A friend of mine and his chavrusa, two Torah scholars, were published in Hakirah two summers ago. That article discussed the various positions and authorities in Jewish Law regarding ascending the Temple Mount. Their next project was an article on contraception in orthodox Judaism. This article has not yet been published. It is being made available on this blog to benefit the public.
A little while back (I can’t remember when) I mentioned that would be writing a blog post about this subject. I had intended to do a little summary of this article and add my own two cents. Now you get the full article and maybe only 1 cent from me.
Here’s my one cent. Contraception is a huge issue in the orthodox Jewish community. In general, its use is managed by the rabbis. Couples are discouraged from using birth control in general.
In some more liberal communities within the yeshivish community, newly married couples are being granted a few months of contraception use. This is because there has been a spate of quick divorces in the community so they are encouraged to use birth control just to make sure they aren’t stuck with a baby on the way and a crumbling marriage.
Once the couple is comfortably married, they are expected to have a large family. Birth control is usually permitted for at least a year after a baby is born. That’s it. More than that requires asking the rabbi. The rabbis usually give a few months. Then the couple asks again and they get a few weeks. They ask again, the rabbi tries to convince them it is time to have another baby. At this point the couple has four options. 1) Listen to the rabbi. 2) Ignore the rabbi and risk lose respect for rabbinic guidance. 3) Explain to the rabbi why it is impossible to have another baby because of financial pressures (he will say Hashem will help), or because there is too much stress from motherhood (he will say to get domestic help), or because of the mother’s emotional or physical health (that might do the trick) and hopefully the rabbi will grant a longer reprieve. 4) Lie about the things mentioned in 3.
I hear things. People tell me things. I get emails. I get phone calls. It seems the most popular option these days are #1 and #4. Some people just listen. They have large families and even if some don’t really want large families, they do it and just chalk it up to the price of being a Frum Yid. But many others end up lying or stretching the truth just so the rabbi will let them use birth control.
Sometimes the rabbis even want to talk to the wives and they try to show them that having children is so important and some have even said that it is more important than their relationships with their husbands.
I have heard these things from men and women, first hand. Some are disappointed, most feel discouraged, and all are upset.
Clearly, there is a problem here.
To what extent should couples be able to make their own decision about contraception? To what extent should rabbis be pulling the strings here? What do the sources say about birth control? Is it really a rabbi’s decision? Is there another way?
Enter this excellent article by Rabbis Mayer and Messner.
I love this article. It goes through the sources very thoroughly and ultimately favors personal decision making and autonomy over blind adherence to authority. In a macro sense, this is how I feel orthodox Judaism works best. Educate yourself on a subject, and make an informed decision that falls within the parameters of halacha on your own. That is the basic premise of the article.
I won’t ruin the article by snatching the punchline. Read the article for yourself. It is worth your time and should be understandable to most people with a basic Torah education.
As a an additional benefit, the writers of the article will be checking in to answer questions and respond to your comments. So please, by all means, maximize this opportunity.
Please. Download. Print. Read. Share: Contraception in Orthodox Judaism