Are childless couples obligated to undergo medical treatments to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation? * The virtue of childless couples who adopt neglected children, who are considered as if they had given birth to them * The duty of an adopted son to honor his adoptive parents * Naomi was considered the mother of Oved because she helped take care and raise him * One who teaches and educates a friend’s child is considered as if he gave birth to him * The importance of joining the organization ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’, which finds optimum ways to keep Shmitta and maintain Jewish agricultural in Israel
An Agonizing Question
“Rabbi, as couple yearning for a second child, your recent articles were very important for us. Especially what you wrote about the value of love and joy among childless couples and the considerable test it entails – not to sink into sorrow, but to always increase kindness and joy. May we merit that always.
Nonetheless, we are still faced with the question of how much effort we should invest in medical treatments to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation. Thank God, we already have one child, and our question is whether we should make an effort to carry out in vitro fertilization in order to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation of having a son and daughter? Essentially, this is a general question: does the mitzvah of procreation require unnatural efforts?
It is a mitzvah for all couples struggling to fulfill the mitzvoth of procreation to act in all conventional medical methods to fulfill the mitzvah of having a son and a daughter, including performing in vitro fertilization.
True, in past times the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) instructed that a person was not obligated to perform unnatural procedures in order to fulfill the mitzvah. But this was during a time when reliable ways to solve the problem had not yet been discovered, and even the doctors themselves were divided in their opinions. Consequently, the majority of the public was unaccustomed to using methods that some doctors had developed, and thus, making an effort by means of them was considered unnatural (see, Divrei Malkiel 4:107; Minchat Shlomo, III, 98:8).
Today however, after medical techniques have successfully been developed, to the point where the vast majority of infertility problems can be solved by them, any procedure that is customary to perform within the medical framework is considered part of one’s obligation to fulfill the mitzvah. Obviously, this includes all treatments that HMO’s must provide their policyholders. And seemingly, even treatments that are not included in regular health insurance – if the majority of people wishing to have children perform them regularly, then one is required to do so, even if they are expensive – in order to fulfill the Torah obligation of procreation. This is what Rabbi Dichovsky has written (Techumin 22).
Even for those who have already fulfilled the Torah obligation of procreation, it is a mitzvah to have more children using the tools that medicine offers. However, when doing so requires great effort, it is not obligatory, but only a hidur (enhancement).
The Puah Institute
This is the opportunity to mention my distinguished friend, since the days we studied together in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Rabbi Menachem Burstein, shlita, who founded the Puah Institute – Fertility and Medicine According to Halakha – to assist all those requesting help in fulfilling this great mitzvah. The enormous merit of those working in this holy endeavor, assisting parents to have children, is unimaginable.
Adoption of Children
A righteous man wrote me about his and his wife’s difficult infertility problems, and about the great hardships they endured in prayers and large financial expenditures. His wife underwent unbearable treatments, including hundreds, and perhaps thousands of shots, in vitro fertilization, and abortions. In spite of all their efforts they remained childless, but found an important solution – adoption. He implored me to write about the virtue of adoption, through which children at risk are rescued, and the pain of childless couples can lead to salvation.
I am honored to fill his request, and thus glorify these righteous people, fathers and mothers who merit raising orphaned and abandoned children.
Those Who Raise Orphans are deemed as if they Gave Birth to Them
Our Sages said (Ketubot 50a) that concerning a person who merits raising a girl or boy orphan in their home and marries them off, the verse says he is “practicing righteousness at all times” (Tehillim, 106:3). They also said in the Midrash (Shmot Rabba, 45:6) that God has treasures from which to reward the righteous, including a special treasure to reward those who raise orphans in their homes.
Our Sages said: “Anyone who brings up an orphan boy or girl in his house, Scripture accounts it as if he had begotten him” (Megillah 13a). This does not necessarily refer to an orphan whose parents have both died, but also to a child who has parents, but cannot provide for all his physical and emotional needs. This is because the source for our Sages statement comes from Moshe Rabbeinu, who is called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya. And although his mother was Yocheved, and she even nursed him, because Batya raised him, Moshe Rabbeinu was considered her son.
Some poskim are even of the opinion that a couple who raise an orphan in their home actually fulfill the mitzvah of procreation, because when our Sages said “Scripture accounts it as if he had begotten him”, they meant it literally – the couple is considered as if they had actually given birth to the child (see, Chochmat Shlomo, E.H., 1:1). In any case, even according to all the other poskim who hold that it is not actually like giving birth, from a certain aspect, there is an additional mitzvah in adopting a child, for the parents do so voluntarily.
The Mitzvah to Honor One’s Adopted Parents
Adopted children are obligated to honor their adopted parents no less than ordinary children. Although from a detailed aspect of the mitzvah, adopted children are not obligated precisely like biological children, and therefore they are permitted to perform medical procedures on their adopted parents entailing the drawing of blood (Peninei Halakha: Likutim 3, 1:25). Nevertheless, according to Torah ethics, they are obligated to honor their parents just as ordinary children are, and in a certain respect, even more, seeing as their adoptive parents did so voluntarily.
It is also a mitzvah for adopted children to mourn and say Kaddish for their adopted parents after their deaths.
Helping Raise Needy Children
Someone who finds it difficult to raise an orphan can contribute money to help take care of abandoned children in order to meet their needs and stand them on their feet, and by doing so is also considered a partner in raising them, and to a certain extent, as if he had given birth to them. The more substantial the aid, the more important ones part is.
Even a person who helps biological parents take care of their child and educate him is considered, to a certain extent, as if he had given birth to him. As our Sages said (Sanhedrin 19b) that Oved, the son of Ruth and Boaz, is also called the son of Naomi, because she was a partner in his care and education, as it is written: “And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi’. They named him Oved. He was the father of Yishai, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17).
Students Comparable with Sons
Our Sages said: “He who teaches the son of his neighbor the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him”, and the proof is that the sons of Aaron are called the sons of Moshe Rabbeinu – “thus teaching you that Aaron begot, and Moshe taught them; hence, they are called by his name” (Sanhedrin 19b).
Likewise, it is written in portion of the Sh’ma prayer: “And you shall teach them sharply to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7), and our Sages interpreted (Sifri): “To your children – these are your students, as you find in all places that students are called sons, as it is written: ‘And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha’; were they really sons of prophets? In fact, they were students! Rather, from here we learn that students are called sons … and just as students are called sons, a Rabbi is called a father, as it is written: “And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more” (ibid, 2:12).
This even carries halakhic significance, for someone who finds a lost article of his father and a lost article of his rabbi, if he is unable to return both of them, he should return the lost article of his rabbi, “because his father brought him into this world, but his rabbi who taught him Torah wisdom, brings him to the World to Come.” This refers to a rabbi who taught the student the majority of his wisdom. And if his father was a Torah scholar as well, his father’s lost article takes precedence (Baba Metzia 33a). And even if his father was not a Torah scholar, if the father financed his son’s learning – the father precedes the rabbi, even if the rabbi is one’s primary teacher.
Teachers of Life
In light of this, it is important to emphasize that every teacher who teaches his student Torah, wisdom and morality, and fosters and encourages his student to grow to the best of his ability, is considered, to a large extent, a father, and a female teacher is considered a mother. But teachers who only fulfill their duties and “pass on the material” to their students, do not merit this great virtue.
Our Sages said that with regards to rabbis who raised students but were not fortunate enough to have children, the Prophet said: “The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed” (Isaiah 56:4-5). It is also told of Rabbi Yochanan who was extremely saddened over his sons having all died in childhood, and therefore, was unable to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘multiply and be fruitful’, until a elderly, wise man comforted him saying that his students were considered his sons, and thanks to them, he would merit the World to Come and an enduring name (Zohar I, 187:2; Zohar Chadash, Rut 108:2).
It is written in Sefer Hasidim (367) that occasionally Heaven does not wish to deduct from one’s merits, and as a result, that person does not merit “two tables” (i.e. distinction in Torah and material wealth), and seeing as he merited the table of Torah, he is not merited with the table of family and children. Had he merited having children, he would not have merited an enduring name through his Torah teachings.
It is worth adding that even those who financially support Torah students are considered as if they had taught them, for without their contributions, the students would not be able to learn.
On the eve of shmitta (Sabbatical year), it is fitting to strengthen the organization ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’, founded by Machon Ha’Torah v’Ha’aretz. This organization, guided by important rabbis, and led in practice by Rabbi Yehuda Amichai, shlita, deals in a balanced approach with a range of halakhic questions, and finds the most mehudar ways of keeping shmitta and maintaining Jewish agriculture in Israel. Anyone who commits to buy through their organization merits becoming a partner in the strengthening of Jewish agriculture, and in paving the way for Jewish agriculture according to the Torah in the future. Owing to pre-commitments, ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’ can make agreements with additional farmers concerning the arrangements of ‘otzar Beit Din’, crops in the southern Negev, and special shmitta greenhouses. Nonetheless, care must be taken within the hierarchy that the status ‘heter mechira’ fruits take precedence over crops of non-Jews.
Deputy Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan
At this time it is appropriate to support the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Without making reference to the details of the proposed rules and regulations, I express my confidence in his sincere efforts, piety, judgment and knowledge in the areas of halakha and religious administration.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.