Medical Halacha – Is it Permissible to Find Out a Baby’s Gender Before Birth?

0
80

Rabbi Yehuda Finchas 

 

 

Miri was due to deliver a baby a few days before Pesach. She phoned me very anxious. “Rabbi, may I find out the gender of the baby? If it’s a boy and the brit mila will be during or right after Pesach, I need to know in advance to have time to plan and prepare!” 

 

Sara is married to a Kohen and is expecting a child. Unfortunately, her grandfather passed away and Sara asked me if she may attend his levaya. Her husband and sons who are Kohanim could not go because a Kohen may not contract tumat met from a corpse unless he is burying one of seven close relatives (See S.A, Y.D., 373:4). This prohibition even applies to boys under the age of bar mitzva, whose parents are obligated to ensure that they do not come in contact with tumat met (Ibid, 373:1). However, Sara wanted to know whether carrying a Kohen fetus to a levaya is similarly forbidden. She added, “Rabbi, I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl but I can find out if necessary.”  

 

What Does the Torah Say? 

 

Regarding the question of whether it is correct to prenatally reveal the gender of a child, there are varying implications from different Torah sources. On the one hand, the Torah depicts a concerned Rivka Imenu beseeching Hashem regarding her complicated pregnancy. Hashem explained to her that she was pregnant with two boys who were diametrically opposed, “There are two nations in your womb… the older one will serve the younger one” (Beresheet, 25:23). Likewise, the mother of Shimshon was notified that she was pregnant with a boy (Shoftim, 13:3; see also Nidda, 31a and Eiruvin, 100b for further examples). These sources imply that it is not a problem to know the child’s gender before birth. On the other hand, the Midrash lists seven things that are concealed from mankind, one of which is the gender of an unborn child (Kohelet Rabbah, 11:4, based on Kohelet, 11:5). This implies that the child’s gender was designed to be concealed, and it is therefore incorrect to find it out. One suggested explanation for why Hashem chose to hide a child’s gender until birth is to avoid parental disappointment if the gender of the baby is different than what they had hoped for. Others explain that matters of bracha such as a developing fetus should be “hidden from the eye.” 

 

When taken together, the sources imply that while there may be value in keeping the gender of the unborn baby concealed, there is certainly no outright halachic prohibition in finding out. As Miri was stressed out, unsure how to juggle all the Pesach preparations alongside a possible brit mila celebration, I told her that she may ask her doctor to reveal if her baby is a boy.  

 

What About a Kohen? 

 

Regarding Sara’s question if she may attend the levaya, Hacham Ovadia, zt”l, (Hazon Ovadia, Aveilut, Vol. 2, p. 62) discusses at length whether a woman pregnant with a Kohen fetus may go to a levaya. He cites various opinions, but concludes that the prohibition of tumat met only applies once a child is born.  He quotes the Gemara (Nidda, 43) that requires parents to distance even their “one-day-old baby” son from tumat met, which clearly implies that this does not imply to a baby in utero. Therefore, there is no reason for Sara to find out the gender of her child, since according to Hacham Ovadia she is permitted to attend the levaya even if the fetus is a boy. (See Hazon Ovadia, Aveilut, Vol. 1, p. 313 regarding the general question of a pregnant women attending a levaya) 

 

Interestingly, some poskim write that even members of those communities whose minhag is to use three chickens when performing kaparot for a pregnant woman whose fetus’ gender is unknown (a hen for the mother, and both a rooster and a hen for the fetus who may be a boy or a girl), should only use two chickens if the parents know the baby’s gender. 

 

In conclusion, there is no outright prohibition finding out the gender of a baby, and if parents wish to find out, they are permitted to do so. 

 

 

Rabbi Yehuda Finchas is a worldwide expert, lecturer, and author on Medical Halacha. He heads the Torat Habayit Medical Halacha Institute. His latest book is “Brain Death in Halacha and the Tower of Babel Syndrome.” To contact Rabbi Finchas, email rabbi@torathabayit.com.