From: Debra

Dear Rabbi,

I am considering giving birth by C-section and was wondering whether there are any Jewish considerations involved.

Dear Debra,

Jewish considerations do, in fact, have a “bearing” on your question.

Since it’s not clear the reason why you’re considering C-section, I’ll discuss the several possibilities.

If it’s not for medical reasons but primarily a matter of convenience – a scheduled birth – from a Jewish point of view, this should be avoided. We believe that G‑d who grants conception and guides every stage of pregnancy best knows when to induce labor and bring about birth. This is referred to in the Talmud (Ta’anit 2a) as G‑d controlling the key to birth. Interfering with G‑d’s plan can negatively affect the child’s mazal and should not be done for mere expediency.

However, performing C-section for medical reasons, either for the safety of the baby or the mother, whether planned in advance or performed during labor, is acceptable. In the absence of any potential harm, we encourage a natural course of labor and birth. But in a case of danger, intervening to protect mother and child is condoned.

There may be some significant ramifications resulting from birth through C-section that you should know.

While there are no real differences regarding the birth of a girl, there certainly are potential differences regarding a boy.

For example, the Torah discusses the commandment to “redeem the first-born male child” called in Hebrew “pidyon haben” (Ex. 13:11-16). While this does not apply if either the father or the mother is either a Cohen or Levi, it does apply to the first-born of every other Jew. But this is specifically if this first child has a natural birth, i.e. he is born by breaching the birth canal. Accordingly, a first-born who would ordinarily require a pidyon haben but was born through C-section would not require pidyon. (Sh.A., Y.D. 305:1,18,24).

If this will be your first child, and in your case a boy who would require a pidyon, choosing C-section would be a choice to forgo fulfilling the mitzva of pidyon haben. If it’s for health concerns, that’s one thing; but for convenience is another.

An additional possible difference for C-section in boys is regarding the brit mila. The commandment to fulfill this mitzva on the eighth day is so binding that if the eighth day is Shabbat, the mitzvah of brit mila actually overrides Shabbat! But based on a careful reading of the Torah text, the Gemora (Shabbat 135a,b) and Legal Codes (Sh.A., O.Ch. 331:5) teach that this is only when the mother undergoes natural birth, becoming what’s called a “yoledet”. Since this is not the case with C-section, a child born on Shabbat via C-section (for example, to avoid danger) would not be allowed to have a brit on the eighth day which would be the following Shabbat, but rather the brit would have to be postponed until Sunday.;

Regarding this last point, when the Chazon Ish came from Europe to Israel, he emphasized that this halacha should be promoted and promulgated throughout the community of mohelim (Chazon Ish Y.D. 154:4). Even though it is explicitly stated in the Code of Jewish Law, apparently it wasn’t particularly well-known even among the mohelim, and even today it is not well-known among the general populace.

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