Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 2 January 2016 / 21 Tevet 5776

Be Fruitful and Multiply

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Harrison

Dear Rabbi,

My wife and I are not observant but we are traditional Jewish. We have been married several years and never intended to have children — we both consider it too much of a burden. Lately we have encountered a lot of criticism for this from a Jewish point of view. We’ve agreed to hear various opinions on the matter. May I ask what yours would be? Thanks.

Dear Harrison,

In addressing your question to an Orthodox rabbi you clearly understand that my position will be the position of the Torah, namely that it is a mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply.

Barring serious health concerns or other extreme exceptions, the anticipation of children being a burden is no justification for not raising a family, and the fact that this mitzvah is the first commandment of the Torah stresses the personal responsibility one has to perpetuate humanity in general, and the Jewish People in particular.

The Talmud (Berachot 10a) elaborates on an incident in Tanach where G-d sends the prophet Isaiah to the righteous king Hezekiah with the message, “You’re going to die and you’re not going to live”. Alarmed, the king asks for an explanation, also questioning the redundancy of dying and not living.

The prophet responded that the decree had been issued by G-d since the king refused to get married and have children, for which he was to be punished by dying in this world and being barred from life in the World-to-Come.

Even though the king’s reasoning was sound, for he saw through Divine inspiration that his children would be wicked, and as sons of the king they would one day rule Israel and could thereby cause great harm to the Jewish People, obviously G-d thought he was “dead wrong”.

Ultimately, the king repented, was granted life and married the prophet’s daughter, with whom he had children. The children did in fact turn out to be wicked as prophesied, and as part of the Divine plan, but the king at least did what was incumbent upon him and received life.

If G-d takes the mitzvah of having children so seriously, even despite the very justifiable reason of wanting to avoid having wicked children rule over Israel, certainly He does not favor avoiding having children because of the natural burden all parents have, particularly when it’s reasonable to hope that any children you would have will be good people and good Jews.

In addition to the great mitzvah of having children, there are so many joys and so much love that far outweigh any burden of raising them. So many people either don’t get married or refrain from having children for reasons similar to yours, and believe me, their lives are no easier or fulfilling.

On the contrary, unfortunately, by the time they realize how much they’ve forfeited or lost, it’s often too late. For this reason many remain single or childless for the rest of their lives, living with a void of loneliness and regret. And after they die, it’s all over for them, since they lacked foresight by considering it too much of a burden to impart life into children who would continue to impart life to their parents in this world and the next.

Perhaps these thoughts add extra meaning to G-d’s warning to the king that by not having children he would die in this world and have no life in the next: Intentionally refraining from marriage and bestowing life ultimately causes emptiness in life, which is akin to death, and simultaneously aborts perpetuating life after one’s death.

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