Film Portrayal of Infertility: Reproduction, Pregnancy Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Film Portrayal of Infertility

I recently saw the Israeli film "Kadosh." The story is set today in Mea Shearim, the Orthodox quarter of Jerusalem, and is concerned with the constraints that orthodoxy places, or can place, on personal freedom. The story revolves around two youngish people named Meir and Rivka who have been married for 10 years. They love each other, but they have no children.

Meir's rabbi tells him that, as a Jew ordered to propagate in order to fulfill the future, he must divorce Rivka and marry a fertile woman. Meir demurs; the rabbi insists. A doctor examines Rivka and finds that she is not barren; the doctor asks her to urge Meir to have a sperm count, an idea that is out of the question for him. The divorce proceeds, despite their love.

From everything I've learned, this strikes me as anything but normative Judaism. My understanding is that the sanctity of marriage is superior to the failure to propagate, and it would be unthinkable for a rabbi to force the breakup of a solid marriage.

If so, I intend to send a letter of complaint protesting this stereotyping of religious Jews. If not, I'd appreciate an explanation. Thanks.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The basic premise of the film – that a childless couple will be forced to divorce – is a simple misrepresentation of the facts. While such a law is indeed found in the Talmud, anyone well-versed in Jewish law knows there are many laws where the conditions are so numerous that the law is rarely – if ever – implemented.

The case in the movie is one such law. Due to the numerous complexities, no Jewish court today would force a divorce for reasons of infertility. This is stated explicitly in the Code of Jewish Law (Even Ha'Ezer 154:10) by the Rama, the leading authority in Jewish law in the past 500 years for all of Ashkenazi Jewry.

Marital intimacy is regarded by Jewish law as a holy act that a man is obligated to provide his wife regularly and lovingly, whether the act can yield a pregnancy or not.

Regarding the sperm count that you mentioned: According to the majority of great rabbis, it is permitted, under proper conditions, for a man to undergo a sperm count in the event that the couple is childless.

So why would the movie contain such factual inaccuracies? Unfortunately, it appears to be an outgrowth of the terrible factionalism that exists in Israel today. An interview with the film's Israeli director, Amos Gitai, quotes him as saying: "[The film is] my way of voting against the religious right."

Perhaps just as disturbing is how respected media outlets reviewed the film without challenging its misrepresentations. Whether wittingly or not, the media seems to have enlisted in the cause of spreading ire against observant Jews. The Jewish people are at a sensitive stage and we can ill afford to antagonize things further.

Yes, I think you ought to write a letter of complaint.

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