Thursday, June 28, 2007

Are Children Conceived Through IVF Spiritually Defective?

Rabbi Manis Friedman seems to think so.

In his essay, Rabbi Friedman writes about how important the circumstances of a child's conception are. He writes that ideally, conception should occur naturally with two parents who love each other. When it occurs in circumstances other than this, he writes, there could be serious consequences. If, during conception, parents are in other than ideal circumstances (disinterested in each other, or in the hopes that there would be no child are two example that he brings) then it can harm the child psychologically and spiritually. He states that children who result from these unions feel unloved or unwanted by their parents.

And then he asks:

If it is true that a compromised intimacy hurts the child, what happens when there is no intimacy at all?

While he does not come out and say it, the implication here is that when there is no intimacy involved, it is even worse than when there is "bad intimacy." To back up his implied assertion, he brings the following example:

According to Chasidic sources, both Isaac, the patriarch of the Jews, and Habakuk, the son of the Shunamit, were born with souls from alma d'nukva or "the feminine realm." It is interesting that both were born through extraordinary, holy circumstances, and even so were lacking an essential spiritual component. It would likewise take the extraordinary, transformative experiences of the akedah (the 'binding" of Isaac), and the death-and-revival of the Shunamit's son, for their souls to be made whole. The unnatural conditions by which these individuals were conceived would require "correction" later in life. All the more so our cause for concern when this takes place in situations that are decidedly less than holy.

There is one line in his article that seems to indicate that the target of his essay is the single woman who uses IVF (or some other assisted reproductive method)* to have a child. But the reality is that the women who do so are few and far between... and in the frum world (which is the target of his essay) those people are practically non-existent. In reality, his target seems to be the Orthodox infertile couples who use (or are considering using) IVF to have children. He is, in essence, telling couples who use IVF that their children are spiritually (and possibly psychologically) defective because they weren't conceived in a spirit of love and nurture. Well, as someone I know who happens to have one of those miracle babies pointed out:

As someone who now has a miracle baby rocking in his swing right next to me, I can honestly say that he is no less loved, wanted or lacking than my two daughters who were conceived naturally.

Not to take away from my love of my daughters, but my son was prayed for. I spilled tears that I would conceive him.

In the end, Rabbi Friedman asserts, all is not lost. If you already have an IVF baby, you can easily "fix" his problems. How?

Chassidism offered an antidote in the practice of Chitas -- an acronym for Chumash (Torah), Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya. Just by reading the words, by absorbing the images of those letters and those words and those paragraphs in daily segments, the negative repercussions of assisted reproduction may be corrected.

Now, then, I'm kind of stunned. This seems to be the upshot of the essay - say Chitas and all will be well with your child. Does your child lack the proper soul because he came from a test tube? Say Chitas. Does your child have in utero memories from being rudely shoved into a uterus instead of arriving there the natural way? Say Chitas. Is your kid rude? Well, it must be because you didn't have the holiest of intentions during conception. It couldn't possibly be bad parenting or just simply that he's a kid and it happens sometimes. Say Chitas.

But I also seem to be left with this question: just what was his purpose in writing this essay? To stop single women from becoming parents via IVF? I highly doubt it. Firstly, most single parents end up as such the old fashioned way. Even those who deliberately want a child will usually try to find a good friend and someone whom they trust (and possibly love, even if not marriage material) to help with the conception of their child . The number of those who actually use IVF to become single parents is probably very small. And, as I mentioned, in the frum world, practically nil.

It seems to me that the article was written for, and aimed at, the frum couple who has (or is considering having) a child via IVF. But then, why write the article? I can only come up with three possible reasons:

1. He feels that couples shouldn't use IVF at all, and that it's probably better to remain childless than bring a "defective" child into the world. However, I would discount this as a motive as he makes the point that people can use IVF as an absolute last resort and in the context of marriage and Torah law.

2. He seems to think that there are frum couples who don't use IVF as an absolute last resort and that they run to the IVF center if they aren't pregnant within half a year. Otherwise, why scare people away from IVF by telling them that their children will be "defective?" However, this is patently absurd. As anyone who has gone through these treatments can tell you, they are dreadfully expensive, a lot of trouble, and painful - both physically and emotionally. And each time it doesn't work, it really hurts. I don't think that *anyone* would put themselves through IVF unless they really, really, really, really wanted a baby more than anything in the world and that there was just about no other way to have one.

3. He feels the need to tell people who have had children via IVF that their children are "defective" and that they need to recite Chitas in order to rectify this "defect." Personally, I find the idea that a child conceived in marriage to parents who love each other and who want and pray and shed tears for said child is spiritually and psychologically defective to be repugnant. But that's just my belief. If he wants to believe that they are defective, it's his right. However, there are certainly better ways to get parents to recite Chitas than by telling them that their children are "spiritual rejects" (my term, not his). I find his approach insensitive, boorish and outright offensive.

The Wolf

Hat tip: OnionSoupMix

* In this post, whenever I use IVF, consider it shorthand for "IVF (or other assistive reproductive method)." I don't mean IVF to the exclusion of all other methods.

26 comments:

Larry Lennhoff said...

This isn't any different than the stigma that attaches to many BTs because it is assumed they are 'ben niddah' - conceived when their mother had not been to a kosher mikveh. You can easily find out the character flaws attributed to such people.

For that matter, when my wife took kallah training from Chabad, she was told to have an image of some great tzaddik (name unspecified) in mind at the height of the experience in order to ensure that her child would be conceived in purity.

BrooklynWolf said...

Larry,

I hope you're kidding on that last one. I can't believe that a kallah teacher actually recommended that! During the act, I'm fairly certain that one should not be thinking of anyone other than one's partner.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm not kidding. Ideally, one should also be careful not to dislodge one's sheitel.

The rabbi of this pair was much more aware of the fact that my sexual experience vastly exceeded his, and just focused on hilchot nidah and shalom bayit.

Chana said...

Wolf,

I do believe there is some truth to the concept that children conceived out of love are different than those conceived to save a marriage and/or otherwise unwanted. That having been said, to suggest that IVF damages a child's soul is deeply disturbing.

mother in israel said...

Wolf, I think it is clearly directed at single women (and homosexuals, too, but he doesn't want to mention that) who can't/shouldn't experience sexual pleasure "legally."

After all, couples using IVF b/c of infertility do conceive, on some level, in the context of love, intimacy, and unity." He even says that IVF for married couples is okay, but as a last resort.

In the Israeli women's weekly Laisha, a sex therapist told how she cured a couple where the woman did not want to have sex. They were going to go to IVF (the husband was understanding). It turned out that she had been molested by her brother as a teen, and her parents didn't deal with it.

His target is single women, and if he hurts the feelings of a few infertile couples and their children it's worth it as far as he's concerned.

BrooklynWolf said...

Chana,

That may or may not be true. I didn't really dispute that point in my post. It was really the "IVF children as spiritually deficient" angle that I was going at.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Mom-In-Israel,

My take from it was that single women were the "stated audience" but the actual audience was broader. As I mentioned, the number of frum single women who use IVF to have children is vanishingly small, if it exists at all.

I don't think he meant his article for people outside the frum community... they probably wouldn't care about kabalistic reasons why their children would be harmed anyway.

The target, IMHO, was frum couples, despite his statement earlier in the essay.

mother in israel said...

Maybe. But why would married frum couples use IVF when it's not completely necessary? Unless they want designer babies. . .

BrooklynWolf said...

I agree with you that it's highly unlikely that people would go through with IVF unless necessary. That's why I think his motive is the third of the three possibilities I've listed.

The Wolf

Nice Jewish Guy said...

I'm sorry, but Manis Friedman is a frickin' idiot. Who the hell does he think he is to say what should be a last resort and form whom? What evidence is there to link one's circumastances of conception to their character or their spirituality? What, he can't find something else to write about--? He has to come after infertile couples? Don't they have enough pain and anguish without worrying if their going to be raising a Damien? Idiot.

What do you expect- a lot of Chabadniks are 'nisht mit allemen' anyway.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that IVF babies, not coming from a 'good' conception, have something in common with Dovid Hamelech. He wasn't so bad! Halevai that my kids should be on that level! Hmmm, I wonder if his parents said Chitas for him....

DAG said...

This, of course, includes the much more common practice of IUI.

Haven gone the IF route, I can tell you that in my experience, the love for the miracle child FAR exceeds that most couples experience.

Besides, I am not sure that a naturally conceived baby is ever conceived with as much Tefillah, Teshuva and Tzedkah as an IVF baby or any IF conception.

I am sorry but this is a cruel article. The torment IF couples go through in the Frum community is almost indescribable. B'H my miracle daughter is well and 4 years old. I cannot count the times people asked my wife why she doesn't want more children.

My canned response to the question is always, "Oh, I didn't know I controlled Hashem's Brachos. While I'm at it, you need anything?"

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

why write the article?

to push chitas.

Anonymous said...

The man is alive. If you want to know what he means, ask him.

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

Funny you chose this topic because I'm writing report directly related to it. The concept that the thoughts of the parents during conception can affect the child's constitution is a very old belief and goes back at least as far as Jacob's spotted sticks and the sheep.

See here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3671/is_199801/ai_n8800373/pg_1


Though, I'm having trouble tracking down the specific written Jewish source where I believe it says that a man should think 'Torah thoughts' during intercourse to ensure that the child will have good characteristics. Does anyone know where that would be? I suspect the Zohar somewhere, but I'm not sure.

Ari Kinsberg said...

LARRY:

and who did the hatan teacher tell you to think about?

Ari Kinsberg said...

although i think the shulhan arukh admonishes you to take precautions so you don't think of another woman

sprouter said...

I was once taught by R. Friedman that every time you are intimate with a man, even if no physical baby results, that you are always bearing astral babies. (This resulted in basic, well, mirth between me and a partner.)

missing dates said...

Not to detract from the overall point, which I agree with 100% - but there is such a thing as frum couples doing IVF not because of infertility,but because they want to have a boy after, say 6 girls. My husband, while he was in medical school , did one of his rotations at a fertility clinic which served many frum couples. The people who did this were definitely a very small minority, and they had a heter to do this, allegedly to fulfill pru u'rvu by having babies of both sexes. I would never want to say that a baby conceived from such motives was somehow automatically defective - but it's definitely not something I think I would do in that situation.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I was told to concentrate on my wife. If necessary to perform fantasizing about movie stars and fictional characters was permissible but thinking about real people I came into contact with was not.

Ursula said...

o.k. , so here is a guy who by virtue of being a rabbi knows all this stuff about souls etc. why not come down to earth, and deal with real stuff ( such as retarded jewish kids who are shuffled around) instead of aggrandizing himself with this sort of verbal trash. why not just leave it up to G-d?
i see this kind of "knowledge" as another way whereby a rabbi attempts to consolidate a power bases ( you know lacan and this sort of stuff). it is sickening, and at the same time to nonsensical.

aaron from L.A. said...

give Chabad a few bucks and the kids will be turn out to be drug-free geniuses with wonderful middos.See them dance on a telethon in your honor,too!

badrabbi said...

Why is it that the most absurd utterances are taken seriously if told by a rabbi? It seems that when it comes to rabbis, we tend to suspend logic altogether.

"A man who doesn't like cholent is not a Jew and must be converted." "A baby born of IVF has questionable spirit." This is stuff one expects from a village idiot. And instead of laughing these people out of the shul, we stand reverently before them indulging in their poskens. Why?

(I guess I must have been born of IVF. I will ask mother.)

onionsoupmix said...

larry, my husband was told to review the order of the chabad rebbeim- baal shem tov, magid,etc.

badrabbi said...

LOL, I noticed you have "stupidity" as one of your tags for this blog.....Priceless!!!

Orit said...

I know I'm late with this comment, but wanted to make it anyway:
You ask "just what was his purpose in writing this essay?" and offer several possibilities.

Did you think maybe he truly believes what he wrote? That IVF babies are spritually lacking, and need Chitas recited for them to become whole?

I think it's stupid, but it's a common enough superstition. When IVF first came into being, many people of many faiths feared these "test-tube babies" would be soulless robots or worse, because of their unnatural conception. Rabbis are not immune to such beliefs.

I also think it's sad that when a rabbi writes an essay, especially one we disagree with, we immediately assume he doesn't actually believe what he says, but has some hidden motive for saying it.

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."