I’m continuing my report on the Kolech conference on fertility. The next round addressed aspects of infertility treatment. Those of you offended by Ir-Shai’s statements can breathe easy for this post.
Racheli Sprecher Frankel is a mother of seven from Nof Ayalon, educated at Matan and Nishmat, and a Yoetzet Halacha (an advisor on matters related to Jewish law, especially marriage). She serves as a —œhalachic counselor— for infertile couples.
Sprecher addressed the “inter-halachic” issues surrounding fertility. In other words, unlike Ir-Shai, she focused on how the couples she counsels observe Jewish law in the context of infertility. She stressed that no one pressures couples to come to her or to ask halachic questions. Many couples don’t ask.
She pointed out that Jewish law stresses the importance of not offending people or making them feel bad. She warned against making sensitive remarks to couples without children or who have not had them in a few years, asking when they are going to have (another) baby.
Sprecher-Frankel was the only speaker to address criticism of “Puah” directly. She said that as an institution, Puah has done extremely important work in addressing the issues related to infertility and Jewish law. It has become a monopoly, as it were, and like any monopoly, it invites controversy and criticism from people who would prefer a different approach. But first and foremost Puah should be recognized for its contribution to the discussion, and for the many couples it has helped over the years.
Her job as an advisor to infertile religious couples consists of four main areas:
- Hilchot nidah. Fertility treatment causes changes in the woman’s menstrual cycle, and this affects when the woman can go to the mikveh and have relations with her husband.
- Fertility issues related to halacha. Classic halachic infertility is when a woman ovulates before she goes to the mikveh, precluding her chances of pregnancy. Sprecher-Frankel stressed that this is not nearly as common as many people think.
- Technology. Which types of technology are permitted for religious couples, and with what accommodations?
- Spiritual guidance. Infertility treatment leads to questions and crises of different sorts, including religious.
Sprecher-Frankel gave an example of an unusual halachic dilemma, a “classic Nishmat story.” A woman in her 40s, recently married, had stopped ovulating. With treatment she succeeded in stimulating an ovulation, but it occurred before she would be able to get to the mikveh. She called to ask what she could do to mitigate the situation, since she was not willing to give up on what was likely to be her only chance at biological motherhood. An intra-uterine insemination (IUI) was quickly arranged for her. Later Rabbi Cherlow said he would have ruled that she go to the mikveh earlier, for a more “natural” conception.
She also pointed out an important issue that can cause stress among infertile couples. The husband may ask his rabbi whether a treatment is permitted. The wife will only learn about this second hand, and she might not get the whole picture. Also, the answer could change once more time has passed, but she doesn’t have access to the rabbi to ask. A halachic counselor can help in such a situation.
Photo credit: Eggybird