Torah Tidbits

30 July 2014 / 3 Av 5774
Issue 1042
Shabbat Parshat Emor
April 25, 2013

"From Machon Puah"

Between Conception and Birth

We saw last week the question raised by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l regarding performing a brit mila on Shabbat for a child who was conceived through assisted reproductive tech- niques, either insemination or in-vitro fertilization. His reasoning was connected to the statement of Rabbeinu Chananel that if the conception was unusual and a miraculous occurrence, such as getting pregnant in the bathtub, then the woman would not be considered impure after the birth and thus the brit mila would not be performed on Shabbat.
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef questions this halachic decision and Rabbeinu Chananel’s entire premise. He claims that Gemara, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch present cases where the circumcision does not push off Shabbat. The cases given are when there is a doubt as to whether the child was born on Shabbat, such as in the case of a child born after sunset on Friday evening but before halachic nightfall. There is a doubt regarding this in-between time, called Bein HaShmashot (twilight), and it is not completely deemed to be Shabbat. Another case is a child born with both male and female organs which is also a case of doubt as to whether the child is
male or female. Another case is the child delivered through a cesarean section.
The common denominator of all of these cases is that the doubt or the unusual circumstances occur around birth. However the classic sources do not present a case where the doubt or the unusual circumstances relate to conception.
It is true that the verses in the Torah link the “giving of seed” i.e. the conception, to the eventual birth and subsequent circumcision, as in the verses “a woman who gives seed and gives birth to a male child, she will be impure for seven days… And on the eighth day his foreskin shall be circumcised” - but the Gemara does not draw a clear continuum from the circumstances of conception to those of the birth. The first source to create this unbroken continuum is Rabbeinu Chananel and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef believes that this concept is novel, possible too novel. If the Gemara, Rambam or Shulchan Aruch believed that the conception influenced the eventual timing of the brit mila, they could have stated so, but since they ignore this point we can only conclude that they were concerned with the circumstances of the birth and not with those of the conception.
Therefore Rabbi Ovadiah is of the opinion that a child conceived through infertility treatment can be circumcised on Shabbat.  More on this next week

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman

The Puah Institute is based in Jerusalem and helps couples from all over the world who are experiencing fertility problems. Puah offers free counseling in five languages, halachic supervision, and educational programs. Offices in Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Contact: (02) 651-5050 (Isr). http://www.puahonline.org

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