Rabbi Yoseph Karo on the Essential Public Purpose of Marriage
Dr. J has often discussed the essential public purpose of marriage. Many of our commenters have dismissed her account of that purpose because it emphasizes the procreative aspect of marriage as the public purpose. They seem to think that this purpose was made up in order to exclude certain non-favored groups from marriage.
Well, here’s a definition of marriage that has been with us since time immemorial, encoded in the Yoseph Karo’s immortal Shulchan Aruch, the basic code of Jewish Law. It’s the very first paragraph in the very first chapter in the volume containing the laws of marriage (emphasis added. The Rem”a, by the way, is a slightly later gloss added by a different author, Rabbi Moshe Isserles).
1. Every man is obligated to marry a women in order to be fruitful and to multiply and anyone who doesn’t engage in being fruitful and multiplying is as if he spills blood, and lessens the appearance, and causes the divine presence to depart from Israel. Rem”a: He who does not marry is not allowed to make a blessing or to engage in Torah etc. and he is not called a man, and when he marries a woman his sins are cast into doubt, as it is said: “One who has found a wife has found goodness and obtains favor in the eyes of God.” (Prv. 18:22)
While this purpose somewhat differs from Dr. J’s purpose in detail (and somewhat in practice as well), I think the case that marriage is about procreation (and always has been) is well nigh overwhelming.
Lest you think the sentence, “anyone who doesn’t engage in being fruitful and multiplying is as if he spills blood” is wholly without basis, I quote from a recent article about our nation’s second least fruitful city: Seattle. “There’s something missing from many Seattle neighborhoods: the sound of children’s laughter.” The same thing would likely be missing following a general massacre. Surely, Jewish Law does not literally consider a childless person a murderer. Nevertheless, it is essential to note that childlessness and murder share some practical results. (Seattle is the second least fruitful city. Any guesses as to the very least fruitful? No points for correct guesses. That one was just too easy).