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Single Women in Orthodox Judaism & artificial insemination


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Av 28, 5777
I have read that there are many women returning to Orthodox Judaism, but there are not always enough spouses for them. Can you be an Orthodox Jew and a single woman? Because you would not be able to perform the mitzvah of having children if you were single (unless you did it in an unscrupulous way). Nor would you be able to achieve any merit through your husband’s study of the Torah if you did not actually have a husband. So what happens in a community when there are more single women than single men? Is polygamy the answer? Because that seems rather depressing. Also what are Orthodox views on having children in non-natural ways: 1) sperm donation 2) in vitro fertilization 3) egg donation 4) surrogate mothers (rent a womb) 5) Test tube babies, etc.
The problem of having many single orthodox women is a very troubling one, for although it’s halachically ok (as opposed to men, women aren’t obligated to marry, and have only a rabbinic obligation to aid having children), it’s definitely not the ideal. One of the major causes is that women have a tendency to be more spiritual and religious, so most of those who “leave” tradition are men (who often shun discipline, preferring the liberal “wild life” and accordingly need more obligations, making it that much more difficult…), and most of those who “return” (through idealism and self-discipline) are women! What compounds the issue is that many modern-orthodox women “dance at both parties”, where they want the pleasures of Judaism (including the beautiful family life) and also those of the modern world (including careerism, Hollywood’s picture of love, frowning upon “matchmaking”-shidduchim, etc.), which to a certain extent, seemingly contradict. Mix this with today’s “Me Generation” of self-satisfaction which minimizes, rather than maximizes, the ideal of compromise, so-necessary in choosing a spouse and running a successful marriage, and we really have a problem, which is not just mathematical (more single women than men), but even essential. Thank God polygamy was halachically banned more than 1,000 years ago, and I can’t believe we will ever regress back to that sub-standard position for women and partnership. The issue is sometimes raised only theoretically, but is both undesirable and unrealistic for today’s world. In other words, we must all dedicate substantial time and effort to help try “setting-up” our single friends. In the meantime, single women can surely find some spiritual and religious fulfillment as teachers (especially Judaic), through community volunteering (also a good medium to find a thoughtful spouse!), and through women’s Torah study groups and especially prayer, song and dance. The Akeidat Yitzchak explains that Yakov was angry at Rachel (Breishit 30, 1-2), for what she minimized a Jewish woman’s spirituality to childbirth, ignoring her additional religious talents and needs, which are similar (though unique) to a man’s. Most of the methods of non-natural pregnancy are encouraged only within the framework of the Jewish family when a couple has difficulty conceiving. Most rabbis strongly oppose single woman getting pregnant artificially, out of concern for the unfortunate child who is pre-meditatively born into “orphan-hood”, not having a father. We are very sympathetic to the needs of the single women, but the solution can’t be through creating new problems for new children who are much weaker, regarding the character resources necessary for tackling difficulties, which a grown woman has at her disposal. Although there are some liberal orthodox rabbis who have allowed it for older single women, and those children will be accepted into most religious Jewish Day Schools, it is clearly not main-stream and the problems are numerous and obvious. It is (!) definitely recommended for a single woman approaching 40, to freeze eggs to aid conception when she finds her soul-mate, at an even more advanced age. May Hashem speedily answer all of our prayers and help us help all of our single sisters and brothers!
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