Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #4

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


A Word of Introduction: To the novice student of gemara, the following discussion may seem strange, cold, even inappropriate. It is therefore important for one to recognize that objective and analytical discussions of this nature are presented in the realm of ideas, to further an understanding in theory and Halacha. The penetrative study of all cases is a necessary tool that the gemara utilizes in its drive to fully understand the nature of the mitzvot. In real terms, however, the experienced student of Talmud recognizes that the true human demands of a tragic event would take precedence. What is asked in removed theory (having some practical applicability) does not represent what should be our primary thought if confronted with the issue in actuality.


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

The gemara poses the following question: does one fulfil the mitzvah of pru u'rvu if his children die? A difference in views is recorded:

Rav Huna -- Yes

Rabbi Yochanan -- No

Rav Huna presents as his reason the statement of Rav Assi that the Mashiach will not come until the Guf (the storeroom in Heaven that holds the souls coming to Earth) is emptied of souls. Rabbi Yochanan presents as his reason leshevet yitzarah, that the world was created to be populated. Without entering a discussion on how these reasons are applicable in this halachic discussion (in light of the Tannaic debate of dorshin ta'amei d'kra or ein dorshin ta'amei d'kra - whether reasons for mitzvot are to be applied in Halacha or not - especially in that the l'maaseh

view is ein dorshin), we can understand the argument in halachic terms as:

Rav Huna - the mitzvah is simply in the birth of children

Rabbi Yochanan - the mitzvah is in the continued existence of children or, perhaps, in having children upon one's death.

Rabbi Yochanan's exact position, it would seem, is much more difficult to define.

Tangent: The Nature of the Mitzvah

This discussion introduces the question of what exactly are the parameters of this mitzvah. It would seem that pru u'rvu is a very strange mitzvah. Most commandments have very precise definitions; we can, as such, clearly state what the mitzvah demands and what we must do. For example, the mitzvah of eating matzah on Pesach creates an obligation that is clear. We know what we have to do and, on eating matzah in the correct way and at the correct time, we know we have fulfilled the command. What is the precise demand, however, in regard to pru u'rvu? When the halacha states that upon the death of children the mitzvah is not fulfilled, how is it defining the mitzvah? Is it a command that one should continuously be in the state of having children - the mitzvah being fulfilled each and every moment that someone is within this state. When children die, therefore, one falls out of this state and the obligation re-emerges, but, one could argue, during the time one was in this state, the mitzvah was being fulfilled. Certain language in the Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 1, while not explicit, would seem to support such an understanding, Within this context, the gravity of postponing involvement in this mitzvah becomes apparent. This view, however, must be seen as mostly theoretical, yet most interesting.

The more normative view, though, is that there is not a continuous obligation in every moment but a specific demand to be accomplished within one's lifetime. In other words, the obligation would seem to be that, upon one's death, one must have the requisite children. Having children during one's life does not represent the fulfilment of the mitzvah but rather the means to fulfilment. The death of children represents the removal of this potential fulfilment. Within this context, the mitzvah is also most unique and curious for it involves being in a certain state at the conclusion of one's life whereby the ultimate ability to be in that state is really out of the person's control. Aruch HaShulchan, Even HaEzer 154:27 seems to allude to this very same point albeit in a different context. He seems to actually define the action of the mitzvah as marrying a woman in order to have children for the actual having of children or not is a mystery of G-d and beyond our control. Because of this, he perceives the obligation to find a new wife after ten years of marriage without children as an especially stringent Rabbinic obligation. It would be interesting to see how the Aruch HaShulchan understands the case of the death of children.

There may be other approaches to the mitzvah but, in any event, it would seem clear that this command's parameters are most distinct.

The gemara concludes with a refutation of Rav Huna's opinion: Rabbi Yochanan's view stands alone. The discussion, however, continues that if the children who passed away had children of their own, then in certain circumstances the grandchildren may be considered towards the fulfilment of the mitzvah. Another disagreement is recorded:

Abaye - a son's son, a daughter's daughter or a daughter's son will count but a son's daughter does not count. Rava - a son's daughter should also count for leshevet yitzarah is the requirement.

The halacha, codified in Shulchan Aruch, Evan HaEzer 1:6, is in accordance with the view of Rava. The mitzvah is fulfilled with a male and a female grandchild born to a male and a female child but not necessarily male to male and female to female.

This discussion raises two issues. The first concerns the opinion of Abaye - why does a daughter of a son not count? The second issue, perhaps of greater halachic importance, concerns the exact nature of this disagreement. Abaye and Rava both seem to be arguing within the view of Rabbi Yochanan whose opinion is based on leshevet yitzarah, yet Rava uses this very concept to challenge Abaye's exclusion of a son's daughter. Do Abaye and Rava have differing views of leshevet? What would they be?

Tangent: Other Forms of Obligation


1) Obligation to marry

Another source that states that a woman is obligated to assist her husband with this mitzvah is Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Commentary to the Torah, Bereishit 1:28. Rabbi Hirsch implies that upon marriage a woman herself becomes obligated in the mitzvah.

Next step

Grandchildren (continued)

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

Distinction in Subject

Opening Source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

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