Does Judaism agree with female sterilisation?

October 25, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi…

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Is there a religious perspective on the attempts by countries to prosecute Israel’s leaders for alleged “war crimes”?

A. I address the question in four sections:

1. Is there such a thing as a war crime?

The answer is yes. The Torah lays down how a war is to be conducted. If a nation or army flouts these requirements a war crime has been committed.

The Musaf service on Rosh HaShanah declares that God looks at the deeds of nations as well as individuals and if necessary judges a nation severely. Even without an international legal system, God can ensure a nation suffers for the wrongs it commits.

2. Should war criminals be pursued?

The answer is yes. No matter how old or frail they are they must not be allowed to escape scrutiny.

But in Jewish ethics, the punishment of any type of criminal gives us no joy. When the angels wanted to rejoice that the wicked Egyptians were drowning in the sea, God silenced them and said, “My creatures are perishing, and you want to sing?”

3. Are war crimes the concern of other nations?

The answer is yes. Maimonides wrote, “There is no crime as despicable as murder, nothing which destroys civilisation as the killing of innocent people”. The murder of innocent people anywhere diminishes us all.

4. Are Israeli leaders war criminals?

The answer is no. Who is making the accusation? People with an axe to grind. Who are they complaining to? Representatives of a legal system that acknowledges that in this area it is defective and needs improvement. In the circumstances of today’s world, such accusations are a joke and a tragedy.

The war criminals that Nazi-hunters are pursuing are the genuine article. The Israeli government and military leaders past and present are not.


Q. Does Judaism agree with female sterilisation?

A. The Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law refer to a “cup of roots” which causes temporary sterilisation. This may have some affinity with modern methods of oral contraception.

Permanent sterilisation is permitted only for imperative medical reasons, but it may be performed only with the consent of the woman’s husband.

Sterilisation for social or economic reasons is not allowed.

Rabbinic opinion must be part of the decision-making process.


Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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