Artifical Insemination for a Single Woman

(EH 1, Birkey Yosef subparag. 14)

A single woman (we shall call her “Sarah”) in her early thirties wants to conceive a child through AID (artificial insemination by a donor). Is it halakhically permissible for a single woman to give birth through artificial insemination?

We appreciate Sarah’s sincere and human desire to bear a child, but after careful deliberation and examination of the sources we must rule that such an act is forbidden both halakhically and philosophically for the following reasons:

1) Jewish law and tradition forbid the unnecessary destruction of sperm. If Sarah were married, most authorities would permit AIH (artificial insemination by a husband) because the sperm would not be wasted but rather used to perform the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply”. But in the case under discussion, there is no mitzvah involved because women are exempt from this mitzvah. Thus any Jewish donor – and most donors in Israel are Jewish – is wasting sperm unnecessarily and while Sarah would not be guilty of any sin she would be “abetting a sinner” which is also forbidden by Jewish law.

2) More importantly, in most countries including Israel it is illegal to reveal the identity of a sperm donor. This creates a double halakhic problem. According to Samuel (Yevamot 42a), it is a mitzvah to know one’s parentage and in this case that is impossible. Furthermore, the Torah prohibits the marriage of a brother and sister (Leviticus 18:9). Since one portion of sperm can foster 200 children and since the same donors frequently return to the same sperm bank, there is a real possibility of a brother marrying his sister. In fact such a marriage has already taken place in Tel Aviv and in the United States a similar marriage was averted at the last minute by a doctor who revealed to the couple their genetic link.

3) Theoretically when the child grows up we could inform him of his father’s identity in order to avoid incest. However, this is not possible because such a revelation is prohibited by law.

4) Four authorities permit AID if the donor is not Jewish because in such a case the child’s halakhic pedigree follows the mother. Thus halakhically there is no danger of incest. However, genetically there is still the danger of incest. Furthermore, it is hard to believe that Sarah would want to be impregnated with the sperm of a non-Jew in the State of Israel!

5) Lastly, this suggestion is objectionable for a number of ethical, philosophical and social reasons:

a) The Jewish family has been the basic unit of the Jewish people since the days of Abraham. In the past twenty years the Jewish family has begun to disintegrate: divorce has skyrocketed, Jews are marrying late and are having fewer children, and homosexuality is on the rise. If we approve of this suggestion, we are in effect saying: there is no need for the Jewish family! A man does not need a wife, a woman does not need a husband, and children do not need two parents!

b) Many children from broken homes suffer from various psychological problems. But these problems were created after the fact. The proposed suggestion creates such a situation before the child is born! Furthermore the child will suffer the additional stigma of being born out of wedlock and the tension of never knowing his father. It would be wrong to create a situation, which is bound to lead to psychological problems.

c) Frequently in Judaism and in any society the good of the individual is superseded by the good of society. AID may help Sarah in the short run, but it will definitely harm Jewish society in the long run.

d) One of the purposes of marriage in Judaism is “to be fruitful and multiply”. However, Jewish marriage has two other purposes, which would not be achieved by this suggestion. The first is companionship and love between a man and a woman, which would obviously not be served by AID. The second is the holiness of kiddushin, which sanctifies sexual relations, the family, and Jewish society as a whole. Needless to say, this aspect is also missing from the proposed suggestion.

6) Thus AID for a single woman is prohibited by Jewish law and tradition. But what can be done to help Sarah? There are two halakhically acceptable solutions:

a) Rather than spending a considerable amount of money on AID, the money should be spent on a matchmaker or computer dating service. Matchmaking is a venerable Jewish tradition, which according to the Midrash has been God’s main occupation since He finished creating the world.

b) If, after a serious effort, Sarah does not find a husband, she can adopt a child. While this solution has some of the same pitfalls as AID, the difference is that here Sarah would be solving the problem of an unwanted child after the fact rather than creating a problematic situation by design. Adoption is a new institution in Judaism but the Talmud has already stated: “Whoever raises an orphan in his house is considered as if he had born the child.”

Yet the natural Jewish solution is still marriage. We hope and pray that Sarah will get married in the near future and be blessed with the triple blessing of kiddushin: holiness, children, and companionship.

Rabbi David Golinkin
In favor: Rabbi Reuven Hammer
Rabbi Shlomo Fox
Rabbi Chaim Pearl
Abstained: Rabbi Tuvia Friedman