Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the significance of puru u’re’vuru (the Torah commandment to be fruitful and multiply), and the immense importance it carries for Israel’s survival and consolidation in its land. At the same time, I criticized the members of the public committee who participated in choosing the torch-bearers for the central Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, that out of all of the fourteen women they chose, not one was a mother with a large family.
There were some women were extremely happy about the honor I bestowed upon those righteous women who dedicate themselves to raising large families. I was told of one woman who pointed out what I had written to her son, a graduate of Yeshiva Har Bracha serving as an officer in the I.D.F., while mentioning how much she enjoys reading the articles.
Another woman wrote me: “Rabbi, thank you so much for what you write about mother’s with large families. Your words are like cold water on a weary soul. As a mother who recently gave birth to her tenth child, ken yirbu, I feel that society often does not appreciate families who are willing to bear upon themselves the growth of the Jewish people, and sometimes, even condemn us. Yasher koach, and thank you” (this reply also answers a young reader who wrote: “With all due respect, Rabbi, why do you constantly badger us with the mitzvoth of puru u’re’vuru and family values?”).
Some readers proposed that as a correction for this, the ‘Besheva‘ newspaper should grant an annual award to a number of mother’s with large families.
Other’s mentioned Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who knew how to be grateful for mother’s blessed with large families, and decided to grant 100 lira (pounds) to each mother giving birth to her tenth child (indeed, it was not an original idea of his, as this was also the practice in the Soviet Union, the homeland of world socialism, which crowned every mother of ten children as an ‘heroic mother’, and gave her privileges and a star of gold).
Some people disapproved, claiming there is no importance whatsoever to having a large family, and on the contrary – by talking about it, men and rabbis adeptly manage to keep women at home, and maintain their supremacy.
Others argued that the Commission’s entire goal was to encourage equality between men and women, and to show that women can also be as successful as men, and consequently, it was obvious they did not choose a mother blessed with a large family.
Some people objected, claiming that raising many children encourages economic and cultural backwardness, and Israeli society does not need to encourage large families, rather, the opposite. There was one person who mentioned the article by the leftist Prof. Ephraim Yaar “Al Mishpachot Beruchot Yeladim” (“On Families Blessed with Many Children”) in which he concludes that it is preferable to call such families ‘mishpachot merubot yeladim’ (families with many children’) rather than "blessed". In his opinion, “in terms of both benefit and morality, there is no reason the state should encourage families to have large numbers of children and give them assistance through any type of incentives” – since he claims children from such families are more academically, economically, and socially backwards.
Actually, there is an ideological reason that a mother blessed with a large family was not chosen to light a torch: it violates the feminists’ struggle for equality. It emphasizes national and religious values, as opposed to the idea that a person is measured solely by his economic and social accomplishments.
Needless to say, this approach ignores family values and the national importance of having many children, especially after the Holocaust and in view of our coping with a demographic problem. Apparently, leftists like to mention the demographic problem only when it involves encouraging giving parts of the Land of Israel away to the Arabs, and not when it comes to encouraging Jewish births.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture should have clarified the office’s position – was the lack of a mother blessed with a large family among the torch-bearers in the ceremony’s theme ‘A Time for Women’, indeed a fundamental position, or perhaps, a regrettable error?
And also, whether the Ministry of Culture intends on finding a way to make amends, by praising the contribution of these precious women, who are privileged to achieve the greatest value of all – dedicating their lives to bringing life into the world, and devoting their days and nights to raising and educating their children, for the glory of the nation and the country.
Unquestionably, we must make an effort to prove that the hypothesis determining that children from large families are more academically and socially backwards is incorrect.
Indeed, Prof. David Tzuriel has shown in his research that there are educational benefits for youngsters who grew up in a family blessed with many children because they acquire mediated learning, and thus are able to absorb information from different angles, which in turn, enriches their perception.
Incidentally, Prof. David Tzuriel from Bar-Ilan University is a religious man who loves his nation and land, while Prof. Ephraim Yaar is a leftist and secular. Perhaps everyone prefers to research what is important to him.
Most of the studies conducted in the world on the issue of large families are not suitable for the Jewish, religious population, which values learning and contributing to society. Together with having large families, we strive to give them the best possible education, both morally and academically.
In practice, it is clear that families blessed with many children from the religious community contribute greatly to the country. Their children are loyal to the Torah, the nation, and the land; they are full-partners in strengthening Israel’s economy, and the young men strive to serve in combat units.
In contrast, Western countries are faced with a severe economic crisis, because together with scientific and economic development they neglected family values, and now they do not have enough young people to continue maintaining their factories and businesses. The situation will only grow worse, and those very people who had fewer children in order to better their economic situation, will have to cope with a significant decline in their standard of living as a result of the crisis in pension funds.