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Liberating One's Femininity

A Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?

The Feminine Dimension

A Priestess in G-d's Sanctuary - Sinai and Servitude

Rights and Priorities - Discrimination?

Motherhood - Family Planning - Decision-Making

Three Mothers - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Study & Observance - The Right to Know-Roles & Questions

Actions Speak Louder - Three Pivotal Mitzvos

A Lifetime Renewed - Descent for the Sake of Ascent


A Partner In The Dynamic Of Creation
Womanhood in the Teachings of
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Motherhood - Family Planning - Decision-Making

by Malka Touger

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  Rights and Priorities - Discrimination?Three Mothers - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle  

To [1] our forebears, children were the greatest nachas possible, and the more children, the more nachas.

The first mitzvah in the Torah is to [2] "be fruitful and multiply." To bring up children, to initiate them into the faith of their fathers and mothers, to educate them in the Torah and the mitzvos, - this is the true nachas that has always been eagerly treasured by our people.

Today, in many quarters, this approach is being challenged.

With well-meaning concern, couples are being urged to plot out the size of their families in advance, so that the time of their children's conception be anticipated and adequately prepared for.

It must be clearly stated at the outset that according to the Halachah, Jewish law, the use of contraception is a matter which requires Rabbinic consultation.

Some methods are unequivocally prohibited. Other means are permitted, but only in special circumstances, and only after consultation with competent halachic authorities.

Though compliance with the Halachah overrules human reason, in this case the two are consonant; common experience attests to the wisdom of the Torah approach.

Our Torah tradition has nurtured families which have built homes filled with care, communic ation, and satisfying inner purpose, raising children who are prepared to accept their roles in society with joy and responsibility. [3]

The Third Partner

What lies at the heart of the Torah approach? - The conception that faith in G-d is not restricted merely to the synagogue, but embraces every aspect of our existence. And there is no area in which this is so evident as having children.

Man cannot create life; no power on earth can guarantee the birth of a baby. The key to that decision [4] is in the hands of G-d alone. He is the third Partner in the conception of every child. [5]

Any concerns and reservations that a couple may have, the third Partner understands too; He also knows what potentials they have to cope with those concerns. He is gracious and merciful, and will grant children only when there is the potential for them to lead a life with meaning and purpose.

Besides, when a partnership is offered and rejected, a second offer may not be forthcoming so rapidly. Couples who have spurned the potential blessing of life which G-d offered them in their younger years may not be granted it later on.

A couple should accept G-d's blessings when He offers them, gratefully. Let them rest assured that the third Partner, being benevolent and all-knowing, can be trusted to know what time is the best time.

Managing G-d's Accounts

Faith in the third Partner's planning also resolves one of the commonest justifications offered for family planning - the fear of being unable to support more than a certain proposed number of children.

Naturally, parents want the best for their children, and this entails accepting a financial burden. But being a good provider is not determined by one's own efforts alone. [6]

True, the Torah requires that a man work to provide for his family. But it is a primary tenet of Judaism that all success and all wealth comes from G-d, that it is His blessings that give sustenance, [7] not one's own unaided efforts.

He will provide for all the children He gives to a couple: [8] "He Who gives life gives food."

Couples who undertake financial responsibilities beyond their immediate capacities, and find it quite natural and reasonable to depend on family and friends to help them get married and set up their home, should certainly find it natural and reasonable to depend on Him of Whom it is written, [9] "The silver is Mine, the gold is Mine."

G-d's accounting system is not our worry; everyone will receive what he needs. It is He Who provides for all of His creatures; one mouth more will not overburden Him.

The Toll vs. The Nachas

A candid appraisal of one's priorities raises some challenging questions: What does one really want out of life, and what is one doing to get it?

Is it possible that luxuries have been mistaken for necessities?

Perhaps the real sources of happiness and well-being, those which don't cost a penny, have been bartered for costlier, but less reliable sources of satisfaction?

Defining one's priorities resolves another common and serious concern of potential parents: the personal toll that raising children exacts - a burden in terms of energy, time, and freedom of movement, not to mention the emotional investment required.

As with the above-mentioned financial issue, however, the real question here is not one of insufficient personal resources, but rather one of priorities.

In many other areas of life, such as careers and other personal goals, people choose to put up with prolonged inconvenience and even sacrifice in order to attain their object - if it is considered important enough.

For a person who considers the pursuit of immediate enjoyment a major goal in life, children can no doubt prove to be an obstacle.

But a person whose concept of satisfaction centers on meaning and depth will see children as a genuine source of joy, which mellows and grows with the years as they mature and develop, and ultimately raise families of their own.

The challenge is the scope of one's foresight and planning: Is it long-term or short-term oriented?

A person who considers not only the present, but looks ahead to the future, will realize that the pleasure of a few years of freedom from the encumbrance of children soon dissipates, and their shortsightedness has deprived them of the ongoing satisfaction and comfort of children and grandchildren.

Is that looking too far ahead? - No more than those who look ahead twenty years or more worrying about their future ability to bring up and educate children.

An Altruistic Argument

An honest definition of one's own priorities also answers the altruistic objection put forward by women who would like to have more time to devote to worthy causes and good works.

Now charitable causes are undoubtedly worthy pursuits, but no less worthy is child-raising.

Who has determined that charity is superior to rearing children? Certainly not the Torah.

A child granted by G-d indicates by his very presence what must take precedence.

Furthermore, all of our endeavors require G-d's blessing for success. As many a happy mother will testify, the charitable endeavors which she undertakes in the limited time available to her, are blessed with more than enough success to compensate for the time spent in raising a child. Besides, who can know what great things that child, raised with the loving care of his parents, will ultimately achieve?

For an explicit lesson in priorities, one need only read the plain text that narrates the story of the birth of the prophet Samuel. [10]

The mother of this child was the prophetess Chanah, so one can imagine what sublime experiences of spiritual enlightenment awaited her on each of her annual visits to the Mishkan at Shiloh. And these were not merely her private concern: she shared her individual enlightenment with our people as a whole.

Nevertheless, once Shmuel was born, she chose for a time to forego that bliss in favor of a loftier mission - until she had gently nurtured her baby into boyhood.

Undesirable Effects

Dwarfing all the theoretical arguments and counter-arguments, the statistics of daily experience reveal some sobering facts.

Family planning has often been advocated as a buttress to make the family structure sturdier. Yet precisely in the past few generations, when the concept of family planning has become so widespread, we see the highest incidence of marital discord, domestic tension, misguided parenting, separations, divorces, nervous frustration, and psychiatric disorders.

The human body and psyche were created with infinite intricacy; disrupting their natural functions inevitably invites aberrations.

Little wonder, then, that professional marriage counselors are increasingly blaming the tensions set up by birth control for a wide range of marital, mental and emotional breakdowns. [11]

In earlier generations, especially in Jewish homes, where family planning was never considered, the divorce rate was infinitesimal. The prevalent respect and harmony between Jewish husband and wife were legendary in the eyes of the world. And the most critical corollary of this is too obvious to need mentioning - the inevitable effect on the mental and physical health of children who grow up in a peaceful and harmonious household with shared ideals and values.

A Light To The Nations

What has been said above about birth control applies not only to Jews, but to non-Jews as well.

All people are created so that the world will be populated and not left barren: [12] "He did not create it a waste land: He formed it to be inhabited."

In a personal sense, too, having children brings settled purpose to one's life.

We have a responsibility to contribute to society at large by spreading an awareness of the principles and values that will enable all men to lead normal lives, in tune with their inner nature. [13]

Beyond the limited sphere of our friends and acquaintances, we must convince the leaders of the country to fight against family planning and birth prevention by lobbying in Congress, simply, soberly, and with common sense.

The elected officials are normal people who will understand a normal explanation. They have the potential to create and encourage programs that will stimulate a greater understanding of the importance of raising families and enhance the prestige of such endeavors.

Freedom Of Choice

Calling for such programs has been protested as an invasion of privacy. The proper province of governmental concern, it is argued, extends as far as national security and economics, but not personal decisions such as having children.

As civilizations develop, however, we find governments assuming certain responsibilities for their citizens, even if doing so appears to limit their free choice.

In the United States, for example, a great deal of money is spent to maintain a Federal agency known as the Food and Drug Administration, which tests products to ensure that they are fit for human consumption.

A product which is proved to be dangerous is not permitted on the public market; the manufacturers are legally prosecuted if they persist in its distribution; if there is a possibility of harmful side-effects, a product must be accompanied by a warning on the label.

One might question the right of any government to limit the products its citizens are permitted to consume. It is obvious that some forms of social legislation are necessary, for in its absence, [14] "Men would swallow one another alive."

But isn't one' s ingestion of food and drugs a purely personal matter?

Nevertheless, a government that is truly concerned about its citizens will do everything it possibly can to keep them from harm, even harm which they choose to inflict upon themselves. And therefore that agency has been set up and continues to function.

This is demonstrated most graphically by a more radical example: society's response to an attempted suicide. If someone wishes to throw himself from a bridge, police and coast guard are mobilized. No matter how aged he may be, the government will expend immense resources of time, money, and equipment to prevent him from cutting his life short. It is not only an individual's desire to harm another which society finds intolerable, but the desire to harm himself as well.

Public Education

Here, however, we are dealing not with law enforcement, but simply with an education towards values.

The public resources that are being spent today to foster family planning should be put to positive use - to cultivate a widespread appreciation of the meaning of family, of what it means to raise and care for children.

The time-tested values of the Torah need to be translated into the vernacular and spread throughout society at large. For this purpose, research is also necessary.

The tools of social science should be employed to clearly demonstrate that the Torah's approach provides man with the environment best suited for meaningful and satisfying life experience.

It has been said that today there is no such thing as an apikores: there is only the am haaretz. [15]

Opposition - whether in the area of family planning, or, more broadly, in the area of taharas hamishpachah, the laws securing family purity - is rooted in ignorance; it is based on the misconception that the way of Torah runs contrary to a natural way of life.

When people are educated to appreciate the simple truth, that the Torah leads us to harmony with who we are and what our real purpose is in this world, their opposition will cease.

Beyond Mortal Grasp

The effects of birth control are more world-shaking than any mortal can appreciate.

For every Jew and every Jewish child is [16] "an entire world." Indeed, our Sages teach [17] that even if one single Jew had been absent from Mt. Sinai, the Torah could not have been given.

They teach, moreover, [18] that Mashiach will not come until all the possible souls are born into this world.

Considering this, can any man with his limited understanding presume to grasp the possible consequences of preventing a particular Jew from being born?

The Matriarchs As Mothers

We are all descendants of the four Matriarchs of our people - Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Though each was distinguished for her particular gifts, there was one common bond between them: each longed for children, with a yearning that knew no limits.

The Torah, usually so sparing of its words, describes in detail the lengths to which they went to achieve this end.

They were the archetypes of all Jewish women, and we would do well to heed their lesson. True self-worth does not belong to those who blindly follow the consensus dictated by contemporary society.

Children, many children, are the greatest gift and blessing that G-d can bestow upon us; imagined obstacles should not be allowed to stand in the way of enjoying these blessings. And then, with these blessings, [19] "with our youth and our elders..., with our sons and our daughters," we will go out joyful ly to greet our righteous Redeemer, speedily, in our own times.



  1. (Back to text) In a series of addresses in 5740-41 [1980-81], the Rebbe discussed the assumptions underlying the arguments commonly advanced to justify family planning. The above essay is mainly a free summary of addresses delivered on the following occasions:

    Shabbos Parshas Naso, 5740 (see the essay entitled "The Torah Outlook on Family Planning" in Sichos In English, Vol. VI, p. 50ff.);

    the N'shei uBnos Chabad Convention, 17 Sivan, 5740 (see the essay entitled "Family Planning" in Sichos In English, Vol. VI, p. 79ff.);

    and Shabbos Parshas Shlach, 5740 (see Sichos In English, Vol. VI, p. 94).

    Soon after these addresses, sundry critics claimed that they were an unjustified "invasion of privacy," an offense against "freedom of choice," and in one case, " a violation of the Constitution" (!).

    The closing section of the above essay, beginning with the subheading "Freedom of Choice," is a free adaptation of part of the Rebbe's response to these critics on Shabbos Parshas Korach, 5740 (see the essay entitled "Free Choice and Responsibility" in Sichos In English, Vol. VI, pp. 103-106).

    The Rebbe again spoke on this subject on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 5741 (see the essay entitled "Family Planning" in Sichos In English, Vol. VIII, p. 179ff.).

  2. (Back to text) Bereishis 1:28. The fact that procreation is the first mitzvah in the Torah indicates its primary importance.

    According to Scriptural law, a father has fulfilled this command once he has brought at least one son and one daughter into the world. Nevertheless, even after this mitzvah is fulfilled, there remains a Rabbinic command to continue having children. (See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ishus 15:1, 4, 16; Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, sec. 1.)

  3. (Back to text) For a comprehensive analysis of the social and nationwide obligations involved, such as the total Jewish birthrate, the needs of the Jewish community, and the like, see the article by Rabbi Z. Posner entitled "By Whatever Means...," in The Modern Jewish Woman: A Unique Perspective (Lubavitch Educational Foundation for Jewish Marriage Enrichment, N.Y., 1981).

  4. (Back to text) Taanis 2a.

  5. (Back to text) Kiddushin 30b.

  6. (Back to text) We are warned against such a delusion in the verse, "My strength and the power of my hand have made me all this prosperity" (Devarim 8:17).

  7. (Back to text) Cf. "It is the blessing of G-d that bestows wealth" (Mishlei 10:22).

  8. (Back to text) Popular Aram. adage, based on a teaching of R. Shmuel bar Nachmani in Taanis 8b.

  9. (Back to text) Chagai 2:8.

  10. (Back to text) I Shmuel, ch. 1 (and note verses 22-24).

  11. (Back to text) To revert, parenthetically, to the financial argument:

    The substantial sums commonly invested in psychiatrists and sundry experts, could well have been put to healthier uses.

  12. (Back to text) Yeshayahu 45:18.

  13. (Back to text) See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 8:10, on the obligation to teach non-Jews the Seven Universal Laws commanded to Noach and his descendants. By extension, this includes sharing the values and principles needed for the development of a wholesome society.

  14. (Back to text) Avos 3:2.

  15. (Back to text) The former term means "atheist"; the latter term, "ignoramus". In other words, to qualify as a responsible disbeliever one must first be equipped with a sound knowledge of what one claims to reject.

  16. (Back to text) Sanhedrin 37a.

  17. (Back to text) Mechilta, Shmos 19:11; Devarim Rabbah 7:8.

  18. (Back to text) Yevamos 62a.

  19. (Back to text) Shmos 10:9.

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