restricted access Family Planning: A Halakhic-Gender Perspective
Abstract

The halakhah binds observant Jews to fulfill the biblical commandment to "be fruitful and multiply." The rabbis in the Talmud expanded this biblical obligation into two injunctions: lashevet—"to populate the world," and la'erev—"to father more children," interpreted as meaning that each man ought to father as many children as he is able.

This commandment is characterized by a dialectic tension. On the one hand, emphasis is placed on the importance of the commandment and of fulfilling it punctiliously. On the other, there is recognition of the need to qualify it, because of the existential difficulties it presents. This tension is emphasized in the literature of the Sages and the medieval rabbinic decisors, but it is absent from most contemporary halakhic rulings, whose rhetoric is usually that contraception or "family planning" is a "necessary evil," a product of "invidious modernism." Halakhic decisors encourage young couples to start having children immediately after marriage (at least until, health permitting, they have fulfilled the biblical commandment of procreation) and to raise as large a family as possible.

This trend, I shall argue, caters to male rather than female interests, and is fueled by a covert gender perspective that assumes that woman's main purpose is to bear and raise children. This article investigates the existence of a halakhic basis for family planning, and the extent to which that basis has been and could be invoked to take women's interests into account in family planning by observant young couples today.


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