Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Ova or Uterus -- Who's the Mother?

This question -- consciously expressed or not -- is at the basis of a many discussions of Torah observance in the modern world:
What if the Torah were given now?  I mean, we have all this cool, gee-whiz technology and stuff that the ancients didn't, so the Torah would be different, right?
That question is something like asking, "If the engineers who built this drop on the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland had known that we would be on this cart carrying our cell phones, would they have built it differently?  I mean, wouldn't they have taken into account that I might have something in my pocket that could fall out?"  Actually then engineers who built that ride most certainly knew that people might have something expensive in their pockets that might fall out.  They engineered for it, the made provisions for it.  You won't see a mention of cell phones in the original plans, but you certainly will see provisions for people with pockets and stuff in those pockets.

As an example, let us consider very modern medical issue: surrogate motherhood.  You might think, "Well!  This issue was certainly never imagined in the received tradition!"  You might think that; and you would certainly be wrong.

Before proceeding, though, it is important to understand the halachic significance of the question.  That is important, because in cases where there is no halachic significance, you are very likely not going to find any references in our sources.  This world is for no reason other than as an environment in which to realize the concepts of the Torah as concrete mitzvos.  There are actually five possibilities:

  1. The child is related to his genetic mother, but not his birth mother.  In this case he can marry relatives of his birth mother, but only inherits from his genetic mother.
  2. The opposite: the child is related to his birth mother, but not his genetic mother.  Basically same as above, just roles reversed.
  3. The child has two mothers.  Now he has a big family; he can't marry relatives from either side, but he is a full heir to both sides.
  4. The child has no (halachic) mother.  Itty bitty family; marry whomever he wants, no inheritance.
  5. The matter remains in doubt.  On the marriage issue one will need to say ספק דאורייתא לחומרא and he can't marry anyone related to either side.  On the inheritance issue, though, we'll say המוציא מחברו עליו הראיה (possession is 9/10s of the law) and he'll be heir to none.
So we have an absolutely modern issue with both moral and financial implications.  There are actually three sources (of which I am aware, anyway; there are likely more).  Each one is worth discussing on its own right, so I'll just give the headlines here.
  1. There is a medrash that says the child who became Yosef HaTzadik was conceived in Leah (so she's the genetic mother) and then transplanted to Rochel (who is now the birth mother).  Leads one to conclude that the genetic mother is the halachic mother (case [1], above).
  2. Masechta Y'vamos (97b) discusses the case of twins born to a woman who converted during her pregnancy; hence the twins were conceived by a goya and birthed by a Jewess.  Leads one to conclude the birth mother is the halachic mother (case [2], above).
  3. Wheat that took root and grew at least 1/3 of its growth before the omer is known as חדש before bringing the korban omer, and ישן afterward.  Suppose a ישן stalk of wheat is uprooted and replanted; is the additional growth also ישן (going by genetic source) or חדש (going by birth source; ie, the ground in which it is planted)?  Chazal leave that issue as unsreolvable and therefore we are lead to case [5], above.
I'll just leave you with one little mind-bender.  Since HaShem is outside of time, all of this that is happening -- including all our modern technology -- was not only known, but was actually already in front of HaShem when the Torah was give.  Just another way to understand the the Torah we have today is just as fresh and relevant today as it was the day we received and accepted it at Har Sinai.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…