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How a Baby Is Made

How is a Baby Made?  More specifically, what determines the future characteristics of the child?  One answer emerges from the story of Yaakov’s breeding of the sheep, an answer that seems to be endorsed by the Talmud: a child’s character is shaped by what the mother and father were thinking and doing at the time of conception. The Gemara in Nedarim (20a-b) has an extended discussion about which, if any, acts of marital sex are discouraged or forbidden.  Yochanan ben Dahavai states that the reason children are born lame, mute, deaf, or blind, is because husband and wife were engaged in improper sexual behavior with their bodies (certain sexual acts), their ears (what they were listening to), their mouths (where they were kissing), or their eyes (where they where looking).  This statement parallels the belief, widespread in the ancient world, that the thoughts or actions of the parents can imprint themselves on the fetus being conceived.  In his book “Natural History,” Pliny the Elder (1…

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