Written by Tzvi Doron
I will never pass on my genes. Last night, this became crystal clear to me. My wife, Rachel, and
I have been on a four year infertility journey. We have been through two surgeries and four
rounds of IVF, including hundreds of injections, dozens of blood draws and ultrasounds, and
four painful egg retrievals. This evening, we are gearing up for a shabbat of infertility awareness
programming, which Rachel helped plan. It will coincide with the Torah portion of tazria, which
discusses laws and rituals involving birth. But there will be no birth for us—at least not in the
For four years I held out hope, but last night, a phone call from our doctor dashed those hopes.
My wife and I have been unable to conceive, naturally or with assistance, because I have a
condition called idiopathic non-obstructive azoospermia, meaning there is no sperm in my
semen and the cause is unknown.
Since Biblical times, infertility has been considered a female issue. In the Bible, there are no
infertile men—only their wives are akarot, or barren women. This is recounted with three of four
of our matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel) in the Torah. Later in Tanach, other infertile
women appear, including Samuel’s mother Hannah and the Shunamite woman who serves
Elisha in the book of Kings 2.
Rabbinic sources continue this bias, including a legal ruling (no longer followed) cited by Rabbi
Yosef Karo in the shulchan aruch requiring a man to leave his wife—not simply allowing it—if 10
years of marriage pass with no children so he may fulfill his obligation to procreate.
Today, we know better. Male factor infertility is reported to be the sole cause of at least 20% of
couple infertility and a contributing factor in 50%.
And yet, when planning for this shabbat of infertility awareness, there was concern about having
too much programming for men. No one was concerned that the programming would be “too
much” for women. Ads for fertility support groups and other events commonly feature photos of
women only. And when my male friends ask me about “our situation,” it’s not uncommon for
them to focus primarily on how my wife is doing. They aren’t doing this because they don’t care.
They do care but even after 3,000 years, a deeply entrenched bias remains.
This hyperfocus on women when it comes to infertility is destructive for two reasons. It burdens
women disproportionately with the unfair stigma of infertility and it leaves men without the
support they often need. The truth is that infertility is a couples problem. It doesn’t matter where
the biological problem lies.
So how do men feel about infertility? I can’t tell you how all men feel, but I can give you a little
window into what I have felt these past few years. I will never get the chance to look at a little
face that looks like mine or my wife’s. I often think about being the last link in the chain that led
to my existence since my parents are no longer living. I am the next generation to die. Who will
Yet, the pain that exceeds all others is not my failure to be a father but my inability to be the
husband I hoped to be for Rachel. Everyday, I feel the heartbreak of a man who cannot give his
wife that which she so desperately wants. I am also acutely aware that no matter what decision
Rachel and I make regarding other ways to build a family, my life stage will not match those in
my peer group for the rest of my life. In a culture that values fertility as part of manhood, I
sometimes feel like less of a man. These are but a few of the things I think about on a regular
basis. As a doctor, I know there is no blame in having my condition and that Rachel and I will
overcome this challenge. I realize many of my fears and insecurities are irrational. But 3,000
years of patriarchal ideas are deeply rooted in each of us and difficult to shed. But I’m working
After all, maybe 3,000 years is long enough.