Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I Am Not Chassidish

I can't tell you how incredibly blown away I am by this article by Rabbi Manis Friedman.

It basically says that children who are not conceived naturally, specifically mentioning IVF/assisted reproduction, are somehow spiritually defective or deficient in some way.

Let me deviate for a moment by saying that the fact that this article is offensive and insulting to the thousands of parents who conceive via assisted reproduction is not enough. I don't mind when a Jewish writer/speaker/leader/Rav goes off the beaten path and says something that is not Politically Correct. If we describe something as not PC, we generally imply that while it is not popular and may offend a minority, it is probably at least partially true and we even assign possible courage to the speaker for having the guts to say it. What Rabbi Friedman said certainly was not PC. Yes, it offended.

But it's much more than that. It's horrible. It's wrong.

Rabbi Friedman takes leaps in halachic logic and exegesis. He quotes the Talmud as saying that a child whose parents did not want to conceive him or were distracted at the time of his conception or were not in love with their partners might be spiritually harmed in some way. He extrapolates from this that if a lack of proper intent in a conception that involved physical intimacy yields a spiritually deficient child, kal va'chomer, a conception that doesn't involve any physical intimacy must be even worse for the child. Oy. Where do I begin?

Could it be that the Talmud was saying that it is better for parents to conceive their children in love? It is! Could it be that the Talmud was saying that it is better when parents want to conceive than when they don't? That it is better for parents to be in love with each other, to want to have children with each other, to try to make every physical union good and wholesome and aimed at procreation? That the children of unions like this will be better off than products of unloving, unwanted unions? Ah, what a wonderful world it could be....

The Talmud had it right! It is great and ideal to have all of these things going on. May every mikvah night in klal Yisroel be like a wedding night. May frustration and performance anxiety and marital discord become things of the past. May every husband be like a chosson and every wife be like a kallah, all the days of their marriage. I MEAN THIS.

But, is it like this? I mean, I had an unhappy marriage, so I can't judge this properly, but IS IT LIKE THIS? All you happily married couples out there, swimming in children, is it heaven on earth every single solitary time you and the spouse get together? Are you never thinking about work? Is you never just letting off of some tension? Is it sometimes done out of guilt? Are you never distracted? Are you completely focused on your spouse and never thinking of something/someone else? Was each and every one of your kids conceived in pure love, the height of emotional intimacy? Did you ever have any "little surprises" perhaps? And so, the $64,000 question, are any of your kids spiritually deficient because of this?

Let's jump to the Tanach. Let's look at the origin of Dovid HaMelech, the ancestor of Mashiach. Did Yehudah have complete kavanah when he laid with Tamar, thinking at the time that she was a harlot? Hmmm. Go back even further. What of the conception of Moab (the nation of Ruth), who was the product of drunkenness and incest. Oh my, what kind of conception are talking of there? And yet, one of the strongest lessons of Megilas Rus is that the origins and conceptions of our Malchus and ultimately, our Redemption, were extraordinarily humble! Now, does this mean we advocate harlotry, drunkenness and incest? Of course not. Was Dovid HaMelech spiritually deficient because of his origins? I will leave that answer to you. Let's just say, may we all be as spiritually deficient as the great- etc. grandfather of Mashiach.

Now on to assisted reproduction. How on earth can you make the leap from what the Talmud says about "circumstances where the parents are distracted or otherwise disinterested while conceiving" to assisted reproduction?

Let's quote Rabbi Friedman:

"If it is true that a compromised intimacy hurts the child, what happens when there is no intimacy at all?

With the new reproductive technologies, we are looking at the creation of a child in very mechanical ways, without benefit to the child of the focused intimacy between mother and father. In fact, some of the new technologies allow for the creation of a child with no intimacy at all between father and mother."
How do you come to this leap? What is the relationship between, say lack of physical intimacy and infertility? Parents who conceive "via mechanical ways" may love each other very much, and these parents have demonstrated their desire to have children by going through the incredible financial, physical and emotional challenges of assisted reproduction. So, Rabbi Friedman, are you saying that because at the exact moment that the sperm is entering the egg, the parents are not reaching the heights of physical and emotional initimacy, the fetus will somehow be spiritually defective?

Good grief. Hashem, are You listening to this stuff? Are we fulfilling Your will here?

And so let's say, for argument's sake, that this was true. What would you say to the thousands of couples who cannot have a child without assisted reproduction? Not to have one? Because they are bringing spiritually deficient children into this world?

I have no more words. This is precisely the sort of thing that drives people off the derech.

Read more on this at Wolfish Musings, here and here and Onion Soup Mix, here and here.


Nice Jewish Guy said...

Friedman is an idiot. Plain and simple. He's also Lubavitch. Nuff said.

WebGirl said...

It's not enough to just say he's an idiot. People FOLLOW this guy. People consider him their Rav, for Pete's sake. In the absence of his not acknowledging the logical leaps in reason that he is making, other people have got to jump in and TEAR THIS ARGUMENT TO SHREDS. A Great Big Rav has got to step up to the plate and say "wrong!" Imagine the next phase...the frum world stigmatizing IVF or IUI babies as spiritually damaged? "Were you conceived through IVF?" appearing on Yeshiva applications and shadchan questionnaires?

This is witchcraft, not Judaism.

Anonymous said...

the thing i find most offensive is the fact that if i ever do have a baby it will probably due to ivf , fertility treatments etc.and this is a man who probably married at 21 to the first girl who was ever suggested to him. lucky for me even if i were lubavitch, which i am not, i dont listen to such uneducated insensitive boors. someone else to make a single woman stay single and add to the "crisis"

smoo said...

I commend you on a clear challenge and successful rebuttal of R. Friedman's remarks. Well done.

It's amazing how odd or incorrect ideas can take hold of a person and seem to him quite rational. I think your later post on the benefit of group analysis vs that of the individual should drive a person to present his ideas to others who are knowledgeable in the field before he goes public. I heard what I thought was a great dvar torah about hot to approach arguing, which I posted. Unfortunately, I only later ran the ideas by my bud and he gave me a very different angle that I should have worked into my presentation.

WebGirl said...

Thanks, Smoo! I think a Rav of equal or greater stature needs to come forward and crush this, before insane things like IVF registries start popping up.

Long Beach Chasid said...

1. Not just "Chassidic" Jews reject IVF

2. Not all "Chassidim" are Lubavitch

3. Go find out what Rav Eliashiv, and Rav Ovadia Yosef think about IVF they are the Gedolim and Poskim for Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews and most certainly not "Chassidic"

4. You are offensive too.

WebGirl said...


You are correct. Not all Chassidim reject IVF and not all Chassidim are Lubavitch. Point of fact, not all Lubavtich Chassidim are Rabbi Manis Friedman either.

It may surprise you to know that I have tremendous respect for Chassidism (my mother's side is Belz) as well as some Chassidim. I am even Chabbad-friendly, as I greatly admire the amazing kiruv work that they have done.

In light of this, I should have entitled this post "Why I Am Not a Follower of Manis Friedman." The reason I titled it the way I did was because I thought his reading of the gemarrah in this case was, very much in keeping with a Chassidishe outlook. I apologize if I offended you and, indeed, any other Chassidim that might read my blog. I was wrong.

I am not aware of what Rav Elyashuv and Rav Yosef say about IVF, as neither one is my posek. My Rav thinks that IVF is a gift from elevate our knowledge of conception to a point to where people who used to have no hope can now have families. If Rav Elyashuv and Rav Yosef assur IVF, I would strongly disagree with them as well and be curious as to why they would oppose it. If you have any sources, I'd be curious to read them.

Finally, no sir, you don't get to call me offensive. This blog is about the free exchange of ideas. I don't call you offensive and I don't call Rav Friedman offensive. I might find some of his ideas offensive, though, which is different. My Ahavas Yisroel and respect for my fellow human beings prevents me from calling people names, regardless of whether I disagree with them or not.