Surrogate Mothering by Religious Women

test tubes used for Rika Koren, 32, divorced and the mother of two, served as a surrogate mother for an infertile couple and plans to do so again. In an interview with the newspaper Makor Rishon, Koren expanded on the reasons for her decision.

She grew up in the Gur community of Ashdod, but her mother was from a Chabad family.  When she came of marriageable age she told her parents not to match her with someone from the Ger community. (The marriage restrictions in Ger deter many women from marriage within the community, creating a shortage of women.)

Riki ended up in an unhappy marriage with a Chabad chasid, who abused her. She left the charedi world but maintains religious observance. Her father has cut off contact with her.

When she first learned about about surrogacy, she knew that it might be for her. She had easy and uneventful pregnancies. She had seen the suffering of an infertile aunt and several friends. Koren found the idea of carrying a baby for another couple as the greatest chesed (kindness) possible.

An agency sent her a couple in their 50’s and Koren clicked with them. They each signed a contract. Koren kept them informed about everything to do with her pregnancy, and only asked that they not interfere with her lifestyle. At the last minute they requested that Koren undergo a c-section, feeling it would be safer, but Koren refused and had a regular, uneventful delivery. The nurse planned to put the baby on Koren, but Koren told her to give the baby to the intended (now legal) parents. When asked whether she had any desire to keep the sweet baby with her, Koren answered, “No. I felt that I had come to fulfill a task and I accomplished it as best as I possibly could, zehu, and now I needed to let it go.”

Both surrogate and legal mothers in  a surrogacy arrangement received maternity leave.

Surrogate motherhood became legal in Israel in 1996. The woman must be between 22 and 38, unmarried, and have given birth to between one and three children. Rabbi  Shlomo Amar gave permission for a married woman to become a surrogate mother under certain conditions. But this is discourages, because a man might theoretically  pressure his wife to undergo surrogacy for the financial reward. The child of a married woman could also be considered a mamzer under Jewish law.

Riki earned NIS 150,000 for the birth. Her ex-husband accused her of selling her body, but she felt that the compensation for her time, risk, physical and suffering, was necessary. She has to put her life on hold for a year, including a search for a marriage partner.

image: Håkan Dahlström

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  1. “Her [physically abusive] ex-husband accused her…” Oh yeah, there’s someone who has a right to choices made about her body.

    • Observer says

      Yes, my first reaction was “And why would anyone even think about what her ex has to say about it?”

      • Koren brought it up herself in the interview.

        • Observer says

          I find it puzzling that she brings it up (unless what is published is edited), and her response eve more so. I would have thought that her response to the ex’s comment would be along the lines of “But why he thinks he’s entitled to an opinion is not something I can understand”.