Elchanan Poupko

Braving Fertility Treatments During the Chagim

A lab at Ben-Gurion University (Courtesy)

There are not many friendly meetings or phone calls that make me cry. Yet there is one that usually takes place around the High Holidays when speaking to rabbis that are far above my league. Having written and researched in the past on the topic of “halachic supervision” in fertility treatments, I spoke to them, shared some of the statistics on how rarely mishaps happen, and the opinions of the many poskim that believe the supervision process is wholly unnecessary. When speaking to them, I hear: “you know, a couple came to me, told me they had a treatment cycle during the Chagim in a way that is permitted and even required to go on the Chag, and asked me what to do since there was no supervision available to them. I remembered our conversation and told them they do not need supervision and can go for their treatment”.

While all of us can, easily or not, take days off during the many holidays in the coming month, individuals undergoing fertility treatments cannot and should not postpone many of their treatments. Many of those struggling with bringing a child to this world are working against a cruel and unstoppable enemy–time. They do not have years to spare. It may be because they have upcoming cancer treatments and they would like to preserve their fertility, it could be because of their coming close to the end of their body’s ability to reproduce, and it could be because of geographic or economic circumstances. Either way, it cannot always be postponed.

Even those who do subscribe to the thinking that “halachic supervision” is required during fertility treatments cannot easily, or not at all, arrange for an orthodox “Mashgiach/a to be present at the clinic they are going to on Yom Tov. It is one thing to ask someone to travel once for a few hours away from their family; it is a whole other thing to ask them to spend Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Sukkot away from their family for one or two procedures with all the logistics that come with spending Yom Tov away from home. Addressing this issue to Rabbi Zalman Nechemya Goldberg on this topic, he ruled that as long as the physician/clinic knows these parents are more likely to do genetic testing, there is no need for “halachic supervision” during the procedure.

So when I hear from other rabbis, before or after the Yamim Tovim, that there have been couples able to pursue their dream of having a child also thanks raised awareness to the ability to use clinics with no “halachic supervision” or the social restrictions some communities have imposed for themselves on this difficult process, I know my work here is done.

And if you are not affected by this conversation, remember that someone you know is. The season of the Holidays and Yamim Tovim is especially difficult for those struggling with childlessness, both out of choice or not. Make sure you reach out to those people–include them in your holiday plans in one way or another, and let them know they are not alone.

To those going through this difficult phase during the Chagim, know that while we may not see you or have any idea of what you are going through, we love you, you are part of us, and we are there with you. You do not owe anyone an explanation or an apology. It may be someone walking quietly out of synagogue needing to go through a cycle of shots, someone having to be away from their family because of a transfer, or someone not able to go to shul at all for various reasons. We love you, and you will get through this. May this new year bring you the good news you have been waiting for.

To those facing childlessness for whatever reason, it may be or any kind of loss: like Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Naomi, and so many of our greatest leaders, your pain is as real as it gets. We love you, stand with you, and know that your pain is part of the story of the Jewish people in general and the High Holidays in particular. May this year be an easier one. One that brings with it goodness, happiness, fulfillment, and good breakthroughs.

Shana Tova!

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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