Put 18 pulpit rabbis in one room for a week and what do you get?
While this sounds like a good opening line for a derashah or a rabbi joke, the 18 rabbanim who gathered last week for PUAH’s advanced seminar on taharat ha’mishpachah and infertility came away with their own answer: An intensive education in a highly relevant and specialized area of halachah, and a priceless new network of rabbinic colleagues with whom to collaborate.
Answering taharat ha’mishpachah questions is expected of many shul rabbis. Yet the laws, which are intricate to begin with, become extremely complex once you enter the arena of infertility. With one in six couples experiencing some form of infertility, chances are high that a rabbi will be approached by a congregant for guidance. It’s therefore vital for every rabbi to learn these halachot; however, your average shul rabbi does not have the requisite medical knowledge or in-depth familiarity with the specialized halachic responsa.
Enter PUAH. For 30 years, PUAH has been at the forefront of fertility medicine and halachah. PUAH’s rabbinic advisers are among the world’s leading experts in the field. Part of PUAH’s educational mission is to train shul rabbis in this specialized area of halachah — so that they can most effectively guide you, their congregant.
July’s intensive four-day seminar, given by Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, PUAH senior adviser, included lectures on IVF, IUI, surrogacy, and more, and the relevant laws of taharat ha’mishpachah as they apply to these medical treatments and technologies. Rabbi Elan Segelman, rabbinic head of PUAH-U.S., coordinated every detail — from the location in Beis Medrash L’Torah, Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, to the delicious, catered lunches.
For the participants, the real excitement was getting to meet and interact with their colleagues. These rabbanim represented a wide section of Orthodox Judaism; they hailed from as close as Queens and as far as South Carolina and Florida. Each had their own experiences dealing with couples in their communities; each had valuable knowledge to share; and the dynamic exchanges during the classes as well as the breaks gave a charged, high-energy feel to the entire seminar.
To capitalize on this energy, Rabbi Segelman set up a WhatsApp group for all the participants, and the rabbanim have since been sharing she’eilot and teshuvot that arise in the course of their counseling. Having a network of fellow rabbis to consult with is an invaluable side benefit that they received from the conference.
But most significantly, as a result of the seminar, 18 shuls throughout the country now have rabbinic leaders who are trained to provide proper halachic guidance about fertility treatment.