TEL AVIV — Ari Nagel takes the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply extremely seriously. This Jew, however, fulfills the mitzva in a highly unconventional manner.
Nagel, dubbed “The Sperminator” by the New York tabloid press, is a New York math and computer science professor who gives his sperm for free to women who contact him asking for assistance in getting pregnant. Sometimes he has sexual relations with the women. In other instances, he provides sperm donations at the women’s homes, or accompanies them to doctors’ offices, IVF clinics or cryobanks to produce specimens.
There have even been occasions, as reported in the press, when Nagel has ejaculated into menstrual cups in public men’s restrooms and handed them off to women who inserted them into their vaginas in nearby public women’s bathrooms.
A New York Post article made it seem like it was routine for the tall, blue-eyed Nagel to conduct such seminal fluid handoffs in Target stores and Starbucks cafés throughout the Tri-State Area.
‘For one of my children I mailed the sperm’
“No, that’s not really the case. Only two of my kids were born from cases in which I handed off sperm to the mother in a public restroom. One was at the Hampton Inn hotel lobby bathroom in Queens and the other was in the bathroom in the family court in downtown Brooklyn,” Nagel clarified for The Times of Israel in a recent interview in Tel Aviv.
“And for one of my children I mailed the sperm,” Nagel added.
The father of 26 children under the age of 14 (with seven more on the way) was in Israel at the invitation of an Israeli woman who flew him over to provide her with five sperm specimens. He had them frozen at a Ramat Hasharon cryobank, proudly posting on Facebook the lab report from the medical facility attesting to his high sperm count shortly thereafter.
Nagel, 41, also used the opportunity to be in Israel to spend time with a brother and his family who reside in a West Bank settlement. He said he hoped to visit with an eight-year-old son he fathered who lives here with his mother, as well.
While Nagel never charges the women a fee for his gametes, he does enjoy the perks of being flown to various locations to make donations, or to visit with his offspring. Paying for such travel is not within his own budget, as he has been sued for child support by five women. About half of his approximately $100,000 annual salary goes toward child support payments for nine of his offspring.
Although Nagel is aware of each and every one of his progeny and stays in touch with them and their mothers to varying degrees, he doesn’t keep careful records on his sperm donations, of which he seems to have lost count at this point. He’s been at this pretty much full time for the last nine years, and it’s hard enough for him to keep up with the successful pregnancies, let alone the insemination attempts that failed.
Nagel is similarly loose about agreements with the women to whom he donates his sperm. He asks them not to sue him for child support, but doesn’t demand they put anything in writing.
“Two or three mothers asked me to sign something, but I didn’t bother to keep a copy. I didn’t think it was enforceable anyway,” Nagel said.
So far, other than the five women who sued Nagel, he hasn’t run into any legal problems. There is, however, the fact that he is the lawful husband of the mother of three of his children. Nagel confirmed that he is civilly married, but refused to speak further on the record about the relationship.
The women to whom he donates sperm come from a wide variety of ethnic, racial, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. Some of them are Jewish. The women are also geographically dispersed, although the majority of them live in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Some are married and some are single. Some are straight and some are gay. In the case of one couple Nagel helped, one parent is transgender.
The women mainly reach out to him through social media and Nagel, who claimed his sole motivation is to help create happy families, gets more requests than he can handle. He has to triage them based on ethical considerations.
“If an older woman and a younger woman are ovulating on the same day, do I help the older one who may not be as fertile, but this may be her last chance? Or do I help the younger woman who has a better chance of conceiving?” he said, echoing his early yeshiva education.
According to Harvard law professor and bioethics expert I. Glenn Cohen, there is no law that prohibits Nagel’s sperm donations. At the same time, there are not necessarily laws that will protect him from financial responsibility for resultant children — not that the laid-back Nagel seems to care.
“The oral agreements are unlikely to be interpreted to be contracts, but the specifics of the interactions would matter. Whether a written agreement would be binding varies from state to state. Some states enforce them, while others say the right of support belongs to a child and cannot be waived by parents,” Cohen explained to The Times of Israel in an email.
According to Cohen, typically, an individual who provides sperm to a woman will not be deemed to be a legal father if the recipient is married, her husband consents in writing, and the sperm donation takes place under the supervision of a licensed physician. Some states have amended their statute to drop the first two conditions to allow single women to use known sperm donors. Other states have not. Still other states make decisions based on common law reasoning, and it matters to them whether the man who donates sperm develops an ongoing father-like relationship with the child (visits the child in early life, attends birthday parties, sets up a college fund, etc.).
Nagel does, in fact, make a point of attending baby showers, births, birthday parties, graduations and Father’s Day celebrations for many of his children, thus potentially opening himself up to legal liabilities. Nagel purposely chooses not to donate anonymously to sperm banks so as to strengthen the potential for him to be part of his children’s lives.
Nagel is mindful that he is getting older and that it will soon be time for him to call it quits. He may have an amazingly high sperm count and a studly track record, but he knows that genetic defects increase with parental age.
“I’ve had all the genetic testing, but I want healthy children, so I will only do this for a few more years,” he said.
‘Kids with an anonymous donor could really struggle on Father’s Day’
This would be a prudent step. Cohen noted that in some US states, there is what is known as wrongful birth liability, a suit brought by the parents of a child with a severe disability against the provider of sperm for the medical costs if there was some form of negligence in providing information or disclosure. There is another kind of lawsuit brought by the child itself, called wrongful life. These suits, however, are not commonly allowed in the US.
As far as Nagel is concerned, love trumps any legal or ethical concerns that people looking on may have. He said there is “a lot of love going back and forth” between him and the families he has helped create, and that his children are better off than those produced from anonymous sperm donors.
“Kids with an anonymous donor could really struggle on Father’s Day,” he said.
He’s not worried about the possibility of accidental incest among his offspring, since most of the children and their mothers know each other, with many of them inviting one another to baby showers and birthday parties.
This extremely large multi-racial “mini-UN” family Nagel has created for himself is light years away from the Orthodox Jewish family he grew up in in Monsey, New York. The middle of seven children, Nagel moved away from a religiously observant lifestyle about 20 years ago.
“But I still take off work for Jewish holidays,” said Nagel, who remains close to his Orthodox family.
He admitted that it hasn’t been easy for his parents to deal with his life choices.
From a halachic (Jewish law) perspective, Nagel is performing a forbidden act, according to Jewish bioethics expert Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg.
“Emitting semen in this way is onanut (onanism), and it is a forbidden act. It is forbidden for an unmarried Jewish man to be a sperm donor,” Steinberg said in an interview in his office at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
“It is permissible only for a married man to donate sperm to his wife in the course of fertility treatments. And a Jewish man undergoing chemotherapy or the like may freeze his sperm for future use within a marriage. But what [Nagel] is doing is not allowed halachically,” he said.
Regardless of the fact that Nagel’s “Sperminator” activities contravene halacha, for the minority of his offspring who were born to halachically Jewish mothers, Jewish law would apply.
“According to Jewish law, sperm donors are regarded as fathers, so a Jewish mother could bring Nagel to a beit din [Jewish religious court] demanding mezonot [child support],” Steinberg said.
There is also a theoretical concern about mamzerim (children born of incest) if Jewish individuals conceived with donated sperm from the same donor grow up and marry. However, as long as all of Nagel’s children born to Jewish mothers are aware of their full biological parentage, then there should not be a problem.
While Nagel’s fertility is perhaps to be admired, Steinberg pointed out that from a meta-halachic, philosophical perspective, Nagel is not going about procreating in a proper way.
“We don’t advocate all different kinds of untraditional family structures. This is not the way to create families from a Jewish point of view,” Steinberg said.
The Sperminator himself sees thing differently. He’s proud of all the different kinds of families he’s helped create over the last decade. He points to the families of three of his children — all one-year-old boys — as examples.
“One has African American lesbian moms in Brooklyn. One was born to a single Mormon mother living on a farm in the Midwest. And one is the son of a Jewish couple in New England, where one of the parents is transgender. How cool is that?” he said.