Thursday, February 23, 2012

Be Fruitful and Multiply

The mitzvah (commandment) to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28) has been one of the guiding principles within Jewish tradition since its inception. According to Genesis and subsequent commentaries, God spoke this commandment to both Adam and Eve, which means it has applied to both men and women ever since. We are supposed to have children. In this particular case, the minimum is to have at least one boy and one girl.

The mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply however could lead one erroneously think that contraception runs contrary to Jewish tradition. However if we look a little deeper, we would find, in the words of Elliot Dorff, in his book, A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics, "contraception is permitted and even required under certain circumstances" (pg. 120).

There are many rabbinic rulings to back up this premise including some in the Babylonian Talmud, one of the central foundational guides to Jewish law. According to Tractate Yevamote 12b "there are three classes of women who employ an absorbent (for purposes of contraception): a minor, a pregnant woman, and a nursing mother; a minor lest she become pregnant and die, a pregnant woman lest miscarriage result, and a nursing mother lest she become pregnant and prematurely wean the child so that it dies."

Later on the rabbis build upon this case allowing for contraception even going as far as to allow birth control pills. Jews are still strongly encouraged to have multiple children for a variety of reasons including the aforementioned Biblical passage, but since at least Talmudic times we have also been permitted to use birth control.

So just because one religious community says that it is against contraception, doesn't mean they represent all religious traditions. And I feel it is better to allow one to make their own decision based on their own personal religious beliefs and teachings of their religious organizations than to have religious organizations dictating for all. Because believe it or not, we don't all agree.

Feel free to read Nicholas Kristof's OpEd Beyond Pelvic Politics