Accepted Paper:

Encounters with mamzerim: Rabbinic kinship concepts and the formation of same-sex parenthood  


Sibylle Lustenberger (University of Fribourg)

Paper short abstract:

Israeli gay men circumvent rabbinic restrictions and become fathers through surrogacy abroad. This paper explores the entanglement of kinship, religion and politics, as it structures these men’s path to parenthood far away from home.

Paper long abstract:

In Israel, religious belonging constitutes a central category of citizenship. Religious authorities control marriage and divorce, and laws regulating reproductive technologies are strongly informed by Orthodox rabbinic kinship concepts. These provisions secure that Jewish men and women bring into being children who are unequivocally Jewish themselves. They form part of a policy that seeks to reproduce the Jewish-Israeli collective and its boundaries. Same-sex parenthood does not exist in rabbinic kinship thinking. But lesbian women and gay men have gained a wide range of family rights by means of litigation in civil courts. While many of them do not live their lives according to Jewish law, rabbinic kinship concepts also structure their paths to parenthood.

The proposed paper focuses on the encounters of gay couples with mamzerim, the rabbinic concept of blemished children. Having no other options, these men become fathers through surrogacy abroad. A chain of bureaucratic steps allows them to register their children as Israeli citizens. The chain is long and cumbersome because of legal provisions that aim at preventing the creation of mamzerim. Paradoxically, the Orthodox rabbinate does neither count these children as Jewish nor does it recognize the family unions, gay couples and their children form. Hence, the rabbinic concept of mamzerim seems rather out of place. Accordingly, for gay men these strange encounters prove religious coercion and backwardness. For me they provide an opportunity to discuss the entanglement of kinship, religion and politics in reproductive contexts beyond the norm.

Panel P106
Rethinking assisted conception: dynamics of law, morality and religion