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Experts in Jewish law sought to reconcile the valuable possibilities of modern technology with some debilitating laws of halacha at last week’s 16th International Conference of the Jewish Law Association in Netanya.
Artificial insemination can serve as a tool to break the transmission of the hereditary stigma that follows illegitimate children, argued Dr. Yossi Green, the director of the Center of Law and Medicine at Netanya Academic College.
According to rabbinic law, a mamzer
or an offspring of specific, bibilically prohibited moral deviances is barred from marrying most Jews, and his or her offspring are also prohibited.
Green argued for a modern solution to the biblical suffering of mamzerim
. He wrote that artificial insemination or external ovum fertilization can offer a method of circumventing the genetic “blemish” of illegitimacy that is established by Jewish law.
Since many Rabbis consider the sexual act as the determinant of parenthood, modern technology enables couples to conceive children without representing the rabbinic definition of a parent – thereby avoiding transmitting any stigmas – such as mamzerut
– while retaining a paternal relationship with their offspring.
“We would emphasize that this solution does not uproot any of the laws of the Torah,” wrote Green in his essay to be published next month, noting that it is a rabbinic duty to try to alleviate the pains of mamzerim
facing legally-imposed restrictions. “The opposite is the case, it may bring peace and reconciliation.”
Green’s exposition, titled Is there a Solution for Problems of Illegitimacy, Using Medical Technologies from the Field of Fertility Treatments?
was one of more than 30 presentations over four days hosted by the Netanya Academic College. Spanning a wide range of Jewish law, the conference focused on reconciling rabbinic laws with a modern state of affairs, including modern medicine and secular Israeli law.
Top law figures, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, joined 70 researchers from seven countries at the conference. On opening day, Hendel, a graduate of The Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, spoke of what he saw as the importance of Jewish law when considering Israeli regulation, even when they are not entirely aligned.
“This is the challenge of our generation, of the contemporary
scholars,” said Dr. Yuval Sinai, the organizer of the event. “We must
provide Jewish contemporary problems with Jewish law sources.”
Citing rabbinic texts that date back over one millennia, Green
demonstrated why halacha and modern technology need not stand in
opposition – in fact, he writes, technology can help those who would
otherwise be impaired by Halacha at no fault of their own.
“Giving birth to a bastard can be compared to giving birth to a
defective child,” Green wrote. “Prior to the introduction of the
fertilization of the ovum outside the body, it was considered an
incurable situation. Now there is a way to overcome the illness, and I
see no objection to using these technologies.”