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Jewish Reproduction and Everyday Ethics: Anthropological Perspectives

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 2 Complex

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel examines the ethics of reproduction in everyday Jewish life. Anthropologists have long shown that reproduction is not simply a biological construct, but rather a cultural achievement, through which the structures and perceptions of a society are reproduced (and contested). In this sense, Jewish reproductive practices are a social phenomenon of interest in its own right but also serve as an analytical framework to explore how people negotiate what it means to be Jewish and to live a Jewish life. The papers in this panel use insights from different ethnographic contexts to discuss the ways Jewish reproduction works both as a continuation and transmission of Judaism and as a challenge, critique and resistance to Jewish norms and ethics.

Sibylle Lustenberger will explore how the availability and endorsement of biomedical reproductive technologies by Orthodox communities have created challenges beyond the imagination of Jewish leaders. Based on an ethnographic study of same-sex families in Orthodox communities, she explores how rabbinic leaders and laypersons negotiate, transform, and push the boundaries of what Jewish continuity looks like. Lea Taragin-Zeller will provide an ethnographic account of the ways Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox couples struggle, question and debate the meaning of reproduction in a hyper-idealized context of national and religious reproduction. Contraceptive decision-making will offer a unique case study to open up a conversation about the ways the godly and the profane, gender, nationalism, rabbinic authority and the body are constructed vis-à-vis technology in contemporary Israel. Finally, Don Seeman will offer insight into the reasons that classical kinship theory has been inadequate to the analysis of kinship in Jewish cultures, and why an approach suffused with concern for the ethics of relationality might do better. He will include a critical summary of contemporary research on assisted reproduction in Israel.

Together, this unique conversation between reproduction studies, gender, and everyday ethics strives to enhance our understanding of how both Jews and Judaism (re) produce the next generation.

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