Sarah, Wombs, Hazal and Science

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The Torah tells us about Sarah (Bereishis 11:30) “Vatehi Sarah akarah,

ein lah valad
– Now Sarai was barren, she had no child.” The Gemara in Yevamos 64a-b learns from this verse that not only did Sarah not give birth, she did not have a “beis velad” (uterus) at all.

Bereishis Rabbah 53:5 and 63:5 says that Sarah did not have “ikar mitrin.”

This all seems to imply that Sarah did not have a uterus. But if that is the case, how could she have menstruated? Aside from the midrashim that she menstruated (e.g. Bava Metzia 87a), the Torah tells us (Bereishis 18:11) that Sarah had stopped menstruating due to her advanced age, clearly implying that when she was younger she had menstruated. (Cf. Rashi, Bereishis 18:8 that Sarah miraculously regained her menses.) Is this a midrash that contradicts science as we now understand it or can the two be somehow resolved?

R. Yitzhak Weiss (Minhas Yitzhak 1:125:6-7) says that we cannot bring a proof le-halakhah from Sarah because this midrash contradicts the physical reality as we know it. He then suggests that perhaps part but not all of Sarah’s uterus was damaged.

R. Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer vol. 3, Even Ha-Ezer 4:1 says about Sarah, “Therefore the text had to tell us that she did not have a ‘beis velad‘ – she did not have a ‘beis velad‘ at all.” This is in implicit disagreement with the Minhas Yitzhak.

Dr. Shaul Weinreb has suggested that “she did not have a uterus” is not meant literally but that she did not have a functioning uterus.

Dr. Eddie Reichman suggested that these midrashim disagree with each other. This does not, however, explain how the midrash seems to contradict an explicit verse.

Dr. Josh Backon suggested that Sarah lacked eggs but had a uterus.

My rabbi, this past Shabbos, suggested that the midrash did not mean that Sarah literally had no uterus. It only meant that in shamayim it was decreed that she be incapable of giving birth.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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