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    Contraceptives – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it true that the Talmud discusses contraceptives?

    A. The Talmud discusses a contraceptive known as kos ikkarim, a cup of roots, though this may be an incorrect reading of the Hebrew. Possibly the phrase should be kos akkarim, cup of sterility. It might still be made of roots, since natural ingredients are certainly used in medical practice.

    Any form of contraceptive practised in a marriage must halachically be used by the woman and not the man as this is a less direct interference with the sex act. Grounds for contraception are widely discussed. If there is a health threat to the woman, her life takes priority. An economic downturn does not in itself justify contraception; Resh Lakish advised people to refrain from intercourse in time of famine (Ta’anit 11a).

    The Jewish doctrine is “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) and a couple should welcome the possibility of a large family, especially at a stage of Jewish history when we have demographic problems. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus even said, “He who brings no children into the world is like a murderer” (Yev. 63b) since such a person denies children the chance to be born and to enrich the world.

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