Artificial Insemination in Jewish Law

Most rabbis permit artificial insemination using the husband's semen, but donor insemination raises more complicated questions.

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With regard to Jewish identity, it does not matter whether the donor of the semen is a Jew, for [traditional] Jewish law determines a person's Jewish identity according to the bearing mother. Since we are talking about the artificial insemination of a Jewish woman, her offspring are automatically Jewish, no matter how she came to be pregnant. Where a Jewish couple will be raising the child, he or she may be known in Hebrew as the son or daughter of the social parents. The more complicated questions of personal status regarding the possibility of incest in the next generation have been treated above.

Priestly status is determined by the biological father, for it is, according to the Torah, "the seed of Aaron" who are to perform the priestly duties. Therefore, if the donor is known to be, respectively, a kohen, levi, or yisrael, the child has that status as well. If the donor's priestly status is not known, which is usually the case, the child is treated as a yisraelon a default basis. […]

As for inheritance, would the child of DI inherit from the sperm donor, the husband (the social father), neither, or both? While significant claims of justice, deep emotional feelings, and serious sums of money can all be at stake in deciding who is legally the father of a DI child, matters of inheritance are governed in the Americas and in Europe by civil law, not Jewish law. […]

What Jewish law does determine, though, is whether a Jewish man fulfills the commandment to be fruitful and multiply if he consents to have his wife impregnated with another man's semen, if his own semen is artificially implanted in his wife's uterus, or if he himself is a semen donor.

By and large, rabbis who have ruled on these matters thus far have maintained that for the purposes of this commandment, the father is the man who provides the semen. That would make a man who impregnates his wife through artificial insemination (AIH) the father of his child in Jewish law, and it would also make a semen donor the father of any children born through the use of his semen. On the other hand, it would deny the status of fatherhood [with regard to the issues in Jewish law raised above] to men who consent to have their wives impregnated with donor semen.

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Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is Rector and Sol and Anne Dorff Professor of Philosophy at the American Jewish University in California.