6 Things You Need to Know About Jewish Sperm

Why Those Involved Feel Like They're Swimming Upstream

Kurt Hoffman

By Hody Nemes

Published August 20, 2014.

(page 3 of 3)

5) U.S. Sperm Makes Aliyah

California Cryobank says it exports more sperm to Israel than to any other country in the world.

Much of it goes to Cryobank Israel, which imports 25% of the sperm it offers customers. Ronen, the company’s CEO, said most of the demand for imported sperm comes from clients seeking a so-called “open” sperm donor, who is willing to reveal his identity to his recipients. Under Israeli law, sperm banks are required to keep their donors anonymous, but that restriction doesn’t apply to U.S. donors.

However, some of the demand for imported, non-Jewish sperm comes — surprisingly — from the Orthodox community, according to Ronen.

Many rabbis have ruled that sperm donation should be done with non-Jewish sperm in order to avoid the possibility of incest if the child unknowingly marries a sibling years later.

“If you have a non-Jewish male and a Jewish female, the child, for purposes of Jewish law, has no father,” said Rabbi J. David Bleich, a scholar of Jewish medical ethics at Yeshiva University. Without a legally recognized father, the threat of incest under Jewish law is removed, according to Bleich.

Jewish men are prohibited from donating sperm to begin with, since by doing so they would violate traditional Jewish law’s ban on masturbation.

But even non-Jewish donors are not universally accepted. Many rabbinic authorities see any kind of artificial insemination from a donor as a form of adultery.

“It’s a violation of the marital relationship. You’re introducing a third party who is not the woman’s husband,” Bleich said. “If it’s not technically adultery, it’s quasi- adultery.”

6) Dental Student to Sperm Donor

Kurt Hoffman

Before a man is accepted as a sperm donor, sperm clinics run a battery of tests not only on his sperm, but also on his DNA, looking for genetic anomalies. Ashkenazi Jews are checked for a variety of genetic diseases common to the Ashkenazi community, like Tay-Sachs.

Ronen is proud that Cryobank Israel checks for 44 diseases — not only in the DNA of the donor, but of the mother as well.

And at Cryos International, everyone — Jewish or not — is tested for Ashkenazi diseases. The company decided to start testing all its donors about a year ago just to be safe. “What if we send out the genetic testing and then somebody realized later on that this one did indicate Jewish?” Centola said. “We [would] have to retest.”

Another problem is that donors sometimes aren’t aware of their Jewish ancestry, or don’t identify as Jews. “Based on how you ask the question, they might say, ‘No, I’m not Jewish, I’m Protestant’ — and then it turns out they have Jewish ancestry,” she said. “We might as well just test them all from the beginning.”

Sperm banks choose donors with high sperm quality and safe genes; other desirable traits include good health, a college education and height (at California Cryobank, Caucasian donors must be at least 5 feet 9 inches).

But beyond these parameters, the banks leave the decision up to the parents, and it’s hard to say which donor will catch their eye. “There’s no one characteristic that’s going to guarantee that a guy is going to be popular,” Brown of California Cryobank said.

Brown remembers a specific donor — an attractive, Jewish dental student — whose sperm flew off the shelves. Most of the buyers were Jews looking for a Jewish donor. “I kept getting call and after call. It was just remarkable,” he said. “Everybody just loved this guy.”

But not every donor hits the jackpot. So if you’re a Jewish man seeking to alleviate the sperm shortages in America or Israel, don’t get too cocky. On the offhand chance that you’re not a carrier for a genetic disease (1 in 4 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier), your sperm quality is probably too low.

But even if it isn’t, there’s no guarantee prospective parents will flock to your sperm and make it a hot commodity.

Hody Nemes is a Forward summer fellow and a 2013 graduate of Yale University. Contact him on Twitter, @hodifly

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