The First Child — The First of Many

.. One of the strongest reasons for delaying the birth of the first child and/or limiting the number of children is fear of the financial inability to support children.

Naturally, parents want the best for their children, and fear of being unable to provide adequately [for them] 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 [his success] is completely a result of his efforts.

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.

But the objections continue. Granted that having children is a fine, even beautiful thing; but at least give people the choice as to when to have children.

Moreover, can people be faulted for delaying their first child until they feel emotionally and financially able, or for wishing to space their children — to have a break between one child and the next?

This argument is seemingly logical and certainly appealing. But while it is an axiom of Judaism that man has free choice, do not confuse this with an 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 spurned 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.

To be blunt: it is presumptuous for anyone to see him or 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.

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.

We are presently witnessing disharmony in the home, separations, divorces, ugly quarrels, tension, nervous frustrations, psychiatric disorders — the problems are numerous, matched only by their severity.

Compare the present times 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.

Children, many children, are the greatest gift and blessing G‑d can bestow upon us. Do not let imagined obstacles stand in the way of enjoying these blessings.

(Sichos Kodesh 5741, Vol. II, pp. 99-108)

The Precious Gift of Children

I am astonished by the statement in your letter:

You write that there is justification in the statement of a married woman of many years, that she is avoiding pregnancy because she finds her financial situation wanting. She is therefore waiting until matters are in order [and she will be able to move into a dwelling that she feels to be appropriate].

Children are, after all, a great and precious gift from G‑d. Even when one hopes to receive a gift from a human being, lehavdil, it is entirely unseemly to say to the benefactor: “Presently, I am not interested in receiving your gift. When I am ready to change my mind — I’ll let you know.”

(From a handwritten response of the Rebbe1 )

Leave the Timing Up to G‑d

.. In general, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you at any length that children are a special blessing from G‑d, and indeed, one of the most essential blessings.

It is also self-evident that this is not a matter in which a human being can choose the right time and set up his or her own timetable.

Clearly, a Jew should not attempt to interfere in G‑d’s affairs. In other words, a Jew is expected to live his life in accordance with the will of G‑d as revealed in the Torah and codified in the Shulchan Aruch.

He is to leave the question of pregnancy to G‑d.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, written in the year 5732)

Spacing and Birth Control2

1) With regard to spacing:

This [matter of choice] applies only to something that is wholly dependent on the individual’s freedom of choice. [In this instance, however,] an individual can only choose [when] not to have children; pregnancy, as well as bearing a hale and healthy child, is wholly dependent on G‑d. It is thus possible that, “If not now, then when?” [i.e., the opportunity to have more children may — G‑d forbid — forever be lost].

2) With regard to needing rest:

It is difficult to believe that a woman who has already tangibly tasted and actually received the delight and nachas from having a child and watching the child grow before her eyes, and seeing the child’s development through her training and self-sacrifice and so on, should agree to — and moreover desire — to deny herself all the above, because of the reasons you mentioned [to me in your letter]. [This is] particularly so when she contemplates the first point [stated above].

The inner and subconscious reason [for her desire to delay having children is]:

Fear of the difficulty of pregnancy and birth; the tremendous amount of time and effort necessary for raising children, which keep her from attending many events during this time, and at times, similar [relatively trivial] matters.Moreover,most often her fear lies in how she will respond to those who scoff at her [for having another child so soon after the previous one].

When you will explain [to women] that the above are the true reasons [for their desire to space their children,] then they will joyfully give over to G‑d the decision as to the best time to be blessed with additional viable and healthy children. ...”

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated Shvat 5741)

When Birth Control May or May Not Be Used

You inquire in your letter: since you already have two children — may they be well — and the doctor is advising you to practice birth control, what is my opinion in this matter.

You surely know that generally speaking, birth control is not consonant with the view of Torah, which views children as a blessing from G‑d — a blessing that G‑d bestows upon the parents.

The Torah also maintains that a Jew does not have strictly private concerns, as every Jew is part of the Jewish people as a whole and all “private” matters of each and every individual Jew affects the entire Jewish nation.

[This is] particularly so during present times, following the evil decrees and the Holocaust — may G‑d protect us — when so many millions of Jews perished in sanctification of G‑d’s name. [Thus, your not having additional children impacts not only yourself, but the entire Jewish nation as well.]

Nevertheless, in a situation where something can be detrimental to the health of a Jewish individual, be it man, woman or child, [then one may utilize measures that would otherwise not be undertaken], for the health of a Jew — to quote the Rambam — is “part of the path of the service of G‑d.”

[For this reason, when there are health concerns, then] in specificsituations the Torah permits specific forms of birth control. However, it is difficult to offer a general directive with regard to the above, for it depends on the manner and degree of harm the pregnancy or birth will cause the mother, as well as the particular form of birth control used.

I would therefore advise you that after you communicate once again with your doctor and he advises you as to what form of birth control he has in mind, you should then turn to a chassidic Orthodox rabbi and hear his opinion. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 76)

Preventing Pregnancy
Because of Elevated Blood Pressure

You write about preventing pregnancy, etc., [because of your blood pressure]:

Our Torah — from the word horaah or “lesson” — is a Torah of life (including life not only in the World to Come, but in this world as well. To the contrary — it is of greatest import in this world, for Torah “is not in heaven.”3 )

The doctor will also advise you that thousands and thousands of women have successfully given birth to children although their blood pressure was elevated.

Moreover, the state of one’s blood pressure fluctuates from time to time and depends on the person’s emotional state and general mood, etc., and can be greatly decreased by paying no heed and being inattentive [to matters that make the person overwrought].

An important point regarding the above: Any intervention by man in matters that strictly belong to the Creator and Conductor of the world is not only opposite the viewpoint of Torah, but also flies in the face of simple logic.

There are many additional points that can be made, but I will mention only two of them:

a) It is the obligation of our generation, we who are all “brands saved from the fire”4 [of the Holocaust] — may such an event never reoccur, Heaven forbid and Heaven forfend — to not only act on behalf of all those who died in sanctification of G‑d’s name, but also — and this is of primary importance — to actually replenish the [depleted] population of the Jewish people.

b) In our times, when everyone seeks reasons and grounds, strange as they sometimes may be, to make their lives easier, there is room to say that your conducting yourself in this manner [of avoiding pregnancy] will affect others to act in a similar manner.

For others will not know that you are doing so because of your blood pressure, and they will not inquire about the reason and cause, etc., [of your conduct] — they will simply bring proof from your actions [that such a course of conduct is acceptable].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIX, p. 21)

Use of a Moch to Prevent Pregnancy

.. Surely people turn to you with the question of how they should conduct themselves when, for whatever [valid] reason, the wife is fearful of becoming pregnant:

Although the Hungarian Rabbis are strict in this matter in their Responsa [and forbid relations,] in many instances this is not at all the ruling of the Tzemach Tzedek in his She’eilos U’Teshuvos Tzemach Tzedek, Even HaEzer, ch. 89 — see there — where he permits [marital relations,] using a number of methods, among them the use of a moch, and the like5 which he permits to be inserted even prior to coitus. [All the above, of course, applies] when the doctor instructs the woman not to become pregnant.

Since the main reason for those who are stringent in this matter [and forbid relations] is to prevent the sin of wasteful emission, nowadays, in our weakened spiritual generation, the very opposite results from such stringencies:

The vast majority — and possibly even more than the vast majority — will succumb to this matter [when relations are forbidden] — resulting in the very opposite of that which the stricter opinions seek to accomplish.

.. I therefore think that [in order to use a moch]it is not necessary for the doctor to have to state unequivocally and with all severity that [if the woman were to conceive] it would most certainly place her life in danger.

[This is] particularly so during present times, as in our weakened generations a lack of intimacy affects the nerves and one’s health in general, both of the husband and the wife. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XI, p. 262)

Relations Using a Moch

.. I am astonished and at a total loss to understand that which you write, that you could not get yourself to rely on the leniency [of having relations using a moch].

This decision is not yours to make but is the decision of the Torah, [which permits this]. One cannot go about differentiating between one decision and the next.

I am even more astonished that you write about your decision in such a dispassionate manner, as if it were a form of overly pious conduct (“Middas Chassidus”) not to obey the directive of the Mara d’Asra, [the Rav whose rulings are binding in the location where you reside].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 235)

Valid Reasons for Prevention of Pregnancy

.. In such a situation, [where it is possibly dangerous for the wife to become pregnant,] we follow nothing other than the ruling of the Tzemach Tzedek in his She’eilos U’Teshuvos Tzemach Tzedek, Even HaEzer, ch. 89 (Vol. I), who is lenient in this matter since it relates to her health.

[This is] particularly so in your situation, when — as you write — the doctors are of the opinion that every time she conceives, it endangers her life.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XI, p. 327)

Using Additional Permitted Measures
To Prevent a Dangerous Pregnancy

.. You write about the doctors’ directive to your wife tichye that she not become pregnant — you asked a Rav and he permitted various means, which you enumerate in your letter:

I am surprised that you do not mention something simple and at the same time effective, particularly when used in combination with the methods that you mentioned, that being that in your situation, where a Rav specifically permitted pregnancy prevention, etc., to push off the immersion [in the mikveh and relations] for a few days, according to the instructions of the doctor who knows your wife tichye and also knows which day she is most likely to conceive. A delay of two or three days generally suffices.

Speak about all the above to the Rav and doctor, and they will inform you what to do.

According to the tenor of your letter, I trust that I need not stress the importance of living your daily life in a manner that is in consonance with the directives of our Torah, the Torah of Life, and its commandments concerning which it says,6 “You shall live by them.”

In addition to the crucial factor that G‑d has so commanded, there is also the additional aspect that living in this manner serves as the vehicle to receive G‑d’s blessings in all that one requires — particularly when one is in need of a specific blessing. In your situation, the particular emphasis should be on scrupulously observing all the laws of family purity.

It would also be appropriate for you to check your tefillin as well as the mezuzos in your home to ensure that they are all kosher according to Jewish law. Your wife tichye should observe the fine custom of upstanding Jewish women of giving tzedakah before lighting the candles every erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXI, p. 335)

Methods of Contraception
When the Wife Has a Wound

.. You write that in accordance with the instructions of the doctor, the husband is forced to use a condom since the wife cannot use a contraceptive [ because of her wound].

This, too, is perplexing, for no mention is made whether they asked for a ruling by a Rav who rules on matters of Jewish law. Moreover, if the Rav has some knowledge in this matter, [he will know] that among the methods available to the wife is not only the use of chemical spermacides which may not be appropriate in her situation, but also using a moch, the appropriate covering in the appropriate place, etc.

Seemingly, even in their situation, she should be able to use this [form of contraception] if there is a general ruling from a Rav in the matter [that she is permitted to use a contraceptive].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVII, p. 192)

Tubal Ligation in Cases Where It Is Dangerous
For the Wife to Conceive

With regard to [your wife undergoing] a tubal ligation [as the doctor forbids her from becoming pregnant]:

In addition to the risks that accompany every surgery, particularly when it involves the internal organs, [and] especially in cases where the woman’s health is generally weak (and the doctors are unsure what is causing this weakness — as it would seem from your letter), there are many additional negative factors:

a) This involves an action that is meant to permanently prevent conception, even after she becomes healthy, etc.

b) There are halachic issues involved, as your Rav will explain to you.

c) There were instances that notwithstanding this surgery, the woman became pregnant (the standard explanation for this is that the ligatures become untied, and since this occurs internally, it is impossible to be aware of this). ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXI, p. 335)

Tubal Ligation

.. You write about an operation on the tubes, [i.e., tying off the fallopian tubes]:

I am very much opposed to this idea, as this almost certainly negates the possibility of [your wife] ever becoming pregnant again. As to your mentioning other means — it seems that your intent is to prevent pregnancy:

You are to ask a Rav who regularly rules on matters of Jewish law, relating to him in detail all that the doctor has told you.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 458)

Practicing Abstinence When Pregnancy Is Dangerous

In general, I do not approve of a person’s conducting himself with such strictures, i.e., to practice abstinence. For in our generation, only a select few [who practice abstinence] are able to keep from thinking inappropriate thoughts, if not worse than that.

Who then is to say [that through practicing abstinence] the person’s Torah study and prayer will be conducted in purity? Thus, with regard to the overwhelming majority of people who would act in this manner, the benefit is more than cancelled out by the loss.

This is so much so, that in the situation which you describe, [where it would be dangerous for your wife to become pregnant,] the Tzemach Tzedek has permitted the use of a moch (see his Responsa, Even HaEzer, ch. 92).

In addition to all the above, even when the wife offers her assent to such conduct, there is ample room for argument whether she is really offering her full assent. Moreover, in many instances, the lack of intimate relations has a deleterious effect on the health of the woman.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IX, p. 327)

You write in your letter about what you said to your wife tichye [about practicing abstinence], and she also agreed not to go to the mikveh for many years, as she does not have the strength to bear a child:

I was absolutely shocked by what my eyes beheld in your letter! According to the opinion of many codifiers, her offering her assent and forgiveness does not make it valid,7 and thus the obligation [to engage in relations] still remains.

Aside from the above, this approach of practicing self-mortification and self-affliction at the expense of others is something I have never heard of!

If indeed it is as you write, that the doctors state that it is dangerous for her to conceive, then [in such a situation] there is a well-known ruling of the Tzemach Tzedek8 (see there) that this is one of the “three [types of] women who can have relations using a moch.”9

I do not wish to go on at length, since this has already been amply explained [in numerous places]; surely the above few lines will suffice.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 157)