The Jewish view on birth control currently varies between the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism. Among Orthodox Judaism, use of birth control has been considered only acceptable for use in limited circumstances. Conservative Judaism, while generally encouraging its members to follow the traditional Jewish views on birth control has been more willing to allow greater exceptions regarding its use to fit better within modern society. Reform Judaism has generally been the most liberal with regard to birth control allowing individual followers to use their own judgment in what, if any, birth control methods they might wish to employ.
Regulations regarding contraception affect the traditional streams of Judaism (including, but not limited to the Haredi and Modern Orthodox varieties) more so than others because of their strict adherence to Halakhah, or Jewish law. These regulations affect liberal strains of Judaism (including, but not limited to, the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements; particularly in Western society) much less, where the emphasis is on applying Halakhah to modern life rather than observing it strictly. Many modern Jews feel that the benefits of contraception, be they female health, family stability, or disease prevention, uphold the commandment in Judaism to "choose life" much more strongly than they violate the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply".
Among traditional interpretations of the Torah, active prevention of pregnancy is in violation of the commandment "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:22). Some Rabbinic authorities further consider the possibility (generally not accepted) that a union that by definition cannot lead to pregnancy would amount to "spilling seed", the sin of Onan (Genesis 38:9).
The option of contraception is raised by the Talmud (tractate Yevamot 12b), where the use of a pessary is discussed for women who are too young to get pregnant, presently pregnant, or nursing. In each case either the woman or her child is at risk for serious complications, and this is the basis for many rabbinic authorities permitting contraception in situations where pregnancy would seriously harm the woman. In those cases, the most "natural" method is preferred; as the use of a condom or pessary creates a physical barrier, "the pill" (or an intrauterine device) is preferred by most authorities. Fertility awareness methods (modern improvements over the rhythm method) are difficult to use, because many infertile days coincide with the ritually impure days of niddah. Orthodox rabbis believe that the positive commandment of being fruitful and multiplying is a male obligation. Consequently, wives may choose abstinence as birth control, but husbands are not permitted to decline their wives if they are not in niddah.
Contraceptive measures that lead to sterility, especially male sterility (e.g. through vasectomy), are problematic, and a sterilized man may have to separate from his wife (based on Deuteronomy 23:1).
When Orthodox Jewish couples contemplate the use of contraceptives, they generally consult a rabbi who evaluates the need for the intervention and which method is preferable from a halachic point of view.
The Midrash of Genesis speaks of the origins of oral contraceptives: "In the early time of creation, in the time of Lemech, a medicine was known, the taking of which prevented a woman's conception."
Generally, the introduction of hormonal contraception has not caused the stir in Jewish circles that it caused in other religious groups. It was followed by a number of responsa from rabbinic decisors (poskim) which outlined the proper approach to the new phenomenon. There has been surprisingly little talk of the potential risk of increased promiscuity (z'nut). For example, an innovative use of the combined oral contraceptive pill in Judaism is employed by young brides. The laws of family purity state that intercourse cannot take place while a woman is menstruating (see niddah). In order to decrease the chance of menstruation occurring just before (or on) the wedding night, many brides briefly regulate their periods in the months leading up to their wedding.
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