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Shabbat Parashat Tazria 5776

Parashat Hashavua: The First Surrogate Mother

Harav Yosef Carmel

Many have tried to explain the sequential significance of “Should a woman give forth seed and give birth to a male” (Vayikra 12:2). A baraita seems to take things literally: “If the woman ovulates first, she will bear a male. If the male’s seed is first, she will bear a girl.” Rabbi Tzadok cites further support for this correlation from the pasuk, “These are the sons that Leah bore for Yaakov in Padan Aram, along with Dina, his daughter (Bereishit 46:15). Still, it is hard to understand what the Torah is hinting at and what the various rabbis are saying.

A fascinating gemara (Berachot 60a) builds on the story behind Dina’s birth. The Torah says, “And afterward, she gave birth to a daughter, and she called her name Dina” (Bereishit 30:21). Rav explains that “afterward” hints at Leah’s calculation (din) during her pregnancy that if she would have a seventh son, Rachel would have only one of the twelve prophesied sons of Yaakov, and therefore the baby was turned into a girl, called Dina.

The gemara does not explain how the fetus turned into a girl, whether it was through a change in genes or in some other way. Targum Yonatan explains the miracle as follows. Leah was pregnant with Yosef, and Rachel was pregnant with Dina, and Hashem switched the babies from womb to womb. Rabbi Elazar Hakalir also takes this approach in a yotzer for Mussaf of Rosh Hashana.

Following the logical conclusion of this midrashic approach, in the case that a baby is born from the egg of Woman A that was implanted in the womb of Woman B, it is considered the child of Woman B. Only in that way can we (and, more importantly, the Torah) call Yosef the son of Rachel and Dina the daughter of Leah. There are those who wanted to reach halachic conclusions regarding the modern miraculous (in its own way) phenomenon of surrogate motherhood, that the birth mother is the halachic mother, not the genetic mother (the egg provider). There are many halachic ramifications to the claim that the surrogate is the halachic mother.

However, many argue cogently that midrashim are intended to teach matters of ethics, not halacha, for which Chazal employed a different system. So what do we learn ethically? From the story of Rachel, Leah, and Yaakov we see the importance of people being willing to sacrifice for the sake of their relative, which is also true regarding others in society. We also are reminded about the extreme personal yearning for children and the extent to which we should help such people bring children into the world.

Today there are many more avenues to explore in fulfilling these natural yearnings, and we are proud that Israel and significant parts of the rabbinic community are in the forefront of these efforts. Feel free to contact us at: info@eretzhemdah.org for a copy of our responsum on surrogacy. In the meantime, we wish all a life full of happiness and the laughter of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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