Family Planning in the Jewish Religion

In the Jewish religion, sex is viewed as both a means of procreation and as a way of expressing love and solidifying the ties between married partners. Family planning can involve most forms of birth control, although some Jewish people may choose to avoid those forms of contraceptives that have been banned by the Torah.

Sex Before Marriage
Like the Roman Catholic Church, Jewish laws (halacha) state that pre-marital sex is forbidden. However, some Jewish sects, both conservative and liberal, have started to change their stance on this issue. Some groups have begun to take steps to discern between those pre-marital relations that involve non-committed partners who are promiscuous and those relationships that are considered to be meaningful, committed and sacred to the individuals involved. For these groups, sex within a committed, non-married relationship is more acceptable than promiscuous sex. The reason for the change in attitude is likely due to the increase in couples choosing to co-habitat before they get married.

Of course, this is not to say that all Jewish followers hold this view. According to the laws of the Torah, Orthodox Jews are prohibited from having sex before marriage and abstinence holds true. In fact, they choose to not touch at all before their marriage night.

Sex Within Marriage
Having sex within marriage is viewed as a sanctified act by the Jewish religion. According to the Torah, marriage is the essential channel through which individuals can obtain companionship, intimacy and love. While sex can most certainly be for procreation purposes, it is also meant to help strengthen the bonds between spouses. Therefore, a married couple is free to have sex specifically for the sake of enjoying each other and expressing love for one another; the possibility of a child does not always have to be considered when having sex.

However, Jewish laws say that sex should be avoided from the start of a woman's menstrual cycle (the first day she bleeds) through to the seventh day after her bleeding has stopped, at which time she must purify herself through a ritual bath, known as a mikvah. Although this is outlined in Jewish law, nowadays only a minority of Jews, most of whom are Orthodox, strictly follow this law.

Birth Control
Jewish couples may use certain forms of birth control if they wish. However, because the Torah has been interpreted to say that a Jewish man should have at least one son and one daughter, Jewish law states that men should not destroy or waste their "seed" (sperm). For this reason, barrier methods of contraception, vasectomies, and the withdrawal method are discouraged (although a condom may be used if its intended purpose is to protect against STDs). Use of hormonal forms of birth control, including the birth control pill, as well as Natural Family Planning methods, are acceptable in the Jewish religion, but only in certain instances.

Jewish law permits the use of birth control in young women and those women who are nursing as well as those couples who already have at least one boy and one girl. In practice, though, the majority of Jews, primarily those who are non-Orthodox, use whatever type of birth control that they prefer, regardless of whether their method "wastes seed." Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, are much more likely to follow Jewish laws when it comes to birth control. However, there are some Orthodox Jewish people that do not believe in the use of birth control at all, as they feel that only God can decide for them how big (or small) their family should be.

Abortion
Unlike the Catholic religion, which believes life starts at conception, the Jewish religion dictates that a child is not human until the head emerges from the womb. Therefore, the act of abortion is acceptable, but only under certain circumstances. For Jewish people, abortion is never okay if it is done because of a genetic problem with the fetus. On the other hand, if the mother's life or health is at risk, then abortion may be permissible.

In general, the Jewish religion does support a woman's right to access abortion but believes that each and every case must be assessed by a rabbi. Furthermore, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform Jews and some Orthodox sects are officially opposed to government involvement and regulation of abortion. In their opinion, the decision to have an abortion should be made by the woman with the assistance of her husband, her doctor and her clergyperson.

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