The first mitzvah in the Torah is "to be fruitful and multiply." As the verse in Genesis states: "And G‑d said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...'" After the Flood, G‑d repeated this commandment to Noah: "And G‑d blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.'"
This mitzvah is considered a "great mitzvah" and in some cases even overrides certain other laws.
Furthermore, by having children one is actually hastening the ultimate redemption. In the words of the Talmud, "The son of David [Moshiach] will not come until there are no more souls in the [Heavenly storage house called] guf." In a similar vein, the Midrash tells us: "Just like the Jews were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their having children, so too they will be redeemed in the future in the merit of having children."
One who intentionally does not fulfill this mitzvah is considered analogous to a murderer – for he, too, has depleted life – and is said to be minimizing the Divine presence in this world. From this we understand that one who does fulfill this mitzvah is increasing the Divine presence in this world.
The Basic Mitzvah
The minimum requirement of this mitzvah is to have a son and a daughter.
But if possible one should try to have as many children as possible. In the words of Isaiah: "He did not create [the world] for a waste, He formed it to be inhabited." From this verse we learn that gentiles too have a mitzvah to have children.
In the words of Rabbi Yehoshua: "If one had children when he was young, he should continue to have children when he is old. As the verse states: 'In the morning, sow your seed, and in the evening, do not withhold your hand, for you know not which will succeed, this one or that one, or whether both of them will be equally good.'"
- If one has a son and a daughter and one of them passes away before he does (G‑d forbid), he has not fulfilled this mitzvah. If, however, one's child had a child before passing away, the grandparent has still fulfilled the mitzvah, as long as he still has a male and female descendant who are the offspring of his male and female child—even if the grandson is from his daughter and the granddaughter from his son.
- One fulfills this mitzvah no matter any disabilities the child(ren) may, G‑d forbid, have.
- This mitzvah is only mandatory for men. For women it is a mitzvah, but one that is not obligatory. This is derived from various verses. When a woman has a child, she is considered to be sharing her husband's mitzvah equally with him, because he was only able to fulfill the mitzvah because of her "partnership."
- If a man had children as a gentile, and he then converted to Judaism with his children, he is considered to have fulfilled this mitzvah. Some say he has fulfilled the mitzvah even if his children do not convert with him.
A couple having difficulty conceiving and bearing children should seek medical counsel. At the same time, the couple should be in contact with a rabbi who has experience in this field. This is because fertility treatments often involve methods that are halachically questionable; e.g., wastage of (male) seed.
Although the details are beyond the scope of this article, we will address some of the treatments and the halachic issues which arise.
- When the doctors wish to test the viability of the male sperm, there are preferred halachic methods as to how to obtain this so as to minimize the prohibition of wasting seed.
- Certain tests performed on the woman may cause her to become a niddah. She should therefore check with her rabbi. If the test is in fact one that will render her a niddah, she may want to schedule it for just before or just after her period so as to avoid the need for the couple to separate for extra days.
- According to most halachic authorities, it is permissible for a woman to receive artificial insemination using the husband's sperm. Nevertheless, it is essential that there be proper supervision to ensure that there are no mistakes. (The Puah Institute has trained supervisors who are available around the world to serve couples in treatment.)
- Likewise, according to most authorities, if the husband's sperm and the wife's egg are being used, IVF treatment is permitted. Nevertheless, proper supervision is essential, as mentioned above.
- It is forbidden for a woman to receive the sperm of a Jewish man who is not her husband.
- It is unclear whether the use of a donor egg is permissible or not. There is also a question as to who is considered the mother of the child, which also raises the question (in the case of a gentile donor) as to whether or not the child will need to be converted.
Segulahs for Having Children
There are several segulahs (spiritually propitious acts) for having children:
- Being scrupulous about the laws of Family Purity.
- Ensuring and helping others to observe the laws of Family Purity.
- Supporting Jewish education.
- Enabling others to perform the mitzvah of circumcision.
- Making meals (or farbrengens) for guests.
- Studying and teaching Chassidut (the mystical dimension of Torah). This is because studying Chassidut is intended to bring a person to love and fear of G‑d, which are referred to in Kabbalistic terminology as the "son" and "daughter."
- Asking forgiveness from anyone that may have been hurt as a result of the marriage of the now childless couple—e.g., a jilted suitor, an unmarried older sister.
- Checking the husband's tefillin and the mezuzahs in the home.
- For the wife, making sure to give tzedakah (charity) before lighting the Shabbat and holiday candles.
- Being a kvatter (the couple who bring the baby in to the room of the circumcision ceremony). It is a common custom to honor a childless couple or one that is having trouble having additional children with this function.
- Living in Israel.
One who is Unable to Have Children
One who is unable to have children (G‑d forbid) should bring up an orphan in his home and it will be as if he bore him, or he should support a Torah scholar who will then be considered his son. He should also perpetuate his name by donating items for holy use. If he is a Torah scholar, he should write a Torah book, and teach many students.