Jewish Thought About Being Childfree by Choice

            Religion has an influential role in the decision to bear children. In Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we examine religious motivations for procreation. In this column we’re going to look at Jewish positions (no pun intended) on choosing whether or not to have children. 

            In Jewish Orthodox tradition, halakhah is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow.  According to these rules, it’s simply not OK for a man to ejaculate outside of the vagina. A man sins if he “spills his seed upon the ground.” Although birth control is permitted under certain circumstances, the use of condoms is not allowed because it will result in destruction and/or blockage of the passage of the seed. Clearly, there is a “halakhic obligation to procreate.” (Judaism 101: Kosher Sex – www.jewfaq.org/sex,htm)

            Birth control is permitted in halakhah, as long as couples are committed to have at least two children, one of each gender. This complies with the oft quoted phrase, “be fruitful and multiply,” because offspring are considered to be blessings. Birth control is not acceptable in order to remain childfree.     

Photo: Tower Books

Given that in Orthodox Judaism bearing offspring is pretty darn mandatory, how do religious couples cope with the possibility of being childfree by choice?  In the March 5, 2012, the “Lady Mama” entry at www.ladymamale.blogspot.com, an orthodox married woman speaks out about reaching age 30 and still waiting “for the desire to have a child.” “In our day and age, I do not think it’s fair to make women like me feel there is something wrong with us just because we don’t have the ‘maternal instinct.’ It’s not fair to tell us we’re ‘overthinking’ the whole having kids thing. How can you not with such an important decision that not only impacts the rest of your life, the lives of all those around you, but most importantly the life of this innocent bystander who did not ask to be born.” Here is a woman who is thinking twice, in spite of her religious influences, however she struggles with the emotional pain of being orthodox and childless.

            Twenty women responded to this post. Several commended the writer on her honesty. These responders wrote statement such as how lucky this writer’s  children will be to have such a “thoughtful mother,” and “I respect you for publicizing your choice and wish more people in the orthodox world could be more open minded.”

            One respondent said that this article spoke to orthodox women who already had a “houseful of kids,” and felt guilty about not wanting to continue to multiply, yet struggled with the halachic obligation to be fruitful. “It will help me with my decision,” she wrote.

            An advocate of having children said “if you don’t have children you will never learn a certain type of giving or love that can only be found between parents and their children. “

            Another dissenting voice said: “True in the end, we don’t know how kids end up.” She cites an ancient king who, “decides not to have children since he knows his son will be wicked. But he is punished for that, since that is not his concern. His job, as a man, is to have children. Everything else is out of his hands.”

            It seems God dictates that couples are simply supposed to procreate without thinking twice about the long-term consequences.  Reform Judaism allows for some opposition to the standard orthodox position on childbearing, but permission to be childfree by choice is not spelled out.  This aspect of Judaism sees scripture as a guide, rather than as rules to be followed without question, and allows for the development of personal beliefs within a caring community.  The reform movement allows females to become rabbis, and for those who intermarry to be part of the Jewish community.

            “Modern” Jews believe that the benefits of birth control (female health, family stability or disease prevention) uphold the commandment to “choose life,” which trumps “Be fruitful and multiply.”

            The Reform Movement’s openness may allow for a sliver of light to shine through partially closed blinds.  It invites less judgment than Orthodox Judaism, and more discussion, about how there already is enough of us, and why we should think twice before making children.

            Since Judaism is the foundation of western religions, we wonder how much influence its laws have had on the compulsion of so many to birth first and ask questions later. As for those who believe we should be fruitful and multiply, we ask, “Until when?”

            After all, we have to stop sooner or later; the Earth is only so big.

           

Comments

  1. I can’t think of anything more influential to our culture than religion. I didn’t know that the ‘rules’ of Judaism had so much to say about this. In my religion the wedding ceremony emphasizes the necessity of having children as a part of being married, even if the bride and groom are elderly.

    James

    • Are you saying that the elderly married couple are expected to somehow ‘have’ a BABY(in vitro, surrogate…)? If they don’t, even if they were YOUNGER, any ‘PUNISHMENT’ to fear? What religion do you practice may I ask? Just curious. I like Unity myself!
      Personally, I’m all for people getting married, as long as they’re genuinely HAPPY with each other, whether they want kids or not! I strongly AVOID mainstream religion and esp. the fundamentalist kind which preach that marriage=CHILDREN. It’s really a personal decision as one should never be denied a loving relationship just because kids are not desired. I and my guy will someday be wed even tho’ we’re in our FIFTIES! But neither of us has any interest in raising kids and esp. not at our AGE. While I’m aware that some women take the RISK of producing Down Syndrome babies and other handicaps due to their eggs being OLD, I would NEVER! Yes, some of those women make healthy babies but the risk of a handicapped child rises sharply with advancing YEARS. Plus, pregnancy itself becomes more dangerous! I’ve read where child-FREE couples/singles are on the RISE. Great, considering we’re at 7 BILLION Earthlings and COUNTING!!!
      I’m an AUNTIE and my guy is an UNCLE…we couldn’t be happier with that!:)

      • Hi FreeLillith:
        Thanks for your post. We are not sure what you are saying. As for the first question, the answer is “no.” As to our religious beliefs, or lack thereof, we do not want to cloud the issues we discuss with personal and emotional diverrsions, As for the rest, we would greatly appreciate a clarification of your ponts.
        And thanks again.

  2. Which is better for the child, the parent(s), society, and the planet: an unwanted, unaffordable, unloved, neglected, abused, abandoned child, or preventing the ovum from being fertilized?

    How could any religion be in favor of the former?

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles
    http://www.nokidding.net; jerry@nokidding.net

  3. I’m not Jewish but a HUGE number of Protestants(and Catholics)also believe the scriptures strongly advocate child-bearing/reproduction(I’ve never liked the word ‘pro-creation) I personally can’t imagine NOT seriously considering IF I wanted children or not rather than letting my religion make the decision for me! One of the reasons I’ve kept religion at arm’s length as it basically tries to CONTROL people then make you feel GUILTY if you don’t follow the program. Most believers don’t realize that their ‘God’ is an ANTHROPOMORPHIC one, one who just like us is wrathful, vengeful and unforgiving! We are supposed to forgive over and over again but God can be unforgiving and cast ‘bad’ people into ‘HELL’. You could say we do that when we exercise the Death Penalty or get REVENGE on another. God can be forgiving too but it’s CONDITIONAL apparently! Fortunately not all religions or ministries teach a ‘Original Sin’ /Hell-fire’ doctrine! If you want wiser interpretations of scripture I would suggest looking into UNITY or the Unitarian/Universalists for those who want to feel freer to have their own personal walk with God. And no, you won’t be pressured into REPRODUCING if you don’t want to and can feel good about your decision. I and my male partner made the decision years ago to remain child-free and ya know what?…God doesn’t MIND one bit! 🙂

    • Hi FreeLilit:
      We are not judging religions. Our focus is non human reproduction and its consequences. We brought up Judaism – as we will other faiths from time to time – as part of an exploration of the sources of the human drive to procreate, reproduce, bear children, or whatever you would like to call it. Our book. “Enough of Us” deals with many aspects of reproducing and its consequences. You can check out a chapter for free at this web site.
      Thanks for your interest.

  4. The person making the decision whether or not to have children (or how many children to have) should be the same one who will have to live with the consequences of the choice.

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles
    http://www.nokidding.net; jerry@nokidding.net

  5. Shannon Parker says:

    I have been married twice, I am going to be married again, my partner and i are both converts to Judaism. I have no children from my previous relationships, he has a daughter. We will not be having any children of our own. (Even if we were younger, this would be the decision) I struggle quite often with this decision, it makes attending temple difficult.

Speak Your Mind

*