Reflections on the embodied expressions of femininity, coming to the fore in various aspects of women's health, body politics and reproduction, are central to current feminist discourse. Jewish studies, too, are increasingly open to these reflections, as scholars try to discern how features and motifs of these universal feminine experiences are played out in the Jewish world, both historically and at present. This issue of Nashim brings into focus a broad range of topics whose common denominator is embodiment and body politics in their various dimensions—from women's roles in circumcision rituals, the discussion of sexual difference in medieval Hebrew medical texts, and halakhic perspectives on family planning, to the experiences of hospital birth, infertility treatments and reproductive genetics in modern Israel. While some contributions have a theoretical, historical or theological focus, others are inspired by sociological and bioethical critique of current social and medical policies affecting women's bodies, health and well-being. With its interdisciplinary character, this issue should appeal to various groups of readers: historians, sociologists, anthropologists and members of the general public interested in the Judaic world and Jewish women.
Several articles relate to women's health and fertility in modern Israel. Writing from a legal perspective, Omi Morgenstern-Leissner offers an original, critical analysis of the intersections between Israeli pronatalism, medicalization of pregnancy and birth, and the country's overarching militarist ideology. She cogently taps on many parallels, both physical and symbolic, between hegemonic social constructions of Israeli masculinity, as expressed via military service, and femininity, as expressed via medicalized hospital birth as the only legitimate gateway to motherhood and citizenship for women. The embodied experiences of combat and of medical birth have emerged as specifically Israeli gendered rites of passage, fueled by nationalism and the state's exercise of social control over its citizens. [End Page 5]
During the last two decades, the Israeli health scene has witnessed an upsurge in the range and prevalence of various reproductive technologies, targeting mainly infertility and genetic diseases in the offspring. Jewish pronatalism, the indisputable value placed on biological motherhood, and public funding for infertility treatments have combined to turn tens of thousands of Israeli women into compulsive users of new reproductive technologies (NRT), most commonly in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The prevalence of IVF cycles in Israel is already the highest in the world and still growing. The macro-level mechanisms of political, legal and public support for the unlimited provision and consumption of NRT are uncovered in the article by Carmel Shalev and Sigal Gooldin. They analyze the reasons for generous public funding of NRT in times of tight medical budgets and rationing of almost all other medical procedures. In Israel's familist, child-centered society, infertility is redefined as a "disease" that causes "social suffering," with NRT seen as its chief cure, which must therefore be accessible to all citizens wishing to realize their intrinsic "right to parenthood." In their pursuit of "children at any cost," both NRT doctors and the women whose bodies are manipulated (and often battered) in the process are willing to overlook the built-in risks these technologies pose to women and their offspring. By bringing together legal, ethical and health-related critiques of IVF, Gooldin and Shalev show how all the social actors involved in the recent debate on rationing NRT in Israel (medical experts, politicians, the courts and the general public) converge in their unqualified support of these controversial medical practices.
The paper by Hilla Haelyon contributes to the discussion of NRT from the micro-level, in-depth sociological perspective. She offers her reflexive analysis of the narratives of 25 heterosexual Jewish women undergoing IVF treatment to achieve a first pregnancy. Haelyon discerns two categories of narratives, of which one is more compliant and uncritical (the "obeying-the-treatment-routine" group), and the other more pragmatic and rational, reflecting greater efforts to negotiate treatment options with the hegemonic biomedical system. Where women in the first category tended to adopt the motherhood imperative as synonymous with their femininity and social worth and were ready to pay any personal cost for the sake of bearing a child, those in the negotiating category (often more educated...