A generation placing self-fulfillment at the center of its values, for whom enjoyment is a goal without peer, seems plagued with broken homes and the attendant miseries on a scale unknown to our people. Having small families or no children at all was to be the elimination of human woes, but those who planned their families have not found the secret of happiness, except possibly in reverse.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita in recent addresses, especially on Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5741, stressed the fallacy of family planning and its catastrophic consequences.

It is an unfortunate fact that all too often, people are influenced by consensus rather than by what is right. A person completely confident in his or her own convictions can dismiss the contradictory opinions aired by others, be they neighbors, acquaintances or the media. Only those who do not measure their own worth in terms of the approbation or censure by others are truly free to evaluate an issue calmly, logically, and on its own merits.

But while many issues are no more than harmless trivialities—remarkable more for their sheer fatuity than merit—there is a current issue of crucial significance being treated casually. That issue is family planning, and has become so widespread as to affect all but the strongest individuals. Its ill effects cannot be overstated, for it involves issues no less than marital harmony, mental stability and the entire husband-wife relationship. Ironically, it masquerades under the guise of benevolence, proclaiming concern for the well-being of a married couple, and indeed, the entirety of mankind. Many arguments are put forward for limiting the size of the family, but all rest upon the same underlying assumption: to do so is good for both the parents as individuals and humanity as a whole. How true this is we shall presently see.

It must be clearly stated that halachah, Jewish law, strictly forbids contraception except in special circumstances—and only after consultation with competent halachic authorities. But there is empirical evidence that simple unquestioning adherence to halachah is no longer necessary on this issue. Although halachah overrules human logic, in this case they are consonant; human experience attests to the wisdom of the Torah command. It is our intention to examine some of the objections raised against having more than a limited number of children, dealing primarily with those of an individual nature.1

One of the strongest objections is fear of financial inability to support children. Naturally, parents want the best for their children, and fear of being unable to provide adequately is a powerful deterrent to having them. This is a genuine concern, but based on an assumption that springs from a weakness of faith and presumptuousness. One who fears that he will not be able to provide is assuming that it is completely through his efforts that he does succeed. True, Torah requires that man work to provide for his family. But it is a primary tenet of Judaism that all success comes from G‑d, that it is His blessings that give sustenance, not one’s own efforts alone. It is G‑d who provides for all of His creatures; another mouth will not overburden Him.

An appraisal of motives might be in order. Is it possible that the concern of financial limitations may be a rationalization for living a particular lifestyle? Contemporary society demands a standard that is, to say the least, profligate. Is it possible that we have adopted indulgences as necessities, and this causes the worry about financial means? It is time to assess priorities to avoid regarding the indulgence of trivial desires as necessities and a reason for not having children.

Besides financial worries, a serious concern is the personal toll that raising children exacts from parents. It has become almost axiomatic in today’s society that a goal in life is personal pleasure and enjoyment, and the pursuit thereof. If children prove an obstacle to a carefree existence, then children will have to go. And who can deny that they constitute an immense personal burden in terms of energy, freedom of movement and time, not to mention the emotional toll they exact?

But the real problem is not one of sufficient personal resources, but rather one of priorities. In many other areas—careers, personal goals, etc.—people do manage to put up with great inconvenience and sacrifice to attain their object if it is considered important enough. The real problem is that children are regarded not as sources of joy and happiness, but as burdens and impediments to pleasure and “fulfillment.”

This is not the authentic Jewish view. Historically, our ancestors did not think so; to them, children were the greatest nachas possible, and the more the better. The first mitzvah in the Torah is be fruitful and multiply. To rear a child, to initiate him or her into the Jewish faith, to educate children in Torah and mitzvot, this is true nachas. Being childless—no matter how much freedom it allows—cannot compare in rewards.

Let us be fair in our evaluation, applying the same foresight and long-range planning that dictates not having children to the problems it generates, look at the other side of the coin. The pleasure of freedom from the encumbrance of children for a few years dissolves into ... what? The growing emptiness of middle age? The loneliness of old age? All too swiftly, carefree youth crumbles into the bleakness of the later childless years. The immense satisfaction and comfort of children and grandchildren are denied by a few years of fleeting freedom. That is shortsightedness; that is lack of planning! Looking too far ahead? No more than those who look 20 years or more into the future when worrying about their financial ability to rear and educate children.

But, the argument continues. Granted that having children is a fine, even beautiful thing, but at least give people the choice as to when to have them. Can people be faulted for wishing to space their children, to have a break between one child and the next? Or for delaying their first child until they feel emotionally and financially able? Seemingly logical, certainly appealing. But while it is an axiom of Judaism that man has free choice, do not confuse this with unlimited opportunity to choose. A child is not a faucet, to be turned on at will. No power on earth can guarantee the birth of a baby. That decision, that power, is G‑d’s, and G‑d’s alone, the third partner in every child. The possible blessing so disdained earlier may not be available later. Take His blessings when He offers them, gratefully, and rest assured that this third partner is benevolent, all-knowing, who can be trusted to know the best time.

Bluntly, it is presumptuous for anyone to see herself as the final authority determining life. Attempts to regulate life based solely on man’s limited understanding are foolhardy, and the stakes are too high to risk the unpredictable.

An altruistic objection is put forward by women who wish to have more time to devote to worthy causes and good works. This sentiment is predicated on a false assumption. A woman’s worth is not to be measured in terms that society dictates. Charitable causes are undoubtedly worthy pursuits, but no less worthy is child-raising. Who has determined that charity is superior to rearing children? Not Torah. A child granted by G‑d indicates what must take precedence. Furthermore, endeavors in such pursuits in the limited time she does have will be blessed with more than enough success to compensate for time spent in raising a child. And who can know what great things that child, raised with the loving care of his parents, will ultimately achieve?

A final argument is that repeated child-bearing can have a detrimental effect on a woman’s beauty. Our sages have stressed the importance of beauty in Jewish women, both spiritual and physical. Hence, runs the argument—and it is a legitimate one—it would be wise to refrain from too many children to ensure the continuing affection between husband and wife.

Torah values, however, are not identical with today’s mores. A woman’s beauty is a private matter, confined to herself and her husband. Modesty—a commodity so rare today—is the highest term of approbation that can be bestowed upon a Jewish woman. When that modesty is kept, when that inner beauty is retained, no amount of child-bearing can damage the relationship between a man and wife. Indeed, the reverse is true: The fulfillment of this greatest of mitzvot—to be fruitful—ultimately leads to a more enduring relationship between the couple. Her beauty becomes deeper, more enduring.

But all these are theoretical points, arguments and counter-arguments, objections, products of man’s ingenious mind. But experience teaches, too. Statistics reveal some sobering facts. Precisely in the past few generations, when the concept of family planning has become so widespread, we see the highest rates of marital discord. Disharmony in the home, separations, divorces, ugly quarrels, tension, nervous frustrations, psychiatric disorders—the problems are legion, matched only by their severity. (Parenthetically, there is the not-unrelated point of financial problems. The substantial amounts of money spent in such cases seeking relief, paid to psychiatrists, etc., could well have been put to more healthy uses.) Compare now with previous generations, especially in Jewish homes, where family planning was unthinkable. The divorce rate was infinitesimal; respect and harmony between spouses legendary in the eyes of the world. And let us not forget the effect on the children, growing up in a household of peace and harmony, and shared ideals and values.

The reason for the gulf between generations is simple. Man was created in a certain way, and attempts to interfere must lead to disruptions. The human body is infinitely intricate. Disrupting its natural functions inevitably causes problems. Family planning, presented as helpful and logical, causes many of the marital problems so prevalent today.

In conclusion, let us cite a striking narrative in the Torah. We are all descendants of the four matriarchs of our people—Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah. Each was distinguished for her particular gifts; each expressed her self-worth in different ways. Yet there was one common bond between them, one thing that united them together: Each longed for children, a yearning that knew no limits. The Torah, normally 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. Birth control, family planning—call it what you will—is a fad that has gripped Jewish women for too long. True self-worth, true identity, does not belong to those who blindly follow the dictates of contemporary society. Children, many children, are the greatest gifts and blessings G‑d can bestow upon us. Do not let imagined obstacles stand in the way of enjoying these blessings. And then, “with our youth and our elders, our sons and our daughters,” we will go joyfully to greet our righteous redeemer, speedily in our times.