Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Mine is bigger than yours

"A person has to check the level of his income before he determines the size of the family he wants. He must think about his obligation to provide a good education and a respectable standard of living for his children. With a monthly income of 200 or 300 lira and eight or nine children how can one support them? If, on the other hand, you have two or three children, you'll be able to provide them with clothes to wear and give them the best possible education."

The author of this gem which was recently widely quoted in the Israeli press is none other than Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Our Rabbis have a different logic; Maan deyuhiv chaya Yuhiv mezona ('He who gives life will give food' for those not fluent in ancient aramaic). In other words trust in the same G-d that provides the kids to provide the means to support them. The talmud states that the world was created to be populated (lo sohi bru) and it is understood that G-d demands of us that we fulfil our obligations in that respect as far as is possible. The Talmud does however stipulate that that there are circumstances in which birth control may be practiced albeit always by the woman as the man is instructed to beware of 'destroying his seed'.

Well I suppose I can accept the Torah argument in as far as it is impossible to argue with it without denying the right of a person to believe in G-d and live his life accordingly. Someone who genuinely believes that he is doing G-d's will by having a baby (or rather not avoiding having one) against the financial odds can be condemned by those who do not share his faith as irresponsible yet on the other hand faith in the stock market or the liklihood of remaining in work is often just as subjective.

I suspect futhermore that if you were to ask a child that was brought up in an economically challenged family if he would have preferred not to have been born many would probably reply in the negative. Those who might have preffered that he had never boosted the birthrate figures would be those that had to fork out part of their own or the collective allowance to help his parents support him. Personally that argument does not move me. As long as single mothers recieve family support and drug addicts and smokers are entitled to health benefits so should the over fruitful be.

Where I do have an argument with the policy for popcorn style birth-rates is when the problem is not financial but emotional or physical. I live in a community where the norm is around 8. Some of my friend who are in their mid-30's count among their blessings 13 or 14 children. One of my brothers has 13 and his eldest is 14.

Now I have heard all the comments that are made to outsiders about how wonderful it is to have a big family and some it is true. I agree that when you are 73 and you have 143 grandchildren you will have less problem finding someone to talk to than if you have one black granchild born out of wedlock to an underage drug addict. But I also know that it is very rare to see families of that size where the children get the kind of attention and care that they would have if there were a two to three year gap between births.

See I am not arguing that we should go for the two-kid-one-dog formula. What I am saying is that even the Halacha solemnly declares that for two years after a child is born the mother is considered to be nursing even though today most mothers do not nurse that long. What I do believe is that it is rime to revise this ridiculous system in which Chassidim have to wait until their wives are on the point of breaking, following multiple births in the shortest possible time, to ask permission from a Rabbi whether he may use some form of birth control. The Rabbi can arbitrarily decide to refuse or (as is more likely the case) give some symbolic 6 month reprieve which is then rarely extended more than once. It is well known that the Chassidic Rabbis will base their answers upon their own understanding and experience (such as they are) as their is no formal training in this field. They will of course earnestly advise on the best form of 'kosher contraceptive', based on their own wife's preferences. As a general rule what will be reccomended is vaginal mousse, as in the short term it is easier and quicker to get up and running and better still it needs no perscription so those meddling doctors wont interfere.

So my advice to those who want to help to make a difference
is learn the Halacha and use it to prove that G-d does not want families living with PPD (post partum depression) and too many kids running around seeking attention from their overworked big sisters because that is the only place thay are likely to find it while their mother circumnavigates her enormous belly to change the diaper of the one younger than the one who has just spilled his bottle on the one who is feeding a piece of lego to his bigger sister who is waiting for her biggest sister to finish feeding the other four before the big boys come home from school...

No comments: