological problems. They trace certain hitherto inexplicable problems to experiences in utero, going back as far as conception.

Science is finding that fetuses do have incredible awareness, memory and perception, and while the experience of a fetus from its earliest formation will recede into the subconscious as s/he develops, these experiences do not disappear. They contribute significantly to the child’s perceptions and character.

So we cannot ignore the effect on the child who, for example, is conceived despite the hopes of the parents, in a moment of intimacy, that “we don’t get pregnant.” At the time when the parents are creating the child they are wishing that there would be no child.

I would speculate that much of the unexplained dysfunction that we see in children may have its roots in the circumstances of their conception. There are children who suffer from feeling unaccepted or unloved by their parents. They cannot point to anything their parents do or do not say or do, to explain this. But something was remiss in the focus of the parents at the time of this child’s conception.

With the new reproductive technologies, we are looking at the creation of a child in very mechanical ways, without benefit to the child of the focused intimacy between mother and father. In fact, some of the new technologies allow for the creation of a child with no intimacy at all between father and mother.

And other forms of assisted reproduction involve the contribution of not just one man and woman, but often of several, creating a lot of confusion, socially, legally and Halachically, as to who and how many real parents this child has.

The new technology gives us the power to create a physical body; G–d contributes the soul, and people who might never have been able to, can now experience the miracle of birth. But let’s remember that the miracle exists in any birth, even in reproduction that results from prohibited relationships. The forbidden mixing of certain species, for example, may successfully yield a new product. Obviously, that does not mean it is desirable.

Footnotes

  • 1. As quoted in Asara Maamarot by Rabbi Menachem Azaria of Pano.
  • 2. Nedarim 20:b.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Philosophy » Soul
Intimacy » Reproductive Issues

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Halachically
According to Jewish law.
Chassidim
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) Following the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Tanya
Foundation text of Chabad chassidism. Authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, and first published in 1796. Considered to be the "Bible" of Chassidism.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Tehillim
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Chumash
The Five Books of Moses.