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For the week ending 14 February 2015 / 25 Shevat 5775

C-section

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Debra

Dear Rabbi,

I am considering giving birth by C-section and was wondering whether there are any Jewish considerations involved.

Dear Debra,

Jewish considerations do, in fact, have a “bearing” on your question.

Since it’s not clear the reason why you’re considering a C-section, I’ll discuss several possibilities.

If it’s not for medical reasons but primarily a matter of convenience — a scheduled birth — from a Jewish point of view this should be avoided. We believe that G-d who grants conception and guides every stage of pregnancy knows best when to induce labor and bring about birth. This is referred to in the Talmud (Ta’anit 2a) as G-d controlling the key to birth. Interfering with G-d’s plan can negatively affect the child’s“mazal” and should not be done for mere expediency.

However, performing a C-section for medical reasons, either for the safety of the baby or the mother, whether planned in advance or performed during labor, is acceptable. In the absence of any potential harm, we encourage a natural course of labor and birth. But in a case of danger, intervening to protect mother and child is condoned and even a mitzvah.

There may be some significant ramifications resulting from birth through C-section that you should know.

While there are no real differences regarding the birth of a girl, there certainly are potential differences regarding a boy.

For example, the Torah discusses the commandment to “redeem the first-born male child”, which is called in Hebrew “pidyon ha’ben” (Ex. 13:11-16). While this does not apply if either the father or the mother is either a Kohen or a Levi, it does apply to the first-born of every other Jew. But this is specifically if this first child has a natural birth – i.e. he is born by breaching the birth canal. Accordingly, a first-born who would ordinarily require a pidyon ha’ben but was born through C-section would not require pidyon.

If this will be your first child, and in your case a boy would require a pidyon, choosing C-section would be a choice to forgo fulfilling this mitzvah. If it’s for health concerns, that’s one thing; but for convenience is another.

An additional possible difference for C-section in boys is regarding the brit mila. The commandment to fulfill this mitzvah on the eighth day is so binding that if the eighth day is Shabbat, the mitzvah of brit mila actually overrides Shabbat! But based on a careful reading of the Torah text, the Talmud and Legal Codes teach that this is only when the mother undergoes natural birth, becoming what’s called a “yoledet”. Since this is not the case with C-section, a child born on Shabbat via C-section (for example, to avoid danger) would not be allowed to have a brit on the eighth day which would be the following Shabbat, but rather the brit would have to be postponed until Sunday.

Regarding this last point, when the Chazon Ish came from Europe to Israel he emphasized that this halacha should be promoted and promulgated throughout the community of mohelim. Even though it is explicitly stated in the Code of Jewish Law, apparently it wasn’t particularly well-known even among the mohelim, and even today it is not well-known among the general populace.

Sources:

  • Pidyon ha’ben: Ex. 13:11-16; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 305:1,18,24
  • Brit mila: Shabbat 135a-b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 331:5; Chazon Ish Yoreh De’ah 154:4

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