Obligatory Effort [Hishtadlut] as an Explanatory Model: A Critique of Reproductive Choice and Control

Elly Teman, Tsipy Ivry, Heela Goren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies on reproductive technologies often examine women’s reproductive lives in terms of choice and control. Drawing on 48 accounts of procreative experiences of religiously devout Jewish women in Israel and the US, we examine their attitudes, understandings and experiences of pregnancy, reproductive technologies and prenatal testing. We suggest that the concept of hishtadlut—”obligatory effort”—works as an explanatory model that organizes Haredi women’s reproductive careers and their negotiations of reproductive technologies. As an elastic category with negotiable and dynamic boundaries, hishtadlut gives ultra-orthodox Jewish women room for effort without the assumption of control; it allows them to exercise discretion in relation to medical issues without framing their efforts in terms of individual choice. Haredi women hold themselves responsible for making their obligatory effort and not for pregnancy outcomes. We suggest that an alternative paradigm to autonomous choice and control emerges from cosmological orders where reproductive duties constitute “obligatory choices.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-288
Number of pages21
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The US research sample was funded by a postdoctoral research grant to Elly Teman from the Penn Center for Integration of Genetic Healthcare Technologies at the University of Pennsylvania and by a grant to Elly Teman from the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania. The Israeli research sample was partially funded by a research grant to Tsipy Ivry from the Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Haifa and partially from a research grant to Elly Teman from the Behavioral Sciences Dept. at Ruppin Academic Center, Israel.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Explanatory models
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Religion
  • Reproductive choice
  • Reproductive technologies
  • Ultra orthodox Jewish women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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