- Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel
Israeli society is marked by a strong pronatalist orientation, expressed at the institutional, normative, and daily cultural levels. Sustaining high Jewish fertility is seen as a national priority due to the historic legacy of the Holocaust, ongoing demographic competition with the surrounding Arab nations, and high risks of losing young people as soldiers in combat or as victims of terror. The right to parenthood is seen by most Israelis as the most basic human entitlement, which policy-wise is reflected in the almost full public subsidy of costly infertility treatments. There are more fertility clinics per capita in Israel than in any other country in the world, and Israel has the highest per-capita rate of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg donation, surrogacy, and other modern reproductive technologies. These are available to every Israeli couple or woman, regardless of ethnicity or marital status.
In her ethnographic research Susan M. Kahn explores cultural meaning of modern reproductive technologies for all the parties involved in the process: Israeli women (and men), medical personnel, social workers, and other professionals. She also offers a detailed account of contemporary rabbinic responses to the multiple ethical and legal dilemmas involved in artificial insemination (especially for unmarried women), IVF, egg donation, and surrogacy. Kahn’s fieldwork draws on observations in fertility clinics and interviews with Israeli women (married and single) who are using state-of-the-art reproductive technologies to get pregnant. Through close reading of traditional Jewish texts and careful analysis of Israeli public discourse in the media and in popular and professional literature, Kahn compiles a comprehensive cultural account of the place of reproductive technologies in the lives of Israelis, both secular and religious. She offers an original view of the contemporary religious interpretations of the meaning of kinship and parenthood and shows how modern medical technologies became an indispensable part of the reproductive lives of many Israelis. Kahn cogently examines multiple vexing issues involved in surrogate motherhood, made legal in Israel in the late 1990s, the heated rabbinic debates around the issues of mamzerut, using Jewish and Gentile sperm for artificial inseminations, and other problems that the medical and legal establishments of Israel are grappling with in the realm of medically assisted reproduction.
The book is an important addition to the medical anthropological literature on reproduction, the body, and women’s health; it would also be of value to the reader interested in modern Judaism and Israeli society in general.
Bar-Ilan University, Israel