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NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

(Re)Producing Ethics and the Ethics of Reproduction:
Reproductive Ethics among Haredi Women in Jerusalem
A DISSERTATION

SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS

For the degree

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

Field of Religious Studies

By
Michal S. Raucher

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS
June 2013

UMI Number: 3563842

All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
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a note will indicate the deletion.

UMI 3563842
Published by ProQuest LLC (2013). Copyright in the Dissertation held by the Author.
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Abstract
(Re)Producing Ethics and the Ethics of Reproduction:
Reproductive Ethics among Haredi Women in Jerusalem
Michal S. Raucher
This manuscript analyzes the ways Haredi women exert agency over their reproductive
decisions. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in Jerusalem, Israel, I argue that
although religious and medical authorities create a matrix of control meant to limit Haredi
women’s reproductive freedom, Haredi women find space for—and insist upon—their autonomy
regarding the use of contraceptives, prenatal testing, fetal ultrasounds and other medical and nonmedical reproductive services. I maintain that a Haredi woman’s reproductive agency is not
counter-cultural. Instead, her agency is predicated upon the theological and cultural assertion that
reproduction is supposed to be a woman’s role. Haredi women understand pregnancy to be their
time of glory, their time to do what God intended for them to do and what Haredi society needs
for them to do. In this patriarchal culture, women capitalize on their bodies—the sites of their
gendered limitations in Haredi society—as they draw on their bodies’ ability to participate in the
divine act of creation as a source of empowerment. Due to this theological understanding, Haredi
women have the authority to ignore or contradict their rabbis and doctors. When it comes to
reproduction, women avoid rabbinic guidance and medical instruction in favor of an authority
that grows out of the embodied experience of pregnancy. This autonomy over reproductive
decisions is their reproductive ethic. Autonomy—built on their bodily experience, bolstered by
cultural and theological norms, and informed by their socioeconomic context—shapes Haredi
women’s reproductive choices. My analysis of the way Haredi women find agency using the

3

tools of a system designed to disempower them allows us to make some critical points about the
larger discourse of reproductive ethics.

4

Acknowledgements
I have benefitted from the encouragement, support and advice of so many individuals as
this project came to fruition. Foremost I am eternally indebted to the Haredi women in Jerusalem
who consented to participate in this research and who subsequently shared with me their
innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and concerns. Without their bravery and honesty this
manuscript would not have become a reality. I hope that I have reflected them accurately and
that this work eventually gives back to them at least as much as they have given to me. I must
also thank all the medical professionals who taught me about the covert medical practices in
Israel. The employees at the Knesset archives turned this scholar of contemporary Jewish women
into a person fascinated by history and politics, a nearly impossible feat.
The interdisciplinary nature of this manuscript is due to the many scholars, from a variety of
backgrounds, who have shaped my intellectual development. At Northwestern, my advisor and
dissertation chair, Laurie Zoloth, has believed in me since before I even entered the PhD
program. She challenges me to be an innovative researcher and a devoted colleague while
inspiring me with her own scholarship. Cristina Traina and Helen Schwartzman have served on
my committee since I began my studies at Northwestern, and they have each contributed
immensely to the development of my project and my intellectual pursuits. Cristie pushed me
with questions about my research and writing that sparked new areas of curiosity, and Helen
helped me see the big picture surrounding my interests. I have truly been fortunate to have three
brilliant, insightful and accomplished women on my committee. Barry Wimpfheimer has also
provided intellectual and professional support over the last few years, and the entire faculty in
the Religious Studies department at Northwestern University has contributed in one way or

5

another to the development of this project and to my academic enrichment. I have been lucky
enough to benefit from the scholarship and the advice of scholars outside of Northwestern as
well. Paul Wolpe and Vardit Ravitzky saw this project in a very early stage while I was a
Master’s student at the University of Pennsylvania. Thankfully, they pushed me towards the
PhD. Aana Vigen, Kate Ott and Rebecca Kukla inspire me with their scholarship along the
border lines between religious studies, ethics, ethnography and gender studies. I aim to emulate
their collegiality and mentorship.
I owe a special debt to my colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies. Due to the
diversity in our approaches, our theoretical commitments, our methodologies and our foci, these
individuals have helped me think about my own work in new ways. Though the entire
department is noteworthy for its camaraderie, Amanda Baugh, Alyssa Henning, Kate Mesler,
Tina Howe, Jody Moser, and Hayley Glaholt greatly contributed to a safe learning
environment—a place where one can try out different theories and explore new concepts.
Amanda read parts of this manuscript at embarrassingly early stages and never judged me
unfavorably. Alyssa has been my bioethics partner—intellectually, professionally, and as my
conference roommate—since we began graduate school and hopefully will remain so for many
years to come.
I was fortunate to receive material support from a few organizations and institutions. I
received a Fulbright Fellowship for my first year of research in Israel, and the Wenner-Gren
Foundation financed my second year of research. The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
also contributed to my research funds. The Jewish Studies department at Northwestern
supported my last year of writing with a Crown Family Fellowship. Finally, the Religious
Studies department at Northwestern generously supported me for the first five years of my PhD

6

and repeatedly helped me attend conferences all over the United States. They have truly invested
in my success and for that I am thankful.
I am also grateful for those who supported me while I conducted research in Jerusalem. Not
one day passed without a phone call, a walk with the dogs, or a trip to the supermarket without
Carmit Rokah. Carmit helped me parse through Israeli culture, secular views of the Haredi
community, and various bureaucracies my husband and I encountered during our time in Israel.
When their dog, Kubeh, jumped over their fence, ran across the street and showed up at our
backdoor, I called Carmit, who calmly answered, “I guess he feels as comfortable there as we
do.” The feeling was mutual. Roee Rahamim welcomed us into his family for every holiday and
long weekend. We truly felt at home with his family, and we are grateful for their open door.
Sarah Cytron, Gabi Mitchell, Jess Fain, Elana Kieffer, Arie Hasit, Jonathan Madoff, and Hillary
Menkowitz all shared with us the joys and struggles of acculturating to Israeli society. Our long
nights spent talking and laughing are unforgettable.
Many other friends in Chicago and New York have also helped sustain me during my entire
graduate school career and especially as this project developed. Nikki and Ken Cox, Leah Kahn
and Darrel Cohn, Jessica and Dov Robinson, Naomi and Jeremy Fogel, and Ravit Greenberg and
Gabe Axler provided me with friendship, good food, and lively conversation. Nikki, Ken, Leah,
and Ravit read parts of this manuscript and contributed substantive and grammatical suggestions.
Just talking with them about my findings helped me develop my conclusions. I am also grateful
to have found such a wonderful living environment in the first floor apartment of a home owned
by Denise and Stuart Sprague. Living just below our landlords turned out to be a blessing when
we found in them friends, surrogate parents, confidants and a source of medical advice. In New
York, Rachel and Ari Saks, Ora Warmflash, David Goldman, and Aimee Brookhart have always

7

shown me support and encouragement. Although we have not lived in the same city in over ten
years, Elly Cohen consistently provides intellectual inspiration and good friendship. All of these
individuals have contributed to this project by playing a part in my growth and development.
On a personal level, I am immensely thankful for such a supportive family. My mother, Gail
Raucher, has become the most vocal and passionate supporter of the need for more
anthropologists in Jewish studies and in Ethics. My father, Steve Raucher, guided me through the
entire PhD process and reminded me that the best dissertation is a completed dissertation! My
entire extended family has followed me on this journey and provided me with an unlimited
amount of love, laughter and advice. Thank you to my in-laws, Susie and Kenny, and to my
siblings, Adena and Andrew, Ari and Carly, Noam and Tamar, and Aviva for your patience and
encouragement. Though they did not live to see the completion of this project, two of my
grandparents, Anna and Julius Simon, have shaped this work (and me) in many ways. I hope
they would be proud. A special thank you to my partner and my person, Yoni Shear, who found
a new job in Chicago and then travelled to Israel with me in support of my goals. His dedication
to my success is truly remarkable. Yoni listened to me read conference paper drafts, responded to
the conversations that existed mostly in my head and helped me relax enough so that I could
think clearly. And of course, to my Naftali, who will someday appreciate how wonderful it is to
have a baby who naps for four hours during the day so that his mother can finish her dissertation.
This work is dedicated to Yoni and to my parents, who dedicated themselves to making sure
that I finished my dissertation. You have enabled my (re)productive freedom. Because of you, I
have had the freedom to produce a manuscript that makes me proud, and with your
encouragement I have been able to do this while starting a family. Thank you for that
opportunity.

8
Contents
Abstract ......................................................................................................................................................... 2
Acknowledgements....................................................................................................................................... 4
Chapter One: Introduction .......................................................................................................................... 10
Constructing an Ethics Built on the Body ................................................................................................ 14
Morals, Ethics and Embodied Ethos.................................................................................................... 15
Ethnography and Ethics ...................................................................................................................... 17
Body in Ethics ...................................................................................................................................... 20
Women’s Agency ................................................................................................................................ 22
Nuts and Bolts ......................................................................................................................................... 24
Outline of the Manuscript....................................................................................................................... 37
Chapter Two: My Interlocutors................................................................................................................... 43
Anthropology of Reproduction ............................................................................................................... 43
Reproduction in Israel ......................................................................................................................... 48
Jewish Bioethics ...................................................................................................................................... 54
Critique of Jewish Bioethics ................................................................................................................ 57
Chapter Three: Haredi Women and “Life Tradition” .................................................................................. 63
Development of ultra-Orthodox Judaism ............................................................................................... 66
Education ................................................................................................................................................ 70
Economics ............................................................................................................................................... 74
Marriage.................................................................................................................................................. 76
Family ...................................................................................................................................................... 79
Living Space ............................................................................................................................................. 84
Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................... 86
Chapter Four: Bioethics in Israel: Religion and Medicine, Rabbis and Doctors .......................................... 87
The Historical Context ............................................................................................................................. 89
Trust and Mistrust................................................................................................................................... 92
Accommodations, Concessions and Their Discontents .......................................................................... 95
Manipulation ..................................................................................................................................... 102
Three Partners in Medical Care ............................................................................................................ 108
Conclusion: What is at Stake? ............................................................................................................... 115


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