14. Birth Control for Two Years or More

Prior to the fulfillment of the mitzva of procreation, contraceptives should not be used for more than a year. However, some women, because of their physical or emotional state, need a break of more than a year after giving birth. In such cases, birth control may be used for up to two years.

A couple who has not yet fulfilled the Torah commandment of procreation may not use contraception for more than a year if using it is for financial reasons or to make studying or working easier. Some poskim are lenient in these cases too, and allow birth control for up to two years. Although it is preferable to follow the majority of poskim and not be lenient, for the world was created for this mitzva and it gives people the opportunity to be God’s partners in sustaining the world (Gittin 41a-b; Nidda 31a), nevertheless, those who wish to be lenient in this regard have someone to rely upon.12 Even this leniency is limited to two years.

It is incorrect for a woman to claim that since she is not obligated in the mitzva, she is therefore allowed to use contraception for an unlimited amount of time. Ever since the acceptance of Rabbeinu Gershom’s ordinance forbidding men to marry two women or to divorce their wives against their will, a man is completely dependent upon his wife to fulfill the mitzva of procreation. Therefore, when a woman consents to get married, she is also agreeing to be her husband’s partner in fulfilling this mitzva (Responsa Ḥatam Sofer, EH §20).

In extenuating circumstances, such as when a woman suffers from physical or mental illness whose treatment requires contraception, it is permissible to use birth control for more than two years following a birth, even if the couple has not yet fulfilled the Torah requirement by having a son and daughter. This permit should be granted only after serious deliberation and after consultation with a God-fearing doctor.[13]


[13]. The basis for the rulings in this section is explained in the previous note. However, R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin allows the use of contraception for up to four years to allow the mother to care for the current child. He bases this on the Talmud in Ketubot 60a which says that a woman is permitted to nurse her child for up to four years (Responsa Bnei Banim 1:30). However, one could object that this is only permissible when the prevention is through natural means, like nursing one’s baby. Then one could apply the logic that a person who is currently involved in fulfilling a mitzva (nursing) is exempt from fulfilling another mitzva (another pregnancy). However, other interventions are prohibited due to the mitzva obligation. Just as the Sages established a maximum age to get married in order to fulfill the mitzva of procreation, and anyone who delays past this age is considered a transgressor (Kiddushin 29b), so too there is a natural timeframe for the use of contraception, which is at most two years. This is also the generally accepted ruling.

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