Torah Tidbits

2 September 2014 / 7 Elul 5774
Issue 1030
Shabbat Parshat B'Shalach
January 24, 2013

"From Machon Puah"

Are Children Our Continuity or Our Commandment?

Last week we saw that Israel Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger addressed the question of what blessing should be made at the birth of a child with serious birth defects, during his lecture at the recent 13th Annual Puah Rabbinic Conference. He disagreed with the opinions that in such a case no blessing should be made or the blessing of Shehechiyanu should be combined with the blessing of Dayan HaEmet. Rabbi Metzger explained that the question which blessing should be made depends on why a blessing should be made at the birth of a child.
On the one hand a blessing should be made since a person is happy to have a child who will support him and be an active part of his family. On the other hand the blessing is for the fulfillment of the commandment to have children.
These two elements of bearing children already appear in the Gemara as motivations for having children. The Gemara brings a case in which a woman demands a divorce from her husband after being married for ten years without children. The question is whether her claim for divorce is accepted by the Beit Din. The Gemara explains that this depends on why she wants to get divorced. If she claims that the reason is that she wants to fulfill the commandment to have children then the Beit Din may not grant the divorce since the commandment to procreate is on the husband and a woman is not obliged in this mitzva. While they will be empathetic to her claim, they cannot force the husband to divorce her in this case.
However if she makes the claim that she would like to have children who will support her when she gets older and will eventually bury her, then the Beit Din do grant the divorce despite her husband’s unwillingness to grant her a divorce.
The Gemara understands that there is a need to have children to fulfill the mitzva but there is an existential human need to have children to support one and to assist a person in life’s eventualities.
If the reason that we make a blessing when a child is born is due to the joy of continuity then the blessing may not be made in cases of disabilities where the child will not be able to fend for themselves and instead of caring for the parents when they get older, the parents will have to provide constant care for the child.
However if the blessing is over the joy of fulfilling the commandment to have children then the blessing should be made. More on this next week.

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman

The Puah Institute is based in Jerusalem and helps couples from all over the world who are experiencing fertility problems. Puah offers free counseling in five languages, halachic supervision, and educational programs. Offices in Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Contact: (02) 651-5050 (Isr).

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