Let’s Stop Romancing the Jewish Womb

Photo Credit: David Lisbona

Photo Credit: David Lisbona

Born to two Jewish parents, I have enjoyed the privilege of engaging with Judaism in whatever way I see fit. It wasn’t until I took a non-Jewish surname that my Jewish identity was ever truly questioned. Upon learning that I’d married the name McGinity (and kept it after I divorced), people usually shrugged their shoulders as if to say: “Well, you’re still Jewish and your children will be, too.” Wow. If coming out of a Jewish womb is all it takes to be Jewish then perhaps I should identify as a Jew-by-chance. Just as I explain that I was born in Madrid because my parents happened to be living in Spain at the time, my being Jewish and my daughter’s being Jewish seem likewise unintentional. This inadvertent byproduct is the legacy called matrilineal descent.

Jewish women have the advantage, provided they are biologically endowed, with having the right womb. If they intermarry, as many non-Orthodox Jews do today, they can join synagogues where their children will be deemed sufficiently Jewish to become bar or bat mitzvah without any additional measures necessary. Not so for intermarried Jewish men whose wives lack the Jewish womb. Is it any wonder, then, that intermarried Jewish men are currently less likely to raise children to identify as Jewish than are intermarried Jewish women? (It is also worth noting that this fixation around wombs is both cisnormative and heteronormative.)

2 comments on “Let’s Stop Romancing the Jewish Womb

  1. Keren R. McGinity on

    I hear you, Nina! Thank you for your comments and for all that you do to broaden people’s minds about what it means to be and do Jewish.

  2. Coyote on

    Beautiful article!

    Frankly, the traditional argument in favor of keeping Judaism matrilineal-only doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean, sure, this rule appears to have been around for a long time, but if we will change course on this right now, then in 1,000 or 2,000 or so years, bilineal Judaism is going to have just as long of a history and tradition as matrilineal Judaism is. After all, time keeps on moving forward.

    Also, genetically speaking, I haven’t heard of children being more similar to their mothers than to their fathers. Isn’t the genetic contribution from both 50-50? Thus, why stick to an outdated rule? Heck, even the argument about women being raped doesn’t work for this since, guess what, men can be victims of rape as well! Telling the children of male Jewish rape victims that they must convert while not telling this to the children of female Jewish rape victims sounds like an extremely offensive double-standard!

    In addition, the argument from tradition could likewise be used to keep bad aspects of other religions in place. For instance, I think that in Islam a woman’s testimony is worth less than that of a man. Should this tradition be kept because it was in place for so long–even if many people nowadays consider this tradition to be repulsive?

    Finally, I wonder how exactly Jewish law is going to rule in cases where we will develop artificial eggs and artificial sperm. For instance, if two men reproduce with the help of artificial eggs (without needing the genetic materials of anyone else), is the resulting child going to be halakhically Jewish? Would it depend on whether the man whose DNA was used to make these artificial eggs was Jewish? Or would it depend on whose womb this child developed in? Also, what about if it was an artificial womb?

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