13-5767 Mitzvah 43
January 29, 2007
Mitzvah 43 – It is a positive commandment to marry in order to be fruitful and multiply (have children).
Hafetz Hayyim: As it says in Scripture: “And G-d said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’.” (Gen. 1:28) One’s intention should be the continuation of the human species. When a man is eighteen, he becomes subject to the duty of begetting children; and if he passes the age of twenty without having married, he thus transgresses and disobeys this positive commandment. If he is occupied in Torah study and he fears that the problem of earning a livelihood will interfere, he is permitted to delay – but in any event, not beyond the age of twenty-five
It applies everywhere and at every time.
I have cleaned this mitzvah up a bit. The Hafetz Hayyim notes that this Mitzvah is only for men. The mitzvah to have children is, in Jewish Law, only for men. Women were exempt, I suspect, because having children could put their lives in danger and Jewish Law could require no one, to endanger their own life. Men therefore have the obligation to have children, not women. Since a woman is needed for this Mitzvah (in fact she is indispensable for this Mitzvah) a man must be married. If a woman is not willing to help a man with this mitzvah, she should not marry him. In ancient days, her refusal would be no problem, since he could marry a second wife to bear his children. Since the year 1000 CE (and unofficially for centuries before that date) men are forbidden to have more than one wife. If she cannot or will not bear his children, they can divorce and he can try with someone else.
There is a question over whether or not the man has to divorce his wife if she cannot or will not bear children. There are some who say that the divorce, after ten years without a child, is required. Most Rabbis however are lenient in this matter since the love that the couple share is not a trifle. There are many examples in the legal literature of those who stay married even without children.
What I find even more important with this Mitzvah, however, is the time restrictions placed upon it. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the Rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles has been on a long campaign to get young Jewish men and women to marry and have children earlier than they are doing it now. One of the great problems of our times is that couples are marrying later, sometimes in their mid 30’s and not having children until they are almost 40. Infertility issues are soaring and Jews are not having enough children to replace those who are dying. Our demographics are slowly shrinking since we have children when we are older and we don’t have the minimum of three children needed to replace our numbers.
Rabbi Dorff makes a strong case. The Hafetz Hayyim notes that this is a matter of the survival of the human species. Rabbi Dorff notes that it is also about the survival of the Jewish people. Young people should marry earlier and have three or more children.
I do note here that many of those who do marry later, have children quicker as well. With couples “living together” for years, when they do marry, it is often for the purpose of having children and I have noticed that many of these couples return from their honeymoon pregnant. The fact remains, however, that the best age in terms of being a good parent and fertility, is the mid twenties. I would not like to see more young couples wed at the age of 18.
L. Levitan writes:
The Rabbis, always alert to nuances in the Bible, noted that while the fifth of the Ten Commandments says “Honor your father and your mother . . .”, the subject of the mitzvah in last week’s blog says “. . . fear his mother and his father.” Why does father come first in the fifth commandment and mother come first in this week’s mitzvah? The Rabbis said that honoring one’s mother was natural but honoring one’s father was not, so father comes first in the fifth commandment. On the other hand, fearing (or standing in awe of) one’s father was natural, but not so for the mother, so mother comes first in this week’s mitzvah. I have always wondered why the Rabbis felt this way, and perhaps they have given their reasons but I am simply not familiar with them, but I remain curious about this to this day.
Rabbi Konigsburg replies: I am not comfortable with the sexism of the Rabbis in relation to this explanation. The Rabbis claim, with this explanation, that it is natural for a child to “fear” his father and “love” his mother, so that the Torah comes and teaches that we should also “fear” our mother and “love” our father. It is an interesting historical note but the fact remains that we are commanded to love, honor and fear both our parents. That is the thrust of the commandment and I am just happy that the text gives top billing one time to both parents.
A couple of comments that demonstrate the continually evolving nature of Conservative Judaism. (a) A 1994 responsum adopted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards stated that if the husband cannot procreate, he is exempted from the commandment.(1) (b) A 1997 responsum adopted by the Committee stated that a man fulfills the mandate of procreation in having a child with a surrogate (either an ovum surrogate, in which case both the surrogate’s ovum and womb are used, or a gestational surrogate, in which case the woman is impregnated with a fertilized ovum of the intended parents).(1,2) Thus, the man need not be married to fulfill the mitzvah. I have not found anything on whether a “blind” sperm donor (who does not know to whom his sperm will be given) fulfills the mitzvah: perhaps you could enlighten me, Rabbi? And, finally, it is my understanding that fulfillment of the mitzvah (at least originally) required the man to produce both a male and a female child and that each child must in turn be capable of procreation. Am I correct here?—————————–1 Abelson, K. and Fine, D.J. (Ed.) (2002). Responsa: 1991–2001. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly. 2 It should be noted that the Committee also adopted a responsum stating that “Surrogacy cannot be halakhically recommended, and in at least most cases would be forbidden by Jewish law and ethics.”