Birth control is all over the news these days, from people suggesting that aspirin between the legs is a good solution, to Republican presidential candidates falling all over themselves to say how much they hate it when ladies get the option to choose whether or not they want to get knocked up. All this despite the fact that according to the CDC, 99% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives.
It’s clear that the Christian right is entering an anti-birth control stage, but what about Judaism? What does Jewish law say about taking some time off from baby-making, and what do Jewish ladies do when it comes to family planning?
Though some Jewish religious extremists interpret the Torah’s directive p’ru urvu—be fruitful and multiply–to frown on birth control, most communities do not. After all, the Torah doesn’t say to be fruitful and multiply as much as you possibly can, even if it’s physically unhealthy, you’re emotionally unprepared, or you can’t financially afford any more fruit. And in fact, Jewish ladies are supposed to take birth control if getting pregnant would be dangerous to their health. Some rabbis, like Rabbi Jesse Olitzky in Jacksonville, Florida, even believe that birth control teaches responsibility and allows a family to plan their future around their own financial, medical, and emotional needs.
And though some aspiring presidents may say that family planning doesn’t require birth control, only abstinence, most Jewish leaders would scoff at the notion that there is anything wrong with two married adults engaging in consensual, non-procreational sex. P’ru urvu isn’t the only reason to get it on. The Talmud, despite torturing me in high school, actually comes out cheering for women on this one: it specifically instructs men to keep their wives sexually satisfied. This rule applies to men even when their wives are already pregnant and long after their reproductive years have ended. (Ladies take note: There is no reciprocal obligation.)
The anecdotal evidence I gathered also suggests that Jewish women far and wide have embraced birth control. For one, Rebecca Rotenberg Nadler, a frequent educator on these topics in Toronto’s Modern Orthodox community, told me that she always advises soon-to-be brides to start taking birth control in advance of the marriage, for the very pragmatic (and non-procreational) purpose of making sure the bride’s “monthly visitor” doesn’t arrive on the wedding day. (Too bad she wasn’t advising Molly Ringwald’s sister in Sixteen Candles.) And when I asked one Conservative Jewish New York mother how Judaism played into her decisions about contraception, she told me that she has a “general knowledge that Judaism thinks birth control is okay, and that is enough for me.” She then added, “And I’m not interested in poking around.”
Jewish ladies seem pretty attached to our pills, IUDs, etc. And thankfully, most rabbis are okay with that.