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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rav Henkin on Family Planning

Hat Tip: A reader (thank you!)

Hirhurim has an informative post, written by R. Ari Enkin, summarizing the positions of Rav Y.H. Henkin on family planning. Footnotes include the views of other known poskim. Some commentors, scholars in their own right, have criticized the post, because it features a "lenient" position of one Rav and readers might misconstrue such a position as a psak for them.

I am not a scholar, nor do I play one in cyberspace. I am just an Orthodox woman who is perhaps coming from another angle. So, please allow me to speak. I believe the predominant school of thought that receives play in the Orthodox world is the view that family planning, birth control, etc is simply assur except under exceptional circumstances. Many women, even women married for more than a few minutes, do not know that their own local Rav/Rosh Yeshiva/Rosh Kollel not only allows, but sometimes even encourages, couples to space children/use birth control/etc. If they find out that Rabbi X gave a heter (for lack of a more suitable term), even for rather exceptional circumstances, they will express their surprise. I believe that there are many women who would be well served by understanding that the Torah approach to p'ru u'revu is not cut and dry, just as many other areas of halacha are not cut and dry.

Personally, I don't see the danger in laying out what issues might possibly constitute a reason for engaging in family planning in the free marketplace. Rav Schachter and other Rabbonim also do not fear laying out their ideas in the free marketplace. Listen to Rav Schachter on "being reasonable" regarding having children. As it stands now, many people "self-poskin." Sometimes they are afraid of asking a question, believing they will receive a "no" for an answer. Other times they are embarrassed that they are even entertaining the idea. Sometimes they just assume the answer is no, and engage in practices that are perhaps more problematic. I can only speak for myself, but understanding the parameters of halacha has not caused me to constantly lean to the left and always taken the lenient position. Rather, it has given me a basis for understanding when we should consult with the Rav and permission to not feel like a sinner for not having the capability to have "whatever Hashem gives." Just recently, I features a story about families turning to abortion. Such a story should, at the very least, give us pause regarding the appropriateness of allowing families to know what "lenient" positions exist in the halachic framework.

The view I have heard expressed more than any other regarding having children is that birth control is NEVER allowed for financial reasons. The footnotes in the article indicate that this may not be the case. Personally, I wish people would stop shouting this line from the rooftops. From the perspective of a person who writes about finances I think I can safely say that behind many financial issues is a larger shalom bayit issue.

I like the free marketplace of ideas and I comment Gil Student for publishing such a discussion on his blog, which is probably the premier Jewish blog.

49 comments:

Miami Al said...

Great collection of links!

Anonymous said...

I know plenty of rabbonim in Baltimore who routinely tell women to wait 1-2 years after every child, and to use family planning even in other circumstances. One interesting thing is that the determining factor is whether the mother can handle more children - physically, emotionally and financially.

Thinking said...

What many people don't realize is that there is a good reason why Rabbonim don't make blanket statements about areas like this. There fear being that there statements will be misconstrued. They are much more comfortable dealing with each situation individually.

This is not like kashrus, there are many more intricate details that need to be considered. Therefore, the assumption is that the Rabbonim feel that it is assur. This could not be further from the truth. I personally know if many gedolim that permitted birth control in specific situations.

I have dealt with people in the chasidish, litvish, yeshivish and MO world and have always found that the Rabbonim I send them to are respectful of their situations and provide advice, counsel and halachic guidance that matches their needs.

Commenter Abbi said...

Bravo SL! I also wonder why there's this fear that people will find out about lenient positions in halacha.

As if, people aren't allowed to learn for themselves? So strange.

Miami Al said...

Commenter Abbi,
If people learn leniencies, they might use them when it makes their life better. They might then really enjoy Torah Study, and seek to learn more Torah... If they seek to learn more Torah...

Not really sure of the downsides to that, but clearly other people find it.

YU Get A Clue said...

I went ot YU and when I was getting married and aksing for a heter for a few months of birth control until I stabalized in my new job I was told no and I should ask my parents and inlaws for money if I needed. It is well known that many of the roshei yeshiva in YU take a hard line on birth control when it comes to young people who are first getting married.

PayingParent said...

"It is well known that many of the roshei yeshiva in YU take a hard line on birth control when it comes to young people who are first getting married."
And then people wonder why there are so many divorces in the younger crowds.
Want to see the result of being too hardline?:
http://www.5tjt.com/news/read.asp?Id=5787
This is an article "The flip side of shidduchim" from the five towns jewish times published last week. So sad.

Anonymous said...

I would never ask a rabbi for permission to have or not have children. Certain things are private and not for rabbinic control. By what magic is a rabbi more qualified to understand my emotional, familial or financial issues better than I can? By what magic can he *poof* make a supposed requirement disappear? And by what understanding of the Torah is it forbidden to be lenient or publicize a lenient opinion? It just goes to show this is more about control than halacha. It's the same line of thought that forbid women from looking into their own nidah status or at the very least educating other women as yoetzets so men no longer have to be involved.

I would add that from an "Orthonomics" point of view, delaying children to have a career and increase savings is probably the best way to secure a financial future. Children getting married so young and having kids right away is a major contributing factor to the tuition crisis.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I also wonder why there's this fear that people will find out about lenient positions in halacha.

This is a misrepresentation of reality. Are seforim not available in your local beis medrash or seforim store? Are Rabbanim not available in your community for consultation on issues? Who exactly is hiding anything? You mean because it's not posted on a website in English it's considered esoteric hidden knowledge?

>>>By what magic can he *poof* make a supposed requirement disappear?

How is it that if a drop of milk falls in your cholent and you ask a Rav, under certain circumstances 'poof' the milk is gone and the cholent is permitted? Answer: because the Rav understands that the prohibition of basar b'chalav has certain parameters and the drop of milk in the cholent is not included in the issur. A Rav who is a talmid chacham can advise you correctly as to what the requirements of peru u'revu are and remove any need for guesswork. Whether you choose to obey the halacha is indeed your personal decision, but that has nothing to do with the issue.

>>>delaying children to have a career and increase savings is probably the best way to secure a financial future.

Eating Purdue chicken would also help my financial accounts, but so what? First you need proof that economic considerations carry weight in this area of halacha, and that depends on the circumstances.

Chaim B. said...

Why do you need to go to a doctor if you are feeling ill -- why can;t anyone just write a prescription for antibiotics? Why go to an accountant for financial advice -- shouldn't whatever "tricks" the accountant uses to improve your tax return be public knowledge? But we do rely on experts, not only because they know more than we do, but because they have experience in applying what they know correctly.

Unfortunately, the reality is that in many communities the Rav is not treated as a professional and an expert. There is no hesitancy to write a halachic "prescription" for oneself. Therefore, especially in complex areas of halacha, there is less emphasis on public education on details (which have always been out there in seforim) and more emphasis on the need for consultation and discussion with a Rav.

Orthonomics said...

To me consulting with a Rav isn't just about the psak, but about gaining something more. Perhaps that could be identifying some underlying issues and getting needed guidance. Perhaps it could be about getting some needed chizzuk.

I completely disagree that Rabbonim desire "control." I have met a handful of Rabbis that could be labelled as such, but my own experiences have been far from such. If you accept that family life is not just a private issue but a communal concern, I believe your approach re: control changes. Just one woman's opinion.

Regarding this comment:

I would add that from an "Orthonomics" point of view, delaying children to have a career and increase savings is probably the best way to secure a financial future. Children getting married so young and having kids right away is a major contributing factor to the tuition crisis.

Many people squander their opportunities to increase savings or advance their careers, whether they are singled, married w/o children, or married with children. There is actually a correlation between marriage and excelling in a career for males. Marriage, and children too, can focus men and propel them to greater heights in their career. Having stability and support at home makes a big difference too. While the math might work out positively in theory, there is more than math involved here.

At this point, I'm resigned about the entire universal private school thing. I have my own gloom and doom predictions. I personally wouldn't hold off a family for reasons of tuition alone, but then again I'm not busting for private school. For me marriage and having children is a sort of package deal. I don't quite know what I am saying here except that holding off for tuition alone seems to me to be short sighted. Perhaps a couple can get ahead, but there is no guarantee that tuition will be tenable after holding off for x months/years. Tuition can't be the be all and end all in life . . . .

I do believe in preparing oneself for marriage by preparing to make a living and saving. I've discussed that many times here.

dvorak613 said...

I don't think family planning needs to be all about what you can afford (nor should it be). Having been that couple who delayed having children in the beginning in order to "get used to each other" (with full permission from our Rav), my concern is that rather than encouraging couples to ask for a heter to use birth control, Rabbonim should be making that initial delay the DEFAULT, with couples needing a heter in order to have kids right away. I don't say this from a financial perspective (I will discuss that later if I have time to comment again) but from a marital-health perspective.

We're just not as mature as our grandparents were at our age, and the rising divorce rate in our communities reflects that. The new reality is that most couples could really use some time to build a solid foundation rather than rushing into parenthood. Some may argue that those who are not ready for kids are not ready for marriage either, but that's not necessarily true. It is possible to be ready to share your life with another adult without being quite ready to have your entire life turned upside-down and totally subsumed by a helpless baby who is completely dependent on you. Waiting a little not only affords couples time to get used to each other, it also affords time to seriously think about, talk about, and prepare (as best you can) for parenting.

We're now expecting our first and while of course we're nervous, as you can never be 100% prepared for something as major as a child, we feel good knowing that our marriage is solid (thanks to over a year alone together) and we have some idea of how we want to do things when the baby arrives. We did marry very young (even now, we are still in our early 20's) and I think there is no reason why other young couples should miss out on the immensely positive experience we have had. The article shared by "PayingParent" is very sad, and there is no reason why anyone should have to go through the described ordeal.

Miami Al said...

Re: waiting for children... Yes marriage correlates for career success with men, slightly negative with women, however, you need to look at the extremes. All must assumptions here are for University Educated upper middle class people, the ones in discussion.

The families I know that really waited (women 35+, men 40+) are not better off, because any financial improvement gets wiped out in the costs of a nanny, household help, and a husband whose career gets derailed because at 40, it's physically hard to have a newborn in the house.

On the other hand, the rush into it families are generally financial basket cases... one exception, a graduate school friend that got his girlfriend pregnant at 17, attended the same college as her and raised the child while living in a dorm, worked through school, etc... youngest executive at his MAJOR New Jersey firm. But they just had their second child 11 years later, if she dropped out of school and popped out kid after kid, she probably wouldn't be a jet setting executive and they wouldn't own a house that makes you drool.

However, there is a sweet spot. Waiting a few years lets the couple develop as a couple, figuring out financial goals, saving up a down payment, and learning to be a couple. That makes the stresses of the early child years easier.

I mean, encouraging people to have 2-3 years in the workforce under their belt doesn't prevent a big family, motherhood, or anything else, it doesn't mean 35 year old mothers, it just means the couple being responsible for themselves before they are responsible for children.

Career advancement slows down by 30... but the 20s are critical for white collar professional. Having a few years to focus might make a huge difference, and if you are 25 - 27 with your first key, Kindergarden hits between 30 and 32, when the family earnings should be MUCH higher than at 25.

dvorak613 said...

As for the financial aspect, you have to do your part to make it work. It will be a stretch for us, but what ultimately made it feasible was that we are going to be paying $0 for the big-ticket baby stuff. My youngest sibling is 5 now and was just outgrowing the baby things at the time that I got married, so my parents kept it all for us. We are getting a (very high-end)crib, bassinet, dresser/changing table, diaper genie, high chair, car seat stroller, regular stroller, jogging stroller, clothing, bottles, bottle-cleaner thingy, exer-saucer, swing, baby-monitor, and other assorted infant gadgets for FREE. With all that, we can manage the other costs that will come along.

Although not everyone is lucky enough to have a much-younger sibling and the free baby stuff that comes with it, that doesn't mean you can't cobble together some stuff from other relatives or buy stuff second-hand or just plain un-fancy. If you want to have a baby but finances are what's scaring you away, get creative! You may find that you CAN make it work.

Miami Al said...

dvorak613, we got all the high end baby stuff free... my parents and their friends, all excited for the first of their crew to have a child, bought everything for us.

Does that help, absolutely. Getting $5k in stuff is great... however, you can run to Walmart and get passable stuff for $1000.

You can easily spend that sum monthly for childcare.

Good luck, I'm sure you'll be great parents.

B'shah Tovah.

Commenter Abbi said...

"Tuition can't be the be all and end all in life . . . . "

True, but in certain circumstances, it's a deciding factor. When you have fulfilled the mitzvahh of p'uv by having a boy and a girl, live in an expensive area that you don't want to move from because you're settled, and just don't want to have any more children, then it's reasonable to just stop (I know such a family). Having children is not the be all and end all of family life. You sound like you enjoy having a large family. Personally, I prefer a largish family as well (4-5 is a comfortable number for me). But it's just not for everyone.

I really do not get these comparisons to kashrut at all, especially complicated situations like milk in a chulent. Milk in a chulent compared to having children? Are you serious? One is a one time food item that you can just as soon throw away as go to a rav and the other is a lifetime comittment of emotional and possibly financial support?

There is a positive mitzvah for men in the Torah. The prevalent view is that it's fulfilled when you have a boy and a girl. This is a decision for a couple to make on their own, based on their own needs and concerns.

I'm sure the trend to pressure couples to consult with Rabbis came about because barely anyone in the MO baby boom generation did and they ended up having 2-3 kids. Interesting that after this pressuring trend came about, the birth and debt rate went up and voila-- tuition crisis!

Orthonomics said...

Commentor Abbi-Re: You sound like you enjoy having a large family.

I actually don't have a large family. I would love more children, but sometimes things don't go our way. :) What I do embrass is a culture of larger/largish families. Most younger American families I know will probably be unable to afford full tuition for 2 in the coming days. I think having above average sized families is good for the kehilla as a whole. If it isn't right for an individual family, I understand. I don't care for the one boy + one girl = time to stop equation because of tuition. I don't think the tuition system as it is will exist indefintely. I guess I'm just putting my 2 cents into the ring which is don't make day school object of all decision making.

Lion of Zion said...

DVORAK613:

"We're now expecting our first and while of course we're nervous, as you can never be 100% prepared for something as major as a child,"

100%? are you nuts? consider yourself lucky if you find that you were even 1% prepared! i didn't even think to buy diapers when we brought home our first and we got stuck on shabbat without any. 2nd time around i made sure to buy a box way in advance.
בשעה טובה

efrex said...

There are a number of interplaying issues at work here, with larger-scale implications for the frum community.

I am not a rabbi, but both The Lovely Wife(tm) and I are close to a wide range of Orthodox rabbinic figures, from Charedi/Agudah types to extreme left-wing Modern Orthodox figures. In our experience, there is near-unanimous consensus, certainly outside of chassidic circles (and quite possibly within as well) that at least some level of family planning is halachically permissible. This is nothing revolutionary or controversial.

There is a larger-scale issue, though, and that is the decentralization of halachic authority. The comment thread on Hirhurim reflects the overall problem. Halacha, particularly in issues like this, is often decided in specific social contexts, ideally by a rabbi who has in-depth knowledge of both the relevant halacha and the individual situation.

Unfortunately, lay halachic texts are often written outside of any social contest. As a result, they have a tendency to be extremely stringent rather than go into the complex web of potential divergences (this tendency dates back at least to the Mishna Berurah), with the assumption that people in specific cases would ask their local posek. This is no longer the case, and entire societies have assumed that the general stringent approach is official doctrine. Combine this with the social "groupthink" mentality that has gripped much of contemporary American Orthodoxy, and you have a recipe for disaster, as people automatically assume that (a)machmir is better, and (b) I dare not act differently than my machmir neighbor. Many ArtScroll halachic volumes (anything by Rabbi Forst, for example) have an interesting feature: if you look at the footnotes, you'll often find references to more lenient opinions. If you see a Hebrew footnote in an English work, odds are good that it's a reference to a lenient opinion completely at odds with the statement just made. We have a horrible self-perpetuating loop where ignorance begets chumra, which begets more ignorance.

While I don't know that "YU Get a Clue" is accurate (our primary posek in these matters is one of the mainstream, if not more conservative, YU Roshei Yeshiva, and I have not found him to be a great machmir in these issues), he does demonstrate a great example of the problem: why are you asking your Rosh Yeshiva for a psak, and not your communal Rav? The latter figure is no longer a dominant source of psak, and this too contributes to the problem.

Interestingly, the prevalence of high-level halachic material on the internet might be starting to change this significantly. For those interested in some of the social implications of this, I highly recommend a talk by R' Yuval Cherlow, an Israeli rosh yeshiva who for the last 6+ years has been answering halachic questions online. The social implications of this type of discourse are only beginning to be felt.

Jeff said...

This whole conversation is upsetting. Little over 60 years ago the Nazis tried to destroy the Jews of Europe and here today in the most free, prosperous, country in the history of time we aren't allowing ourselves to regenerate because of tuition.

I'm not blaming the parents. Far from it. Realistically speaking tuition costs can be extraordinarily high and the stress and agony that comes with it can be excrutiating. I also don't think that most people who say that we only want to have X children instead of X+1 or X+2 are doing so, so they can live a life of luxury. In some cases people aree probably using this as an excuse, but I think many who say this truly mean it.

The system stinks. I think the whole system needs to be detonated.

PayingParent said...

Personally, I would love to have more children. At least 2 more would be nice. But I refuse to have any more children than I can afford. I am not talking vacations- just Yeshiva tuition, modest home, food on the table, insurance and clean clothes. I do have some hope- I got married at 20 and had 2 children by the age of 23. If I wait until I am 34 to have God willing 2 more children, my oldest will be on her way out of Yeshiva by the time any more children are ready to enter.
But who knows?
Man plans and God laughs.

Jeff said...

To PayingParent:

I feel for you. The people who created this current tuition mess will eventually have to answer regarding why so many jewish children were not born. The only thing I would encourage you to think about if you haven't done so already, is to move to a cheaper, low-key area with less expensive schools. The schools might not all the frills, but wouldn't you rather have 4 children going to modest schools than 2 children going to prep schools?

Anonymous said...

I got married at 20 and had 2 children by the age of 23.

I'm sure you appreciate your mazal - we married young, but due infertility, we didn't have kids until our late 20s. Financially, though, 2 kids by 23 puts you at a disadvantage. It's also hard to envision paying tuition when you're barely out of school yourself.

ProfK said...

Throughout history there have been people practicing birth control--plenty of historical written references. However, birth control was not spoken about publically. A lot of that information got passed on mother to daughter, woman to woman. Today birth control information is widely available. It's a subject on the table both in the secular world and the frum world. And that perhaps explains why people would like more public information on ALL the ins and outs available "out there." They should know that there are rabbanim who are more machmir and those who are more lenient. They should know that there are any number of factors that can be considered.

Re limiting family size and yeshiva tuitions, is tuition a factor? Quite possibly, and also quite possibly not. The reasons for why people do not have very large families (and there is something that needs defining, if we could ever get agreement on a number) are numerous. To assume, as many do, that families would have more children if only they could afford the tuition may be wholly incorrect. First, there are other financial factors besides tuition that can come into play. Second, there are emotional/mental factors that can come into play. Third, there are physical factors that can come into play. And there is a whole huge category that we can call "other reasons."

It used to be considered impolite to ask why someone did or didn't have children, or how many. We surely did not go around telling people that they had to have more children, that what they had was not enough. Some things were too private for even the busybodies to publically take on. They may have talked about it in private but even they did not generally have the chutzpah to go up to someone and tell them they had to get pregnant.

"Go forth and multiply." You do that your way and leave me to my own decisions.

PayingParent said...

Anon 10:38- Please don't mistake my statements as flippant or in any way unappreciative of my family. I am extremely grateful for my 2 wonderful children, but having children so young did put us at a financial disadvantage.
Both my husband and I were right out of college and came in to the marriage with financially, nothing. Thank god we both have careers taht now support our current lifestyle, but as much as we would love more children, we just can't afford it. We are in that gap of making too much money to exclude us from scholarships, but not enough to supprt more than what we have.
Jeff- I personally would not mind moving out of state to a less expensive area (we are from ny), but our family would be devastated. We tried Bergen County but discovered that its more expensive than NY. We are actually looknig to move to one of the non-5 town Long Island communities. It will make our current lifestyles maintainable, but not make enough room in our budget for additional tuition.

PayingParent said...

ProfK- I don't think it was presumptuous of Orthonomics to claim that Yeshiva is a dominant factor in the decision to limit family size in the MO community. If you have read her Blog in the past and the comments people post, you would know that there are many people who express this exact sentiment. There is noone forcing them or putting them on the spot as to why they don't have more children. They choose to share their situation in the hopes that enough like-minded people are found to effect change in the community.

Anonymous said...

I am the Anonymous from 5:16PM yesterday.

I want to respond to Chaim B and clarify what I said.

There are many seforim stores where I live, but I do not know how to learn them or understand them. Why should an obscure or hard to understand passage in a sefer be acceptable when the only people who can understand it, due to our yeshiva system and communal attitudes, are men who have studied for many years? Why are they the gatekeepers of this information which impacts so many people's lives in so personal a way? Why should that be a substitute for open and publicly available information?

By the same token, why even have the Internet? Can't people discuss things in person? Can't people go to a library to look up information?

And how can you possibly compare whether or not to have children to whether a drop of milk has fallen into cholent? The comparison is so twisted. Aside from that, the 1/60th rule is hard and fast as well as cold and impersonal. My intimate relationship with my spouse, my financial situation, my emotional state are all subjective, personal, private, and no subject to any mathematical formula. No one knows me better than I do. If I feel unready I don't need someone else to confirm for me that yes, I feel unready. And if I feel unready, I certainly don't need some 3rd party pressuring me that I am indeed ready under the guise of halacha.

Also, your comparison to a doctor or an accountant is not valid in this case. Listening to someone's problems and making a subjective assessment of whether they are large enough to allow birth control is not in the same universe as determining whether an eruv is kosher or whether a certain lesion on a lung makes an animal not glatt. Additionally, rabbis as a group would receive more respect and honor if they would realize this difference and stick to their areas of expertise instead of trying to make everything under their domain.

Anonymous said...

(continued)

In terms of finances, I was not saying that one should hold off on having kids in order to afford tuition. What I was saying is that if you compare newlyweds who get married at 20 and have a kid 9 months later to newlyweds who get married at 20 and have a kids 3-4 years later, there is no question the latter couple are not only immediately better off financially for having waited, but are likely to be better off financially for life. Not just because of additional savings for those 3-4 years, but because they each had a chance to develop their careers which requires sacrifices and long hours that are not possible once a child is in the picture.

Having a child immediately puts a permanent hold on women career development and then leads to the thinking "well, why bother working, the day care expenses eat up almost all of my salary" which permanently kills her career. Also, for men it hurts as a man is less likely to want to be away from his family by working late or going to school at night. Even if one decides to do this later "once the kids are older" it is often too late as one finds him or herself so far behind those in their age group and employers are less likely to consider them in the same way.

So, what ends up happening is the young couple have far lower income, less prospects for more income, and yeshiva tuition just 4-5 years away from when the kid is born. There is likely 1 or 2 other kids in that time period. Now, they can't afford tuition, their apartment is too small, and they can't afford a down payment or a mortgage. So, they're perpetual scholarship recipients from the yeshiva and the grandparents have to help out with a down payment, mortgage, or other bills.

All of this, just because they didn't wait 3-4 years which has minimal, if any, impact on their ability to have a large family given how young they married which again goes to the point of why does a rabbi need to be involved. It's not like a 35 year old woman with no children is asking to push things off. These are often 20-22 year old girls.

It just makes no sense.

Lion of Zion said...

PAYING PARENT:

"I personally would not mind moving out of state to a less expensive area (we are from ny), but our family would be devastated."

as i commented recently on ProfK's blog, i hold parents and in-laws in part responsible for financial crunch their children suffer from. one reason as their hold on keeping kids local. they should be encouraging them to go west.

"I don't think it was presumptuous of Orthonomics to claim that Yeshiva is a dominant factor in the decision to limit family size in the MO community."

for many people this is the dominant factor. i have friends who feel this way and i don't doubt your own sincerity. but i think there are also a lot of people who use it as an excuse, even if they won't admit it. for example, note that a lot the comments on the tuition posts complain that they can't live the way other americans in the top 5% do. so what is it they would really do if tuition disappears? have more kids or enjoy their money more? (i don't think there is anything wrong with the latter either.)

tesyaa said...

It's really no one's business how many kids any couple has, but it's hard to relate to that when people check out a young lady's stomach within weeks of the wedding. There's also a lot of pressure to keep up with friends and relatives. How often do you hear of "competition" between sisters & sisters-in-law? How often do you hear people say "We're catching up to you" or "We're still ahead of you"? When I was in the childbearing parsha (not that long ago) I heard talk like this all the time.

Remember that this is a child we're talking about, whose needs are somewhat greater than a houseplant or an electronic device.

Mike S. said...

I saw a number of commentators refer to "asking for a heter." That really isn't right. One should be asking for either a p'sak or for guidance, depending on one's level. That, first of all, focuses one's self on the the fact that halacha is supposed to derive our decision more than our desires do. On a practical level, if the Rav sees you are approaching the issue with that mindset, he is less likely to practice "defensive paskening"

ProfK said...

Paying Parent,
Nowhere did I say as you point out that "it was presumptuous of Orthonomics to claim that Yeshiva is a dominant factor in the decision to limit family size in the MO community." Nor did I argue that this is NOT a factor in some people's decisions about family size. My point was that it is hardly the only factor and quite possibly not the major factor either. I agree with Lion that some people may be using tuition as a reason because it resonates better with others than what might be there real reasons. Certainly people commenting here and elsewhere have the right to present their own feelings/opinions on the topic. But surely you are not arguing that because some commenters here say that tuition is the deciding factor that we can extrapolate from that that most other people in the frum world feel precisely the same way?

Want to test the hypothesis? Look at those families for whom tuition payment cannot be a factor because they are making upwards of $300 or $400K. How large are their families? Does that group have 5,6,7 or more children? Or are there some with only 1,2 or 3 children?

Chaim B. said...

>>>Why should that be a substitute for open and publicly available information?

Do you similarly bemoan the fact that medical knowledge is enshrined in difficult to read texts that require years of study and training to master? You assertion that only men can master such knowledge is both sexist and wrong. Haven't you heard about Rabbah Hurwith, Yoatzot, etc.?

>>>stick to their areas of expertise instead of trying to make everything under their domain.

But their expertise *is* all areas of life because the Torah covers all areas of life, right down to the most intimate details. Taharas hamishpacha in its broadest sense is a perfect example. Your mistake is in thinking Rabbis are just there to tell you if the eiruv is good and the meat kosher, a few unintrusive ritual details, and no more.

As for the rest of your arguments, let's take Rabbis out of the equation. If you went through the halacha yourself and discovered (hypothetically speaking) that there was no heter to not try to have a child right after marriage, no matter the crimp it put in career plans, the drain on finances, etc. would you just ignore the halacha and say G-d has no right to dictate when and how many children you should have? But if you took the halacha seriously, how would you deal with all those economic arguments and problems you raise?

That's all it really boils down to. If halacha has a say even in this area of your life (whether it comes from a Rabbi or not makes no difference), all your arguments are out the window. If halacha has no say, if its your personal decision, then you and I operate on different playing fields.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I really do not get these comparisons to kashrut at all,

Commentator Abbi, my comment was in response to the suggestion that that Rabbis are just saying "poof" and changing the requirements. It was meant to illustrate that it doesn't work that way -- it's not "poof" and the milk is gone from the cholent. Obviously the shaylos entail very different considerations.

Just as an aside, I think the sefer "Ish v'Ishto" by Rav Elyakim Knohl is quite popular and widely used as a basic text on taharas hamishpacha (it is hard to get in English, but is available) in the dati community. He includes a straightforward chapter on family planning, discussing why and when there is room for leniency. The sefer is written for the layperson, not Rabbinic scholars. I don't have it in front of me, but I wonder if Dr. Zimmerman's book discusses the issue.

Miami Al said...

Chaim B,

There is more information available, in English, on the web, from Chabad and Aish's websites, than was available to most SCHOLARS in the middle ages. The availability of information is expanding in this era, and attempts to bottle it up and control information will fail.
They failed for the Roman Church, they failed for the 18th Century Rabbinate, they failed for the Temple-era Priesthood as well, as the "near magical" properties of sacrifice became subordinate to, and eventually replaced entirely, to the legal scholars and personal and communal prayer?
Now, not everything can be translated immediately. But the trend everywhere (including medical, look how much info WebMD has compared to what was public 15 years ago)...
To the Rabbinate, lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Chaim B. said...

>>>they failed for the Temple-era Priesthood as well, as the "near magical" properties of sacrifice

You mean like the korbanos the Torah tells us to offer?

You don't want a Rabbi, you want a yes-man to rubber stamp a preconceived conclusion that fits with an agenda.

I wonder what happened to the Ortho- in Orthonomics here?

Miami al said...

Chaim B.,
"You mean like the korbanos the Torah tells us to offer?"

Yup, it's been what, almost 1950 years since a Jew made a sacrifice...

Despite that, you can go into your neighborhood Judaica shop and buy a book, in English, explaining how to do it... not bad for a practice not in use for 1600 years when the first Jew learned English?

Orthonomics said...

Miami Al-I'm putting you on notice. I can't be here to police the board at every second, especially on a Friday afternoon. This is an Orthodox board. Let's stick to a legitimate discussion.

ora said...

I don't know how anyone could think of this as "hidden" information. As if Rabbi Henkin wouldn't happily answer questions if anyone asked, as if this isn't known by the yoatzot halacha (who themselves are fairly well-known), etc.

Chaim B, I agree with pretty much everything you've said.

Dvorak, I really dislike what you said about having a "heter" to have kids immediately after marriage. What, we should make an issur out of something that's not only 100% mutar, but is actually a mitzva? Maybe people should have to prove to a rabbi that they're "ready" for marriage and get a heter for that...

I find that everyone who waited after marriage to "get to know each other" thinks that waiting is vital and definitely helped their marriage, while those who didn't wait, for the most part, think that there's no reason to wait and that pregnancy and birth strengthened their connection with their new spouse. My point being - don't project your own experience onto the klal. There's a natural tendency to assume that one's own "right decision" is right for everyone, don't fall into that trap.

ora said...

If I hadn't had kids shortly after getting married, while my husband and I were both in our early 20s, I might believe the dire warnings of guaranteed poverty for all who choose that path.

Fortunately, I'm far enough into things to realize that having kids isn't going to kill my career, hamper my husband's career, or deter either of us from advancing our career through further education. A relief, that.

Orthonomics said...

When we got married we were also offered the advice to "get to know each other" and hold off on kids. The view that couples should wait on kids is most certainly not limited to cyberspace. I am concerned when I hear opinions such as that of the poster that say you should have to have a "heter" to have children because I think it indicates a changing view on marriage.

Perhaps I will write more on the subject later. In the meantime, see the links section because Ariella has made some worthwhile comments.

ora said...

I don't doubt that the mindset that couples should use birth control for the first year of marriage extends beyond the Internet. And I'm sure that in many cases there's something to it.

I just find it annoying when couples who took that advice then credit the good things in their marriage to having waited, and assume that those of us who didn't wait must have caused some damage to our relationship.



On a totally different note, there's been a series of articles about maaser ksafim and living modestly in B'sheva (weekly paper popular in the Israeli dati leumi community) that you might like. The writer, Rav Melamed, tackles issues like expensive semi-private schools and whether those schools or maaser should come first. I'd be happy to translate + forward part of it if you want, do you mind sharing your email address if you're interested?

Orthonomics said...

Ora-Please do translate and pass them on to me. I can put them up as you send them. Sounds like a great feature. Orthonomics at gmail dot com.

Miami Al said...

There are benefits to waiting, benefits to not waiting. Life throws curve balls, you adapt to them, and teh ability to adapt that determines success.

That said, there is certainly discretion in Halacha for our Poskim to use some discretion, and historically, strong Jewish leaders have done so... those are the ones we remember in time.

It would be nice if Jewish religious leaders didn't mostly focus on interpretations that, on average, decrease earning power and, on average, increase expenses.

However, our leaders aren't appointed or elected, they come to the forefront when people follow them. So unless the Jewish people are going to spontaneously rise up and STOP feeling that this is correct Judaism and following this leaders and follow ones with a more sustainable path, the path will continue.

Avivah @ Oceans of Joy said...

While I think that it's true that families are limiting their family size because of tuition constraints, I also believe that if having a larger family was the priority (vs paying full tuition being the priority), more people would be making different choices.

We have nine children and aren't getting subsidized scholarships on the backs of high earners. We pay for every penny of their education ourselves, an education which is challenging them academically in both secular and Judaic studies. We aren't concerned that having another child or three will affect our ability to fully meet the academic and financial needs of every child. All of this on a much smaller than average salary, with a full time mom at home.

How did we do it? We made a choice of what we valued most - and family and a Torah based way of living came out way ahead of sending our kids to expensive schools that won't necessarily help our children reach the goals we have for them. So we homeschool and have avoided all the pitfalls that are routinely assumed to be problematic for low earners, those who get married and have children at a young age, etc.

Is it for everyone? Obviously not! But neither is giving up having children because tuition is unaffordable. The fact is there are other very effective options out there for those who feel they're giving up what is most important to them for the sake of paying tuition.

Anonymous said...

One factor overlooked in this dialogue is the role of 'Hashem's hasgacha'. Sure logically less children means more savings . . but the Talmud teaches "a child is born with a loaf in his hand", (That means that a couple's FINANCIAL INCOME increases with an additional family member).

I find it admirable that many readers here are reluctant to (even risk the possibility of) rely(ing) on the greater community than even apply for a fractional tuition scholarship. Indeed the Rambam emphasized this aversion to being dependant as a 'core value' (very end of hilchos tzedoko).

But . . . I would be surprised if you could find an orthodox rabbi, (or even a tuition committee) who would say "it is better to avoid risking the need to ask for a partial tuition scholarship, than to have child #2,3,4,or 5". I think most Rabbi's would encourage one to grow their family if they, have the physical, emotional, and mental energy, and can cover the general expenses and rely on Hashem to fill in the gaps.

I Also find it interesting that the people who (1) argue high tuition is driving their family size decisions are (2)complaining that the cost of tuition is unbearable for their income-class (3) arguing tuition is inflated by absense of cost control, but yet (4) are reluctant to bargain even a little with the school.

If you think the cost is unfair/bloated, interfering with your family size, I see nothing wrong with bargaining a little, WITH COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY AND HONESTY OF COURSE! They will treat you with respect! If they think you are being unreasonable or abusing the system they will let you know, and deny your request.

Miami Al said...

Anon 11:49:

In the time of the Talmud, a child was a productive part of a family engage in agriculture by age 3, and in a family trade by age 5.

Applying the direct economic advice from the Talmud requires not only learning the material, but also understanding how that applies in a new setting.

In the age of the Gemarra, a new birth meant a new worker soon. Today, it means another tuition bill. Does it bring more income, of course, but only because the parents now work harder and smarter because they need to.

Fortunately, the Jewish people, as a whole, are very possess great ingenuity at increasing their income.

Unfortunately, the Jews working in the communal capacity ALSO possess this ingenuity, and the community's ability to support them is surpassing it.

Charlie Hall said...

"The view I have heard expressed more than any other regarding having children is that birth control is NEVER allowed for financial reasons."

I have never heard that, except from anonymous blog commenters.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who is interested, I have written an article (10 pages) on the subject, which discusses the various opinions on the subject and the reasoning (halachic not hashkafic) behind them. I can be reached at nwlondoneruv@hotmail.co.uk