Today I would like to jot down some thoughts on a contemporary phenomenon in the Jewish community, the soaring rates of divorce and artificial birth control, which are wrecking havoc in our homes.
Both divorce and birth control have always been the two "allowed undesirables", tolerated when there was no other choice. Birth control was practiced, generally, to avoid harm to the woman's health, and divorce was resorted to when all attempts to make peace failed. Because there are certain grey areas concerning both divorce and birth control and when those two are allowed, today we see a rising tide of both ruining marriages and preventing conception, even though the religious laws have remained largely unchanged.
For example there are people who say divorce rates are higher in the Jewish community because couples marry young, completely ignoring the fact that when marriage age was traditionally younger, divorce rates were actually much lower. People simply did all in their power to avoid divorce, instead of ruining their families for reasons such as "incompatibility" and "not feeling fulfilled".
Preventing conception, too, was practiced in certain circumstances, but it was never prevalent to deliberately, purposefully and continuously detach the intimate act in marriage from the possibility to create life. Today, most Orthodox rabbis are adamant that the first pregnancy, at least, should not be prevented for any but serious health reasons, yet many young couples clamor they must "get to know each other" and achieve certain financial goals. Marriage is thus turned into an arrangement of personal gratification. The knowledge that if you get married you must be ready to raise a family is in the process of being lost.
There's also a rising tide of people who no longer bother to find out where they stand according to halacha (Jewish Law), and no longer seek rabbinical advice, which might easily lead to practices that are strictly forbidden.
It also leads to situations when, if there's a young couple married for some time with no children, people gossip about them surely not wanting to have a baby instead of thinking that perhaps there might be a problem (after all, fertility is not to be taken for granted, even for young people), and praying for them to be blessed with children.
There's the letter of the law, which may say something is not strictly forbidden, and there's the Jewish spirit that has always seen family as one of the highest values and children as a blessing. In the past, no one was much interested in the letter of the law and in how far they can push it, but today, it seems people are very eager to do just that: to see how close they can come to being Westernized and secularized in their values, while still being considered Orthodox by the letter of the law.
It doesn't help that many modern Orthodox Jews go to secular universities where they are brainwashed that large families are bad for the economy, especially if the mother stays home and doesn't "contribute" by having a job. By all manners of twisted reasoning, they make us forget that we need more Jews, not less.
It always seemed so reckless to me when people talk about how many children they want, compared to how many rooms they have in the house and depending on when they want to complete their PhD. To me, it always seemed like tempting God's wrath. Don't get me wrong, I realize that the perspective of having a baby can be daunting, especially if you've just been introduced to the joys and burdens of motherhood in the first place and now have to think of letting another little one in your life. However the thought of rejecting a blessing should be daunting, too. We can't think we will be able to have another baby "later" whenever we want.
I've read a story about the rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zts"l, one of the greatest rabbis of
who sadly passed away recently. It said that one day, two couples came to see him for counseling on the matter of birth control. One was a woman who already had fourteen children and wanted more, but her husband felt it was too much. The other was a woman who had two children and had burst out crying, saying she can't possibly handle more. Before talking to the second woman, the rabbi in his wisdom let her meet the first one. I can imagine they had quite a conversation. That surely gives a matter of perspective, doesn't it? Israel