Fractional Parenting: What Makes a Jewish Mother?

The New York Times recently ran a fascinating editorial essay by Adam Cohen on scientific research that soon may make it possible for a baby to have three biological parents.

Cohen writes:

The people from whom this potential baby would spring would be called “fractional parents,” to use a term coined by University of San Diego Law School Professor Adam Kolber.

It makes a baby sound like a jet, or a time-share.

Semantics aside, there are any number of thorny questions that spring from such a concept.

According to Cohen, they include:

And if, say, two of the “fractional parents” involved are Jewish but the third is not, what would be made of such a baby’s religious status?

Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University, member of the Beth Din of America and frequent speaker about Jewish law where it intersects with assisted reproduction and other medical ethics issues, says in his halachic view, the birth mother is the mother according to Jewish law.

“Jewish law is naturalistic in the sense that a woman goes into labor, has a baby, and do you know what we call the woman? The mother,” he told The Sisterhood. “It’s only those who are doing genetic analysis who pose these questions.”

But, as commonly found in discussions of Jewish law, authorities differ in their conclusions.

One of the most esteemed halachic decisors in Orthodox America, Rabbi J. David Bleich, wrote in an article published in the journal Tradition, that while the preponderance of textual evidence leads one to adduce that the woman who gives birth is the mother according to Jewish law,

According to the article’s abstract:

The article, titled “Ovum Donations: A Rabbinic Conceptual Model of Maternity,” can be purchased for download here.

Increasingly, though, as reported in this article in the haredi web publication “Vos Iz Neias” (What is News), Israeli Orthodox decisors of Jewish law are ruling that, in cases of donated human eggs, it is the egg donor who is the halachic mother.

This is a radical departure from the centuries-old convention that a child is the religion of the woman who bears him, but Rabbi Broyde was sanguine about the change.

Rabbi Broyde said:

When I asked him about whether rabbis have questioned the Jewish status of a person who is the product of donated eggs or surrogate motherhood, Rabbi Broyde said it hasn’t yet come up.

After all, the technology became available just over two decades ago.

But, he said, “we’re getting there.”

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Fractional Parenting: What Makes a Jewish Mother?

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