Judaism on Marriage and Children
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.