By Rabbi Amanda Golby
4th Tevet 5774 ~ 7th December 2013
Shabbat Times (London) begins 15:38 ends 16:46
I sincerely hope the day never comes when I cease to be moved by
the account we read this Shabbat of Joseph revealing his true
identity to his brothers. The Joseph stories may have made a
good musical, but I cannot help feeling that the original text
is even better.
Moved by Judah’s eloquent plea, Joseph is unable to restrain
himself. He sends all the attendants away, and says to his
brothers: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold to Egypt, and
now, do not be troubled... because you sold me here, for it was
to save lives that God sent me ahead of you...
So it was not you who sent me here but God’.
And yet, despite the emotion, complex questions remain, and one
concerns our reactions to learning that the brothers’ bad deed,
in selling Joseph into slavery, had a good end.
Can it really be said that the pain suffered by Jacob in
believing his son dead was truly ‘for the good’? We wonder how
the brothers remembered their action in the intervening years,
though clearly their concern about Benjamin, suggests they had
Each one of us may at times act wrongly. Can we rely on it being
part of a Divine plan, or do we need to take responsibility for
our actions from the outset?
We are neither Joseph nor his brothers. We need to try to take
responsibility for our actions at all times. However there is a
difference between the things we do and the things which are
done to us, the things which happen to us, on our complex
journey through life.
We cannot rely on something we know to be wrong being part of
God’s plan, but when things happen, we need to try to respond to
them in the best possible way. We all know of far too much pain
and suffering. I do not think that most readers of Masorti
Judaism’s ‘Reflections’ are able to say ‘it is God’s will’,
without further questioning, but it is very likely that most
readers are looking for a way of putting pain and suffering
within a religious context.
And I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Dr Georg Salzberger z’l,
grandfather of Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg: ‘Do we not all make
the experience that the most precious possessions we call our
own must be gained by fight and suffering and pain? We should
not know how to estimate their true value, if they fell into our
lap without endeavour... We just do not know whether what we
call an evil fate will not later prove to be good fortune....It
is this deep, religious thought with which Joseph consoles his
brothers: ‘You indeed thought to do evil unto me, but God has
thought it for good’.
As we are once again moved by the story of Joseph and his
brothers, as we prepare, after next Shabbat, to leave the
complexities of the Book of Bereshit
behind for another year, may we too remember that what
happens to us, however difficult it can sometimes be to
appreciate it, may be ‘for the good’, and to try to respond
Rabbi Amanda Golby is a member of NNLS. She has just
begun a Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology, which she
is hoping will lead to showing many ways in which those who are,
for example, ill, bereaved or carers, can find positive help in
the Chagim, rather than just seeing them as a very difficult
The debate on donor insemination revisited
By Matt Plen
week we published a
(responsum) by Rabbi David Golinkin on the subject of artificial
insemination for single women.
Certain aspects of the article caused a great deal of
offence to many members of our communities and I would like to
take this opportunity to apologise sincerely for the hurt
caused. While Rabbi
Golinkin is one of the most prominent Masorti halachic
authorities – he has served for many years as chair of the
Israeli movement’s Halacha Committee - this
does not reflect the views of most Masorti rabbis in this
country and was not intended to represent the official position
of Masorti Judaism in the UK.
An alternative approach to the same issue has been published by
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly’s
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) in the United
States. While Rabbi Dorff’s approach has been unanimously
endorsed by the CJLS, it is presented here not as our official
position, but to give a sense of the diversity of opinion and
the range of nuanced approaches to this issue within the Masorti
Rabbi Dorff begins by dealing with the question of donor
insemination (DI) in relation to married couples, before
examining separately the issues surrounding single parenthood.
Initially, he addresses and disposes of three legal
concerns raised in connection with DI: the suspicion that it
constitutes a form of adultery (he robustly argues that it does
not), the ambiguity around the question of whether the sperm
donor or the social father is the legal parent (this question is
not neatly resolved, but Rabbi Dorff is clear that it need not
pose an obstacle to DI), and the danger that anonymous sperm
donation might lead to unintentional incest in the next
On this final point, Rabbi Dorff notes that while many Orthodox
couples prefer to use sperm from a non-Jewish donor to eliminate
the chance of halachically-defined incest (Jewish law does not
recognise family lineage among non-Jews through the father’s
line), other Jews have tended to request sperm from a Jewish
donor. He comments:
“The motivations for that tendency may be many, but undoubtedly
for some people insemination by a non-Jew smacks of
intermarriage, and others probably hold an ethnic notion of
Jewish identity and want a Jewish donor for reasons not unlike
the Orthodox arguments against polluting the Jewish biological
line…. Whether used by the Orthodox or more liberal groups
within Judaism, this line of reasoning is clearly rooted in
exclusivist and frankly racist understandings of Jews and
non-Jews, views to which contemporary Jews should not be party.
Indeed, they should feel embarrassed for even thinking
such things, let alone using them in their decisions about
overcoming infertility” (p 70).
Next Rabbi Dorff moves on to moral concerns associated with DI.
He dismisses the idea that DI is in any way connected
with sexual licentiousness and engages in a nuanced discussion
of the serious impact of donor insemination on the relationship
between parent/s and child and between husband and wife, before
concluding that “these concerns should not … lead to a
prohibition of donor insemination” (p 82).
On the contrary, Rabbi Dorff emphasises two moral issues
which militate in favour of DI for married couples: the need to
enable Jewish couples to reproduce in order to address concerns
of Jewish demography, and the importance of compassion, both for
the couples who opt for these procedures and for those who
choose not to.
Finally, Rabbi Dorff addresses the specific issues of single,
gay and lesbian parenthood.
Three quotations will serve to illustrate his approach:
“Jewish law clearly assumes that it is best for children to have
parents of both genders, for it describes different roles for
mothers and fathers.
Furthermore, psychological studies reaffirm the importance of
fathers in the raising of a child…. Current research indicates
that children, on average, do indeed do worse with one parent
rather than with two, but only when the single parent is
isolated as the only caregiver for the child.
If the parent has sufficient funds to hire help or if, in
poor as well as rich families, there is a strong network of
support from family and friends, children do no worse, on
average, than they do with two parents” (pp 112-114).
“The families created by gay and lesbian parents are clearly
different in configuration from those run by heterosexual mates,
but they are full-fledged families, providing the structure,
discipline, and love that one would hope for in any family.
Therefore, as one would expect, there is no evidence that
children growing up with gay or lesbian parents are, as a group,
any less well adjusted than children growing up with
heterosexual parents” (p 141-2).
“At bottom, we must acknowledge that these family configurations
made possible by medical assistance and by increasing social
acceptance of single parenthood are very new for all of us.
The psychological and social implications of creating
families in these new ways are still far from clear, and thus a
formal ruling regarding them on behalf of the Jewish tradition
is premature. The
parameters of such a decision, though, are not in doubt: we Jews
clearly need to have more children, and we want them to grow up
in environments that offer them the psychological, educational
and economic support that will enable them to become
well-adjusted and productive members of society as well as
active Jews” (p 114).
All quotations from Elliot Dorff, Matters of Life and
Death: a Jewish approach to modern medical ethics (Philadelphia:
For specific guidance on these
sensitive issues, please consult your rabbi.
To download last weeks Reflections, click here