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The Mitzvah of Having Children

Posted by rabbiart on April 21, 2008

Section 613

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to
their order of appearance in the Torah.

Mitzvah #1:
Have Children!

The first mitzvah of the Torah is spoken by HaShem (literally The Name, one of
the many ways by which Jews refer to G-d) directly to Adam and Eve immediately
after they are created. Then G-d blessed them, and G-d said to them: Be fruitful
and multiply. ( Breshit 1:28 )

Like so much of Jewish tradition, and like life, this commandment is deceptively
simple on the surface, yet open to deeper exploration and understanding. The
purpose of the commandment is to populate the world. But it is a basic human
urge (especially for women) to have children, so why is it necessary for G-d to
command us to have children? Perhaps this explains why traditionally this
commandment is directed at men, and is not considered to be obligatory on women.

How many children must one have to fulfill this obligation? The rabbis of the
Talmud agree that having two children is sufficient to be yotzei. (Hebrew for go
out; the word is used to describe the state of having fulfilled a mitzvah). Like
other matters of halachah (literally walking or going, but used to refer to
Jewish law) the answer is a subject of dispute between the followers of two
great sages of the Talmud, Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. The followers of Shammai
say that two sons are required. The followers of Hillel say that a son and a
daughter are sufficient, because the Torah verse preceding this commandment
says: male and female G-d created them.

There are more questions to consider, some ancient some modern. What if a
husband and wife keep having children, but are only blessed with daughters? Is
it fair to say they have not fulfilled this mitzvah? What about couples (of any
variety) who are unable to have children, but adopt? Have they fulfilled this
mitzvah? In our day, overpopulation might be more of a concern. What about
potential parents who choose to have only one child, or to not bring any more
children into the world? Is this a choice that we should value? Or does it
reflect lack of faith that HaShem provides for all?

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