Some time ago, I read an article which left me perplexed, hurt, and disappointed. It was written in response to a question sent to a famous Israeli "modern" Orthodox rabbi. This week my husband brought it up again, and I felt I can't pass by without saying a word. Once more, I felt cheated - I can find no other word. Why? Read on and see for yourselves. I'll give you an abbreviated translation from Hebrew, and my comments later on.
Question: "I'm a bright, good-looking, educated 36-year-old woman who has been trying to get married for 15 years, with no success so far. At first, I made some mistakes and rejected men, and later on no one wanted me.
I want to have a child! I keep dreaming about it, and I want to have a child! I beg you, tell me how I can find a way (*underlying concept: without violating the Jewish Law) to have a baby while I'm not married."
In reply, the rabbi gave some tribute to the holiness of the Jewish family, to how everyone should make their best effort to get married, to how children are best suited to growing in a family with both mother and father present, and so on. And later? Later, his "modern" and "enlightened" side got the best of him. I won't quote all of his reply, but the bottom line was, he "couldn't see a direct prohibition from the Torah for a woman to have children out of wedlock". And thus, as we acknowledge a childless woman's grief, and her biological clock is ticking, and she wants a child so badly, there might be an option... what, you might be asking yourself in disbelief, to have a child while she is unmarried? Yes, that's right.
"This permission should be limited to women approximately of age 37 and older, who unwillingly reached such an age while they are still unmarried, because this is an age when a woman's possibility to conceive is close to disappearing. Women who are younger than that should continue doing everything possible to get married and start a family. Of course, even if a woman has a baby while she is unmarried, she should still try to get married and have a family."
In the last part of his reply, he talked mostly about what practical method should be used, as sexual intercourse outside marriage is prohibited, and so the woman would have to resort to artificial insemination or IVF, and whether it's better to have an identified or anonymous "donor"... I'll spare the details, as they are less significant.
Notice I didn't say the rabbi's name, but I'm sure my Israeli readers know who I'm talking about, as he is quite famous, and this specific article was published just about everywhere - to joyous reactions such as "Oh good! Finally, we have a modern, enlightened, understanding rabbi! Finally, someone who isn't stuck in the Middle Ages!"
Last time I wrote about rabbis giving despicable, immoral, life-ruining advice, I received emails and comments from Jewish readers accusing me of making Jews and Judaism look bad. I'm fully prepared for this to happen again - but I can't and won't remain silent, while a man who dares to be a spiritual leader shatters the most precious columns of Jewish family, society, and moral standards. I cannot remain silent, while those who are truly faithful helplessly look at how a so-called "Orthodox" rabbi makes the unthinkable seem acceptable.
Of course, technically artificial insemination isn't sex, so it isn't included in the prohibition of sexual intercourse; however, Torah is crystal clear on what a family is supposed to look like: a husband and wife becoming "one flesh", and children born from their union of married love. Now, we all know life is diverse and there might be many different situations, such as a childless couple or a widow with children. However, this is not the initial choice; not the ideal described in God's word; not what we should aim for, or willingly put ourselves into.
Furthermore, what about the child?! Yes, some parents are divorced; sometimes fathers disappear completely from children's lives; sometimes, tragically, a parent dies - and we all know it has a lingering impact on a child's life. Our generation has been deeply hurt by its fatherlessness. Yes, there were orphans in all ages, and the Almighty provided for them, as He is the One who "puts the solitary in families". But when I think how few children actually have a close, respectful, trusting relationship with their fathers, it sends shivers down my spine. Fathers have been cut off from children's lives. Do we have the right to choose this for a child - not to accept the inevitable, but to actually choose it - to the extent that the child can never know his father's identity?
The "limit" of 37 years or older is beyond ridiculous. Any reasonable person understands it's an arbitrary line. If it's alright to have a child out of wedlock at 37, why not at 36, 35, 34? As it becomes more acceptable, 30-year-old women who yearn for a baby will go ahead and do an artificial insemination, reasoning that "their fertility is declining". The statement about women who "unwillingly reached such an age while they are still unmarried" is even more unbelievable. It's supposed to mean a woman can only resort to artificial insemination once she tried everything reasonably possible in order to get married - but what does it mean, and who can testify to that? The woman in question herself admits that she declined marriage offers. Next thing we know, a 35-year-old "Orthodox" woman will be full of righteousness about her artificial insemination because, "come on, you couldn't have expected me to marry that nerd, could you?"
No, of course not. No one can expect you to work hard to establish a family with a man who might not even be perfect. Feel free to wait for Prince Charming until you are 37, because you know how it goes: once loneliness becomes unbearable, you can always get an artificial insemination, and there's a rabbi who will back you up.
I don't want to sound harsh. I know wonderful, precious people who are older singles. I know excellent, praiseworthy married couples who are longing for a child, but their arms are still empty. Sometimes, God's plan doesn't look exactly like our plan - and wanting something, even wanting something very badly, doesn't justify trying to find a way to break His instruction.