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Kosher IVF helps Orthodox Jews 'be fruitful and multiply'

Ham and cheese – not kosher. Most people know about kosher food. But is there such a thing as kosher IVF?

Actually, yes. Hospitals and doctors across the country are becoming increasingly familiar with how to provide in-vitro fertilization under the restrictions of Jewish law.

Orthodox Jews strictly observe Jewish law, which covers apects of life big and small, from food restrictions to Sabbath observance. “Be fruitful and multiply” may ring a bell to those with passing Biblical familiarity -- most Orthodox couples hope and expect to have big families. So assisted reproductive technology is OK by Jewish law, but such measures have to comply with certain restrictions to be "kosher."

Dr. Michael Feinman, a fertility expert at HRC Fertility near Los Angeles, says there are many issues Orthodox Jewish couples must face when they turn to modern medicine to help them have a baby. Treatments scheduled on Shabbat (Friday sundown through Saturday sundown) can take place, for example, but couples must find lodging nearby so as to not have to travel on the Sabbath.

Feinman said some organizations employ additional supervisors – mostly female -- to verify that the correct sperm and egg are mixed. (Of course, that should happen at every fertility clinic -- but kosher IVF adds another layer of supervision.) Sometimes, in kosher IVF, these supervisors go so far as to watch the egg retrieval process to ensure accuracy in the identity of the mother. “Supervision and verification of the process makes it kosher,” Feinman said – which makes sense, since it’s the supervision and verification of the process that makes prepared food kosher as well.

The female supervisors, Feinman said, can give medical and emotional assistance to female Orthodox patients who are more sensitive to modesty concerns.

Feinman, who has spent much of his career involved with discussions of the Jewish ethics of reproductive medicine, notes that Orthodox Jewish couples “don’t stand out from a volume point of view,” but that their concerns about IVF and the way they approach the process often differ from other couples.

“An interesting paradox in the Orthodox world is the secondary infertility group – people who have children already and want more,” Feinman said. “The average non-religious family would be happy with two or three children and wouldn’t think of going through IVF for a fourth, but it’s not uncommon in the Orthodox world.”

Jordana Horn is a TODAY Moms contributor, lawyer, journalist, writer and mother of three. Sometimes, she even sleeps.

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