In the past few decades, there have been more concerns about over-population and the risks it brings to the environment and people. When I raised such a concern to a friend (also Jewish) of mine, he accused me of not trusting in G-d. My concern is that having too many children reduces the standard of living for everyone and ruins the gifts G-d has given us. Where is the balance between "be fruitful and multiply" and protecting our world as well as the people in it? Does adoption fulfill the mitzvah of multiplying?
As a parent who is blessed to have adopted a son, I have helped to “save a life” so to speak. He was not born of my womb, but in my heart. This is significant regarding your concern about over-population and environmental risks. The best way to honor the world and God is to practice the mitzvah of saving a life – a mitzvah that takes precedence over observing Shabbat and all other mitzvot. I will never know what the quality of my son’s life might have been had he stayed with his birth mom and/or dad; however, I do know that his birth mom felt as if she were a holy vessel carrying our baby during the time of her pregnancy.
As the Talmud states, “The one who brings up a child is called parent, not the one who merely begot the child. (Sh’maot Rabbah 46)” I am absolutely convinced of this. Perhaps, Jewish law or other Jews may not agree, but as a mother, adoption absolutely does fulfill the mitzvah “be fruitful and multiply”. Why? Because you are giving life, so to speak, to a person who may have never known someone to call mom or dad.
When a baby, toddler, young person, teen, (domestic or international) is given the love and security of a parent or parent(s), this is multiplying – happiness, the way others are treated, dignity, respect. Those who adopt make a conscious choice. The process is often difficult for others to understand: the hoops, the waiting, the fear, the agencies, the travel, the understanding of others that maternity (or paternity) leave really is necessary (the bonus - we don’t have to worry our co-workers about missing work for morning sickness or bed rest), lack of medical history, waiting for finalization or authority to travel, timing, and though I hate this - the costs.
You are not adding another soul to this earth (again the concern of over-population), but you are raising a child whose soul will be enriched and enlivened, because of the way you have chosen to become "fruitful and multiply". Jewish tradition teaches, “Whoever raises an orphaned boy or girl in his house, Scriptures considers as though actually bearing the child. (Megillah 13a)” Be fruitful and multiply, not from the womb – but from the heart which is also a link to the mind, a conscious choice. Referring back to the first text - you are the parent.
A parent is given the blessing of a child who can make a difference in this world – no matter if born of the womb or heart – and with your guidance and values, may bring healing to the pain, suffering, poverty, and darkness. You become a role model, teacher, and you are his/her parent; the one who helps to shed light on the issues of the world and and hope to others. You are able to partner with God – what better demonstration of belief is there? You have acted B'zelem Elohim, in God's image, by breathing life into this child. He/she is a gift from God. Many of my friends and colleagues of all faiths, my congregants who have come to me when considering adoption or when they are in the waiting stage will tell you there is no better gift. There are also Reform Jewish Respona which address this very issue.
While Jewish faith and tradition encourage us to have bitachon—trust and faith in God and in Divine Providence and protection—this does not mean that we are free from any and all personal responsibility for our actions and their consequences. Mussar authorities wrote often of the tension and balance between bitachon (trust in God) and hishtadlut (human initiative). The famous dictum, “ein somkhin al ha-nes”, that we are not to rely on miracles, bids us to do first all that is humanly and personally possible and only then to trust in God. That's why Noah built such a big ark--even though it was too small to house all the animals (see commentary of Nachmanides), and that is why the Midrash claims that following the exodus from Egypt Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the Reed Sea and proceeded until he almost drowned before God split it for the Israelites.
However, concerns about children affecting “standard of living” and “ruining God’s gifts” need to be evaluated. If standard of living means less luxuries, less vacations, and less discretionary income, then it is important to weigh “standard of living” against the gifts of life, family, the future of the Jewish people, its values and its mission. Standard of living would need to be weighed against the divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply, and the demographic, political, religious and sociological future of the Jewish people which suffers from Negative Population Growth.
Concerns about overpopulation, food shortages, pollution, etc., are more significant. Concerns about the high costs of Jewish education and life in general that make supporting large families economically impossible (not merely inconvenient) are important considerations as well. But in addition to curbing reproduction, might we not invest our intellectual capital and creative resources in developing the technological wherewithal and the economic infrastructure so that we can live more responsibly and productively on this planet while, at the same time, producing “nice Jewish families”?
Adoption is certainly a valid option and, according to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, does fulfill the mandate of procreation. He cites the Talmudic statement, “Whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture considers it as though he had begotten him.” (Sanhedrin 19b, Megillah 19a).
Your concern that “having too many children reduces the standard of living for everyone,” is based an assumption that may be greatly flawed.From the time of Thomas Malthus, people have worried about overpopulation and diminishing resources.Over the past century we have seen populations explode and resources grow.Where depravation exists, it is often a product of distribution and a lack of political will rather than lack of resources.In addition you forget that children may be the greatest natural resource we have.
The balance between the mitzvah of being fruitful and being guardians of the earth is not something that our tradition confronts directly.In general, I would argue that an individual so concerned about the environment, should budget his or her resources accordingly.Such a person could reduce his or her carbon footprint to accommodate his or her children, as well as, take other conservation actions. As for our collective responsibility, I believe we need to do a better job preserving and conserving our resources.We also need to use the tool God gave us, a mind to think, to allow us to solve such problems.
But, if you are concerned about the ethics of brining more children into this world our tradition offers support for the institution of adoption.The Torah in Numbers 3:1 tells us, “These are the generations of Aaron and Moses,” and only mentions the sons of Aaron.Based on this verse the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) teaches us that, “He who teaches the son of his neighbor the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him.” This Talmudic teaching is reinforced through the children of Michal, the daughter of King Saul. When a rabbi state that Michal did not bear the children, but raised them when they were orphaned, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) points out that this comes to teach that, “whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten the child.”According to our tradition, adoption is a wonderful and an important institution that can fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.
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