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Interview: Bringing More Jews into the World-Kosher Style

INN reports on how the Puah Institutes' holistic-halakhic approach to the sensitive subject of fertility helps married couples throughout the USA.
By Fern Sidman, INN NY Correspondent
First Publish: 3/1/2011, 12:45 PM / Last Update: 3/1/2011, 1:30 PM

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"What a wonderful feeling it is to be part of an organization that helps bring more Jewish souls into the world", declared Lea Davidson, executive director of the Machon Puah (Puah Institute) branch in New York. 
Founded in 1990 in Jerusalem at the behest of the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, ZT"L, (former chief rabbi of Israel), Puah Institute is an Israel-based, international organization that assists Jewish couples with problems relating to infertility and serves a vital role in bridging the gap between fertility treatment and halacha (Jewish law).
 
"Rav Eliyahu was deluged with questions pertaining to infertility and halacha and he believed that more concrete research was necessary. He then appointed Rabbi Menachem Burstein to go to the labs and to speak to medical professionals to ascertain whether infertility reproductive medicine could be reconciled with Jewish law", said Mrs. Davidson. Equipped with a background of specialization in research concerning the interface between Torah and science, Rabbi Burstein  then established Puah Institute.
 
"In any field of science there is always the possibility of human error, of mix ups, and because halacha takes the concept of verifiable lineage very seriously, the majority of orthodox rabbis have ruled that Jewish law requires an outside supervisor present to monitor the procedure and storage of the genetic material" added Mrs. Davidson.  
 
In Puah, an orthodox man or women must oversee all aspects of the (IVF) in vitro fertilization process, including sample washing, centrifugation, freezing and loading of pipettes. The lab will have a dedicated incubator or storage tanks for the Puah-supervised couples. That particular incubator, unlike those containing the reproductive material of non-supervised couples, is locked with a latch and key. The Puah supervisor is the only person with a key.
 
If the clinic cannot spare an incubator, an alternative is a stainless steel case with dime sized holes in it, known as a Puanite box. The material is placed inside the container, which is then locked with a plastic or metal tie embossed seal with the supervising organization's insignia and placed on one of the incubator shelves. The case can only be opened by snipping the tie.
 
“Just like rabbis supervise the production of kosher food, we supervise the fertility process,” explained Bracha Friedman, a New York-based supervisor with Puah. “...this is the only way this process is halachically sound.” 
 
Davidson adds, however, that not all infertile couples will have to take the in-vitro fertilization route. "One out of every six people will experience fertility problems, but 95 percent of these people can find alternative solutions that don't require these kind of procedures", she said. Puah assists these people in acquiring the appropriate method for each individual case.
 
Davidson described Puah's holistic approach to halakhic fertility solutions. The institute has an educational department ,and is licensed in the field of continuing medical education.  Courses educate medical professionals to better understand the religious lifestyle and restrictions of the Orthodox Jewish patient and also educate rabbis about the medical challenges and options confronting their congregants. There are classes for brides and grooms, community rabbis and their wives.
 
In addition to supervision and counseling, Puah also provides a veritable plethora of resources and endless patience to help allay the stress that couples often endure during the fertility process.
 
"I first got involved in Puah when I lived in Israel and then when I moved to New York years ago, I found that there was nothing in the way of an organization that deals with the complex nature of Jewish infertility," she continued.  She is proud to add that, "When Puah first opened its doors here in the United States we only had one supervisor and now we have 30 supervisors. 
 
The supervisors are very observant, married women who are totally dedicated to the couples that they work with. "For example, last year on Purim we had two couples in two different labs and when genetic material is being feeded supervisors need to spend the whole day there. Rather than spending the day with their families, our supervisors gladly spent Purim with the couples in need," she said.
 
Mrs. Davidson said that today, "99.9 percent of all fertility clinics in Israel have Puah sponsored supervision. In the United States, the organization works with 50 cooperating labs.
 
"Puah is a unique organization in that it works with all Jews from diverse backgrounds and levels of religious observance. That is what I love most about it. About 20 percent of those Jews who seek our help are non-religious but want to follow the halachic mandates. For our religious clientele, we don't 'poskin' [make halakhic decisions, ed.]  for them, but with them. If they follow a certain rabbi, we respect that and work closely with their rabbis. Because we are a non-political organization, every Jew is treated with the utmost of respect and that is the greatest kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d's Name, ed]," said Mrs. Davidson.
 
Besides Israel and the United States, Puah Institute also provides supervision and counseling services in Europe, Australia, South America, and Canada.
 
With joy, Mrs. Davidson relates the narrative of two couples who sought out the help of Puah. "Recently, we had two sets of triplets born to two couples. One couple lived on the west coast and one lived on the east coast and they were helped by the same doctor!  Both sets consisted of two girls and a boy and one set was born on a Monday and the other set were born on Tuesday. It was quite miraculous.
 
"Every year, we hold an international conference in Jerusalem that draws over 1500 people and it always takes place on the Wednesday before Parshas Shemos. We chose that time of the year, when we begin reading Sefer Shemos as representative of our namesake, Puah, who, as we know was Miriam, the sister of Moshe Rabbenu and the most loving and compassionate mid-wife", said Mrs. Davidson.
 
Those wishing to contact the Puah Institute in New York can access their web site at www.puahonline.org , visit their offices at 1709 Kings Highway in Brooklyn or by calling 718-336-0603.
 
Besides information for those seeking its help, upcoming Puah events on the website include a raffle to be drawn within the next few days, special musical Saturday night event  [melava malka] to take place at the synagogue in Bal Harbour, Florida on March 12th and the  annual dinner in New York which will be held on April 5th at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.