Q. This week the official spokesman of the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney reiterated the traditional negative view of artificial birth control. How does the Jewish view compare?
A. The Torah says, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This is the basis of the religious duty of procreation. Yet there are both personal and universal arguments for birth control: “We don’t want children” (or “We don’t want more children”); “There is such overpopulation; surely it should be halted!”.
Judaism does not ban contraception; in some circumstances, such as where pregnancy or childbirth would jeopardise the life or health of the mother, it actually demands it. But where such considerations do not exist, it emphasises the positive duty of having children. However, spacing of children is not entirely alien to rabbinic thinking. Every case, however, is different, and rabbinic counsel should be obtained. The contraceptive method adopted should be used by the wife and not the husband.
There are those who say that having a child, or an extra child, will affect their lifestyle. Judaism responds with the saying, “Every child brings its own blessing into the world”. By preventing a birth the family may be deprived of a blessing and the world of a possible genius; the Talmud speaks of Amram seeking to divorce his wife in order not to bring more children to birth, and Miriam rebuking him for not thinking of his responsibilities to future generations (Sotah 12a).
The question of responsibility to future generations is especially pertinent to modern Jews. Our declining birth rate is gravely affecting the future of the Jewish family, the Jewish people and the Jewish way of life. Jews should have more children, not less. The only section of Jewry that is having largish families is the Charedim: perhaps the rest of our people should also work a little harder?
Some profess a genuine concern for certain parts of the world, especially China and India, where population growth is a major problem. From one point of view, a Jew must say openly that in this area our first consideration must be the Jewish people. Jews need to have more children – and in any case a few thousand Jewish children born in Manchester or Melbourne is not going to make any difference to the demographics of India or China. Those cultures have to find their own solutions. Not every problem can and should be dealt with globally without taking account of the specific circumstances of each group.