The Guides:

Mazornet, Inc. is proud to present its newest guide to Judaism.

"Infertility - A Jewish Perspective"
Rivka C. Berman
Yael Rosenberg, Editor 

An attempt is made to present the perspective of the major streams of Judaism in an effort to deem this guide practical and its resources helpful to all Jews.



Biblical accounts of fertility travails most always ended with a happy resolution. As each woman coped with infertility, the Torah records and validates an array of emotions, among them jealousy and depression.


God told her husband, Abraham, that he would father descendants who would outnumber the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). Sarah knew all about the prophecy and as she became old and still no baby arrived, she encouraged her husband to be with her maid, Hagar, so he could have children with her. Sarah utilized Hagar as a sort of surrogate, giving her the opportunity to bear children with Abraham. However rather than expressing gratitude to Sarah, Hagar taunted Sarah and demeaned her for her inability to conceive. “When [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes (Genesis 16:5). Three angels and one miracle later her son Isaac arrived (Genesis 21:1).


Sarah’s daughter-in-law Rebecca (Rivkah) faced a similar trial, she did not conceive for the first twenty years of her marriage to Isaac. The Talmud (Yebamot 64a) identifies Isaac as the one with the fertility issues. Prayer worked for the couple, and Rebecca conceived. Though having to bear a difficult pregnancy, Rebecca was awarded with twin sons Jacob and Esau, who became patriarchs of the Jewish and Edomite nations respectively.



In the next generation, the complexities of fertility vs. infertility were played out between two of Jacob’s four wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah. “And when God saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb and Rachel was barren.” During biblical times, generations after that and even in certain circles today, women were valued for their ability to bear children – especially boys. Leah gives birth to four boys, and Rachel is consumed with envy. She pleads with Jacob: “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:2). To encourage Rachel to pray to God Jacob responds “Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of your belly.”

God does finally listen to Rachel beseeching prayers as she has to first bear the shame of not only her sister having more sons, but their respective maids as well.
“God remembered Rachel and God heard her and God opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22). After giving birth, Rachel says: “God has taken away my shame.”


Manoah’s Wife

Samson, one of the judges of Israel, turned warrior who fought bravely against the Philistines, was also the offspring of a couple who struggled many years with infertility. Manoah and his wife were childless for many years, and they too turned to prayer for salvation.

After years of prayer, an angel appears to Samson’s mother and says “Now you are barren and have not given birth. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son.” There are conditions and stipulations associated with this promise. The angel leaves explicit instructions on how this child is to be raised, as well as how the mother is to behave during the pregnancy, since that too would affect the growing fetus. The angel returns at Manoah’s request to verify what he had told his wife, and shortly thereafter the woman conceives and later bears a son she names Samson.
“And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the spirit of the Lord began to move him…” (Judges 13:24-25)



The great prophet Samuel was also conceived by a women who had to contend with infertility for many years. Hannah was married to Elkana, who had a second wife named Penina. Unlike Hannah who was barren, Penina was very fertile, Talmudic commentators speculate that she had as many as seven children. While taunted by Penina, Hannah was showered with love and concern by her husband, who tried to assuage her pain.

Three times a year the family would trek to Jerusalem to partake in the festivities of the three Jewish Holidays of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. On one of those occasions, Hannah ventured on her own to the temple courtyard. There she wept and beseeched God to bless her with child. She promised, as she feverishly prayed, that if she bore a son, she would dedicate him to serving God. Eli, the high priest was watching the distraught Hannah as she poured her heart to God, mumbling the prayer thought her drunk. It was only after she explained her plight and her woeful plea to God that Eli promised to pray for her to have her wish granted. Hannah conceived soon after and bore a son who was become the great prophet Samuel anointer of two great Jewish kings, Saul and David.



Why did God put the trial of infertility before so many major figures of the Torah? “God desires to hear the prayers of the righteous,” answer the rabbis of the Talmud. While many descriptions of infertility are explained this way, there are some instances where infertility is thought to come as a result of Divine displeasure.

Generations later, there is another allusion to infertility as punishment. Michal, daughter of King Saul, criticized her husband King David for dancing wildly before the Ark of the Lord as it was returned to Jerusalem. “As the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul look out of the window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him for it (2 Samuel 6:16). After rebuking him for acting without regal composure, the verses continue. “And to her dying day, Michal daughter of Saul had no children” (2 Samuel 6:23).

Even those who believe in Divine reward and punishment would not have the audacity to identify a personal shortcoming as God’s reason for causing infertility. “Even if a person would live thousands of years, one could never understand God’s accounting” (Yah Ribbon Olam, a Sabbath song).

Michal’s predicament could better be explained as a result of marital discord than a reproductive problem. Isn’t it logical that David could have ended his sexual relationship with Michal after she chastised him? This is especially since he had several other wives, including the beautiful Bathsheba to occupy his time.