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Giving the gift of Jewish genes

I just came across a Craigslist posting via Twitter (oy, my life!) looking for a Jewish woman to donate her eggs to a Jewish couple looking to conceive. This couple, through an agency called A Jewish Blessing, is offering $8,000 for an egg from a Jewish donor. A Jewish Blessing was founded by Judy Weiss, RNC in 2005 in response to the growing number of requests from Jewish families for her help in finding qualified and extraordinary young Jewish donors and surrogates. And this is one of many similar organizations helping connect Jewish parents-to-be with Jewish eggs.

I remember seeing flyers posted around the Brandeis University campus for Jewish egg donors with high SAT scores promising upwards of $20,000 or $40,000 for a Jewish over-acheiver's egg. I remember the first time I saw one of those flyers. "Forty thousand bucks?" I thought. "What a deal!" I called up my dad, a doctor, to ask him if this sort of thing was for real. Within about five minutes he had convinced me that this was something I would never do. Egg donation is no small matter. The procedure is incredibly invasive and there is a risk that it could leave you infertile. Also there's the matter of being pumped up with hormones so you produce more eggs in the months before the surgery. No thank you. Not even for 40 grand.

It's an interesting and complicated issue, for sure. I understand the impulse for Jewish couples pursuing egg donation and/or surrogacy to want a genetically Jewish egg. But does the egg have to come from a Jewish woman to create a Jewish baby? What if the fertilized egg grows inside a Jewish womb? Or what if it is simply raised by Jewish parents as a Jew once it is born? Would a Jewish couple accept the egg of an African-American or Asian-American Jew? A Jew-by-choice? Or if this is about ethnicity, would they accept either an Ashkenazi or Sephardic egg?

There is certainly disagreement about when life begins. Some (Catholics) believe life begins at conception, while Jews (and please correct me if I'm wrong) believe life begins when a baby is born and touched by the light of G-d. So, if life begins at birth, does Jewishness also begin at birth? And if so, does it matter if the egg or the womb is genetically Jewish?

Oy, the Talmudic scholars never had such issues. So what do you think?

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9 Comments

Logically prior to all the writer's thinking is this question:

. . . Are there identifiable "Jewish genes" ?

I don't know what current research is showing.

I _do_ know that when an anti-Semite talks about "inborn Jewish traits" -- that is, "genetically-determined traits", Jews become very agitated, and say "No, no, we're just like everyone else -- we're not a _race_!".

But when a _Jew_ talks about "inborn Jewish traits", somehow that's OK ???? We _are_ a race ???

I'd welcome some references into the anthropological / genetic research literature.

I am not a religious person by all means, but to me it is important to find some connection with the ED. And a Jewish identity is one of them.

You are right. Egg donation is no small matter. ThatÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s why, for the 50-some young women who come to our agency each month seeking to donate, fewer than 5 percent actually qualify. The vast majority of those who do qualify donate for altruistic reasons, not for the money. And physically, it is less onerous than your father (is he a fertility specialist?) would have you think. It does involve a minimally invasive surgical procedure, and with that comes some degree of risk. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (http://www.asrm.org) (ASRM) says the long-term health effects of egg donation have never been studied. However, egg donors undergo the same drug treatment as IVF patients, and studies of that population show this is safe.

It is all based on the preachings of the 2nd Temple period Book of Ezra Chapter 9, verse 2,`and the chapters that follow which he calls jews as possessing the "Holy Seed" that must maintain its purity and carries out expulsions of all Jews who are tainted blood who may have one non-Jewish grandparent. Ethnic hatred some 2,500 years ago by the High Priest/Scribe, listed as a direct descendant of Aaron and his murderous grandson Phinehas (Numbers 25:7)

It is the womb, not the egg, that makes a baby Jewish from birth. Therefore, if a non-Jewish woman donates an egg to a Jewish woman, the baby will be born Jewish.

Additionally interesting is that because the genes of the parents are annihilated from the egg and the DNA of the parents-to-be are put in instead. (Same way cloning works).

For the cavemen who still think jewishness is genetic and not a choice, this provides an additional conundrum.

One's choice of whether to do this or not is obviously highly personal, but as someone who has become a mother through the same procedure as is required to retrieve eggs in an egg-donation procedure, I have to say that the medical process is not nearly so dramatic or risky for a healthy woman to do as the author makes it sound in this very brief statement. it's a series of not-painful hormone injections for several weeks followed by a quick (30 minutes) egg retrieval under anesthesia, generally with minimal recovery if any. I've done it three times so far, without incident whatsoever, and so has every woman who has a child via IVF.

I think the questions Ms. Berkenwald raises pertain much more to the fundamental questions about having biokids or adopting, and in that regard they are completely interesting! However, with regard to egg donation, the topic is one faced every day by straight couples, single women and lesbians who choose a sperm donor in order to conceive -- i.e. whether to choose someone of a particular ethnic background in addition to other characteristics. Egg donation, while definitely a bigger commitment of effort, is much the same otherwise as sperm donation, which has been happening a great deal for over two decades.

[To add to the reflections that are relevant: friends of mine, a lesbian couple, also debated sperm-donor characteristics. One wanted a donor who was of Russian-Polish Jewish peasant stock, both to mirror her own (non-bio-mom) ethnic background and because she wanted a potential child to carry that weight of Jewishness in a particular way; her partner didn't care about biology, but wanted a donor who clearly identified as being Jewish in his adult life, as she wanted to minimize the chances that a potential child would meet the donor one day and be drawn to another religion of his.]

I imagine that many people facing donor choices want to retain some of the familial ease that others do who do not have to go through fertility treatments -- it's an interesting thing when we expect folks with fertility issues (whether biological or social) to deal with these ethnic/biological/adoption issues when we do not put that same pressure on fertile straight couples to nearly the same extent...

Jews do believe that life starts at birth, but the nishama (soul) exists from conception.

As for your other questions, I've got no clue - those are really heavy-duty halakha (Jewish law) questions, one would have to ask your LR. I know that R Moshe Feinstein said that artificial insem is kosher, so he probably discussed this issue somewhere in Igrot Moshe.

I think at the core of this is the debate over whether Jewishness is genetic, cultural, or strictly spiritual. I still hesitate about whether I should say I'm half-Jewish, half-Russian Jewish, or just half-Russian. While I'm not spiritually or culturally (though man I love Jewish food) Jewish, I certainly have physical traits that are considered genetically Jewish. Though, since my father's side is Jewish and the heritage is traditionally passed through the mother's side, whether I can claim Jewish as a label in any capacity is also debatable. 'Tis complicated for sure.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Giving the gift of Jewish genes." 10 December 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/giving-the-gift-of-Jewish-genes>.

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