I woke up this morning at 5:40 a.m.; in another room I heard a baby—my baby—babbling to himself. He’s nearly seven months old now, smiling, has a couple of teeth and haunches you’d have to stop yourself from biting. I got him out of his crib, fed and changed him, and found him entertainment (thank you, Fisher Price) while I ate breakfast and glanced at the paper.
“What Makes a Jewish Mother?” The headline designed to grab attention succeeded. If you give birth to a baby conceived with a donated egg, will that child be a Jew? That’s the essential query in Caren Chesler’s story. My child was not conceived with a donated egg, but he was conceived with donated sperm. Which is why one quote in the story rankled me. “If any of the participants in the equation are not Jewish,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York, told Chesler, “the child should go through a conversion ceremony anyway.”
My child had a bris to bind him to a tradition—a faith community—of which I am a solid part. To have him undergo that sacred rite was my decision and desire for him because it tied him to a community that has nourished me and provided me with a spiritual background and richness that made me, in part, who I am. I am counting on it to do the same for him as he grows up. To suggest that my child is not sufficiently Jewish because the source of half of his genetic material is not, is to privilege who’s in and who’s out over who embraces family alongside a sense of faith.
If I were Orthodox, I’d be in much greater anguish over the opinions of the Orthodox rabbinate on reproductive matters. And of course I’m sympathetic to women, like Chesler, who feel that such decrees make them doubt, if fleetingly, the authenticity of their motherhood. As reproductive technology continues to develop, it will continue to challenge our notions of parentage and family. I’m not Orthodox, though, and I did not have a child to fulfill the Biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply, though I’m happy to kick in where I can. For me, family and community are what give richness to the human experience—to my personal experience. I want my son to have a sense of history—Jewish and otherwise. That history will be inclusive of people whose genetic material comes from many places; hopefully his community will embrace him back.