Jewishness and surrogate motherhood

Any child born to a Jewish mother is a Jew, but what is the Jewish defination of mother? If an embryo is created using a Jewish woman’s egg and inplanted in a gentile; is the resulting child Jewish? What the a gentile’s egg is used to create an embryo that is implanted in a Jewish woman; is that child Jewish?

IANAR (nor a geneticist for that matter) but the jews have their own genetically-identifiable race, and subsequently I would define the embryo in your example as jewish.

No, we don’t. It’s entirely possible to convert to Judaism- a Jewish child could have two parents who were born non-Jewish and converted. When Mr. Neville and I have kids someday, they will be Jewish, but only one of their parents will have been born Jewish. Adopted children can also be converted to Judaism.

Here’s an opinion from a rabbi in Israel on this question

In Genesis, Hagar (the world’s first recorded surrogate mother, perhaps) was not a Hebrew but her son was considered that of Sarah, until he wasn’t. I wonder how this would come into being.

No-one has a “genetically-identifiable race”. And certainly not someone just because they subscribe to a religion (although jews do have genetically similar tendancies resulting from the ‘business rules’ of that religion relating to marriage). says that race can mean “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock”. It gives other definitions which I believe would be suitable too:

3 a : an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group b : BREED c : a division of mankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinct human type

Jews, by in large, fall into the above definitions.

xiix, let’s clear up some misconceptions and some semantics before you get crucified for promulgating ignorance on the SDMB.

Many long years ago, the word race (as used in English) meant any group of people who were bound together by an appeal to a(n often legendary) “founding father.” Using that definition, the Jews are the “race” of Abraham, the Irish are the “Milesian race,” (Since Milesius of Spain was supposed to have been the father of the people who, in legend, invaded Ireland three thousand years ago.)

When, in the eighteenth century, Linnaeus was looking for ways to put all the people in the world in nice safe categories to make his naming structure work, he borrowed the word “race.” So we then had two meanings for the word, united only in etymology.

Through the nineteenth century, as various ethnographers attempted to nail down exactly how to categorize all the people in the world, they began to (foolishly) use the word “race” to identify nationalities (presuming, erroneously, that nationalities were generally homogeneous collections of people descended from specific tribes). So now we had three meanings for the word race that were related by etymology, but which did not actually mean the same things.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of history (both in terms of migrations of peoples and in terms of the self-aggrandizing nationalism of the ninteenth century that infected even members of the scientific community) has always been aware that the third definition of the word was simply nonsense. Where does one find an “English race” amid the ancient Britons and Celts, overlaid by the invasions of Romans, Saxons, Angles, Danes, Normans, etc.? How does one identify a “French race” when we know that the early Celts/Gauls have suffered invasions by Romans, Huns, Goths, Vandals (passing through), Norse, and a host of other tribes? Any use of the word “race” to identify a nation is useful only as a historical relic of a failed system that never rose to the level of science.

With the development of the science of genetics, people then began trying to use it to identify the boundaries of the various Linnaean “races.” However, the genetic evidence actually destroyed the Linnaean structure. There are no large groups of humans who are sufficiently biologically distinct as to merit the term “race.” In biology, today, race is recognized only as a sloppy characterization based on superficial characteristics with no basis in biological reality. (There are smaller groups of related persons categorized in biology as populations, but there are no biological “races.” The dictionary only carries that meaning of the word because it entered the language at a time when some scientists erroneously thought that “race” was a genuine construct. It is a historical artifact in the language that has no meaning in biology.)

So, while the Jewish people may be viewed as the “children” of Abraham and called the “Jewish race” (using the earliest, non-scientific meaning, in which all members of the group are the spiritual descendants of Abraham), there is no legitimate use of the word “race” to identify a “genetically-identifiable race” of Jews.

Now, 2,500 years of oppression and segregation have, indeed, resulted in a fair amount of endogamous breeding. This means that there are many genetic markers that appear within groups of Jews. However, there have been too many converts to Judaism over the years (and sufficient numbers of persons who abandoned Judaism for one reason or another) to be able to provide a “genetically-identifiable race” of Jews (even if the word “race” could be legitimately used in regards to any group of humans–which it cannot).

tomndebb: I take my hat off to you and your thorough explanation of the flaws in my logic. I have officially been schooled. That being said, I continue to feel that there is something significant about the idea of a ‘jewish race’. For the purposes of addressing the OP, what I was trying to point out is that there exist unique traits and phenotypes (in the Dawkins sense of the term) that jews often posess, perhaps the same ones that a certain german leader wanted to erase through eugenics.

I will leave it to the biblical scholars to address the hallachic issues brought about by artificial insemination & surogate moms, but what I maintain is that the essence of the unique ‘jewishness’ (OP’s term) is maintained in the process.

However, that is the problem. If a woman converts to Judaism, her children are Jewish. Her ethnic identity could be anything, Scandinavian, Arapahoe, Khoisan, or Fiji Islander, and her children will still be Jewish. Hitler’s schemes were based on the failed pseudo-science of the 19th century ethnographers, so that muddies the water if we are talking about identifying actual hallachic law.

Now, it is true that endogamous marriages among the principal populations of Jews have led to a higher “relatedness” (clusters of peoples with similar mtDNA or Y-chromosome trains) among groups such as the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, and the Mizrahim. However, each Jewish man or woman who has married outside the faith has taken those same y-chromosomes or mtDNA out into the general population, so a successful test on a “known” Jewish chromosome could easily show a false positive.* Similarly, each convert has brought separate genes into the groups identified as Jewish. Had Benjamin Disraeli had children, they would have carried his “Jewish” genes, but they would not have been Jewish. There are genetic diseases that are far more common among “Jews” than the general population, but, for example, Tays-Sachs is also endemic among certain groups of French Canadians, but is not common among Sephardic Jews. Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Wilson did not add any “Jewish” genes to their children. If Mare Winningham ever has more children (following her conversion), they will not carry a Jewish gene, although they will be Jewish. (Her current kids were born before her conversion, so they are not Jewish unless they choose to convert.)

So, while we can start with a known Jewish population and find a lot of related genetic material, we can’t start with the general population and find the Jews.

  • (The issue of a woman who carries the mtDNA of her great x8 grandmother who was forcibly converted to Christianity and none of whose female ancestors in all those ten subsequent generations ever practiced (or was aware of) Judaism is pertinent to this discussion, but I will refrain from making any declaration as to whether she is Jewish, pleading ignorance of the actual hallachic rules.)

I do hope you meant educated and not disciplined. The topic is frequently a hot one on these boards (both in regards to race, generally, and to the identity of Jews in particular) and I was simply hoping to head off any heated responses by folks with emotional investment in the topic.

Damn you, Tom! Now we can’t yell at the boy!

But seriously, it also has to be pointed out that when people refer to a Jewish Race (hear those caps thud into place?) they tend to think exclusively of eastern European Jews such as the classic Lower East Side immigrants from Poland and the Baltics and so forth.

But that ain’t all of Judaism by any account. There are Jews from Ethiopia, Jews from the Middle East, and so forth. Heck, I seem to recall hearing of a group of South Ameircan natives who were converted by a Jew who was part of one of the convoys during the age of exploration.

Does anyone honestly think that those groups would share significant genetic traits that wouldn’t also be shared by the human population as a whole?

I’m a Jew. Woot. And I look at northern European as can be. I don’t look much like a Polish Jew or an Ethiopian Jew. Would you seriously argue that we share sufficient genetic traits to be able to classify us as a group through looking at our chromosomes?

Paper on genetic origins of Jewish populations. Most converts to Judaism today are female, and it looks like the phenomenon of women joining the Jewish tribe and having Jewish kids isn’t a new one.

To answer the OP’s question - IIRC, the only thing that’s relevant to the Jewishness of the child is the identity of the egg donor. As far as Judaism is concerned, the surrogate has no more status than a wet nurse (although helping a couple concieve is obviously a major mitzva).

I’m still reeling at the part about incest (from the link). I had never given it any thought until now.

Is there a Jewish Womb Bank that a couple could apply to? Seems it would fix the problem the OP is talking about.

Thank you.