Conceiving Agency

Reproductive Authority among Haredi Women
Michal S. Raucher
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/03/2020
Format: Paperback 9 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-05002-1
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Conceiving Agency: Reproductive Authority among Haredi Women explores the ways Haredi Jewish women make decisions about their reproductive lives. Although they must contend with interference from doctors, rabbis, and the Israeli government, Haredi women find space for—and insist on—autonomy from them when they make decisions regarding the use of contraceptives, prenatal testing, fetal ultrasounds, and other reproductive practices. Drawing on their experiences of pregnancy, knowledge of cultural norms of reproduction, and theological beliefs, Raucher shows that Haredi women assert that they are in the best position to make decisions about reproduction.

Conceiving Agency puts forward a new view of Haredi women acting in ways that challenge male authority and the structural hierarchies of their conservative religious tradition. Raucher asserts that Haredi women's reproductive agency is a demonstration of women's commitment to Haredi life and culture as well as an indication of how they define religious ethics.

Author Bio

Michal Raucher is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and affiliate faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University.


"Michal Raucher shows that women’s reproductive and moral agency is much more complicated than many assume—especially with respect to religious and cultural traditions that are not widely known by those outside of those traditions—here specifically speaking to the experiences of ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Haredi) women. She shows the strong contribution that an ethnographic method can make to give a much more richly textured understanding to the decisions, norms, values, and worldviews of these women than is possible to achieve though studies of religious and legal texts alone."

 (Aana Marie Vigen, author of Women, Ethics, and Inequality in U.S. Healthcare)

"Michal Raucher argues that women who are in their third pregnancy and beyond claim a distinctive relationship with the divine, a relationship that authorizes them to trust their own embodied knowledge over the directives of their doctors or their rabbis. This work is an important intervention in Jewish studies, providing much needed attention on those who have too often been marginalized, like women and children."

 (Ayala Fader, author of Mitzvah Girls)

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Table of Contents

1. Medicine and Religion: Doctors and Rabbis in Israel
2. Books and Babies: Pathways to Authority
3. The Embodiment of Pregnancy
4. Reproductive Theology: Embodying Divine Authority
5. Abortions, Finances, and Women's Reproductive Authority
Conclusion: Haredi Women's Bodies and Beyond
Works Cited