last week’s “Basheva’ newspaper, Rabbi Melamed published a chart showing the correlation between one’s age of marriage and the number of offspring he is likely to have at later stages of life.)
Objections to Charts
I received numerous responses to the chart I published on family growth according to the average age of marriage and the number of children born. Many of the responses were positive, but on the other hand, I also received a lot of harsh criticism, especially from women who affiliate with the feminist movement. Some of them even wrote scathing replies. Here is a summary of what they had to say:
Answer: True, dealing with the numerical side of children and grandchildren is likely to be viewed as diminishing the infinite importance of every individual. On the other hand, however, it doesn’t make sense that this important area alone is not examined rationally, taking into account the numerical aspect as well. It is fitting and correct for this calculation to be made, both from the perspective of one’s self-fulfillment, and from the viewpoint of its communal and national benefit.
Idealists Live the Good Life, Too
An individual’s identification with the challenges of society does not demean his identity, but rather raises it above and beyond his short and limited life to the expanses of eternity. A good and happy life is not one in which man is concerned only about himself. Idealism elevates, empowers, and enriches life far more than all the luxuries that people busy themselves to obtain. True, everything must be done with moderation, and when the entire goal of giving birth is only to improve our demographic status, it is reasonable to assume that life would be hard-pressed and sad, and educating children under such circumstances would not be successful. However, the danger of excessiveness doesn’t exist only in the area of having children; someone who overdoes volunteering to help the sick or the poor, also detracts from other values.
Teach Your Children Well
Everyone understands that it is highly appropriate to educate young adults to live a healthy life: not to smoke, not to get drunk, not to over-eat, to get enough sleep, and to exercise. It is likely that while performing acts such as smoking, drinking, gorging oneself, or partying, a person really enjoys himself; he might even feel that by doing so, he is expressing his freedom to choose. Nevertheless, any normal person would agree that there is a moral obligation to explain to anyone who will listen, the benefit one gains from living a healthy life, and on the other hand, to make clear the price he is liable to pay for his unhealthy choices. It’s also fitting to mention that by living a healthy life, his family and friends won’t have to take care of him when he is sick. And there is no shame in pointing out the financial and social argument – that living a healthy life saves days-off that sick people have to take, improves the quality of work, and saves the economy huge expenses of having to take care of seriously ill people.
Likewise, everyone understands that it is good to speak to young adults about the importance of saving money, and to demonstrate by the use of tables and charts, how, if they start saving at an early age, they can live comfortably when they are older, for every single shekel saved at the age of thirty gains nice profits, and is equal to four shekels at the age of seventy. However, if they remember to start saving only when they are older, they won’t be able to live out their lives honorably.
In the same way, it must be pointed out to them how investing in higher education provides them the opportunity to realize their abilities at various occupations, and to make a decent living.
It is no less proper to inform young adults the significance of their decisions concerning their age of marriage and family planning.
Many of those who resent the Torah’s encouragement of raising large families are supportive and sympathetic when it comes to volunteering for Magen David Adom, helping the elderly and the poor, or youth at risk. Even though such volunteering demands a lot from a person, often at the expense of one’s family or livelihood, such people will not argue that the demands of volunteering harms their independence, or creates excessive public pressure. They’ll also praise those willing to volunteer for combat units or invest seven years of their lives to become Air Force pilots, despite the personal sacrifice and danger involved.
Thus, they really have no true claim, but rather, a thronging after secular, public opinion; since in their eyes, enlisting in the army or doing national service is still important to them, it must be praised. But seeing as raising large families is considered dark, primitive and too religious, precisely in this topic they remember to raise the importance of individual rights.
They’ve Got a Point
Indeed, occasionally we find some families where, out of a great desire to have a lot of children, the woman looks fatigued and neglected, and so does the house and the children, and many times the family’s financial situation is dreadful. Nevertheless, the general rule which relates all other values – that excessiveness is always to be condemned – is no different in this domain. Nevertheless, this criticism of large families is justified, and anyone who wants a lot of children should pay attention to all the various aspects of raising a good family. Undoubtedly, setting such a personal example will cause many people to want to follow in this blessed path.
Let’s Get Things Straight
Claim: “I felt extremely uncomfortable reading the chart, as if a giant, accusing finger was being pointed at us, saying ‘Why aren’t you trying hard enough to raise your spot in the chart’?
Answer: First off, we must return to the fundamentals of the ‘halacha‘. There are three levels to the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply”. A) From the Torah, one is obligated to have at least one son and one daughter. B) It is a rabbinical mitzvah to have two sons and two daughters – four children in all. C) It is a ‘hidur mitzvah’ (adornment of the mitzvah) to have more children, according to the ability of the parents.
Like all the mitzvoth and ‘hidurim‘ in the Torah, their instructions are directed to the majority, and when a Rabbi is asked a question, he begins deliberating from the fundamental halacha, and afterwards he examines the situation of the person asking the question. If the person asking the question is in a ‘bidieved‘ (post factum) situation, he is exempt from ‘hidurim‘, and occasionally even from rabbinical mitzvoth. If his situation is exceptionally good, sometimes a ‘hidur‘ for such a person is close to being an obligation. For example, a wealthy person who is not willing to pay a large sum of money for his children’s education is not only considered as one who doesn’t perform a ‘hidur mitzvah‘, but rather as not fulfilling his obligation.
Most Importantly: Be Happy
Regarding the size of a family, the most important thing is that the mitzvah should be done happily. Parents who know that they lack the strength to raise a large family and live happily are exempt from this ‘hidur’. Surely, in most cases there is a conflict between one’s momentary happiness which is negatively affected by the burden of taking care of children, and the feeling of long-term happiness in the fulfillment of having a large family. One must try to bridge between the present and the future – not to put too much pressure on one’s daily life for the sake of the future, and on the other hand, not to submit to the difficulties of the present, thereby enslaving the future.