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Judaism on Marriage and Children

June 9th, 2010

In my last post, I discussed the difficulties of raising children.  Nevertheless, the enterprise is essential.  Here’s an article about what the Jewish sources have to say about the issue:

The Bible depicts procreation as both a blessing and a commandment (Genesis 1:28, 9:1-7). Some medieval scholars count it as the first mitzva, both in order and importance, since it facilitates the settlement of the world and the ability for mitzvot to be performed (Hinuch). Procreation is further deemed as a central purpose of marriage, albeit not its exclusive goal (Tur EH 1), and one may even sell a Torah scroll to support a marriage (Megila 27a). Conversely, the Talmud declares, “He who has not engaged in procreation, it is as if he committed murder,” or alternatively, “has diminished the divine image (Yevamot 63b).

The sages debated the number of children necessary to fulfill the mitzva (Yevamot 61b), with normative law requiring a child of each gender who themselves survive with physical capabilities to procreate (EH 1:5-6). Some decisors believe that couples unable to beget children may fulfill this commandment through adoption, since the Talmud equates rearing an orphan with giving it life (Hochmat Shlomo EH 1:1).

The sages enjoined us to go beyond minimal population growth, citing Isaiah’s exhortation (45:18) to populate the world. Moreover, following Ecclesiastes’s advice (11:6), they proclaimed that one should not stop sowing his seed, given the unpredictable nature of progeny and mortality (Yevamot 62). While scholars debate the legal nature of these statements (Aruch Hashulhan EH 1:8), their theological sentiments had significant influence. Especially following the Holocaust, scholars like rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Ya’acov Breisch (Helkat Ya’acov EH 61) have further stressed the centrality of childbirth toward the nation’s revitalization. These considerations have, in part, motivated the Israeli health care system to generously finance fertility treatments and reproductive technologies.

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  1. Ginny
    June 9th, 2010 at 22:46 | #1

    This post reminded me of a wonderful article I read a few months ago, so I had to go find it.

    Published by the NY Times on Feb 18, 2010, it was titled: “God Said Multiply, and Did She Ever”

    A few excerpts:

    “WHEN Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants….A round-faced woman with a high-voltage smile, she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis.

    “Her descendants range in age from a 75-year-old daughter named Shaindel to a great-great-granddaughter born Feb. 10 named Yitta in honor of Mrs. Schwartz and a great-great-grandson born Feb. 15 who was named Moshe at his circumcision on Monday….

    “Like many Hasidim, Mrs. Schwartz considered bearing children as her tribute to God. A son-in-law, Rabbi Menashe Mayer, a lushly bearded scholar, said she took literally the scriptural command that “You should not forget what you saw and heard at Mount Sinai and tell it to your grandchildren.”

    “And she wanted to do that,” he said, without needing to add her belief that the more grandchildren, the more the commandment is fulfilled.”

    link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/nyregion/21yitta.html

  2. Arlemagne1
    June 10th, 2010 at 11:08 | #2

    Ginny,
    That’s a great story. I have a friend who knew the woman personally. She was a legend among the Satmar Hassidim. My parents have a friend who have a similar story (they’re not hassidic themselves, but one of their sons is. They have about a hundred descendants. Not 2000 by any stretch, but certainly more than average.

    When looking at my children, I also often think that I’m putting a thumb in the eyes of the Nazis, the Jihadis and the others who would like to see the end of our people.

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