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Sunday, January 10, 2010

I'm Shaking Inside

There is a story that went up on VIN Motzei Shabbat regarding religious women, including Chareidi women, seeking abortions. I do not believe that this is a publicity stunt by the chairman of Efrat, although some commentors are insinuating such. Of the many organizations we receive solicitations from, EFRAT(and organization that helps prevent abortion in Israel by providing counseling and financial support) has shown itself to be quite professional. I have never seen the organization engage in the sensationalism that is all to prevenlant in so many solititations.

If it is true that religious women are seeking abortions because they don't believe that can feed another mouth, I believe that we all have blood on our hands. Commentors might be criticizing the modern day women for a lack of bitachon and emunah, and perhaps in light of parshat Shemot, which we just completed the modern day women pales in comparison. But, YWN had a tzedakah solicitation up just this last week reporting cases of children "coming to hospitals with distended stomachs from undernourishment, by which time the damage is already done."

Poverty is severe in many communities and it is time to start reversing the damage that a welfare society is inflicting on our brothers and sisters. Grand dependency on the Israeli taxpayer and the America and overseas giver is creating a disaster. Pirkei Avot is coming to life. Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Not only are we witnessing a weakening of a Torah society, we have families seeking abortions. Even if there is a heter, using abortion as birth control is coarsening for a society.

Those who preach, Rabbinic and layman alike, the "fire and brimstone" version that family planning/pregnancy prevention is assur/shameful/selfish and/or is never permitted financial reasons should think twice. Ideas have consequences. There are heterim for pregnancy prevention. It is an incredibly nuanced area of halacha and take it from me, a female, that there are a number of women out there that are under the assumption that pregnancy prevention is essentially assur. They do not ask questions, and many worry about finding out they are pregnant feeling that they are not ready to handle another child. There are Rabbis that many women just assume would never allow pregnancy prevention, and their assumption couldn't be further from the truth. And this is in America, in a mixed community. Imagine what assumptions, true and false, reign supreme in enclaves such as Bnei Brak!

I find this report incredible disturbing. It leaves me shaking inside. I think there is a limited time frame to reverse the damage, but it is still easier to blame the dysfunction on outside society.

92 comments:

Anonymous said...

Efrat is a wonderful organization. They are the ONLY tzedaka that we give large (more than $1000) to annually. I would tend to believe their publicity. Everything you said is right on target. I find it creepy and bizarre if a "rav" would assur birth control but "permit" abortion. That is twisted and makes me want to puke.

Anonymous said...

The rabbonim who prohibit birth control do not permit abortion. It is more likely that either the rav did not permit birth control and the couple, out of desperation, decided to get an abortion without a heter, or more likely that the rav would have given a heter if the couple had asked, but the couple didn't think to do so (or didn't know that they could).

Moshe said...

Anonymous @ 7:30 PM,

Of course you are right. However, rabbonim cannot just expect people to ask before it is too late. Rabbonim should lead efforts to promote prevention before it comes to the more difficult question. I have never heard of rabbonim in the charedi world speak about the terrible poverty that is in their communities. Let them discourage kollel couples who have little incomes from having more kids than they can be financially responsible for. Why have the leaders of the charedi world shirked their responsibility?

Light of Israel said...

I know it's off topic, but it gets me wondering if Hashem is happy with our materialism and yet there are literally jewish kids starving in the world. Even in Jewish education, should we spend a bit less and feed a few more children?

Anonymous said...

Moshe,

The reason for that is that many charedi rabbonim do not consider it to be halachicly permissible to use birth control for financial reasons except in the case of immediate dire circumstances (such as the couple not being able to feed their kids the moment the baby is born, not that they might not be able to do so three years down the line)or the financial state is health-threatening (such as a couple on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of the stress). Obviously, a rav is not going to tell a couple to do something that he holds is forbidden (not a chumrah, forbidden).

However, the logical solution would be to encourage more men (and women) to work since no rav, even the most charedi, believes that it is forbidden to work. However, the army issue makes this more complicated in Israel.

Orthonomics said...

Even in Jewish education, should we spend a bit less and feed a few more children?

I am more and more convinced that the dependency culture that "we" have created through our giving is heavily responsible for this mess. We might be giving tzedakah, but we aren't adhering to a high level which is to help receipients become independent. Instead, we are spending on the fleeting (wedding packages for chatanim and kallot over job training, e.g.) and neglecting investing in the future. The tzedakah roles continue to grow, not shrink because we aren't spending wisely.

I'm very concerned about the dependence culture and I'm concerned about a culture of consumption. Regarding the chareidim in Israel, I'm concerned about lack of role modeling, lack of basic skills, and a slavery mindset (i.e. "the man" is out to get me).

In American communities, I think we are crippling our kids by providing them with "only the best." When I read the comments on tuition threads here and elsewhere, I can see that many people are engrained in spending habits that might not be sustainable, leading to great disatisfaction. Even if we woke up as multi-millionairs tomorrow, I don't think we would change our day to day habits. I want my children to have the ability to make it on less.

Orthonomics said...

The rabbonim who prohibit birth control do not permit abortion. It is more likely that either the rav did not permit birth control and the couple, out of desperation, decided to get an abortion without a heter, or more likely that the rav would have given a heter if the couple had asked, but the couple didn't think to do so (or didn't know that they could).

I agree with your assessment. But couples often don't know to ask because the subject isn't particularly brochable.

Offwinger said...

I know a young couple that was getting married, and the husband had finished school, while the wife had not (she was pursuing a graduate degree in a particular field).

The bride called the Rav that her Kallah class teacher recommended, since she was assured that this Rav would give a heter for someone who was still finishing school.

Guess what? The Kallah class teacher was wrong. She induced a young girl to call a Rav that she had never spoken to before and who knew nothing about her circumstances. After asking questions for about 5 minutes, the Rav told her that she was selfish for wanting to finish her studies, and that, of course, no such heter existed for her. The kallah was in tears right before her wedding because of this, and she was wondering whether she had to follow the "psak" of someone who didn't even know her. She regretted calling this Rav, listening to her kallah class teacher, and she didn't feel ok shopping around for a heter after the fact either.

Ever since I heard that story, whenever someone tells me, "Oh, there are lots of rabbonim who give heterim..." I take it with a grain of salt, because, while you or I may have figured out how to manage halacha and family planning, it's patently ridiculous to think that young, scared kallahs, are actually getting good advice on this.

Anonymous said...

Halachicly it is much more problematic for someone with no children to get a heter than for someone with children. It is even easier for someone who has fulfilled pru urvu.

The reason is obvious. One should not be mevatel a mitzvas asei except under certain circumstances. If one has already fulfilled the mitzva d'oraisa, it is much simpler halachicly to use BC>

Anonymous said...

While it is easy, and appropriate, to blame the rabbinate for lack of flexibility in this matter in many communities, I feel the real blame is with those that give that power to the rabbinate. The current generation is filled with so many mindless followers without their own common sense.

Each and every day we make our own decisions which we will be judged by in olam haba. A rabbi should not be blamed for the decisions I make, regardless of whether they have halachic implication or not. The rabbi is there to provide me with spiritual guidance, not alleviate me of responsibility.

Creating a life is the largest burden one can place on themselves. It's a responsibility that only ends when you die. Having a child should be the most important decision of your life and should not be placed in the hands of anyone, regardless of social, spiritual, or communal stature. Ask your rabbi for permission, heter, whatever. I'm all for it. But don't only blame the Rabbi when a woman chooses to not use any birth control and then has an abortion. I would blame the woman herself, the husband, her/his parents, and the community long before I blame the rabbi.

David said...

I have a question:

given that pru u'rvu is a mitzvah which is incumbent upon men only, and given that there are several effective methods of contraception prevention which require no knowledge or action on the part of the husband, why would a heter be required for a wife to use one of those methods?

I'm thinking specifically of the pill, quarterly hormone shots, cervical caps, or IUDs. All of those have medical issues where they may be more or less appropriate for an individual, but they're all things that only require action on the part of the wife.

If there's a problem (i.e. if you hold that a birth control pill is an abortifacient, which is not medically the case) with any of these methods, then a heter wouldn't be granted under pretty much any case, so the concept of heter should not apply at all to this topic.

Is there a flaw in my reasoning?

Ariella said...

The organization Just One Life tries to prevent abortions that are motivated by lack of money. They collect for the expenses associated with the birth and some of the baby expenses. But if the parents are concerned for long terms expenses, that is something else.

As many already pointed out, there is no question that contraception is preferable to abortion. It is possible, though, that these women never were educated about the possibilities.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

David, entire books have been written about your question.

For one thing, although a woman is not obligated by p'ru ur'vu, she does have a level of obligation from lashevet yatrah, or other sources. Not d'oraita, mind you; but not to be brushed aside.

Also, you lumped together several very different methods of contraception. They are not viewed as equal halachicly, because they are not identical in how they work. And, to this day, we don't really know how the IUD works.

Also, your statement about abortifactant isn't so simple either. Witness that in some extraordinary cases a woman might be instructed to take a 'morning after pill'. There are a number of factors to be considered in such cases.

Finally, but really first in my opinion, would you really want your wife fooling you on something so significant for months or years? Does that strengthen the trust and integrity of a marital relationship? I could never suggest that for the sake of shalom bayit a spouse undermine the trust and therefore undermine the shalom bayit. Makes no sense at all.

I agree that the rabbanim and educators need to do a better job of teaching this issue, and do it with integrity. Mind you, that seems to be the problem with much about halachic leadership in some communities. Mah nishtanah?

Anonymous said...

It seems from the article that abortion requests are on the rise from the religious sector in general, not just the charedim. Why would that be?

rachel said...

you know, many catholists do a cheshbon that an abortion is one sin and one confession and taking birth control is a sin every day of the year...
On a serious note, I have heard from women that they didn't know that some rabbanim allowed birth control until at least the woman finished her degree. Usually by the time they find that they have too many children and not enough time and money to finish. I don't think it is just rabbanim. A rav simply cannot get up from the pulpit and announce "birth controls available, ask your LOR for the heter that fits you best". I think is is a combination of the rabbanim AND everyone in charge of education. Girls in 12th grade learn the halachic differences of each birth control method, and the real halachos of pru urvu (as opposed to the watered down/no text version/ only chumras version). Kallah classes should also be the same (not only for BC but for every aspect of taharat Hamishpacha) so women know there is an option to ask.

Commenter Abbi said...

"But couples often don't know to ask because the subject isn't particularly brochable."

Bringing a pair of stained underwear is "brochable" but having an adult conversation about birth control isn't? Now isn't that sad!

Offwinger said...

Just wanted to add one other sad aspect:

No one in the frum world speaks of adoption as a plausible option.
There are Jewish couples desperate to adopt children. There are desperate young women seeking abortions, because they can not handle/afford a child. Why? Besides the issue of birth control, these women do not view giving up a baby for adoption as a *real* option.

Commenter Abbi said...

We never asked a rav for a heter for BC. We are MO and I don't think my parents ever asked either, because I had never heard of this concept until I was in Israel for the year, at an MO seminary. I was absolutely horrified when I heard of it. I could never imagine knowing a rav so personally that he could "know" when it was time for me to have kids and when it wasn't.

My husband and I waited six months after getting married, to get used to each other and settle into a our lives (we had quite a whirlwind courtship and marriage). My husband was already working, so technically we could have afforded a child, but judging by how I felt in the first few months of pregnancy (incredibly sick and tired) it would have been a miserable way to start off a marriage.

We have three beautiful kids now (k'ah), two girls and a boy that are spaced around 2.5 years apart. I never asked a rav for heterim for spacing either, because, again, only I knew when it was time for me to have another child. I really couldn't imagine what a rav would add to this decision. We researched halachically acceptable forms of BC and made our own decision.

Asking for BC heterim reminds me of Catholic indulgences and dispensations. I think people need to learn the halacha and make their own decisions.

This current abortion problem proves that at the end of the day, people, no matter how religious, have a strong sense of self-preservation. If people were encouraged to make their own family planning decisions, we wouldn't be in this mess.

mlevin said...

This is very sad, but I agree with Abbi, asking Rabbi for a heter is another example of Christinization of Judaism.

Anonymous said...

What about Rav Wallenberg. Could be wrong, but I think he assured BC but mutered late term abortion. Anyway, I would never ask my Rav about BC. Yuck.

David said...

@Mordechai:

I wasn't talking about a wife deceiving her husband at all. However, given that the action and decision is in fact entirely hers, and the obligation is not, why would a heter be relevant?

The whole reason that women are not obligated in pru u'rvu is that they can't be obligated to put their lives in danger. kal v'homer, they should be permitted to do things which will reduce the danger to their own health and well-being. This is a simple hai bahem issue.

Anonymous said...

Asking for a heter not to push off the fulfillment of a mitzvas asei has nothing to do with Christianity. The Rambam (and shulchan aruch if I recall correctly) says that one must marry young since it is forbidden to delay pru urvu past a certain point (20 or 24 if you are learning Torah full time). Clearly marrying young and using birth control defeats the purpose.

The issue with women using birth control is that in our times polygamy isn't allowed, so by using bc a woman effectively prevents her husband from being able to fulfill the mitzvah in a permitted manner. That said, it is easier for a woman to get a heter than a man, particularly if there is no issue of destroying zera involved.

Commenter Abbi said...

An infertile woman also prevents a man from fulfilling the mitzvah of p'uv. But I know of no rabbi or community today that forces men to divorce their infertile wives.

Religious families who practice birth control usually fulfill this mitzvah at one point or another. I'm still unclear why they are obligated to consult a rabbi as to when this mitzvah will be fulfilled. P'ur is not a mitzvat ase sh'hazman grama.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge halachic difference between actively preventing someone from fulfilling a mitzvas asei and having the mitzvas asei prevented unintentionally. The infertile woman would love to help the man fulfill the mitzvah of pru urvu--it just isn't happening.

From the Rambam (and Shulchan Aruch) mentioned above it is quite clear that one is not allowed to push off the mitzvas asei of pru urvu. The Rambam says quite clearly that one who does so is mevatel a mitzvas asei. The reason for consulting a rabbi is to see if your circumstances qualify as exceptional circumstances that override the mitzvas asei, whether temporarily or permanently. Many rabbonim hold that all but the most extreme financial issues do not qualify, but that health issues, including mental health, do qualify depending on the severity of the issues.

Anonymous said...

People are incredibly reticent to talk about birth control, but everyone knows people are using it, period. It's the thing no one talks about it. It's polite to pretend that spacing between children is due entirely to nursing and/or fertility problems, but that's just not the case.

Just as in the general world, there are plenty of frum people who get pregnant because they are too lazy to use birth control, or they think they won't get pregnant that particular time. Or they use birth control inconsistently or incorrectly. The only reason it's news is because they're also aborting.

tesyaa said...

Anon 9:05 was me, didn't mean to post as Anonymous

David said...

@Anon 8:36:

If a wife uses birth control which requires no action on the part of her husband, he has *not* pushed off a mitzvah aseh, and I would love to see a quote to someone who poskens otherwise publicly.

The wife would be effectively rendering herself temporarily infertile. If you hold that it is permissable for an infertile couple to remain married, then it would be permissable for the husband and wife to remain married if she is using contraception.

The wife has no mitzvah aseh toward p'ru u'rvu. I can't say this strongly enough - the whole point of exempting women from this mitzvah is uprooted if she is responsible for her husband's mitzvah fulfillment.

mlevin said...

I'm assuming that the last few anonymous are the same person. So I will respond in such a manner.

1. Asking a Rabbi for a heter instead of making your own research and decisions is the same thing as deferring to others and making them responsible for your life choices. That is exactly what Judaism is against and is the main attraction of Christianity.

2. Any pregnancy is a risk of life and health to a woman, and asking anyone to risk their life and health by masquerading it as a commandment is assur. How many girls in schools are taught about the risks of childbearing? How many women know about the additional dangers to the woman's body after having a fifth pregnancy?

3. You said "The issue with women using birth control is that in our times polygamy isn't allowed, so by using bc a woman effectively prevents her husband from being able to fulfill the mitzvah in a permitted manner."

And what happened to the husband's obligation to satisfy his wife sexually? How is he able to do it if he has more than one wife? What about the woman's right to divorce her husband if he doesn't satisfy her and claim part of his money for her own? You seem to be forgetting, that had it not been for a woman agreeing to get married, the men would not be married and would be in a violation of a torah commandment, not women. Women are under no obligation to get married or to have children.

4. If a man is married, but his wife is unable to get pregnant from their love making, it is still mutar by Torah for them to have relations, so when Rambam talks specifically about getting married early, it does not have to immediately conclude that he must have a child 9 months later. Yes, it's better to have children earlier than later, for many reasons, but if a couple is not able to sustain themselves... or if they are uncertain about future...

Commenter Abbi said...

Also, in Rambam's time (and the SA for that matter) the child mortality rate was sky high. So of course families were encouraged to have as many children as early as possible to insure that some would survive.

That is obviously not the case in modern western society.

I know a family that is going on its 13 child. The oldest daughter is married. They don't own a car, actually. They don't seem to be struggling, but i think that many children is simply insane.

Thinking said...

"I could never imagine knowing a rav so personally that he could "know" when it was time for me to have kids and when it wasn't." -Abbi

I feel for you and all others that are in that situation. I can't imagine living my life without my Rav. Aseh L'cha Rav, my Rav knows me and my family almost as well as I do and has been a valuable resource for every aspect of our lives from BC to schooling to parnassah. Sure i have my own ideas, but what separates us from everyone else is that we follow Halachah not just our hearts.

Is it so hard to find a Rav who shares your Hashkafa but knows more Halachah than you? Or are you afraid that his responses won't be in line with your own plans? Doesn't a Rav (that you trust) represent G-d? Are you so certain that all of your personal decisions are the right ones and are das torah?

The best piece of advice I give young couples are "go for premarital counseling and make yourself a Rav". I am going on 10 years with this and have yet to have anyone tell me it was bad advice. And I've received plenty of thank yous.

mlevin said...

Quote from Thinking:
"Doesn't a Rav (that you trust) represent G-d?"

Perfect example of Christian mindset. Do I need to add more?

Thinking said...

"Quote from Thinking:
"Doesn't a Rav (that you trust) represent G-d?"

Perfect example of Christian mindset. Do I need to add more?"

mlevin - for my sake please do!

Please only continue reading if you are Orthodox, if not there is no point.

You realize that our greatest rabbis have written hundreds of thousands of pages of responsa in their time going back to the times of the beis hamikdash, right?
Are you suggesting that R' Moshe Feinstein, R' YB Solovechik, the Vilna Gaon... were all encouraging a Christian Mindset?

Is taking a car to a mechanic an example of a "lazy mindset"?

Not performing open heart surgery on yourself an example of "deferring to others and making them responsible for your life choices"?

It's fine to make decisions for yourself, but if you are Orthodox you also have to be responsible enough to ensure that what you are doing is within the confines of Halacha.

mlevin said...

No Rav, no other human being EVER represented G-d. DO YOU UNDERSTAND IT?

Thinking said...

mlevin-

Why do Rabbis exist?

mlevin said...

Rabbis exist for the same reason that car mechanics and heart surgeons exist to be a specialist in a specific area of our lives and provide a service to us when we need it. They do not represent Gd. They cannot take away your sin, just because you follow their advise. If a rabbi tells you to kill someone and you do, it's not a will of Gd, it is your doing and you are responsible. Same with the car mechanic. Just because he fixed your car and told you that it's strong enough to withstand a collision with another car and then goes and urges you to try it, doesn't mean you should do it, no matter how good of a car mechanic he is.

Commenter Abbi said...

But Thinking, what would I have gained by going to a rav? I have three children, 2 girls and a boy, spaced according to my needs. My husband has fulfilled P'uv at a pace that was comfortable for both of us. We are using halachically appropriate methods and keeping taharat hamishpacha. I don't feel i've "missed" anything spiritually and I've kept halacha.

I don't believe Rabbis "represent" Gd. I'm not joining the debate whether or not that's a Christian idea. I'm not afraid of answers, i just don't feel the need for a rav to be involved in my life. I ask questions when i'm not sure about what to do in specific situations. But with regard to BC, I know exactly what I want to do. I want to have a certain number of children with a certain number of years between them. No more and no less. There's nothing for a rav to advise me on.

Your conception of the role of a rav works with a largely illiterate kehilla, which existed in the shtetl. But for people who can pick up a sefer and read it and make a decision for themselves, what does it mean "a rav who knows more halacha"?

Thinking said...

"Rabbis exist for the same reason that car mechanics and heart surgeons exist to be a specialist in a specific area of our lives and provide a service to us when we need it."

mlevin -

Clearly we have different expectations of our Rabbis.

Anonymous said...

hmm.
i think we all need guidance, that's why we have rabbis. people who we assume are better versed in halacha, and who are also wise and understanding.
that's why Rav Moshe's and other responsa play heavily into our own decisions as to what to do with our lives.
we also didn't ask a rav about going back on bc after our first. nor after our second 4.5 years later. its just nobody else's business what we do in our bedroom. in those 4.5 years, we both got steadier jobs, bought an apartment, bought a car, had a surgery, and settled down for real life. we could never have done all that had we had another kid in the meantime. our lives - spiritual lives included, and especially! are all the better for it.
we had been pressured to have our first early, and truth be told, we might have better waited.
no we don't have a rav who is that close with our family. we have good friends, supportive parents and other relatives, and the ability to read the opinions of experts (including in halacha) to help us make serious decisions.
and yes, we still define ourselves as modern orthodox. widen your vision.

Thinking said...

Abbi-

Have you ever gone to a halacha shiur and realized whatever it was you were doing previously was wrong? Or read it in a sefer and realized you were mistaken before? Of course you have, we all have. Hilchos shabbos are extremely complex and it takes a lifetime to learn them thoroughly. This doesn't mean we stop asking or learning because "I know exactly what I want to do."

Judaism is not about "I know exactly what I want to do." It is about getting the most out of life within the confines of Halacha. Hey, my wife and I practice BC but it is with consultation from a Rav so that we know what we are doing is permissible. Unless you or your spouse are halachic experts in this field how do you know what you are doing is correct?
because you "pick up a sefer and read it and make a decision for themselves,"???

Why would you not ask a Rav? What are you afraid of if what you are doing is "halachically appropriate"?

Have you researched the field of BC and its relevance to Halachah? Is that why you're so comfortable with your decision?

"But for people who can pick up a sefer and read it and make a decision for themselves, what does it mean "a rav who knows more halacha"?" - please refer to my car mechanic/surgeon example

Anonymous said...

I'm shaking at the thought of having to pay a Bergen County yeshiva tuition bill in excess of $67k. I make over $200k but will need to apply for a scholarship this year.

David said...

I feel the need to clarify something. Different types of birth control have different halakhic implications and constraints, and different rabbonim will necessarily disagree on whether method X is acceptable. Every couple should absolutely discuss birth control with their rav, so that they can learn what those halakhic implications and concerns are.

However, I still maintain that the concept of heter does not apply (to those methods where only the woman is the active user of the method) - whatever the problems with the method are, they are for everyone. This area of halakha is no more complicated than how food should be warmed for shabbat lunch (if anything, it's less complicated in practice).

Commenter Abbi said...

Thinking
I'm not going to get into my personal philosophy of halacha because this is not the forum and quite clearly you can't wrap your brain around what I've been trying to say in my last two replies.

Suffice it to say, I will never be getting an abortion as a form of birth control. The same cannot be said of the frum women in the original post.

M said...

What tzedaka's would you recommend for people who want to help receipients become independent? I know about Paamonim, but I'm sure there must be others. Maybe you could do a post on this?

Anonymous said...

Another issue that no one discusses is that often these women don't feel empowered and respected enough to be able to say "no" to their husbands. Those Rabbis who would like to reduce the number or abortions also need to make sure that women can feel comfortable saying no, and that husbands will respect that.
Imagine how horrible it must be to have relations while praying that a pregnancy does not result because you are at your breaking point.

rosie said...

Believe it or not, there are actually rabbonim out there who advised couples to use BC before they even asked. Sometimes a couple wants another child or maybe the woman just loves being pregnant, but do not realize that they are terrible parents and have a terrible marriage and should not have a child at that time. Sometimes even women who have health issues still want to have more kids even when rabbonim tell them not to . There are also plenty of women who are given heterim and never have the prescription filled. The long winded point that I am trying to make is that it is not always the rabbis who are at fault.

megapixel said...

coming at this from a RW yeshivish background, I fully believe that this issue should be discussed with kallahs to the extent that they understand that bc is an option and its perfectly okay to ASK for a heter so that a few years down the road when they are feeling overwhelmed they wont feel that they are evil and bad for thinking about it. especially in very frum circles where the girls are very sheltered and may not be aware of it. and are surrounded by families of 14, 15 and more kids.

Anonymous said...

this is different from the letter writer in many ways, but still on topic, i think: after 2 boys + 1 girl we got a heter from our (RW) Rav to use BC and have no more for medical reasons (hers) and stress reasons (mine). my wife ignored the Rav's psak and pressured me to have more. after sholom bayis broke down, i gave in - what were my options? she got pregnant, nearly caused a nervous breakdown on my end. sometimes the rebbeim are more flexible than the people asking the shailos.

Commenter Abbi said...

Anon 11:17. I'm sorry you were so close to nervous breakdown. There are so many factors that go into the unfortunate decision to have too many kids. I think peer and family pressure is number one, more than the issue of heter or not getting a heter.

Lion of Zion said...

OFFWINGER:

"No one in the frum world speaks of adoption as a plausible option."

is that a joke?
can you imagaine the social and psychological agony a frum family in a typical frum neighborhood (of any hashkafah) would go through if it were known they gave up a baby for adoption? i'm sure they would be parents of the year at the next yeshivah dinner.

ABBI:

"We never asked a rav for a heter for BC. We are MO"

i think it's fair to say that *many* (probably most outside of RWMO?, but that's just a guess) never ask for a heter.

MELVIN:

"Asking a Rabbi for a heter instead of making your own research and decisions is the same thing as deferring to others and making them responsible for your life choices."

oh please. be honest. i think it's also fair to say that the vast majority of the MO i referred to above who never ask for the heter also never did any research on the matter (excepting Abbi of course)

SL:

M wrote: "What tzedaka's would you recommend for people who want to help receipients become independent? I know about Paamonim, but I'm sure there must be others. Maybe you could do a post on this?"

that would be a great post!

Lion of Zion said...

MEGAPIXEL:

"I fully believe that this issue should be discussed with kallahs"

great idea!
i've written before that i fault out choson/kalah teachers for not talking to us about genetic testing. they should have also covered birth control.
now i'm really going to ask for my money back.

Orthonomics said...

Adoption should most certainly be an option that is accepted. I have heard rumors of this girl and that girl (all teenagers, not married folk) who have found themselves pregnant. But, I have yet to see a baby. I don't want to read in between the lines. . . . but if these cases end in abortion, rather than adoption, that is tragic.

Family life should be a subject that is covered in educational forums. Certainly Torah has something to say about this area. I don't believe learning about the mitzvah of pru u'revu is checking one's brain at the door as insinuated above.

LOZ-That would be a great post. Perhaps I will just put the question to my audience.

Lion of Zion said...

ANON:

"The Rambam (and shulchan aruch if I recall correctly) says that one must marry young since it is forbidden to delay pru urvu past a certain point"

makor please. where does rambam say this?

what i do know is the rambam wrote this: wise people first get a parnasah, then buy a home and finally get married. this is described in chumash as a blessing.
fools first get married, then buy a home and lastly get a parnsasah. this in chumash is a curse.

read into that what you will.

Lion of Zion said...

ANON:

my makor is for that is הלכות דעות

also:

"The issue with women using birth control is that in our times polygamy isn't allowed"

a) polygmany has never been allowed. i think you are referring to polygyny

b) polygyny was *never* widespread. can you name more than 10 figures in tanach who had more than 1 wife (at the same time). how many tana'im? amora'im? ge'onim? rishonim? even among the yemenites, how common was it?

SL:

"Perhaps I will just put the question to my audience."

oh no. you've taught us to give carefully. now it is your obligation to finish the job and point us in the right direction :)

(i know this doesn't mean anything to anyone here, but my word verification is "monis"!)

odm said...

"Adoption is not considered as an option by religious women".
Not true. Especially, as SL pointed out, in the case of unmarried religious girls getting pregnant.

Efrat is a wonderful organization that does a lot of good. But, like with anything - take stories and even statistics with -at least- a grain of salt.

Just One Life is another wonderful organization that does a lot of good work in these cases.

However, it's always good to keep in mind: numbers can be read, used, presented, etc., pretty much any way an individual wants to. Remember the old statistics rule that correlation does not necessarily imply causation? Here, too. Statistics are tricky business.

As someone who has worked in this area for a while - I don't know what percent of women who said that they considered abortion would have actually taken that step. I do know that it is a thought that passes through many womens' minds in the case of a surprise pregnancy. It's also true that financial difficulties are not enough to obtain legal permission for an abortion in Israel - but is probably one of the top three reasons that people actually do consider abortion, for what that's worth.

rosie said...

I have a Taemani (Yemenite) friend whose father had 2 wives simultaneously and whose grandfather was married to 4 women at the same time. It was against the law in the state of Israel and police tried to break up weddings where polygamy was involved but it did happen.
As far as kallah teachers teaching anything, it would be great if they went beyond the halachas of taharas ha michpacha but parents themselves can speak to their engaged children about what the halacha allows regarding BC. Parents who marry off kids who are depending on someone to explain adult life must ultimately take responsibility for making sure their children are adequately prepared.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, both the Litvishe posek Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe held that birth control is not halachically acceptable except where the woman's health is in danger. They definitely reject parnassa as a reason to prevent pregnancy.

http://www.sichos.com/pru/TochenEnglish.htm

Anonymous said...

The most popular form of birth control is the Pill. Why husbands would stand by as their wives ingest a pill (or have an IUD implanted) that is so potent is beyond me. I avoid pain killers because I don't want to take something that does things inside my body! We are such a pill-popping society that apparently most people don't care about this. I think it's reprehensible. Though maybe if it were the men who were told to take take a Pill that messed with their reproductive system, they'd think differently about it ...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:23 -- You are correct. The pill and other contraceptives that rely on hormones carry huge risks. Diaphragms and condoms are the safest and best choice -- there are no health risks to the users.

Anonymous said...

Condoms may be the most halachically problematic form of contraception.

Anonymous said...

Diaphragms are not preferred by many because they are not as reliable a contraceptive as the Pill and IUD and they are not as convenient as popping a pill, and condoms are prohibited by halacha AFAIK in almost all situations.

Abstaining/delaying mikva is 100% effective. The Amshinover Rebbe in Jerusalem does not allow his followers to use the Pill because of health concerns and tells them (when preventing pregnancy is halachically acceptable) to take sonograms to determine when ovulation is over and to delay mikva until then. Some would say that repeated sonograms are a health risk too.

The strain on a marriage when delaying mikva is not a minor consideration. To illustrate this, when a rav is shown a bedika it's not praiseworthy for him to be machmir and to say tamei when it is possible to say tahor. It is not praiseworthy for a woman to be machmir and not bother showing a bedika to a rav and assume it's tamei. Tahara is desirable and what should be sought.

So yes, there are financial concerns about having additional children and emotional concerns about being able to cope. Halacha does not consider these reasons to avoid having children. A woman would have to risk grave physical or mental harm to her health for a heter for birth control to be given by most rabbis. An exception to this is those rabbis who automatically allow a two year break after a baby is born in line with the fact that 'yesteryear' women naturally did not become pregnant when nursing for the typical two years. Today, as our bodies have changed, women can nurse exclusively and still become pregnant. Even with this allowance, one can still have quite a large family if giving birth every 3 years or so throughout one's childbearing years (ex. a baby at age 21, 24, 27, 30, 33, 36, 39, 42)

These discussions about finances should not overshadow the issue of the health of the woman who should not be pressured into a medical solution that tampers with her physiology, nor by the psychological needs of a couple to be together and not artificially distanced by abstention.

tesyaa said...

Is anyone considering the needs of the children who have already been born to a couple, in the discussion of whether they can prevent another pregnancy?

mlevin said...

To a woman under 35 the risk to her health and and risk to her life by taking the contraceptive pill are negligible compared to the risk of getting pregnant and giving birth.

Anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or was lied to.

Anonymous said...

mlevin -- that's not exactly true. There are risks even for women under 35, especially if they have any risk factors for heart disease or stroke such as high blood pressure. A woman should not have to risk her life to avoid pregnancy when there are other, safer methods.

mlevin said...

Anonymous - I did not say there are no risks. I said the risks are negligible compared to actually getting pregnant. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but overall it is true. Another factor to consider is that BP is almost 100% effective where as other methods are not as good.

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa-I can't remember where, but I recall reading that Rav Henkin (?) allowed stay-at-home mothers to prevent pregnancy to concentrate on the child they already had, but didn't allow the same leniency for working mothers. If anyone has the reference, please send along. I imagine that working mothers would have their own set of considerations allowing for pregnancy prevention where necessary.

Anonymous- woman would have to risk grave physical or mental harm to her health for a heter for birth control to be given by most rabbis

This is simply not true! The risk need not be "grave."

Anonymous said...

It doesn't mean she will die, no, but the medical situation needs to be serious. For example, rabbis tell women who have had a C-section to use birth control for a certain period of time. Some rabbis will say six months, others a year. Interestingly, some doctors don't think this is necessary. Rabbis may have a different view of what constitutes a danger to her health than doctors or the couple.

As for the risks of becoming pregnant and giving birth, the halacha regards a woman who is giving birth in sakana (danger) and she is considered a choleh (sick person) for the first week after birth and there are halachic ramifications regarding fasting for example. She is a lower level of choleh from a week to 30 days after the birth.

Nevertheless, birth is a natural process and we don't say that a woman is forbidden to become pregnant because it endangers her life, otherwise that would be the end of our people!

This is quite different than taking a pill which messes with normal bodily processes. Read the list of side effects from those considered not serious (nausea, weight gain, spotting, mood changes) to more serious effects (abdominal pain, chest pain, severe headaches, eye problems, swelling of legs).

The list is much longer. What man would willingly subject himself to taking something that affects his hormones? Women are suckers.

Dave said...

The list is much longer. What man would willingly subject himself to taking something that affects his hormones? Women are suckers.

Which is of course why Viagra and Cialas failed in the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:57 here. i think that it's kind of silly if this comes down to a discussion of whether bc is healthy or dangerous. that really has nothing to do with the mitzvah of pru ur'vu. many orthodox jews seem to swing far right when it comes to natural healing, and that is of course all right for them. but to claim for it to be objectively right...again, a bit silly when you take into consideration the wide range of people you are talking to.
anon 1:26, i don't know if you are a man or a woman. but the side affects you mentioned on the pill - especially the severe ones! are often just normally associated with natural hormones. which women have anyway. women aren't suckers, they were born with this type of thing.
the pill is not the only type of bc. many use the hormonal IUD (diff side affects than the copper) with little to no problems. many have many problems. without bc. personally, i'll take the problems that come with the bc, and leave those that come with too many children underfoot.
i don't think it's really fair of anyone here to say "halacha says". halacha - especially orthodox halacha is so nuanced and diverse. maybe *your* rabbi says.
my understanding of the halacha is that one is meant to find joy in your family life, not be burdened under the strain of providing for so many small children. if you can manage a large brood - harei zeh meshubach! good for you! but if you are struggling to make it work as it is, please don't have another just yet.

oh and as for heterim for stay at home moms but not for working moms! is that only in israel where she would get a paid 14 week maternity leave? i'm a working mom, and i know i need my work to keep me sane, and to keep food on our table. if i spent too many months out of x amount of years at home nursing babies, i wouldn't be getting very far in either department.

mlevin said...

Women still die from childbirth, yes, today, even in the good old US of A. Women still become disabled from pregnancies today. There are other more common risks that come from childbearing which are not immediately noticed but are chronic, meaning these women have to deal with the for the rest of their lives; such as tooth decay and loss, heart conditions, diabetes, kidney and liver problems, leg pains and etc.

There are also many times when doctors prescribe BP for women and teens to alleviate many conditions which have nothing to do with pregnancy prevention. These things are hormonal imbalance, severe menstrual pains, moods swings and etc.

Thus if you put both on scale the risks from pregnancy outweigh risks from BP by a lot and benefits from BP outweigh benefits from pregnancy by a lot.

P.S. - No one said that women should not be having any children, but forcing women into pregnancy is wrong, even Torah does not force women to do so, by specifically mentioning that having children is a commandment for men only.

mlevin said...

Anonymous 1:52 - by misleading women to think that BP are more dangerous than pregnancies and by not teaching them that they have an option of not getting pregnant, these people are forcing women to 1. get pregnant against their will. 2. takes away their freedom to do something other than spend their lives raising children. 3. keeps them busy and in ignorance to question their lot and validity of authority of those making decisions on their behave.

David said...

The direction this comment thread has gone is one reason I think it's important to stress the following:

women are not obligated in the mitzvah of p'ru u'rvu.

This means that they do not need a heter regarding contraception.

Anonymous said...

Of course they need a heter to know whether they can prevent their husbands from fulfilling the mitzva and if so, with which method.

As for Viagra, it is 1) taken as needed 2)lasts up to four hours

No comparison to an implanted IUD or pills taken 1) day after day 2)has to affect her constantly and consistently 3)affect the woman's body globally

Viagra has potential side effects too. So does Tylenol and Advil. What they have in common is that they are meant to be taken occasionally and their effect is brief.

David said...

@Anon 6:27:

Please provide a source (or at least a rationale!) as to why a wife who is not obligated in this mitzvah would need a heter to use contraception which does not require any involvement of her husband (i.e. BCP, IUD, etc, not condoms). Argument by assertion is not a valid technique, and the burden of proof is on you, not on me.

Dave said...

No comparison to an implanted IUD or pills taken 1) day after day 2)has to affect her constantly and consistently 3)affect the woman's body globally

Viagra has potential side effects too. So does Tylenol and Advil. What they have in common is that they are meant to be taken occasionally and their effect is brief.


First, all drugs have global effect.

There is evidence that the effect of Viagra on the optic nerve can cause blindness.

And Tylenol is potentially lethal -- but you get four days or so to realize that you killed yourself before you die, unless a transplant can be found.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Dave. Modern oral contraceptives are hardly the most dangerous drug among those that are taken on a regular basis. And the pluses outweight the minuses.

Anonymous said...

"Argument by assertion is not a valid technique, and the burden of proof is on you, not on me."

You were the one who made the assertion that the woman doesn't need a heter and you didn't back yourself up with a source. You simply assumed that since she is not obligated in peru u'revu, therefore she can do as she pleases. That would be true if she wasn't married (and had hormonal problems for example), but since she is married, as I stated, she needs to know whether (and how) she can prevent her husband from doing a mitzva he is obligated in. Using a contraceptive without halachic sanction would be a violation of "lifnei iver lo siten michshol" - do not put a stumbling block before the blind, and if the husband wanted more children and the wife did not and did not have a halachic reason to use birth control, that would be halachic grounds for divorce.

If women had no reason to ask for a heter, rabbis would tell them so rather than ask them questions about their health etc. in order to determine how to proceed. According to your approach, rabbis would simply say, when asked by women, "It's up to you, that's not a question for a rav."

"Which is of course why Viagra and Cialas failed in the marketplace."

As I noted earlier, we are a pill-popping society and this mentality is not exclusive to women. We even medicate kids by giving them phony medical diagnoses which translate into: they don't behave, they don't pay attention, but that's another topic.

As for all drugs having a global effect, I agree with you, which is why I even avoid using Tylenol, but I see the difference as follows - Tylenol is used to temporarily relieve a headache, Viagra is used to temporarily increase blood flow. Birth control methods such as the Pill "fool" the pituitary gland so that it produces less of the hormones needed for ovulation to occur. I think that tampering by suppressing a normal bodily function such as ovulation is very different than pain relief or something done for a temporary effect (though that too can be dangerous and we need to be careful) and suppressing a normal bodily function day after day, month after month and year after year ought to freak us out, but it doesn't because, hey, it's convenient.

Anonymous said...

suppressing a normal bodily function day after day, month after month and year after year ought to freak us out, but it doesn't because, hey, it's convenient.

Breastfeeding suppresses the same process.

mlevin said...

"You simply assumed that since she is not obligated in peru u'revu, therefore she can do as she pleases. That would be true if she wasn't married (and had hormonal problems for example)..."

I just love this comment. Priceless. So are you saying that unmarried women can only take BP for hormonal problems? What about men who are straying? Do they need to force women to stop taking BP too unless it's for hormonal reasons? Or does the heter getting only applies to wives?

Here's how it would work:
Man "I'm married, but I'd like to have relations with you, but first you have to tell me that you are not taking BP for contraceptive purposes..."

I just love it.

Miami Al said...

mlevin, and nobody works through the implications...

If the husband wants children, and the wife is preventing that through birth control, that's grounds for divorce... well, duh...

But why on earth would the wife need a heter for birth control pills? There is no mitzvah she is not fulfilling, and there is no mitzvah that she is preventing her husband from fulfilling... under Halacha, he could take a second wife (the decree expired, and secular law is another issue), he could take a concubine, or he could divorce her and take a new wife... he has plenty of options for fulfilling his mitzvah that don't involve a Rabbi dispensing medical advice for which he is NOT qualified.

mlevin said...

Miami Al - not sure what you were trying to say, but all these problems with husbands wanting children and wives not wanting could easily be avoided before marriage when they have more than three dates prior to engagement and both agree on the size and type of family.

But that is not the main topic of the post. The original topic was "women don't even know about an option of BC and then seek abortions" and it evolved into "why do women need a heter to use BC if they are not obligated to have children anyway" with a few side tracks like "Is BP more dangerous than tylenol or viagra" and the latest where "anonymous thinks that only married women are sexually active and I was having fun with that assumption"

Anonymous said...

i think that someone who avoids tylenol for a headache should not necessarily be considered the norm. great, its wonderful for you, but don't expect people to agree with you.

David said...

Annoyance: would all the anonymous commentators who say multiple things please find some way to distinguish themselves? I.e. sign your post with made up initials or something, just so others can tell who's whom. Thanks.

Now, to respond to Anonymous 12:38 above:

A) The burden of proof is on the person who asserts that the heter is required, not the one who says it isn't.

B) I have written a more lengthy discussion of the reasoning about why a heter is not relevant to a woman using birth control. Feel free to comment either here or there.

JR said...

Breastfeeding suppresses the same process.

Uh, yes. So?

JR said...

So are you saying that unmarried women can only take BP for hormonal problems?

Hmmm. What other reasons would you suggest?

as for Miami Al - that's typical of his anti-Orthodox, anti-rabbi comments which ruin this blog IMO

SL - you have some great posts but you allow your site to be ruined by allowing comments that go counter to halacha and that mock rabbis. Who is your intended audience? If you want to attract left-wing MO who are synonymous with Conservative or Reform in their religious observance, that's your prerogative but you are turning off Orthodox readers.

Is this blog's purpose to knock yeshiva and right wing MO attitudes and lifestyle so you keep on posting articles from and about that segment of society and expressing your horror/shock/dismay/disappointment? If so, you're doing a great job. Too bad that you're generating more and more disdain if not hatred for Jews, halacha and Orthodox rabbis.

Orthonomics said...

JR-I don't want to censor comments and I prefer my blog to be Orthodox in nature. Rarely have I got a comment through at VIN, YWN, or Matzav, so I'm on the fence about censoring. And my comments have always been informational in nature.

I have no intention to bash. if this wasn't my community, I would put so much care into trying to promote some financial sense and look at social issues that affect families.

thegameiam said...

@JR: another reason why unmarried women may take the BCP is to regulate their menstrual cycles - some women are irregular by nature, or are made severely uncomfortable. Neither of these is a hormonal problem per se, but those are common reasons to take them. Another commonly prescribed reason is acne control. That is a hormonal problem, but I don't think that's the type you're getting at.

It's worth differentiating between the man and the woman with regard to their obligations and their issurim. A man who does not have children has not fulfilled the mitzvah of p'ru ur'vu, and one who intentionally puts himself in that position is over the mitzvat aseh. A woman who does not have children is still not obligated to have them, and one who intentionally puts herself in that position is still not obligated. Now, what precisely is the issue which would be dependent on the marital status of either the man or woman I'm describing?

So to sum up, the woman does NOT need a heter; the man might - I don't think he does, but I could see an argument that he would.

JR said...

"A woman who does not have children is still not obligated to have them, and one who intentionally puts herself in that position is still not obligated. Now, what precisely is the issue which would be dependent on the marital status of either the man or woman I'm describing?"

As stated above, she cannot prevent her husband from fulfilling his mitzva unless halachically permitted to do so due to extenuating circumstances.

"So to sum up, the woman does NOT need a heter; the man might - I don't think he does, but I could see an argument that he would."

As stated above, people as diverse in orientation as the Litvishe Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who was a world renowned posek, consulted on issues that other respected rabbis wouldn't touch, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe (just to name two famous and revered rabbis, of course there are hundreds more who hold as they do), both maintained that birth control-family planning is forbidden by halacha unless under specific circumstances concerning health. Yet we have numerous people commenting here who don't come up to the shoelaces of these great men, who - if you wanted to give an analogy to contrast the halachic knowledge of the people on this blog verses these men - are toddlers versus phD's.

The people posting their opinions on halachic matters here are people without ordination and shimush and yet they have the nerve not only to say whatever they feel like on a serious halachic matter but in some cases (see above) feel they can make a mockery of the rabbis.

You don't want to censor comments SL, but that leaves you responsible for allowing disgusting comments on your blog. There is accountability, you know and anonymity doesn't help.

Orthonomics said...

The first RJJ journal has an article about family planning/birth control by Rabbi Schacter, REITS Rosh Yeshiva. It is absolutely worthwhile to call RJJ and buy a backcopy of the first journal for reference material in order to understand the mitzvah and its limits. There is other literature out there too.

David said...

@JR,

Insulting people who make reasoned arguments is not derekh eretz. Please provide actual citations from the published tshuvot of either of the Rabbonim you cited which state the words you are putting into their mouths.

Miami Al said...

JR, as David said, make your point without insulting people that you are addresses if you want an impact. People that can't handle people publicly questioning the official line aren't the target audience of this site or it would be run differently.

Second, if the wife's actions are preventing her husband from performing a Mitzvah, doesn't that seem like something for her husband to address with her, not something for the "Rabbi" to rule on?

Ahuva said...

I didn't read all the comments here but I want to add mine--I live in EY and ask well-known Chareidi rabonim all of my shailos. Both times that I asked for a heter to use BC, it was granted instantly, few questions asked--and these are not makil rabonim at all. I don't understand how anyone has to resort to abortion when the rabonim are so understanding of the need to use BC and give a heter so easily.

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