After having heard Anouk and Judy speak at the recent 'Hasidic Worlds in Fiction' event at the DC JCC, I read I Am Forbidden, Anouk's book, this past Shabbat. I was very disturbed by the book, mostly because I find it to be misleading. Just warning you now that my explanation of what is misleading will spoil the book for you, so if you want to read it, come back later.
In this book, a Satmar woman finds herself married to a Satmar man. The two of them try to have children but fail. The doctor examines the wife and doesn't seem to find anything wrong with her, so he then asks to examine the husband. In order to do this, he would need a semen sample. Alack! Shichvas Zera L'Vatala! The husband declares the Satmar Rebbe would never permit this. The woman then decides to have an affair and gets pregnant by the man she had the affair with, who was Jewish. At the same time, the man who loves her decides to give the semen sample and realizes that in fact, he is unable to sire children. He realizes that his wife's child cannot be his. Alas and alack- a mamzer!
Here are some excerpts from the book:
The fifth year of their marriage, Mila told Josef that her physician insisted on a semen sample before prescribing fertility drugs.
"But it is a grievous sin," Josef replied. "The Torah forbids it."
"Even for medical purposes? The doctor says some of his orthodox patients did do the test."
"Our Rebbe would never permit it."
"Even for couples who cannot have children?"
"Mila, how would the doctor help if the problem lies with me?"
"But if the problem doesn't lie with you, then the doctor will prescribe fertility drugs."
"The Torah itself forbids it, not just rabbinic law. No God-fearing rabbi would permit it." He hesitated. "Many women have been helped by the Rebbe's blessing."
"You ask him. I won't go to the Rebbe."
"I'm not angry with the Rebbe for surviving; I'm angry because when it came to his life, he allowed himself to compromise, but when it comes to our lives, we cannot do the one test that would permit me to start a fertility treatment."
"It's the test you're talking about? I told you, this isn't about the Rebbe. No God-fearing rabbi would permit what is expressly forbidden in the Torah."
Josef reached for a Talmud treatise, searched for a clause that might permit a semen analysis, and once more failed to find it:Anouk is very sneaky here. Notice that Josef never actually goes to talk to the Rebbe. He just assumes that the Rebbe would certainly forbid the semen analysis. This is very misleading. First off, the Rebbe would not forbid a semen analysis due to medical necessity. I can't speak for the Satmar Rebbe since I haven't asked him, but I know for a fact that the Bobover Rebbe permitted it and that rabbis in these communities take infertility issues extremely seriously. (True, that doesn't mean that they permit it instantly, but after one or two years of trying to have children, they do permit it.)
If his hand touches his penis, let his hand be cut off on his belly.Would not his belly be split? It is preferable that his belly be split...If a thorn stuck in his belly, should he not remove it? No...But all such, why?To emit seed in vain is akin to murder.
Secondly, Josef supposedly fails to find a clause that might permit semen analysis. There are very clear sources that permit it under certain circumstances (click here). Moreover, the fact is that this would not be shichvas zerah l'vatala. It's clearly not l'vatala since the whole point is that you are doing this for a purpose, for the purpose of analyzing the semen to see whether you can have children, thus for the mitzvah of pru u'rvu. You are not doing it to avoid pregnancy, like Onan did.
It bothers me immensely when authors mislead their (mainly secular or unaffiliated Jewish) audiences in this way. It leaves people with a bad taste in their mouth, assuming that Chasidic communities are invariably fanatical, and it's inaccurate.
Addendum: Ezra points out that this may be a historical matter, and that perhaps the situation that is recorded in the book is correct based on the time period in which it occurred. Thus, the book is only misleading if the reader applies what happened at that point in time to what would happen today, in 2012.