Difficulties in conceiving, Jews and the death penalty and model daughters: this week’s Ask the Rabbi
• We’re desperate for a baby
My husband and I have been trying to have children naturally for three years and are now at the crossroads over how to proceed. We have been told it is unlikely we will conceive naturally. It makes me think this might be God’s plan. I hope not, as we are so desperate. Our options now include starting IVF treatment, surrogacy or adoption. What does Judaism say about these?
What you have had to contend with is not easy – but it is important to remain optimistic and positive as you contemplate your next steps. Everything that happens to us is part of a bigger divine plan, although it may be far from clear at the time!
Like any area of Jewish law, this one is subject to disagreement and debate. Rather than addressing each of the options, I am more comfortable encouraging you to discuss these with a sympathetic rabbinic mentor who can tailor the responses to you and also offer vital spiritual support.
• Jews and the death penalty
I have been watching a recent television series on death-row in the USA. What is the authentic Jewish position on capital punishment?
In Jewish law, the death penalty is more than actual. The numerous references to it in the Torah underscore the severity of certain transgressions rather than the expectation of death. This is bolstered by the standards of proof and evidence required for the passing of the death penalty, which have always been exceptionally stringent. Because of this, it was virtually impossible to inflict the death penalty.
The Mishnah famously declares: “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says that this extends to a Sanhedrin that puts a man to death even once in 70 years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death.” The fact is the rabbis did not like the idea of capital punishment, and interpreted the texts in a way that made the death penalty virtually non-existent.
So in practice the idea of killing someone for a crime they commit is frowned upon in the Jewish tradition. The 12th-century Jewish legal scholar Maimonides adds to this by saying: “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit 1,000 guilty persons than put a single innocent one to death.”
• My girl wants to be a model
My daughter was recently scouted by a model agency. It would be a really great opportunity for her and the family and it has been a dream of hers for some time, as it is for many other young girls. I don’t want to stop my daughter from pursuing this. However, I’m not sure how I feel about my daughter being used to sell things or, even, her body. How do you think we should proceed with this as an option for my daughter’s future?
One can see the conflict here. The Jewish view is that there will be very real modesty (Tzniut) issues in most types of modelling which draw attention to the feminine form.
The Torah approach is that women can do a great deal better than trading solely on their appearances. While modelling can perhaps be tempting as a perceived passport to financial success, in reality that is far from certain. It is, moreover, a rather short-lived wonder which will not provide long-term career prospects, as most women will not be able to continue even into their 30s.
My advice, therefore, would be to guide her in a different direction – one that will provide her with longer-term satisfaction and greater spiritual equilibrium.
• Coping with the outside world
I’ve always been intent on raising my family according to traditional Jewish values. I shepherded my daughters to shul each Shabbat, enrolled them in Jewish schools and encouraged them to keep kosher. My eldest just finished her first year at university, and came back with a non-Jewish boy in tow. How can I remind her of the importance of staying within the faith?
You are, alas, facing an age-old problem. On the one hand, we strive to inculcate good Jewish values and commitment into our children as they grow up.
Then on the other hand, we send them all out into the wider world largely on a wing and a prayer! At this point, the best approach is to strengthen your loving connection with her and use that to reinforce the importance of Judaism and Jewish identity. It is vital that this is done in a loving and supportive way without venom or drama if your child is to value what you say and not rebel.