Hasidic Women Feel Pressure for Children, But Fathers Fret About Providing

No Easy Way for Observant Dads To Limit Family Size

A Father’s Burden: The ultra-Orthodox population in Brooklyn has skyrocketed in recent years because of large families.
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A Father’s Burden: The ultra-Orthodox population in Brooklyn has skyrocketed in recent years because of large families.

By Shulem Deen

Published March 22, 2013.
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After our fourth child I tried again to reason with her, to no avail. She cried that she would feel naked if she wasn’t either pregnant or pushing a baby stroller. “People will look at me funny,” she said. I sympathized. Who wants to be looked at funny?

After our fifth, I used the nuclear option. We wouldn’t have sex unless we settled the matter.

And so my wife agreed for me to ask a rabbi outside of our own community, who, I had heard, granted permission easily.

“What is the problem?” the rabbi wanted to know when I went to see him in the basement study of his Monsey ranch house. Large photos of Lithuanian sages graced the walls, as if to remind both rabbi and supplicant who was the real authority in the room.

The problem, I told the rabbi, was that I didn’t think it sensible to keep having children without a proper financial plan. I was stressed with the burden of providing for five. How was I going to provide for six, 12, or 17?

The rabbi tapped his fingers impatiently on his desk. “Parnose kumt fun himl,” he said in Litvish-accented Yiddish. Sustenance comes from heaven. Such matters were not the concern of mortals.

This was unexpected. I had been told this rabbi was easy. This was easy?

But I wouldn’t leave without a dispensation. And so I lied. I told the rabbi that my wife couldn’t take it any longer, that she was emotionally and physically spent, and that she needed a break. I told him that she was suffering from depression and a variety of other ailments.

None of that was true. But now it was easy.

“If your wife is stressed, that’s a different matter,” the rabbi said, and he shook his head with a gravely sympathetic expression. “That isn’t good for the marriage and it isn’t good for the children. And it isn’t good for you either,” he added with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.


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