For Some, Halacha Makes Conceiving Tough

Abiding by Jewish Law Prevents Some From Getting Pregnant

Doctor’s Orders: Dr. Richard Grazi says he has scores of testimonials from Orthodox women who suffered from ‘halachic infertility.’
Shulamit Seidler-Feller
Doctor’s Orders: Dr. Richard Grazi says he has scores of testimonials from Orthodox women who suffered from ‘halachic infertility.’

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published June 18, 2012, issue of June 22, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Rachel never had much of a problem conceiving children: one, two, three, four, five. But when it came to child No. 6, Rachel (who asked that we identify her by only a pseudonym) and her husband tried and tried. Five years passed, but no child came.

“You have a frum issue,” Dr. Richard Grazi told Rachel one day last November, using the Yiddish term for religiously observant, at Brooklyn’s Genesis Fertility & Reproductive Medicine center.

As an ultra-Orthodox woman, Rachel follows the Jewish laws of ritual purity, abstaining from sex with her husband during her menstrual period and for seven days afterward. Though Rachel was able to conceive for the first 19 years of her marriage, her menstrual cycle had shifted recently. Her fertility now peaked at a time in the month when she was forbidden from touching her husband. In other words, by following Jewish law, Rachel had rendered herself infertile.

“Halachic infertility,” as her condition is known, affects a small number of Orthodox Jewish women worldwide. According to Grazi, around 5% of his 500 Orthodox patients — about 25 women — can’t conceive because they adhere to religious law. Most halachically infertile women could easily become pregnant if they had sex with their husbands earlier in their cycle.

But for Orthodox women and their rabbis, breaking the laws of ritual purity is simply unthinkable. In Brooklyn’s Orthodox community, where having a large family is paramount, most women with the condition take low-risk hormones instead, to adjust their cycles so that they can get pregnant. Others turn to artificial insemination.

“There are some rules that are extremely strict,” said Chaim Jalas, the director of patient services at Bonei Olam, an Orthodox fertility center. “The idea here is that the halacha doesn’t change.”

Contemporary practices around Jewish ritual purity stem from the

Torah, which prohibits women from having sexual intercourse while they are menstruating, or niddah, and commands them to dunk in a ritual bath, or mikveh, before they can rejoin their husbands. In the biblical era, healthy women visited the mikveh just a few days after they stopped menstruating, while women with irregular cycles had to wait a week. Rabbis streamlined these regulations in the Talmud, decreeing that all women should wait a full seven days after they stopped bleeding to visit the mikveh. Today, Ashkenazi Orthodox women typically abstain from sex for five days while they are menstruating, plus another seven days before going to the mikveh. The 12-day rite of abstention is thought of as the foundation of family life.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.