Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was accused Sunday of undermining the family and creating mamzerim [children born out of wedlock] after his controversial halachic decision on surrogacy was made public.
Amar permitted a poverty stricken and childless couple to use a married woman as a surrogate mother because she was the only prospective surrogate willing to work for free.
Amar's controversial decision, made together with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was severely criticized by the rabbinic establishment.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, speaking in the name of his father, Mordecahi, former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, said the child resulting from such an arrangement would be considered a mamzer.
Eliyahu belongs to a minority of rabbis who have ruled that a child born to a woman impregnated via artificial insemination, not through sexual intercourse, is considered a mamzer. A mamzer is not permitted to marry according to halacha.
Most halachic authorities rule that mamzerim are the result of an illicit or adulterous sexual act.
Nevertheless, Eliyahu's minority opinion has a direct impact on practice, according to Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a judge on the High Rabbinic Court and an halachic authority who commands vast respect.
In 1999, he told a Knesset committee responsible for drafting surrogacy legislation that Eliyahu's minority opinion shed doubt on the personal status of the child.
"He or she is liable to suffer from this doubtful status. Therefore, we cannot permit it," said Goldberg.
Many leading rabbis accept Goldberg's opinion.
In parallel, senior sources expected the Health Ministry's Council for Surrogacy Authorization to reject Amar's proposal on moral grounds.
"Secular members of the committee are even more upset than the rabbis," said one source. "Permitting a married woman to serve as a surrogate would undermine the family institution and create a dangerous precedent," added the source.
Surrogacy laws prohibit the use of married women except in rare cases, such as genetic incompatibility. A committee member who preferred to remain anonymous explained the rationale behind the law.
"Using a married woman as surrogate puts unnecessary stress on her relationship with her husband," he said. "It is also traumatic for the surrogate's children."
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of Petach Tikva Hesder Yeshiva and Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, head of the Schlesinger Institute, two rabbis who serve on the surrogacy council, refused to comment.
Amar has no jurisdiction over surrogacy issues. As a result, the Surrogacy Authorization Committee is not obligated to heed his opinion.
Amar ruled in a case involving a couple who have been married for 13 years without children. The couple cannot afford to pay for a surrogate. Their only option is using a married woman who volunteered to serve as surrogate free of charge.
The surrogacy process involves removing the ova from the childless woman's ovaries and using her husband's sperm to fertilize it. The zygote is then transferred to the surrogate mother's uterus.
Amar was overseas and could not be reached for comment.