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Fertility and Jewish Law

Feminist Perspectives on Orthodox Responsa Literature

Ronit Irshai

Publication Year: 2012

This book presents, from the perspective of feminist jurisprudence and feminist and liberal bioethics, a complete study of Jewish law (halakhah) on contemporary reproductive issues such as birth control, abortion, and assisted fertility. Irshai examines these issues to probe gender-based values that underlie the interpretations and determinations reached by modern practitioners of halakhah. Her primary goal is to tell, through common halakhic tools, a different halakhic story, one that takes account of the female narrative and its missing perspective.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xvi

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Introduction: Epistemology, Jurisprudence, and Halakhah

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pp. 1-22

Jewish law (halakhah) is the product of an exclusively male preserve. Though it governs the lives of men and women alike, it has been formulated and interpreted, for thousands of years, by an all-male scholarly elite. But while that fact cannot be denied, its implications and consequences can be understood...

Part One | Sex without Procreation

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1 | ‘‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’’

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pp. 25-52

The hegemonic halakhic discourse of contemporary Orthodoxy speaks of the commandment to procreate in terms that enhance its importance beyond what is implied by the original halakhic sources. In Ultra-Orthodox and even some nationalist Ultra-Orthodox circles, the commandment to ‘‘be fertile and increase,’’ and, especially, the attendant directives that will be...

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2 | Birth Control and Family Planning

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pp. 53-110

In the previous chapter, we considered the religious obligation to be fertile and increase—its moral significance; its definition as a matter of biblical and rabbinic law; and its implications for the weighing of various obligations and interests that arise over the course of one’s life. Our analysis clearly demonstrated that the requirement to procreate is not absolute, and thus in principle...

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3 | Halakhic Rulings on Abortion

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pp. 111-159

The mantle of feminist consensus with regard to abortion conceals an array of conflicts over the nature of women, the value of children, the role of the family, and the social significance of sexual relations between men and women. At times, a radical feminist position regarding power relationships between men and women engenders a conservative position on abortion. We...

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4 | Abortion in Contemporary Halakhic Rulings

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pp. 160-200

As we have seen, the sources cited above allow for a variety of interpretive courses. Moreover, we have seen that some readings of the texts are more reasonable than others and are more in line with other parallel sources. Halakhic decisors must issue a halakhic determination and, therefore, must make a series of interpretive choices that will support their final ruling. It...

Part Two | Procreation without Sex

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5 | Artificial Insemination, In Vitro Fertilization, and Surrogacy in Liberal and Radical Feminist Approaches

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pp. 203-224

Artificial insemination as a technique for effectuating conception without sexual relations has been known in modern medicine since the second half of the nineteenth century, and the long-term storage of frozen semen in sperm banks began in 1940. Of all the fertilization methods created by modern...

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6 | Artificial Insemination, In Vitro Fertilization, and Surrogacy

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pp. 225-268

Most halakhic analyses have considered artificial insemination with sperm from an outside donor (aid), for that poses the most significant halakhic challenges. But I want to consider as well artificial insemination with sperm from the husband (AIH), for I believe that analysis of using sperm from...

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Afterword: The Gender Project in the Philosophy of Halakhah as an Exercise in Criticism

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pp. 269-276

In the seventh of his ‘‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’’ the philosopher and culture critic Walter Benjamin writes that the role of the historical materialist is to ‘‘brush history against the grain.’’1 He uses this image to emphasize that there is more to history than the ‘‘official’’ version that is written by the ‘‘victors’’ who control the historical narrative. The task of the historian is to tell the ‘‘other’’ story, that of the history that has been withheld...


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pp. 277-314


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pp. 315-342


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pp. 343-358

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682410
E-ISBN-10: 161168241X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682397

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012