Shouldering Moral Responsibility: The Division of Moral Labor among Pregnant Women, Rabbis, and Doctors

Tsipy Ivry, Elly Teman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article contributes to the anthropology of morality through an ethnographic focus on the consultations of religiously observant Jews with rabbis and medical specialists regarding dilemmas surrounding prenatal diagnosis of fetal anomalies. Our ethnography looks at religious couples who consult rabbinic authorities on their reproductive dilemmas rather than making autonomous decisions and the procedures of decision-making that rabbis enact. We examine the rabbis’ emic practice of dividing moral labor and outsourcing it in a chain reaction to various medical and rabbinic experts. The purpose of outsourcing moral decisions and aggregating expert opinions is to lighten the heavy weight of moral responsibility for consultees as well as for the rabbinic consultants. In seeking expert consultations, people might actually be opting for liberation from freedom of choice—at least as defined in the model of autonomous decision-making—rather than merely submitting to an authoritative doctrinarian power, whether of religion or biomedicine. [moral labor, religion, prenatal diagnosis, biomedicine, Orthodox Jews].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-869
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the American Anthropological Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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