They waited patiently, put their faith in the Lord, but when they turned 40, they started to lose hope that the knight in shining armor would show up. Their biological clock was ticking and the time has come to decide between life without a family and defying the norms and realizing their dreams of motherhood. In recent years, the phenomenon has been expanding: Orthodox women choose to become single mothers - a daring act, particularly in the religious sector.
Naama Eilat (41), an accountant, was the only woman who was willing to be identified in name. "I've got nothing to hide," she smiled. "I believe it is important for religious women to gain strength and hear clear things."
She did it twice and today raises Alon (3) and twins Tamar and Shlomit (1).
"The main problem of religious women who wants to have children without a partner is fear of their surroundings and that it may not be entirely kosher. I am not authorized to speak about the Halakic view and, to my regret, the rabbis are not expected to issue an authorization for single mothers any time soon. On the other hand, Halakah does not really have a problem with that. The rabbis do not have a Halakic problem. They worry about the social aspect, fearing this might impair on the matrimonial institution and create a situation where people think lightly of marriage.
"I believe they fear too much because starting a family alone is not an easy decision to make. Most women would rather have a male partner - it is the natural way for the women and for the children. I think of choice the choice I made as a mere change of schedule. That is, normally you would choose a spouse and than start a family, but I - for lack of a better choice - reversed the order of things. I still believe paring up is important. I am not breaking the rules. I was forced to go this way.
"It is very hard to decide to start a family on your own. It takes courage, mental strength, and giving up on many things. I care a lot about my immediate surrounding, and I was blessed with a supporting family and support from the place where my children are raised and educated."
Now or Never
A., a religious lawyer from central Israel, decided to bring a child into this world when she was 40-something. "Regrettably, I did not find my knight in shining armor. I felt that if I waited another moment, I would never have a family or children. Biological constraints made it all too clear - it was now or never.
"When I decided to start the process, my family and friends, most of whom are religious, greatly supported me, including some elderly and observant women that I did not expect to support such a dramatic decision." A. has three children today: a boy (6) and twins (1).
Where do the children go to school?
"My children found a place in a regular religious kindergarten - neither Reformist nor Conservative. The teachers and the other children treat them and me very well."
Do the children ask about their father?
A. paused before she spoke about this sensitive issue. "Look," she said, "one day I heard children asking my boy, 'What? You don’t have a father?' I said, 'Yes, we don’t.' 'Then who says the Kiddush?' they asked. 'In our home, mom does,' I said.
How do you explain this to your children?
"When my eldest was 3, I told him that when I could not find a partner, I went to the doctor and he helped me bring a child. He is not bothered with more. I sometime hear him react very naturally to his friends: 'You don’t know that in our family we don’t have a father? You are such a joker.'"
From the Halakah point of view, there could be two main problems: The donor might be a bastard (momzer) - a child born to a married Jewish woman from a Jewish man who is not her husband. If this is the case, his child is a bastard too and cannot marry a Jew. Many single mothers, therefore, choose non-Jewish donors. The other problem is that if a donor's sperm was used to impregnate several women, hypothetically there might be a situation where children from the same father - namely, siblings - may wish to marry each other, unknowingly.
How did you deal with these problems?
"I did not think about momzers. I wanted my children to have a Jewish father, with a whole Jewish soul."
Could this be a problem for your children when they want to marry?
"I very much hope not. I expect the rabbis to come up with a solution. Sperm banks could provide the Rabbinate with several digits from the donor's ID to make sure that children of the same father never marry each other. This could also solve the momzer problem."
Willing to Pay the Price
S., an ultra-Orthodox woman whose modest dress follows Jerusalem's Lithuanian neighborhood codes, is 40 and has tried a few inseminations. "I will keep trying until I succeed," she said with determination.
When did you decide to start?
"I always thought that if I am not married by the time I am 30, I would do something, but the truth is that I did not dare. Some 18 months ago, my sister told me she was pregnant, and then it hit me. I realized I was already 40 years old. I did not know where to start at first, but I found a forum of single religious mothers on the Internet and received initial information from them."
How did your family react?
"My family is secular, though my mother had some reservations. I believe, however, that once I have that child, she would support me all the way."
How do your ultra-Orthodox friends react?
"In various ways. For example, I have a friend who does not approve, to say the least, but in the meantime she still invites me for Sabbath. I am not sure this will go on once my pregnancy starts showing. I have taken this under consideration and I am willing to pay the price. Another ultra-Orthodox friend correctly said that even if a child born to a couple of parents, there is no guarantee he would be happier."
S. made two unusual decisions: to get inseminated, and to find a partner and not go to the sperm bank.
Why did you choose not to go to the sperm bank, like other religious single women?
"I considered both options for insemination, the bank or a partner. I asked at the Pua Center, a religious institute with a team of rabbis and doctors who specialize in fertility issues, whether a single woman can be inseminated according to Halacha. They told me that a Jewish donor could be a problem. I started asking around about a non-Jewish donor, but it was not simple because there was none where I lived. Then I started thinking about a partner. I worried about the child's future, knowing he will ask about his father one day. I felt it is important for the child to have a father figure he could be in touch with."
How do you find a partner like that?
"Simple. I found one on the Net."
What did you find out about him?
"First of all, he is Jewish. I saw him, and he looks good. He is very reliable, has a steady job, showed up for every insemination we scheduled, and has been fully cooperative."
Are you considering a parental agreement?
"No. I trust him fully. We agreed on everything, and it is all going easy and with a fantastic emotional match. I am not afraid this would change. We both have a strong desire to have a child, so this is clean between us. Incidentally, he is not religious."
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a religious-Zionist leader, is known for his special sensitivity and is one of the most important Halakic rulers of our generation.
How does the Halakah view insemination from a non-Jewish donor?
"Certain rulers maintain that if a girl is born, she may not marry a Cohen, but most of them have ruled against this. This is even easier than conversion, where a non-Jewish child converts to Judaism. In this case, the child is born Jewish because his mother is.
"The other issue is waste of sperm. Halakah rules against wasting sperm, that is - men are not allowed to release sperm for purposes other than procreation. The thing is that single women are not obligated to procreate; only married men have that duty. Still, certain rulers allowed that, stating that in this case, sperm is used for procreation, hence it is not considered wasted.
"The main problem is a moral one. Some rulers feared that artificial insemination of single women is immoral, since there is fear that a woman might fornicate, become pregnant, and claim the child is from insemination. There is an even greater fear - that the positive, healthy family structure of a mother, a father, and children might be ruined. A fatherless child grows with frustrations and complexes."
How does the Halacah view such a child?
"The Jewish Halacah calls such a child a 'silenced child' because when he asks his mother about his father, she silences him. A couple of parents give a child the stability he needs, like standing on two feet. A silenced child stands on one foot and is actually an orphan. The Torah pities orphans and the Lord is the father of all orphans. Still, here we create an orphan with our own hands. It is even worse than an orphan because an orphan had a father, a figure he could identify with and refer to, while here he only has a void."
What about the pain of single women, their freedom, their right to have a good and satisfying life?
"Obviously, having a child is not only an egoistic need of the single woman. It is also grace, but such a grace should be seen through in a way that does not create problems to begin with. The leading Halachic principle in this case looks at what is best for the child. A child is not his parents' property. There is no denying that single women have a problem, but you do not solve one problem by creating another. You do not do the right thing while doing something wrong, while sinning. I would recommend that single women adopt a child. This would be an act of grace for a lonely child who already lives and needs someone to look after him."