Medical and Rabbinic Experts Discuss Intersection of Fertility Treatments and Jewish Law

Article Photo Left to right: Aaron Kogut, Yonah Bardos, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Jonathan Sacks, Lady Elaine Sacks and Rebecca Goldberg.

Oct 18, 2007 — Recent medical developments have given rise to revolutionary means of treatment for infertility, yet many of the methods are fraught with halakhic (Jewish legal) complexities. “Partners in Creation: Fertility, Modern Medicine, and Jewish Law,” the second annual conference organized by Yeshiva University’s Student Medical Ethics Society, examined these technological advances in treating fertility from both a medical and a halakhic perspective. For photos of the conference click here.

The conference attracted 500 people, including young couples, doctors, rabbinic scholars, students, and members of the Jewish community, and was also broadcast to audiences in Boca Raton, Montreal, and Jerusalem. Rabbi David and Anita Fuld, noted philanthropists who have a special interest in the accuracy of Halakhic and scientific information that reaches the community, sponsored the conference.

“We thought it was important to let couples know about opportunities available to them and to help them with their struggle, as well as create greater awareness of the issues,” said Aaron Kogut, co-president of the student-run Medical Ethics Society and a senior at Yeshiva College.

Kogut, along with Stern College for Women senior Chani Schonbrun, the society’s co-president, and Yonah Bardos, its executive director and a YC senior and rabbinical student, organized the event.

Founded in 2005 by Bardos and a group of YU students as a special project of the Center for the Jewish Future, the society runs lectures and large-scale events at the university, as well as organizes genetic testing to combat the high incidence of genetic diseases in the Jewish community.

“This really shows the power of the student,” declared Kogut. “YU’s Center for the Jewish Future under the auspices of Rabbi Kenneth Brander, and President Richard Joel have all taught us that we can go out and make a difference, and I think the conference clearly demonstrated that.”

Chief Rabbi of England Sir Jonathan Sacks delivered the keynote address, focusing on the intersection of science and Torah and the delicacy required in handling the powers of new technology in medicine. “The test of civilization,” Rabbi Sacks said, “is not just what it can do but what it chooses, for ethical reasons, no to do. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. There are limits to creation and we must remember those limits.”

Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, presented a brief history of infertility in Jewish law and laid the groundwork for the issues that would be addressed throughout the course of the day.

Dr. Richard Grazi, director of the Division of Reproductive Technology at Maimonides Medical Center, and Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future, gave the second plenary, taking turns discussing the basics of treating infertility. Dr. Grazi dispelled some common myths about infertility and described possible complications and procedures regarding infertility. Rabbi Brander explained the halakhic concerns associated with those procedures and also stressed that the “the gift of science and helping to treat infertility speaks to our ability to be junior partners with God. Halakhah (Jewish law) celebrates scientific opportunities to realize the couple’s interest of having a family.”

Nine breakout sessions covered topics such as egg donation, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, halakhic infertility, and the psychological effects of infertility. The participants reconvened for the final session on new frontiers within fertility technology, featuring experts such as Dr. Susan Lobel, founder of Metropolitan Reproductive Medicine; Rabbi Menachem Burshtein, founder and director of Machon Puah in Jerusalem (whose talk in Hebrew was translated for the audience by two UN translators); Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh kollel at RIETS’ Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel (institute for advanced rabbinic study); and Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, head of the English Speaking Section of the Puah Institute and visiting associate professor at Einstein.

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