Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, begins tonight at sundown. Yom Kippur is a day of prayer, fasting, and repentance.
One of the things that’s so cool about Judaism, though, is its recognition that we are but human beings. Therefore every rule — and I mean every rule — has been discussed and deliberated upon over the centuries, to account for our humanness. For example, what if it would be dangerous for a particular individual to fast for 25 hours? The answer is clear, based on Judaism’s most important tenet, its reverence for life: if fasting would be bad for your health, you are forbidden to fast. That one’s easy.
What about work? Yom Kippur is like Shabbat — a super Shabbat, actually — during which all the Shabbat prohibitions against work in any form apply. However the rabbinic store of tales for sermonizing is also replete with stories about when work on Yom Kippur is permissible, such as when Levi Yitzhak famously fails to show up for services on the holiest night of the year because he stops to tend to some animals he sees suffering as he makes his way to shul. It’s the same principle: life comes first, above and beyond all else.
One difference between Shabbat and Yom Kippur, though, is that in addition to refraining from all conceivable forms of work, we are also supposed to abstain from all “worldly pleasures”; ie, no shtupping (which is not only encouraged on Shabbat, but considered a mitzvah).
Here’s my question: What if you are desperately trying to conceive, either on your own or through various assisted reproductive technologies, and it turns out that the key moment when conception is most likely happens to fall during the 25 hours during which abstinence is required. Is it permitted to have sexual intercourse on Yom Kippur under these circumstances?
Is it a matter of degree? Do you have to have been trying for a certain amount of time? Do the specific circumstances of assisted reproductive technology make a difference? What about artificial insemination? (Sounds too much like work to me.) Is that preferred to the act of coitus?
I wonder if Pirke Avot, literally “the Words of the Fathers”, has already weighed in on this topic. Darling Spouse’s contention is that they would probably say “No”, because all the exceptions to the Yom Kippur privations are about sustaining life, as opposed to creating it. My response would be that “Be fruitful and multiply” was the very first commandment.
Whatever they say, I can only imagine them being completely drowned out by the loud and emphatic Words of the Mothers, “Anything for grandchildren!”
And so I throw the question out to you, oh great and mighty internet, source of all porn knowledge. Or at least a reasonable compendium of such. Is it permissible to have sexual intercourse on Yom Kippur if that is the only way to get pregnant?
By the way: Wishing an easy fast to my celebrating family and friends, and a healthy and happy New Year to everyone.