Monday, November 14, 2011

Large families, faith, freedom and pride

I really enjoyed this post by Melissa at Permission to Live. I do love her fresh, invigorating thoughts, despite many differences in background, upbringing and religious beliefs.

I have discussed birth control in the Orthodox Jewish community before, though I can't remember right now in which post exactly. In a nutshell, it is encouraged to have a large family, and children are seen as something more important than numerous possessions or unlimited freedom to pursue personal interests. When opting for rabbinical counsel regarding birth control, there are few instances when it is acceptable, and fewer still when it is recommended.

But there's balance, and this is very important. There really are some situations which are radical. There are special circumstances of physical and/or emotional health (though I admit, those are sometimes stretched to an unbelievable extent, such as "my emotional health does not permit me to have children unless each one has a room of his own").

I know of a woman who is deeply religious, devoted to her children, and who strongly desired to have a large family. Indeed, she does have a large family, though not as large as she could have had, had she not used birth control due to her extraordinarily difficult pregnancies, during which she is basically incapable of functioning normally, and thus has to rely heavily on help. So each times she struggles, seeks counsel, tries to walk in truth of what is best for everyone involved.

See, this is one of the many reasons I'm so grateful for being a Jew. Our laws are so numerous and complex, and things are rarely black and white. It's impossible to say that if you are using birth control, you are selfish, lazy, and lacking faith, and if you don't, you are a crazy religious fanatic who looks down upon everyone else. Life is many-faced and so fascinating and wondrous.

Because it's such a complicated issue, it's good for every couple to have a rabbi to whom they can turn, perhaps not on a regular basis, but in troubling circumstances such as when there are genuine problems with the mother's health or other special reasons. It's impossible to write a neat list of who should and who shouldn't have more children, and in which circumstances. That's why we talk to a rabbi. Not to have him think instead of us, but to guide us into looking with (hopefully) more precision at our personal wishes vs. what G-d wants.

Also, an important thing to keep in mind is that a large family isn't, or at least shouldn't be, a cultural statement. Children aren't trophies or achievments, they are ours not as our possessions, but in the sense of belonging to us as we belong to them, and as we all together, as a family, belong to one Maker who placed us all on this earth and blessed us by bonding us for life.


Hannah in Canada said...

Very eloquently put. It is good to be reminded that others may have different circumstances than we do and that it isn't our place to judge them for their choices.
Best wishes to you and your family!

Stellar said...

I agree with this. My mother and father have 5 kids, but they didn't use birth control for "selfish" reasons-- we were really struggling financially when I was growing up. But still, 5 children isn't a small number by any means.

By the way, I am researching in converting to Judaism. My boyfriend is Jewish, and we are really wanting to settle down soon... :)

annierose said...

You can find your previous posts on birth control by using the search function in the sidebar.

In this 2008 post (, you said:

"From my posts you can understand I have - how should I put it mildly? - a great dislike for hormonal contraception. Personally, I believe too many rabbis are unaware of the potential damage hormonal birth control can cause to a woman's health and fertility, and are too easily tempted to give counsel in favor of it, simply because it is a non-barrier method.

I might have mentioned it on the blog already - I know a deeply religious woman who counseled her rabbi about taking the Pill, after giving two births in two years. When she went off the Pill, after just one year of using it, she couldn't conceive in a natural way, and only gave birth to her third child several years after that, with fertility treatment that left her exhausted. She couldn't go through it again, and while she never used any form of birth control afterwards, she didn't conceive anymore. Her dream of having a big family was shattered.

As the dangers of hormonal birth control are exposed, I believe the rabbinical attitudes will change as well."

It would be really interesting to hear more about the personal journey that has led you to change your mind on your earlier stance.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Annierose, I was not talking about the issue of hormonal birth control in this post. I was and still remain firmly against tampering with natural hormonal cycles. I believe rabbinical attitude, when the use of birth control is justified, should be opting for non-hormonal but still halachically acceptable forms of birth control.

Analytical Adam said...

I am still wondering what would be "correct' birth control in the sense that the bible is very much against using intimacy for just pleasure when a woman can bear children. The selfishness of the religious world has no end sad to say and in my view Mrs. A has become part of it. Maybe instead of thinking your own pleasure you should think of those who are not married. My own experience is those who are married always seem to punish men who aren't even though many have done nothing to deserrve this. I am just sorry you worship male Rabbis above God from what I can see Mrs. Anna and at the end of the day as well you are giving Judaism a bad name as well. The fact that are religion on many positions are liberal without any biblical basis for that position is a shame to us as a people and it would be nice if you would think about the bigger picutre besides you small group of people that love the male religious leaders whether it be Jewish or Christian. Many don't and they have good reason to which you in your hatred have slandered which is very bad.

Analytical Adam said...

I really think the Rabbinic "justification" for any sort of contraception for women is classic feminism in the sense that if a man wastes his seed it is wrong in just wanted sexual pleasure. But for a woman it is ok to take something so they can have sexual plesure without any consequences. Is that not a double standard and woman are not considered "passive" any more then men in sexual matters unless they are raped.