were several interesting theories concerning the factors that determine
the sex of the child. According to one, which owned Talmudic warrant,
the sperm is male, the egg-cell female; whichever makes its entry second
into the womb "subdues" the first and impresses its gender
upon the offspring. Consequently the parent whose emission is delayed
determines the child's sex. The same conclusion was also derived from
a contrary premise, namely, that the will of the parent who first experiences
an orgasm is paramount. This view, however, rather unreasonably insists
that all men desire girl children, and all women, boys. Still a third
opinion was based on a remarkable anatomical fable. Within the womb
there are seven sacs, three at each side and one in the center. If the
spermatozoa enter those at the right, the child will be a boy; the left
sacs produce girls and the middle one, children who are sexless or hermaphroditic.
Therefore, there mother can control the sex of her child by lying either
on her right or left side.
manifold infallible ways of discovering the sex of the child prior to
birth. The male lies face-down in the womb, the female face-up (the
corpse of a drowned man or woman floats in the same manner). At the
instant when the child pushes its way into this world one can tell its
sex by noting the direction in which its head is turned. But most of
the prognostics did not necessitate waiting until they were no longer
needed. The desired information could be obtained long before. Thus,
if a pregnant woman drips some milk from her breast upon a board or
rock, if it spatters in the child will be a boy; otherwise, a girl.
Or, if the milk sinks in water, she will bear a girl, and if it floats,
a boy. If her loins ache, she is carrying a boy, but if her belly pains,
it is a girl. If she is quick about her housework and her spinning,
she will have a son, while if she is sluggish and can barely get around,
a daughter. The right-and-left leitmotif was also prominent. A right
breast fuller than the left betokens a make heir; the same is indicated
if, on rising from her seat, a woman leans on her right side; but if
she feels the fetus knocking against her left side, it is a girl, and
signs were evidently drawn from non-Jewish folklore, for the medieval
literature abounds with parallels. It is noteworthy, though, that the
Jewish sources retain these investigations and experiments to satisfy
no mere curiosity, however justified the thirst for knowledge may be
in this case, but rather to meet a pious need. They are meant for parents
who reside a considerable distance from the nearest performer of circumcisions.
Should they wait until the child is born to determine whether or not
they require his services, it would be impossible to initiate their
son into the covenant at that the prescribed time. Therefore science
is pressed into the service of religion, and the summons can go out,
if the prognostications so indicate, long before the boy has opened
his eyes to the light of day.
Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study
in Folk Religion. Copyright © 1939 Behrman's Jewish Book
House, Inc. (published by Atheneum and reprinted by arrangement
with the Jewish Publication Society of America), pp. 188-89.