There are two major foci for the discussion of pru u'rvu in the gemara in Yevamot (61b-65b). The first is how one fulfills this commandment, while the second one is who has to fulfill it. For methodological reasons, we will begin with the second one (although the order in which the gemara presents them is an interesting issue in and of itself).

The Mishna on Yevamot 65b states that only a man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, while women, who obviously have to play a role, do not fulfill any particular commandment by doing so. However, based on the verse that serves as the source for this law, the issue is not so clear. Rav Yochanan ben Broka counters that since Bereishit 1:18 says "and the Lord blessed them," it must be that the commandment applies to both men and women, since the initial blessing was given to both Adam and Chava. However, the gemara counters that the phrasing of the blessing is the key; having children is supposed to be done for the purpose of conquering the land. Since the task of conquering is one that traditionally falls on the shoulders of males, thus it is learned that only males are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Furthermore, since the word "v'kivshuha" is written with a letter missing, the gemara learns out that women are excluded from this commandment.

A bit further in the gemara, Rav Yoseif tries to bring a proof from another verse elsewhere in the Torah. Yaakov is told to be fruitful and multiply as well, but instead of being told "pru u'rvu," in the plural, he is commanded "preh u'rveh," in the singular, implying that only he, and not his wives, were commanded to bear children.

While Rambam (Hil. Ishut 15), Tur (E.H. 1), and Shulchan Aruch all follow the mishna and rule that only a man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, there is an interesting gloss by the Magid Mishna which highlights just how far this ruling goes. As a prelude, we should note that it is intriguing that a woman is not commanded to have children - how are men supposed to fulfill this commandment without the help of their wives? One possible answer could be the explanation given by some commentaries on the Torah. They note that the term "conquer" in the verse refers not to conquering nature or the other animals, but rather to the nature of the conjugal relationship between husband and wife. Man is supposed to be the dominant partner is this respect, and thus a woman's role is not such much due to her obligation to Hashem as it is due to her obligation to her husband.

Be that as it may, the Magid Mishna raises the possibility of a child born as the result of something other than a normal sexual act. He cites sources that note that Ben-Sira, the author of one of the works of the Apocrypha from the Second Temple period, was said to have been conceived when his mother took a bath in water that had previously been used by his father. As such there was seemingly no one to take credit for having performed the mitzva of pru u'rvu. However, the Magid Mishna notes that the Beit Shmuel takes up this topic and is initially unsure if the father can claim to have fulfilled the mitzva. Ultimately, the Beit Shmuel notes that Ben-Sira was considered to be a legitimate (non-bastard) child and was obligated to respect the man who was his father, even though he was not actively involved in the conception. While the Magid Mishna rejects some of the basic facts of this case, the opinion of the Beit Shmuel seems to imply that the obligation of males is so total, and the obligation of females is so non-existent, that a man can fulfill this mitzva even when the entire process is accomplished by a woman. Obviously, the ramifications of this view in terms of modern scientific procedures are potentially many, although such issues are beyond the scope of this Chabura.

The second major topic is how one fulfills pru u'rvu. As we noted last week, there are some reasons for this commandment that seem to imply that having even one child serves as a fulfillment. On the other hand, there are those who claim that since the goal is the population of the world, one must have at least one son and one daughter, since only with both males and females can the world be populated.

The main debate on this point is in Yevamot 61b. There, Beit Shammai rule that one fulfills this commandment by having two sons, while Beit Hillel claim that one must have both a son and a daughter. The gemara notes that Beit Shammai base their view on the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, who had only two sons, while Beit Hillel use creation as a model, that both male and female were created at the beginning of time. Beit Hillel reject the use of Moshe as a proof, since he separated from his wife in order to always be pure and ready to receive communication from Hashem (although Beit Shammai could argue that Moshe did not separate until he had fulfilled this commandment, and thus two sons must serve as a fulfillment).

Two statements attributed to Rav Natan are then cited in the gemara. In the first statement, he writes that Beit Shammai actually require a person to have two sons and two daughters, based on the verse concerning the birth of Hevel, son of Adam and Chava. In the second statement, Rav Natan claims that Beit Shammai require a person to have both a son and a daughter, while Beit Hillel require either a son or a daughter, since the world is settled more with each person born, and thus it does not matter if the child is male or female.

The real focus of how one fulfills this commandment can be seen in what seems to be a secondary issue. If a person has a child who then passes away, has he fulfilled the commandment of being fruitful and multiplying? If the goal is to have a certain number of souls come into existence so that Moshiach will come, then it would seem that he has done his job. On the other hand, if populating the Earth is the aim, then presumably a child who passes away does not contribute to a person's fulfillment of this commandment. The major poskim follow the line of thinking that we are concerned with populating the Earth, and thus we rule that a person must have a son and a daughter, and that if those children die without having children of their own, then their father has not fulfilled his obligation. As a result, a person who gives birth to children who are sterile has also not discharged his obligation, since these children will not contribute to the ongoing population of the world.


This series of laws is somewhat disturbing. If the goal is to populate the Earth, then why should a person be held responsible if his children are unable to do the same? He has done his part, and for some reason his children will be unable to do theirs - this should be two separate issues! Perhaps the reason for this goes back to something mentioned last week. The reason that we are supposed to dominate the Earth is not a reason in and of itself for us to have children. Rather, we are told to populate the Earth due to the fact that we are created in the image of Hashem. Thus, the sheer numbers are not important as much as the fact that there has to be an ongoing chain of people walking on this planet, testifying through their existence to the glory of Hashem. As such, a person is commanded not only to have children, but also to ensure that there will be many future generations that can do the work and will of Hashem. For this reason, as Ritva notes, there is no person of the opinion that having only daughters fulfills this obligation - since women are not commanded in pru u'rvu, a person does not ensure the perpetuation of the species in the halachic sense by having only girls (theoretically, a girl has no halachic incentive to have children, while a boy does have such an incentive and thus having boys more or less ensures that there will be future generations).

I am running short on time, and thus there are two points which I will mention now only in passing. The Yam Shel Shlomo writes that since a woman is not commanded to fulfill pru u'rvu, there would not be a problem in terms of this commandment for her to take some sort of medicine that would prevent her from conceiving. This is not to say that contraception is permitted (and there is a huge discussion of this issue based on the gemara in Ketubot 38a), but rather to note that this particular point would not present a problem if there was such a need. Finally, Rav Melech Schechter, in an article in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society IV, notes that Rav Shlomo Kluger claims that it is possible to fulfill pru u'rvu via adoption. What Rav Kluger states is that if one has no children, then whether or not he fulfills the commandment in this manner is dependent on another debate between the Derisha and the Taz. However, if a person had children and they died and then adopted children he certainly fulfills the commandment, since he has both had children and has raised children in the image of Hashem, and thus has covered all aspects of the commandment.

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