Contrary to widespread misconception, it is completely permissible for parents to inquire and find out the gender of their baby during pregnancy. Even the Matriarch Rivka went to inquire of G-d as to what was in her womb.1 In fact, there are several instances in Scripture where the gender of a fetus is discussed openly.2 Indeed, there are a number of halachic issues that are relevant to a pregnant woman who is aware of the gender of her baby. For example, regarding kapparot, a woman who is aware of the gender of her baby need only use the type of chicken that corresponds to the fetus she is carrying. Similarly, a woman who knows that she is carrying twins should accordingly take two chickens for kapparot.3
There is also much discussion about whether a woman who finds out she is pregnant with a male kohen is permitted to enter a cemetery, and the like.4 There is even a view that women who are pregnant with kohanim are obligated to find out if they are carrying a male or female so that they can conduct themselves accordingly throughout their pregnancy.5 Other authorities do not require pregnant women to do so, and permit them to conduct themselves without any kohen-related restrictions.6
Further support for the ruling that there is nothing wrong with finding out the gender of one’s child can be gleaned from ancient texts that teach how to determine the gender of a fetus. It is written that this can be done by asking a pregnant woman to show you her hand. If she instinctively shows you the back of her hand, with the palm facing down, it is a sign that she is carrying a boy. But if she shows you her palm then she is carrying a girl.7
There are other similar tests and segulas that can be tried as well. It is also reasoned that if finding out the gender of a baby were forbidden, then the great sages who authored and compiled such teachings would not have done so. So too, the Talmud itself offers advice on how to conduct oneself during intercourse in order for a couple to conceive the gender of their choice, should they so desire.8
Even those who frown upon the practice of finding out the gender of one’s baby do not forbid it outright. Rather, opposition to finding out the gender of one’s baby is generally only in deference to the celebrated teaching that “blessing is only found upon that which is hidden from the eye.”9 While this teaching is certainly important, its application may be slightly out of context in this instance. This is because it is only found within talmudic literature as applying to profits, business dealings, and matters involving multiple quantities of an item.10 It is difficult to apply it, therefore, to the parents’ desire to better prepare for the arrival of their baby by knowing its gender in advance.
There is also a view that G-d intended that the gender of a child remain a secret until birth.11 As such, it is argued that getting this information by means of modern-day science is akin to rebelling against Him.12 This, too, is difficult to substantiate based on the scriptural and halachic precedents cited above. There is also an opinion that parents should not inquire about the gender of their baby during pregnancy lest they become sad by the result.13
Nevertheless, it is entirely permissible for parents to find out the gender of their baby should they choose to do so. There is also nothing wrong with parents revealing to their friends and family their baby’s gender.14 Here too, there doesn’t seem to be any halachic reason for keeping this information the tightly guarded secret that it often is. Perhaps the excitement of being able to inform one’s friends of the gender upon the birth of the baby, including information about the upcoming brit or kiddush, is a social delight that many are hesitant to do away with.
1 Bereishit 25:22.
2 See, for example, Shoftim 13:3.
3 Piskei Teshuvot 605:2; Kaneh Bosem 2:20.
4 Nishmat Avraham, YD 371:1; Shayarei Knesset Hagedola, YD 371:1; OC 343:2; Kiryat Chana David likutim 2; Oneg Yom Tov, YD 215; Chatam Sofer, YD 354; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:264. See Shach, YD 371:1 and Magen Avraham 343:2.
5 Mishna Berura 343:3; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 373:1. This is also widely reported to be the ruling of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. See Nishmat Avraham, YD 171.
6 Rokei’ach 366; Shach, YD 371:1; Shevet Hakehati 1:317; Chut Shani, Shabbat p.215; Tefila L’moshe 3:39.
7 Segulat Yisrael, mem page 207.
8 Nidda 31a.
9 Bava Metzia 42a; Ta’anit 8b.
10 Bava Metzia 42a; Ta’anit 8b; Rabbeinu Bechaye, Ki Tissa. See also OC 230:2; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 230:5.
11 Bereishit Rabba 65:12
12 Shevet Hakehati 1:317:8.
13 Yafeh Toar to Bereishit Rabba 65.
14 Kovetz Beit Hillel Vol. 13 p.90; Shevet Hakehati 1:317:8; Rivevot Ephraim 8:563:5.