A side effect of this situation is that many women marry at an older age, when their fertility drops. This fact has already created a sub-culture of single religious mothers, who got pregnant from a sperm donation without a partner.
Most Orthodox rabbinical authorities do not approve of a sperm donation to an unmarried woman. On the other hand, however, they fail to offer her a different alternative – leading to infertility caused by spinsterhood.
A Jerusalem synagogue recently hosted an event on fertility preservation for single religious women in a bid to present them with the existing halachic solutions, such as egg freezing, and the technological innovations for improving fertility.
The event was initiated by social worker Dina Kazhdan, and was attended by Rabbi Menachem Burstein, head of Jewish fertility organization Puah, halachic advisor Rabanit Gila Hazan, and Dr. Dror Meirow, who leads the fertility preservation program at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center.
Egg freezing according to Halacha
"Fertility preservation is a move which is not done to begin with," clarifies Rabbi Burstein. "It's a move that should be taken only under circumstances like spinsterhood or following a disease.
"There are religious single women who were interested in children and turned to artificial insemination, but no high-ranking religious authority permits such an insemination. Some see it as a serious halachic problem. Even those who do not forbid it admit that happiness cannot be brought to one person at the expense of another, and a father figure is still important for a child."
Rabbi Burstein plans to suggest an appropriate solution: "There are several possibilities for fertility preservation. There's embryo freezing, but that option is only possible for married women. It's possible to freeze ovary parts, and in the past year a new option is available in Spain and in Israel – egg freezing.
"In the past they didn't know how to preserve eggs, but now it's a well-known technology. Last January, the Health Ministry decided to allow women aged 30 to 41 to freeze their eggs and use them until the age of 54.
"We suggest that every woman over the age of 32 freeze her eggs. My recommendation is that if she has money, she should do it in Spain, as Israel doesn't have sufficient knowledge in this field. If she doesn't have that option, she should wait a year or two for the knowledge to be gained.
"I plan to suggest that women freeze their eggs under halachic supervision, meaning that if they don't get married they won't use them."
Rabbi Burstein has often seen men who are afraid to marry older women for fear that they won't have children. He promises them that if they want to, they can even have 10 kids.
"When I meet with a couple with such a problem, I tell them that they'll have kids, and that even if the woman is no longer fertile - she'll be able to give birth with an egg donation," the rabbi explains.
"Eighty-two percent of the men I have made such an agreement with managed to conceive a child naturally. The rest are from egg donations. In most cases, by the way, the man is the one who gave up on the 10 children dream."
Rabbi Burstein took part in the event out of a great desire to encourage women. "I wanted to tell the women that the rabbis love them, and that we are aware of their distress and want to help them. I believe rabbis must provide a solution for the problem, and women must know that they can turn to rabbis. It's our duty to help them."
'Haredi society cannot ignore situation'
"The spinsterhood phenomenon in the religious world is growing," says Kazhdan. "Medicine has extended our life expectancy, but has failed to prolong the egg's freshness, so that at the age of 36 there is a dramatic drop. Therefore, a woman who doesn't want to give up on motherhood must make a decision at a certain age.
"Our problem is that people are afraid to deal with single women's fertility problem and prefer to close the door on them, but acting that way is like using violence against them.
"The religious society doesn't like talking about problems related to the human body. If a woman mentions an egg, people look at her as if she spoke about a sexual organ.
"This event is aimed at demanding cooperation. The religious society cannot continue ignoring and silencing women's anxieties."