Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #2

Mitzvah #1 -- Pru U'rvu (procreation)


Distinction in object

There is a gender factor in the object of the mitzvah. The fulfilment of the mitzvah necessitates having a male and a female.

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 61b, 62a

The mishna records a disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding the requirements for the mitzvah:

Beit Shammai -- two males

Beit Hillel -- a male and a female (which is the halacha)

The mishna does not record a reason for Beit Shammai but does for Beit Hillel, quoting a verse related to G-d's original creation of a male and a female (Bereishit 5:2). It was suggested in the seminar that this raises the issue of imitatio Dei in relation to this mitzvah.

The initial discussion in the gemara following the mishna raises the issue of the obligation to marry once a man has fulfilled pru u'rvu. The discussion further implies other motivations for having children aside from pru u'rvu.

Tangent: Other Forms of Obligation

If women are obligated to have children for other reasons aside from pru u'rvu, this would have a practical effect on our understanding of the mitzvah and the exclusion of women.

1) Obligation to marry

(Full discussion will be connected to Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 532.)

Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 1:13

A woman is not commanded in the mitzvah of pru u'rvu

Rema but in any event she should not remain without a husband because of chashada, suspicion.

Rema is based on Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishot 15:16, but in Hilchot Issurei Biyah 21:26 we find:

a woman has permission not to ever marry or to marry a man who is infertile.

Be'ar Hativ, Even HaEzer 1:27, because of this apparent contradiction in Rambam, understands a woman's obligation to marry, as presented by the Rema, as an eitza tova, good advice.

Application to pru u'rvu Once married,it would seem that a woman has an obligation to assist her husband in fulfilling his mitzvah of pru u'rvu. See, for example, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 15:1 where a woman's right to universally refuse relations with her husband only exists subsequent to the fulfilment of pru u'rvu.

If it is, at least, good advice for a woman to marry, the exemption from pru u'rvu has limited practical significance. She must assist her husband. A woman, though, has the choice of marrying a man who is infertile.

2) Leshevet yitzarah, "to be inhabited, He formed [the world]"

There is a rabbinic obligation to have children (referred to as leshevet).

Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 157:9 obligates women in leshevet, based on Tosfot, Gittin 41b, d.h. lo toho. The issue concerns whether one can sell a sefer Torah in order for a woman to marry. (See T.B. Megillah 27a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 157:6; and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 1:2.) Magen Avraham says you may because of the woman's obligation of leshevet. This halachic opinion, however, is not universal. See Chelkat Mechokek, Even HaEzer 1:1 and Be'ar Hativ, Even HaEzer 1:2. See also Pnei Yehoshua, Gittin 41b. Beit Shmuel, Even HaEzer 1:2, while quoting Magen Avraham l'halacha, wonders, if women are obligated in leshevet, why did Rema state that women should marry because of chashada, suspicion?

What constitutes the obligation of leshevet? This rabbinic command is usually understood to be a continuous obligation to have children even past the requirement of pru u'rvu. The rabbinic obligation to go beyond pru u'rvu, however, is also cited as l'erev al tanach yadecha, "in the evening don't rest your hand", instructing one to have children at an older age as well (referred to as l'erev). Are these two terms for one rabbinic command or are they two distinct commands? While many commentators seem to interchange their use of these terms, there are those that clearly state that they are two different mitzvot. See Minchat Chinuch, mitzvah 1, section 3 and Otzar HaPoskim, Even HaEzer 1:11. What would be the distinction between these two commands? How do we understand the leshevet obligation for women?

Tosfot, Gittin 41b, d.h. lo toho seems to refer to leshevet as a basic obligation (on humanity) to be involved, someway, in procreation. In this light, leshevet may simply demand some involvement, even one child. This would seem to be supported by Rabbi Natan's use of leshevet in T.B. Yevamot 62a. If a woman's obligation is understood this way, an answer to the Beit Shmuel's question on the Rema may also be formulated. Since her obligation to marry would cease with any act of procreation, even one child, Rema referred to chashada which is a reason for why she should stay married. (This distinction in leshevet may also be of value in distinguishing it from l'erev.)

Application to pru u'rvu If women are commanded in leshevet, then their exclusion from pru u'rvu again has limited practical application. It may be, within this view, that a woman's exclusion from pru u'rvu means she only has to have one child. It may, however, be that the distinction in command between men and women lies only in those documented areas of difference in halachic force between pru u'rvu and the rabbinic command. See Tur, Even HaEzer, chap. 1 and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 1:8.

Considering that leshevet would also demand that a woman marry and once married she must assist her husband in his command of pru u'rvu, the exclusion from the latter would be very minimal. Of course, though, many commentators do not consider women obligated in leshevet.

Tangent: Leshevet Yitzarah

The term leshevet yitzarah seems to have four different meanings:

a) a reason presented for the mitzvah of pru u'rvu as in Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 1;

b) a halachic principle in the mitzvah of pru u'rvu that demands, within parameters, the continued existence of a child rather than just the birth of one (see T.B. Yevamot 62a);

c) the rabbinic obligation to have children beyond the requirements of pru u'rvu;

d) the concept that a person should have some involvement in procreation (see Tosfot, Gittin 41b, d.h. lo toho).

Care must be exercised when reference is made to this term that the correct meaning is employed.

Next step

Distinction in Object (continued)

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 61b, 62a.

Additional study targets

Wife as Childbearer

Opening Sources: Bereishit 30:1-3

Shmuel I 1:5-8

Rashi, Bereishit 4:19

N ISHMA B'IYUN: Women in Judaism is under the direction of NISHMA, an international Torah study network dedicated to the intellectual pursuit of Jewish thought and law. If you would like to participate in this project or require information about our other publications and programs, please contact the Toronto Nishma Centre at 1-800-267-6474 or (416) 630-0588. The NISHMA fax number is (416) 630-7702.

Return to top