Thursday, June 29, 2006

How Big Should a Family Be?

Large families are quite common in Orthodox households. It is not unusual to see eight or nine children and there are some families that have 13, 14, 15 children or even more. The more ultra Orthodox the family is, the more likely this scenario. I of course have no problem with the zealous performance of the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu. Large families are a blessing to Klal Yisroel provided the children are well cared for and raised properly. And in many… probably most cases that is what happens. To one extent or another, children are raised well and grow up to be fine productive members of the Torah community.

One of the finest families I know has produced 12 children. Each one is a wonderful member of the community… some married with families of their own. These kids were raised well. The family has the means and more importantly the ability to do the kind of parenting that produces these kinds of results. The parents are of the highest moral and ethical caliber. They live their values... and the chidren absored them. Another family I know that are Chasidim have a similarly large family and though their means are limited, their children too are of the highest caliber each one of them a role model for Midos and refined character.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. All is not well in the world of large families. It is too often the case that large families do not thrive and are dysfunctional. There are many reasons for this and one cannot necessarily blame family size for the ills of society. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. The fact is that some families are too large. I know that a statement like this seems like blasphemy to some people. But the fact is that a large dysfunctional families are a prescription for disaster (as any size dysfunctional family is) but the large size of such a family not only increases the numbers of children at risk, it exacerbates the problem internally making the dysfunction even worse.

A lot of this problem stems from a misunderstanding of the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu. The fact is that the according to most opinions… one boy and one girl fulfills the Mitzvah. But many Poskim (especially Chasidic ones) Paskin that one may never refrain from having children, no matter how many one already has. They rarely give Heterim for contraception… and usually only for health reasons.

Please do not misunderstand. Contraception is not a simple Halachic matter and one must ask a competent Rav about when it is permitted (it isn’t automatic) and how one goes about it (Many methods are Assur). My advice would be to seek a legitimate Posek who is not a Chasid and does not have as his mission to repopulate the Jewish people for our losses in the holocaust.

Unfortunately it seems that in some circles, especially in Charedi sections in Israel, the situation is so bad that some Poskim forbid even breast feeding a baby too long since that is a method of contraception (not that this is a particularly effective method.) … even if contraception isn’t the purpose. A female poster on Areivim who lives in Israel said the following:

“Things have gotten so bad that I personally know of several cases where women were using the "safe days" method -- delaying tevilla b/c their rabbi wouldn't give them a heter to delay pregnancy.”

“Yes, it's true, rabbis are telling women that they do not have the right NOT to have children.”

To make matters worse, many of these women have been indoctrinated with values so skewed from the norm...that they make the most outrageous of decisions. As the poster further points out:

“The idea of "catching up with the Greens" has gotten so far out of hand, that women who have already 4, 6, or 8 children, and are in their late 30s/40s -- are going to fertility clinics to be able to have additional children(!). Instead of saying B"H for what we have -- there is pressure to "catch up" and have more and more and more children -- without any interest or regard for the mother's physical or mental health; nor for the physical or mental health of the children being born to a woman who is forced into this situation and truly can't cope.”

I sympathize with the poster’s final comment:

“It's very easy to sit in a Beit Midrash and count the number of children someone should have. HKB"H has His own Cheshbon, and we should say thanks for what we have, and do our best with the children Hashem HifKid BeYadeinu.”