Postponing the Obligation to Have Children
Question: I am a twenty-year-old woman and, God willing, I will be
getting married soon. My question is this: Am I permitted, according
to Jewish law, to postpone pregnancy for two years in order to finish
the majority of my university studies without the burden of pregnancy
and parenting? I should point out that my future husband and I want to
have a fairly large family, five or six children. The question is can
I postpone birth by two years?
Answer: A person may not delay fulfilling the commandment to have
children. On the contrary, one must always hasten to perform Torah
precepts. In this vein, Rabbi Yoshia teaches: “It is written ‘Be
careful regarding the matzah’s’ (Exodous 12:17), and just as a person
must not allow the [dough of the] matzah’s to ferment, so one must not
allow the mitzvah’s (Torah commandments) to ‘ferment’; rather, if you
have the opportunity to fulfill a commandment, do it immediately.” And
Rabbi Shimon bar Lakish adds, “You must not skip over the precepts” –
i.e., do not postpone a commandment that has come your way, even in
order to fulfill another commandment (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Bo 201).
Now, in view of the fact that there is an obligation to fulfill
commandments with alacrity, it is clearly unacceptable to cause a
commandment’s fulfillment to be delayed. This is especially true when
it comes to so important a commandment as bearing children, a
commandment upon which the world depends and by virtue of which man
becomes partner with the Holy One, blessed be He.
The Sages forbade the sale of a Torah scroll except in order to
fulfill one of two commandments: the commandment to study Torah and
the commandment to bear children (see Tractate Megillah 27a; Beit
Shmuel, Even HaEzer 1, 15-16). Sometimes there is a particular
problem, physical or mental, that allows for postponing the
commandment, but it is proper to consult with a Torah scholar in order
to be sure that the problem indeed justifies delaying the obligation.
Postponing is No Solution
I would add, however, that I do not quite understand your question.
Why do you think that after your studies it will be easier for you to
have children? Most subjects studied in the university can be covered
in half a day, or slightly more, and the studies last for only about
seven and a half months a year. By contrast, most jobs necessitate
more than half a day’s work and continue for about eleven months of
the year. If you think it will be difficult to give birth while you
are a student, how will you be able to do so after you have entered
the working world?
In truth, this is a matter of determination and priority; the more a
person grasps the importance of family and children, the more desire
and willpower one has to bear children, to raise them, and to educate
them. Just as you will have strength at the age of thirty to give
birth, to take care of children, and to work, so too today you will
have the strength to learn a profession and to begin to raise
children. And just as at the age of thirty you will not be able to
immerse yourself entirely in work outside the home, so too today, you
will be unable to immerse yourself entirely in studies and
establishing yourself in work.
The Problem of Religious Colleges
Question: All of the above is true as far as university study goes,
but there are women who study in colleges where students must attend
classes from morning to evening. In such cases it is indeed easier for
women when they graduate and begin teaching. What, then, should a
woman do if she finds herself in this situation?
Answer: This is indeed a painful problem. A number of young women
inquired regarding this problem and I advised them to transfer to an
institution in which the study lasts fewer hours each day, so that
they are able to dedicate more time to establishing their families.
True, from the perspective of the religious framework these colleges
have an advantage, but it is forbidden to endanger the family,
marriage, pregnancy and childbearing, in order to learn in such
institutions. However, where there is reason to believe that a woman
will deteriorate spiritually at the university, it is best that she
remain in a religious framework.
Best to Give Birth When Young
I would go even further and say that, in many respects, the earlier
you give birth, the easier your life will be. Even if you know how
many children you want to have, it is best to have them when young.
The earlier the pregnancies, the easier they are and the less danger
there is. Moreover, younger parents have more strength to bear the
burden of rearing and educating children. When your children grow you
will be able to invest more time in your work outside of the home and
in nurturing your talents.
Moreover, because we only live so long in this world, one who
postpones birth will naturally see her offspring for fewer years. For
example, she will enjoy fewer weddings, births, and celebrations of
It must also be added that pregnancy is not guaranteed to anybody, and
preventing oneself from giving birth is like preventing divine
blessing and generosity. Who can say if when a woman is finally ready
to have children she will merit divine generosity?