JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Medical Association has barred its member physicians from participating in an infertility conference geared for haredi Orthodox men and women that did not invite female speakers.
The annual Innovations in Gynecology and Halacha conference of the Puah Institute for Medicine and Halacha is scheduled for Wednesday. Some 1,000 men and women are expected to attend the conference, which is geared to the Modern Orthodox and haredi Orthodox communities. Male and female participants are separated by dividers in the conference hall.
The conference has been held for the last 12 years, but this marks the first time that the absence of female speakers has become an issue. Women do not serve as speakers, according to the organization, in order to insure the participation of the haredi Orthodox, who are generally wary of medical advancements in fertility treatments.
In response to the criticism, the Institute announced Monday that it would hold an event for women only in the summer, and will make it an annual event tied to the existing conference.
At least eight doctors reportedly had pulled out of the conference prior to the medical association’s announcement Monday, though replacements had been found, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Puah has in the past received subsidies from the Ministry of Health, but not this year, The Jerusalem Post reported.
"We are sorry that instead of appreciating the great advances we have merited to see in women’s health in general, and in particular within the religious sector, as a result of our conferences, there are cynical, aggressive elements who try to block us by using the prevailing public ambience," the organization said on its website. "These elements are riding on the back of the Puah Institute in order to advance their personal agenda."
The Puah Institute, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1990 by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu in an effort to help Orthodox couples overcome infertility. In the Bible, Puah is one of the midwives who continued to deliver Jewish babies in Egypt and save the males after Pharaoh decreed they should be drowned in the Nile at birth.