Beit Midrash

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Postponing Pregnancy

I will be getting married soon, God willing. I would like to know if I am permitted, according to Jewish law, to postpone pregnancy for two years in order to finish the majority of my university studies without the burden of pregnancy and parenting?


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Tammuz 5768
1. Postponing the Obligation to Have Children
2. Postponing is No Solution
3. The Problem of Religious Colleges
4. Best to Give Birth When Young
5. The Covenant of Marriage
6. Analogy to Soldier or Student
7. All Great Things are Fraught with Difficulties

Postponing the Obligation to Have Children
Question: I am a twenty-year-old woman and, God willing, I will be getting married soon. My question is this: Am I permitted, according to Jewish law, to postpone pregnancy for two years in order to finish the majority of my university studies without the burden of pregnancy and parenting? I should point out that my husband and I want to have a fairly large family, five or six children. The question is can I postpone birth by two years?

Answer: A person may not delay fulfilling the commandment to have children. To the contrary, one must always hasten to perform Torah precepts. In this vein R’ Yoshia teaches: "It is written ‘Be careful regarding the matzahs’ (Exodus 12:17), and just as a person must not allow the [dough of the] matzahs to ferment, so he must not allow the mitzvas (Torah commandments) to ‘ferment’; rather, if you have the opportunity to fulfill a commandment, do it immediately." And R’ Shimon bar Lakish adds, "You must not skip over the precepts" - i.e., Do not postpone a commandment that has come your way, even in order to fulfill another commandment (Yalkut Shimoni, Bo 201).

Now, in view of the fact that there is an obligation to fulfill commandments with alacrity, it is clearly unacceptable to cause a commandment’s fulfillment to be delayed. This is especially true when it comes to so important a commandment as bearing children, a commandment upon which the world depends and by virtue of which man becomes a partner with the Holy One, blessed be He.

The sages forbade the sale of a Torah scroll except in order to fulfill one of two commandments: the commandment to study Torah and the commandment to bear children (see Megillah 27a; Beit Shmuel, Even HaEzer 1, 15-16). Sometimes there is a particular problem, physical or mental, that allows for postponing the commandment, but it is proper to consult with a Torah scholar in order to be sure that the problem indeed justifies delaying the obligation.

Postponing is No Solution
I would add, however, that I do not quite understand your question. Why do you think that after your studies it will be easier for you to have children? Most subjects studied in the university can be covered in half a day, or slightly more, and the studies last for only about seven and a half months a year. By contrast, most jobs necessitate more than half a day’s work and continue for about eleven months of the year. If you think it will be difficult to give birth while you are a student, how will you be able to do so after you have entered the working world?

In truth, this is a matter of determination and priority; the more a person grasps the importance of family and children, the more desire and willpower one has to bear children, to raise them, and to educate them. Just as you will have strength at the age of thirty to give birth, to take care of children, and to work, so too today you will have the strength to learn a profession and to begin to raise children. And just as at the age of thirty you will not be able to immerse yourself entirely in work outside the home, so too today you will be unable to immerse yourself entirely in studies and establishing yourself in work.

The Problem of Religious Colleges
Question: All of the above is true as far as university study goes, but there are women who study in colleges where students must attend classes from morning to evening. In such cases it is indeed easier for women when they graduate and begin teaching. What, then, should a woman do if she finds herself in this situation?

Answer: This is indeed a painful problem. A number of young women inquired regarding this problem and I advised them to transfer to an institution in which the study lasts fewer hours each day, so that they be able to dedicate more time to establishing their families. True, from the perspective of the religious framework these colleges have an advantage, but it is forbidden to endanger the family, marriage, pregnancy and childrearing, in order to learn in such institutions. However, where there is reason to believe that a woman will deteriorate spiritually at the university, it is best that she remain in a religious framework.

Best to Give Birth When Young
I would go even further and say that, in many respects, the earlier you give birth, the easier your life will be. Even if you know how many children you want to have, it is best to have them when young. The earlier the pregnancies, the easier they are and the less danger there is. Moreover, younger parents have more strength to bear the burden of rearing and educating children. When your children grow you will be able to invest more time in your work outside of the home and in nurturing your talents.

Moreover, because we only live so long in this world, one who postpones birth will naturally see her offspring for fewer years. For example, she will enjoy fewer weddings, births, and celebrations of her offspring.

It must also be added that pregnancy is not guaranteed to anybody, and preventing oneself from giving birth is like preventing divine blessing and generosity. Who can say if when a woman is finally ready to have children she will merit divine generosity.

The Covenant of Marriage
Question: Maybe it is better to build the marriage bond first. Would it not be wiser to take up the burden of pregnancy, birth, and childrearing after the couple’s mutual affection has been well established?

Answer: I have been asked many times if it is permissible to prevent pregnancy during the first years of marriage, and I have often ruled leniently based upon the information given to me by the inquirers. However, from my own little experience, and from the experience of other rabbis I have spoken to, I have come to the realization that no blessing comes from seeking out leniencies on this matter.

I have not carried out a methodic study on this question, but I have followed many couples, some of whom dealt with these questions and others who did not. My experience is that couples that were uncertain about pregnancy often had a relatively difficult time building their marriage bond. Something in their marriage covenant was missing. Relatively speaking, they were more prone to arguing. Their love, it would appear, was less absolute, a bit on condition. Later, too, raising children was more difficult for them. They felt worn out and tended to complain about the difficulties of child rearing (tza’ar gidul banim).

I do not mean to generalize. Clearly there are couples who do not postpone childbirth and yet do not get along well, and there are others who do postpone childbirth and enjoy a great relationship. Nonetheless, I know for certain that, relatively speaking, there are more problems with couples that delay having children. It could be that something in the marriage covenant is impaired when couples begin to have doubts about childbirth.

A covenant is an absolute fact that creates a firm bond, far stronger than your ordinary bond, a bond of unwavering commitment, beyond difficulties and uncertainties. When couples begin raising fundamental questions about pregnancy and child rearing they lose the power and inspiration of the covenant.

Our attitude toward pregnancy and birth should be as toward an absolute and unquestionable fact. Such is the nature of the bond of marriage: Through love and unity new life is created, new life that only increases love and unity between the couple.

Analogy to Soldier or Student
This may be likened to a soldier in basic training who asks himself each morning if he should get up or not, if he really has the strength to endure another day of training. Such a person will no doubt have a hard time. He will complain a lot and there is a good chance he will not finish at all.

However, if a person approaches basic training from the outset with conviction and an understanding that it is of great value because it prepares a person to be a combat soldier for the Israeli Defense Forces, he will find that he has sufficient stamina to endure all of the challenges involved. He will not find it difficult to get up in the morning, and even the long marches will not be so excruciating.

A similar parallel can be drawn to a university student who asks himself each day if it is worth it for him to continue his studies, if it is worth it for him to prepare for tests, if he has chosen the right profession. It will certainly be difficult for such a student to complete his studies. A person should finish vacillating before beginning his studies. Once a person has begun, unless something unusual happens, he should persist with his studies until they are complete.

Now if this is true regarding basic training and university study - both relatively easy undertakings - it is all the more true when it comes to building a family.

All Great Things are Fraught with Difficulties
Every good and important matter is fraught with difficulties. Even a businessperson who deals with millions of dollars must often work long hours and endure great pressure. However, the goal of earning money is so dear to him that he is ready to invest great energy for its sake. Therefore, he does not take notice of the difficult nature of his life. To the contrary, he is proud of it and loves it.

This is all the more so when it comes to building a family, the difficulties of which are numerous and the fruits of which are great. Building a family lays the foundation for coming generations and it is the greatest actualization a person can achieve on earth. A woman who recognizes the full value of building a family will not want to put off having children even a single day, and she will take pleasure in any difficulties this involves.

However, if she begins to raise questions on fundamental matters, she will soon feel all of the difficulties that come with building a family, and this will weigh upon her so heavily that she might not be able to endure the challenges that await her. She will be like that soldier who suffers because he is uncertain if he is fit to endure the excruciating drills of basic training.

This subject has additional aspects - economic and other - which I hope to be able to discuss at a later date.
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