Are women obligated in the mitzvah to procreate?


Are we obligated to have children? Does our level of obligation change once we get married? I would like to know more!

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Asked on May 22, 2024 3:38 pm
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Thank you for this question. We hope to treat it more fully in a future series on the site.

A woman is considered exempt from the Torah's mitzva of procreation, peru u-revu (Mishna Yevamot 6:6; Yevamot 65b; Shulchan Aruch EH 1:13), which entails having one boy and one girl.

However, that is not the end of the story. Yeshayahu (45:18) states that God "formed it [the Earth] for habitation," "la-shevet yetzarah" (45:18). The Mishna (Gittin 4:5) treats shevet, contributing to populating the world, as a halachic priority, and Tosafot (Yevamot 62a) rule that having one child can fulfill the mitzva of shevet. Another comment of Tosafot (Bava Batra 13a) notes that shevet applies to women. Therefore, at least according to Tosafot, while a woman is not personally obligated in peru u-revu, she can fulfil shevet by having a child.

In our discussion (here) of whether kiddushin (the first stage of marriage) is a mitzva, we noted that the Talmud implies that it is a mitzva for a man and for a woman, and a few possible explanations for what the mitzva would be, including a woman's voluntary fulfillment of peru u-revu, a woman's fulfillment of shevet, or perhaps viewing a woman's role in her husband's fulfillment of peru u-revu as its own mitzva.

Jewish men are no longer permitted to marry more than one wife. Therefore, a woman who marries a man who has not yet fulfilled peru u-revu takes on a level of halachic obligation to facilitate his fulfilling the mitzva. (See, for example, Chatam Sofer, EH 1:20.) In practice, though this is an important halachic consideration in choices of whom to marry, it is not the only halachic consideration. Marriage is still encouraged for those who do not plan to have children or who cannot have biological children. We discuss whether women are obligated to marry here.

Learn more about raising children for a life of Torah and mitzvot here.

See more Q&A here.

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Answered on May 22, 2024 3:39 pm