Friday, February 25, 2011

History and Politics: Geirus for Service to Your Country

See below for an interesting article about a sad and unique situation. What could Rav Goren's reasoning have been? On a halachik basis, I can't think of any. And in reading the story, the details are sketchy. Were the wives converted and the children not? That seems hard to accept. Meilah, to convert the kids and not the wives I could understand - the children will be living among Jews, but the wives, who were living a lie spun to them by their husbands, it would be hard to believe they would have proper attitude towards converting, so I can understand, if not condone, not converting them. But to say the children do not need conversion and consider them Jewish - I hope the details are incomplete.

Is there a political motive for this story getting out? i.e., because these children were born out of their father's service to Israel they shouldn't need conversions? Is it related to the current issue of IDF conversions - if these people serve in IDF they should have conversions even if they don't meet the regular Rabbanut standards for conversion?,7340,L-4031176,00.html

60 years later, spies' lives revealed

In 1952, Shin Bet agents were sent undercover to spy inside Palestinian villages. Keeping their real identities secret, they married Arab women, with whom they had children. Decade later, truth came to light. 'They tried to forget, but never could,' mission leader says
Akiva Novick

"Your husband is not who you think he is. He is not Arab. Your husband is a Jew who was sent into your village on a mission by the defense establishment."

This was the news a few Israeli Arab women received from the head of the Mossad

mission in France in 1964. This was how they discovered that the fathers of their children were serving in a top secret Israeli unit sent to spy in their villages.

Ten Jewish men assimilated into Arab communities in the early 1950s, marrying local women and starting families with them, all the while serving in the Shin Bet as "mistaarvim," (literally, masqueraders) - undercover agents posing as Palestinians.

The goal of the unit, which was established in 1952, was to have men on the inside in case a war breaks out, and the Israeli Arabs join the enemy. Shumel Moriah, a senior Shin Bet officer who came to Israel from Iraq, and had plenty of experience smuggling Jews into Israel, led the unit. He recruited 10 other Iraqi-born men for the complex mission.

The unit was disbanded over a decade after its establishment, which was when the wives were informed of the deception. Most of them converted and lived in Israel as Jews. Their children were recognized as Jews without undergoing an official conversion procedure.

Double life, cover story

The training process took one year; the men learned the Palestinian dialect, studied the Koran and espionage techniques in an Intelligence Corps base near Ramla. With a new identity and a detailed cover story, they were sent into Palestinian villages and cities. They pretended to be refugees from the 1948 war returning home. Their real families in Israel were kept in the dark about their whereabouts and activities; they were forbidden from trying to discover where their loved ones served.

After integrating into Arab life, village elders expected them to find a match, as per tradition. Senior Shin Bet personnel thought that the men should get married for the operation to succeed, but agreed to leave the decision up to the agents. Most of them did marry young Arab women.

"Our guys just didn't have a choice," Moriah says. "It seemed suspicious that young vigorous men would stay alone, without a spouse. When we sent them on the mission we didn't order them to marry, but it was clear to both sides that there is such an expectation, and that it would do the job better."

Shimon, the brother of one of the agents, Meir Cohen (their real names remain confidential), says that for many years, a Shin Bet representative would arrive on his parents' doorstep to personally give them Meir's paycheck, without giving them any information.

"When suddenly everything was revealed, Meir came to me and told me everything," Shimon remembers. "He told me about his cover story and about the double life. We were shocked."

Meir was sent to Jaffa, where he worked as a teacher and where he met Leila, a beautiful young Christian Arab with amazing black eyes, Shimon recalls. Meir presented himself as a Muslim. Leila was studying to be a nun when they met; they fell in love and got married. A short while later their son was born.

Leila's choice

As time passed, the pressure on the Shin Bet to return the double agents home intensified. It was becoming clear that the intelligence benefits achieved by the mission were marginal. When the Shin Bet decided to dismantle the unit, Moriah was faced with a dilemma: To leave the women and children in the Arab villages, or ask them to convert to Judaism, and raise their children as Jews? The agents themselves refused to leave their families, which is why it was decided resettle the families into Jewish areas.

The wives were brought to France, where they were finally told the truth.

"Leila realized that she was cheated, and had to undergo psychiatric treatment for a few months," Shimon says. "Only after she recovered Meir presented her with the most difficult choice that exists: To accept him as he is – a Jew and a Shin Bet agent – and raise their son as a Jew, or to leave Israel for any Arab country that she chose."

'They tried to forget, but couldn't'

Three rabbis were then brought to the Israeli embassy in Paris, including Chief IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren, to convert the women to Judaism. Considering the special circumstances, the rabbis ruled that the children can be accepted as Jews even though their mothers were not. Their story was first told in Israel Defense, a magazine edited by Amir Rappaport.

Most of the families chose to return to Israel, and began a slow recuperation process.

"Once they returned, problems started surfacing" Moriah recalls painfully. "We tried to rehabilitate the people, but we weren't really successful. The agents' kids experienced serious trauma in their childhood. They tried to recover, to forget their past, where they come from, but they couldn't.

"A few of the kids succeeded in life, but most of them were left behind. They still suffer from problems."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Surrogate Mother in the news

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein's psak about surrogate pregnancy (discussed here), this case would be pretty problematic: a son-in-law father and mother-in-law mother.,0,2864196.story

Woman, 61, gives birth to own grandchild

Her daughter had tried for years to have a baby

By Deborah L. Shelton, Tribune reporter

11:22 PM CST, February 11, 2011

Almost 39 weeks ago, Kristine Casey set out on an unusual journey to help her daughter and answer a spiritual calling.

Her goal was achieved late Wednesday when she gave birth to her own grandson at age 61.

Casey, possibly the oldest woman to give birth in Illinois, served as a surrogate for her daughter, Sara Connell, who had been trying for years to have a baby. Connell and her husband, Bill, are the biological parents of the child Casey carried, which grew from an embryo created from the Chicago couple's egg and sperm.

Crying and praying, Connell and her mother held hands as Finnean Lee Connell was delivered by cesarean section at 9:47 p.m.

When the baby let out a cry, "I lost it," said Sara Connell, the first family member to hold him. "It's such a miracle."

The doctor who delivered Finnean said there wasn't a dry eye in the crowded operating room.

"The surgery itself was uncomplicated, and the emotional context of this delivery was so profound," said Dr. Susan Gerber, obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Childbirth remains a rare event for post-menopausal women, but the number of such births has risen in recent years due to wider use of in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies. According to state health department records, the oldest woman to give birth in Illinois was 58 when she had her baby in 2006. But data on births after 2008 are not yet available.

Older women face greater risks during pregnancy and delivery, and experts say many women would not be good candidates.

"It's going to be more risky for somebody who's got underlying conditions," said Dr. Alan Peaceman, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, one of Casey's doctors. "Because of that, we recommend that patients have a cardiac evaluation."

The Connells decided in 2004 to try to have a baby, but Sara, now 35, soon discovered she wasn't ovulating. After undergoing infertility treatment at the Reproductive Medicine Institute in Evanston, she got pregnant but delivered stillborn twins, and later she suffered a miscarriage.

Casey's previous three pregnancies — her last was 30 years ago — went smoothly, resulting in three daughters. After Casey retired in 2007, she filled her time walking, meditating, taking classes and socializing with friends. But she felt she had a deeper calling.

"At the beginning of 2009," she said, "I decided for once in my life to take some time to think about my life and find something that seemed right for me — where there was no pressure to do a specific thing."

During a visit to Chicago — she lives in Virginia — Casey participated in a workshop led by Connell, a life coach, writer and lecturer on women's empowerment. In one class exercise, she used pictures cut from a magazine to create a collage depicting a life's goal. One picture grabbed her attention: an ostrich with an expression of wonder and joy.

Casey wanted to experience the exuberance captured in the picture.

Around the same time, a walking partner mentioned a story she had read about a post-menopausal woman who gave birth.

"I thought, 'Wow, three of the happiest days of my life were giving birth to my daughters,' and I thought I could choose to do this for someone I love," Casey said.

Casey later wrote a letter to the Connells offering to be Sara's surrogate.

"I found something that would make me feel like that ostrich," she wrote. "What do you think of this?"

She suggested that they forget about it if they found the idea repulsive.

"I won't do this just to make me happy because, believe me, I could find other things to do," she remembers writing, laughing at the recollection. At the time, she was 10 years past menopause.

Several months later, the family discussed the idea with experts at the Reproductive Medicine Institute, where they had sought help six years earlier. The couple said they had considered adoption but preferred to have a biological child.

"The idea of having a family member being open to doing this for us was so extraordinary for us," Sara Connell said.

Bill Connell said he appreciated his mother-in-law's offer, though he didn't think it was doable at first. Any further reservations evaporated when he saw she was serious, he added.

"I just wanted to make sure the science was there," he said. "I didn't want us to subject ourselves to another very risky, possibly devastating, scenario. Infertility is one thing, but putting your mother-in-law in danger kicks it up to another level altogether."

At first, Casey's husband also wondered if it was even possible for his wife to have a baby in her 60s. Then he worried that a pregnancy could jeopardize her health or even her life. But he set aside most of his concerns after she cleared medical tests and doctors gave a thumbs-up.

"What made the difference for me was when Kris said it was a calling from deep within herself," Bill Casey said. "You can't get any more compelling than that."

Casey underwent multiple tests to evaluate her medical and psychological health, as required by Illinois law on surrogate births. The family also drew up a mandatory legal agreement.

The risks of genetic abnormalities were low because Connell's egg would be the one fertilized. But if any such issues were detected later, Casey said she and the Connells agreed that she would carry the baby to term regardless.

Then she took hormones to prepare her uterus for pregnancy. She got pregnant on the second cycle of in vitro fertilization with an embryo transfer.

"If you give the uterus hormones, it will act like a young uterus," said Dr. Carolyn Coulam, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Institute. Coulam's oldest patient was in her late 60s at the time she had a baby. She lived in another state.

"It usually is a function of the age of the egg, not the uterus, whether or not the pregnancy will be successful," Coulam said.

Still, some fertility programs have age limits for gestational surrogates. At the University of Chicago Medical Center the upper limit is 55, said Dr. David Cohen, chief of reproductive medicine.

"The issue comes up because as a woman gets older, the risks she takes in pregnancy clearly go up — everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to premature delivery and infant death," Cohen said. "So one has to be clear about what those risks are."

The medical center evaluates cases involving older surrogates in an ethics consultation.

"It's not written in stone," Cohen said. "One is left with deciding each case individually, and those decisions are made after a very serious discussion with everybody involved. I personally would not throw stones at somebody who decided to go ahead in this situation as long as she clearly understood her risks."

Peaceman described Casey's health as excellent throughout her pregnancy, but he emphasized: "It takes a significant commitment to be a surrogate in any circumstance. To take on this type of physical burden at this age is not anything anybody should take lightly."

After her C-section, Casey had a complication with her kidneys.

"After delivery, her urine output was lower than we expected and there was no discernible cause," Gerber said. "We wanted to be extra careful, given her age, so we gave her close attention. With relatively little intervention, it turned around."

Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, had no ethical objections to the idea of a 61-year-old having a baby, as long as she had undergone a thorough medical and psychological evaluation.

"It seems like an unquestionably loving and generous thing for a family member to do," she said.

"It's a great story to tell the child," Johnston added. "It's one of those situations where outsiders might wonder if it's OK or healthy. But the experience of that child and his family will be that it's good. … If they treat it as good, it will be experienced that way."

Casey, who has a quick wit and laid-back manner, plans to return to her Virginia home with her husband in about two weeks, where she is ready to adopt a more conventional grandmother role. Finnean is her first grandchild.

"From the very beginning, the moment I've wanted is the moment the baby is in their arms," she said at her daughter and son-in-law's home weeks before the birth. "I've been clear since after my third child that I didn't need to have any more children, and as much as I will be delighted to be a grandmother, I don't want to take a baby home."

Sara Connell said she was grateful for her mother's loving, generous spirit and what she called "her special gift."

"It grew beyond the two of us having a child," Connell said. "It was about the closeness with my mother, and our family having this experience that was unique and special."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Rav Yoshe Ber's Words

13.11 Surrender to Halakhah

Related by the Rav in his address on Gerut (Conversion) to the Yeshiva University Rabbinic Alumni, Yeshiva University, June 19, 1975

The Torah summons the Jew to live heroically. We cannot allow a married woman, no matter how tragic the case is, to remarry without a get [divorce document]. We cannot allow a kohen to marry a giyoret [convert]. Sometimes these cases are very tragic. I know this from my own experience.

I had a case in Rochester of a gentile girl who became a giyoret hatzedek [righteous convert] before she met the boy. She did not join our nation because she wanted to marry somebody. Then she met a Jewish boy from an alienated background and had no knowledge of Yahadut [Judaism]. She brought him close to Yahadut and they became engaged. Since he was now close to Yahadut, the boy wanted to find out about his family, so he visited the cemetery where his grandfather was buried. He saw a strange symbol on the tombstone - ten fingers with thumbs and forefingers nearly forming a triangle. So he began to ask - he thought it was a mystical symbol - and he discovered that he was a kohen.

What can we do? This is the halakhah. A kohen may not marry a convert [Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 6:8]. We surrender to the will of the Almighty. On the other hand, to say that the halakhah is not sensitive to to problems and is not responsive to the needs of people is an outright falsehood. The halakhah is responsive to the needs of both the community and the individual. However, the halakhah has its own orbit, moves at a certain definite speed, has its own pattern of responding to a challenge, and possesses its own criteria and principles.

I come from a rabbinical house - the bet ha-Rav. This is the house into which I was born. Believe me, Reb Chaim used to try his best to be meikil [lenient in his halakhis rulings]. But there were limits even to Reb Chaim's kulot [lenient rulings]. When you reach the boundary line, all you can say is: "I surrender to the will of the Almighty."

With sadness in my heart, I shared in the suffering of the poor woman or the poor girl. She was instrumental in bringing him back to the fold and then she had to lose him. She lost him. She walked away.

--The Rav: The Wolrd of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rummy & Shiur: Some Reminisces

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in the news last week with the release of his memoir "Known and Unknown." The title stems from a comment he made in February of 2002: "because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."

This statement is very clear and straightforward. I would like to use his statement to describe a difference between the philosophy of the shiurim of Rav Ahron Soloveichik and his brother Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik.

For a year I was in the shiur of a very well-known talmid of the Rav, and I still distinctly remember him at times, summarizing a sugya, saying "What we still don't know is how Tosfos learns this Tosefta," and things like that. When he was leaving a sugya, he mentioned the known unknowns, the items we were not able to figure out while studying the sugya. (Some might call it the glass half-empty approach, but I don't agree with that.) However, after completing a sugya with Rav Ahron, I always had a feeling "now I understand this Rishon, that shita...," a focus on the known knowns. I was happy knowing what I learned - or should I say what I knew.

And yes, I think I can even give an example of unknown unknowns from their grandfather Rav Chaim Brisker (though in at least one place I heard it attributed to their uncle Rav Velvel). Rav Chaim is quoted as saying "you cannot say a chiddush until you have gone through Shas." I think there is a lot in that statement, but one point definitely is that there is a lot in Shas, and until you know it, you cannot speculate with new ideas. Because you'll find that some are really old ideas. Some might be good and some might be bad; some are true and some are false. Until you reduce your unknown unknowns, you shouldn't be speculating.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rav Ahron Soloveichik on Brain Death

See Jewish Bioethics by Bleich & Rosner for a brief article. The following is his response to Rabbi Dr. Tendler's article in JAMA.

Jewish Law and Time of Death - JAMA, July 14, 1978--Vol 240, No.2

To the Editor.
The article dealing with brain death (238:1651, 1977) contains a serious misinterpretation of Jewish law pertaining to establishment of the time of death. The statement that "absent heartbeat or pulse was not considered a significant factor in ascertaining death in any early religious sources" is a manifest error In fact, the source to which the reader is directed by the footnote, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Yoma 85A, serves to establish precisely the opposite position. Jewish law recognizes the presence of any vital function, including heart action, as indicative of at least residual life. Termination of such life by means of "pulling the plug" or otherwise constitutes an act of homicide.

Moreover, a sharp distinction must be drawn between partial and total destruction of the brain. The authors state that the Harvard criteria signify that "when the criteria have been fulfilled, there is widespread destruction of the brain" and that "time must often elapse before
morphologic evidence of cellular destruction can be. detected." This cannot be equated at all with the state of decapitation.

Jewish law cannot be cited in support of brain death legislation presently before the legislatures of various states. Jewish law cannot condone the removal of life support systems from any patient in whom any vital sign is present.

RABBI AARON SOLOVEICHIK. Brisk Rabbinical College
Skokie, Ill.

The RCA's recent paper is here (in pdf form)