Newborn baby boy under a blue blanketHalachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

There is a mitzvah in the Torah called P’ru u’R’vu–be fruitful and multiply. It is given twice in the Torah. Rashi explains that one appearance is to give mankind a blessing in this regard and the second is to command us in the mitzvah. It is an extremely important mitzvah; without it, there would soon be no people.

There is a second mitzvah, discussed in Yevamos 62b, “LaErev al tanach yadecha–in the evening do not let your hand rest.” This mitzvah involves the obligation to continue having children later in life–in other words, beyond the two obligatory children of the mitzvah of P’ru u’R’vu. This halachah is quantified in Shulchan Aruch (EH 1:8). The Beis Shmuel (1:18), citing the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh, rules that this mitzvah is rabbinic in nature.

There is possibly even a third mitzvah. In Sefer Yeshayahu, the pasuk (45:18) states, “Lo sohu barah, lasheves yatzrah–He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited.” Tosfos in Gittin (41b “Lo”) are of the opinion that “He formed it to be inhabited” is a separate mitzvah in and of itself. The Sefer HaChinuch, however, is of the opinion that it is merely an explanation of the first mitzvah and does not form its own independent mitzvah. Many poskim are in agreement with Tosfos, such as the TaZ, the Avnei Miluim, the Pischei Teshuvah, and the Chasam Sofer.


Chelkas Mechokek’s Question

The poskim that surround the Shulchan Aruch consider whether one has fulfilled the mitzvah of P’ru u’R’vu if the siring of the child came through waters of a bathhouse, without direct contact between the two parents–even though they were clearly the parents. The Chelkas Mechokek (EH 1:8) poses this question and remains unclear. The Beis Shmuel (EH 1:11) cites a proof to this position from a Bach in Yoreh Deah. However, the TaZ (EH 1:8) rejects this proof.

Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak Vol. I #50) rules that even those poskim who hold that the child is not attributed to the father in the above case would rule that the child is attributed to the father in the case of IUI, intra-uterine insemination. He rules thus because a maaseh is performed in the latter case, whereas that may not be the case in the former.

The Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. III #27) is unsure, however, if this is, in fact, considered a maaseh, since there is no direct contact. The majority of halachic authorities, however, are of the view that it is considered a maaseh. (See Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, IM EH 1 #18; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, Shulchan Shlomo Vol. III p. 99; and Rav Shmuel Vosner, zt’l, Shevet HaLevi Vol. VIII 251:11.) The same would be true about IVF, in-vitro fertilization.


Is It An Obligation?

A friend of mine posed the question to Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, as to whether one is obligated to undergo these procedures in order to fulfill the mitzvos mentioned above. He responded that although one does fulfill the mitzvah under those circumstances, there is no obligation to perform a mitzvah in such a different manner than the regular manner. This seems to be the consensus of rabbinic thought, although each person should ask his or her own rav or posek.


Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s Opinion

There is a fascinating incident that is cited in Shulchan Shlomo (Vol. III p. 99 note 7). A certain individual did not have children in the 18 years since he got married. He approached Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and asked whether he was, in fact, obligated to undergo a procedure called ICSI, which is an in-vitro-fertilization procedure in which a single unit is injected directly into an egg. It is more specialized than conventional IVF.

Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, answered that in terms of the halachos and requirements of P’ru u’R’vu, he is exempt. He did all he could, and he is certainly not obligated to go that extra yard. However, there is another obligation at play here. Rav Shlomo Zalman said, “In terms of the verse (Devarim 24:5), ‘And he shall make his wife happy,’ he is obligated to undergo this procedure so that his wife will have children.”

The man responded that prior to his coming to Rav Shlomo Zalman, he and wife had taken it upon themselves to accept that whatever Hashem wills will be good for them and that they have no desire to undergo extreme procedures unless they are obligated to do so.

Rav Shlomo Zalman answered, “Everything that she is saying, she is only telling you in order to placate you. But deep within her heart of hearts she certainly is pining to have children.”

Within a short time after this man had accepted Rav Shlomo Zalman’s opinion, the home was filled with the voices of children.

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