Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dark Side Confession #2: Birth Control

As promised, once I got a confession from the Dark Side in my comments section, I am writing another confession of my own. This one is about birth control. 

First of all: Get your mind out of the gutter. I'm not confessing to whether or not I myself take birth control. That's a bit too personal, even on an anonymous blog. Also -- ew, T.M.I.

No, I'm going to make a confession about my beliefs about birth control. 

In my post-high school year I went to an ultra-Orthodox seminary for girls in Jerusalem where we had a lesson about "family planning." The following are actual notes from that class. I apologize in advance for my horrific grammar and vacuous explanations : 
  • "Don't worry about פרנסה (livelihood) because each birth is a סגולה (a sort of lucky-charm) for פרנסה (livelihood)."
  • "Talmud: If someone doesn't pro-create, it's as though they're destroying the world."
  • "Some people think to have less kids will help world because there's already too many [people in the world]. Not true: If we have many children and raise them correctly, you're contributing to a better society." (sic on this whole sentence)
  • We are told, "... not to do family planning because you're supposed to have however many [children] Hashem (G-d) wants you to have... Especially after the Holocaust,  [we] must rebuild [the] world." 
  • "If someone is worried about פרנסה (livelihood) with many kids (sic), they don't have proper אמונה (faith in G-d). G-d will provide!"
In short, we were taught that using birth control (though actual methods of birth control were never discussed) was a statement of distrust in G-d. 

This is the actual, really-and-truly, attitude of the frum community. "Have children, and keep on having children and don't worry about the cost, just keep having children." 

The biggest problem with this philosophy is that it's taught to us when we are young, naive, and unsuspecting. There's a tremendous amount of peer\community pressure to have children, and to keep on having them, without any regard for financial planning or emotional capability. So often this results in overtired, overworked, and over-the-top-in-debt couples who tend to neglect their children - not because they don't love them or because they are bad parents, but because they simply don't have the time and the energy to properly care for their children.

I witnessed this pattern when I was growing up and I continue to witness it around me today. 

My confession here? 

I confess, in defiance of the community that I was raised in,  that I do not believe that birth control should be forbidden.

I defy the community's belief that having children is more important than financial and emotional health. I protest the value of putting the necessity of rebuilding the Jewish people in the hands of the young and naive. 

And I beg that the halachot (Jewish laws) that DO allow the use of birth control be taught to these young people. The laws exist for a reason, and promoting a philosophy of disgrace in "family planning" is unfair and unhealthy. 


  1. It's very obvious why the proper halachos of how and when one can use birth control are never discussed - it is because today's Frum society is totally unconcerned with ACTUAL Halacha - FAR more important are social expectations. And those rules override any person need or desire. We have become a society filled with superficiality of "keeping up".
    Some might claim it comes from the "elite" echelons of Rabbinic leaders' desire to keep the masses under control - I have my doubts about this, but it is clear that everyone is far more concerned with how they appear than what God wants.

  2. Very wise response, chaynobody. I think you're absolutely right.

  3. Why do frum Jews use the expression "take birth control" instead of the more accurate "use birth control"? Is it because "taking" the Pill is considered the only halachicly sanctioned birth control?

    Since many women can't take the Pill for health reasons, if the Pill is the only method that's remotely allowed, a lot of women can't use birth control, period.

    Or maybe I'm reading too much into a simple expression.

    1. There are other halchicly sanctioned types of birth control other than the pill, that can be used if nec. The pill just has the fewest halachic complications and is most often suggested.

    2. I only used the terminology of "taking birth control" in my first statement about what I'm NOT going to talk about. Other than that I used the words "use birth control". Have you found that most other frum Jews use the word "take" in association with birth control? It's possible that that IS because the use of birth control, when allowed, is only allowed on the part of the woman, which many people automatically associate with the pill.

      Or it could just be ignorance. If you think public schools have problems with abstinence vs. safe sex classes... They don't teach us ANYTHING about sex in the frum world. Forget methods of safe sex.

  4. As someone in the Ultra-Orthodox community, I have to point out that what you're saying is false. I say this because I used birth control myself for three years, on the say-so of my doctor and then my rabbi (when the doc said that I could go off, but my marriage situation required it). And I can cite enough of my close friends (at least those who would discuss such a personal issue) to know that I'm not an only case. So please check your facts first. If you're talking about a specific group among the Ultra-Orthodox, that might be one thing, but it's certainly NOT across the board.

    1. Frummie:

      What you're describing is your own, personal experience with a Rav. If you reread my post, you'll see that I say that Halacha allows the use of birth control. It's not HALACHA that I have a problem with.

      It's the community-value and the pressure to have many children as well as the way that teachers (such as mine in seminary) make it seem like birth control is not a viable option. Many young people don't even know to ask their Rav the shaila for a heter to use birth control.

      I don't know what community you live in, but every Ultra-Orthodox community that I've met carried the pressures of marrying young and having many babies. Maybe birth control is allowed, but you need to ask a Rav first, and even then usually family and friends look at you sideways and up and down trying to figure out why you're not having more babies more often.

  5. Well well well Ms. Feminist. We meet again.

    Are men allowed to comment here? I don't want to piss off Tesya.

    Anyways sister my wife never asked a rav. You need to come over our side of town.

    1. Yeah, I'm entering the "Just don't ask" camp these days. But it wasn't a Rav who tried to brainwash us, in seminary, to not use birth control. I was so brainwashed, back then, that I wouldn't have asked a Rav either, but in that case it would've been that I wouldn't have asked for a heter. I would have just assumed that I couldn't use birth control. And unfortunately, this is true of a lot of people in ultra-frum community.

  6. There is a trend amongst orthodox women who are "seeing the light". I am very interested in reading how women evolve into more open-minded individuals. I have no opinion either way regarding the above topic because birth control isn't relevant in my life at the moment. I will point out however that it seems to be very commonly used amongst my what I would call, very orthodox friends.
    Just wondering, at what point in your life did you start thinking for yourself and not just take what you learned (which I'm not saying is true or false) for face value? Was there an incident that caused your attitude change? Age? wisdom?
    PS Your blog is very interesting. You write very clearly.

  7. In case I wasn't clear in the above comment when I say "trend", I'm referring to women such as yourself, Debra Feldman (Unorthodox, did you read it btw? if not, it's a good read, I have a feeling you may relate to her) and Perl Reich (on Dr. Phil)etc.
    In fact, most intriguing to me is what caused these women to open their minds to other ways that they were taught... That is why i'm curios to know what caused your open-mindedness.

    1. Hey Anonymous,

      Yes, I've read Debra Feldman's book. I actually posted about it on my blog when it came out.

      What made me start "thinking differently"? I think it was largely because, unlike most and many of my peers, I didn't get married when I was still young and naive and then immediately begin having children who I would have then started indoctrinating as well, keeping myself fully indoctrinated. That left me with time to develop as a critical thinker. It's taken a lot of time. I don't even agree with a number of my earlier posts in this blog because I've developed since I started writing it.

      Thanks for your interest. :)

  8. I haven't learned the halachos of the circumstances necessary to allow birth control to be used (am I saying that right?), but I personally believe it does have more to do with halacha than what chaynobody said about it being due to societal expectations.

    I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that birth control is a b'dieved (not preferable) across the board and there are times where it's allowed. That being true, people may just assume that they won't "qualify." Promoting birth control is definitely something that will never happen the same way you won't find anybody promoting anything that's b'dieved.

    1. Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say that using birth control is more of a halachic issue?

    2. From what I understood from what chaynobody said, she felt that the reason that birth control is so uncommon is because of society.

      I respectfully disagree and believe that the minimization of birth control is more of a matter of there being many halachic limitations on when it is allowed.

      As I mentioned in my previous comment, I'm not well-versed in the halachos. But as far as I'm aware, a monetary concern (for example) isn't a good enough reason. "I don't want to have kids right now" won't cut it either. Health issues is another matter.

      Regardless of the reason that a couple wants to use birth control, there are halachos that deal with it. It's discussed in the gemarah and poskim.

      Societal pressures aside, and undoubtedly there are those, I don't think it's easy to get a heter to use birth control because of the complex halachos involved and in light of how strongly the Torah champions having children.

    3. This is also my understanding, but apparently Rabbanim are more lenient these days. They pasken differently than they preach.

    4. I personally find that difficult to believe. It may be that circumstances today are different than they were x amount of years ago. Couples, in my opinion, are having more trouble adjusting to married life than they used to. Financial stability is more difficult to attain than in years past, with one or both of them striving for more advanced degrees.

      So it's possible that the rabbis haven't changed what they're preaching but more people are fitting into the requirements of what it takes for a heter.

    5. Interesting observation. But I don't know... We're living in a time of relative prosperity for Jews, compared to ages past. Financially, even poor Jews are living easier lives than Jews of previous generations.

    6. Well yes, but where is that wealth? Young couples generally isn't where it'll be found. And while maybe it's true that poor Jews are living easier lives, living expenses and, more importantly, expectations of what "living easier" have been significantly raised.

      I think it's also possible that we're hearing more about the proliferation of birth control because 1) of the options available and 2) we're talking about it. I can't imagine this was a topic of conversation that people would be having years ago.

  9. My experiences, both personal, and with many friends in different very Orthodox circles is that birth control is often a clear option... it often seems to become clear when a MOTHER WHO IS IN TOUCH WITH HER FEELINGS AND CAPABILITIES says "hey, wait a minute, I'm overwhelmed" or "Hey, I'm dreading the idea of another kid" ... and then that mother will seek out Emes, with her husband, and an understanding Rav.

    Women who don't realize their right to birth control are, yes, swallowing what was explicitly or implicitly taught to them in their youth (which, as Lost and Found said, won't change), and, I venture, may also not really be in touch with their own needs. I do believe we all learned "V'CHAI BAHEM" that Torah life should be sweet and a real life... and when it doesn't feel that way, something needs to be investigated.

  10. If the "chareidi" community will not use birth control, they they should nurse. And a woman who became pregnant three months after giving birth, while nursing exclusively, should be using birth control.

    It is not according to halacha - or Torah in general - to have as many children as possible, without allowing the mother to recuperate, or allowing the baby to nurse. Living people's health ALWAYS trumps potential children, and even babies in utero. If you are three months postpartum and find out you are pregnant, keep nursing. If the baby stays, it stays. If not, not. And chances are that if you miscarry, you would have miscarried no matter what.

    As some of the other commenters said: The "chareidi" community does not care about halacha, or even about Torah values/views. They care only about social standing. And if social standing and halacha are at odds - we'll take social standing, thanks very much.

    (Why? Because Reform would take halacha. So, we're better than reform. NOT.)

    1. I'm slightly horrified by your post. Not because you're wrong to believe that nursing acts as birth control but because of your callous attitude about miscarriages. Just because I'm in favor of using birth control does NOT mean that I favor using miscarriage as a form of birth control. That's just plain disgusting.

  11. *Sorry, I meant "then they", not "they they".

    And I think about 85% of chareidi women use formula. Ugh.