Friday, October 20, 2006

why are women not obligated in peru u'revu?

Why is the mitzvah of pirya v'rivya, having children, commanded to men and not women? I heard an interesting explanation in the name of the Meshech Chochma to the effect that since childbirth inherently is dangerous, the Torah could not command women to enter into a sakanah. I am unable to understand this. The Minchas Chinuch writes that certain mitzvos inherently force a person to assume a high level of risk. The Torah commands the mitzvah of milchama, fighting a war, despite the inevitable loss of life. The mitzvah of milah is commanded despite the inevitable danger any surgerical procedure poses to an 8 day old child. So why would it be inconceivable for the Torah to command pirya v'rivya directly to women even considering the risk pregnancy poses to the mother's life?
I heard this explanation cited in the name of the Meshech Chochma, but was unable to find it. When I queried the person who said it over, he admitted to not being able to find it either, but had heard it from two Roshei Yeshiva who are reliable sources; however, one apparently also admitted that he had never found it inside himself.... so does anyone have a written source for this?


  1. Anonymous9:45 AM

    I can't help you with a cite for the meshech chochmah offhand (though I have some recollection of the idea as well). And I am familiar with the minchas chinuch about milchamah as well (though for what it is worth, the quoted idea from the R'Meir Simcha is consistent with the Chinuch itself which the minchas chinuch is puzzled by, in which the Chinuch does not require to endanger yourself to be mekayem basically a mitzvah of war, ve-ein kan mekomo). With all that said, R'Moshe ztl in his teshuva re: induction of labor writes be-feirush that uninduced childbirth is not to be viewed as being putting oneself in a sakana -- because that is the way HKBH designed the world to continue and therefore there is an implicit havtacha that it will be ok (all of this notwithstanding that we treat the yoledes as a cholah she-yesh bah sakanah). R'Moshe is generally against induction because when it is not a naturally occuring labor, then the implicit havtacha concept does not apply. SO at least R'Moshe would say that the idea from the Meshech Chochmah would not answer the basic quesiton.

  2. Anonymous12:54 PM

    Its not that the Torah will not require people to do things that are inherently risky, as you pointed out. Rather, the Torah is less likely to require people to do things that are trouble for them. For instance, in Makkos, 11A, Abaya says that if someone who is already in Eer Miklat is not required to remain there when the Kohen Gadol dies, KcH the Torah wouldn't require someone who hasn't made the schlep there yet. The assumption here is that the Torah is less likely to obligate someone in something if it is trouble for them.

  3. I do not think that is pshat in the kal v'chomer you are quoting. Its not a measure of tircha, but more like the din thata father cannot seel his daughter post age 12 - if one who is already sold goes free, kal v;chomer one who is not yet sold, etc. If one who is already in ir miklat is freed, kla v'chomer one who has not yet gone there. The Torah obligates us to do many things that seem quite a bit of trouble.

  4. Remember that even as late as a hundred years ago, childbirth was extremely dangerous to the mother because of the likelihood of infections and hemorrhaging. Every women, each time she gave birth, was in imminent danger of death; IIRC, childbirth was the leading cause of death in women up until the 19th century CE, in those instances where statistics are available. This can not be said even of soldiers in war, much less of infant boys receiving brit milah.

  5. Anonymous11:00 AM

    There is an intrisic difference between milcames mitzvah/milah and p'ru urvu in the sense that placing oneself in sakanoh by the former is an essential part of the mitzvah whereas by the latter the primary mitzvah is to have children and a possible sakano would override it.I don't undrstand however assuming that there is a sakono in pregnancy how may a women endager her life for it,particularly if she has no mitzvah to do so?

  6. Anonymous10:00 AM


    If tircha is not the pshat, what is? Why is someone already in Ir Miklat more Chamor and one not more Kal? (its Makkos 11B BTW)

  7. >>>If tircha is not the pshat, what is? Why is someone already in Ir Miklat more Chamor and one not more Kal?

    You stuck in the word tircha, the gemara didn't. I gave you a similar example by mechiras bas to be a shifcha. It death of a kohein frees someone who is already imprisoned, it makes sense that someone not imprisoned should not be sent there because there is amnesty.

    Kishnevi - you are assuming that the din of pikuach nefesh is nidche by milchama only up to a certain quantitative threshold, and childbirth passes even that threshold. Aside from the statistical question of whether that is correct, there is a major debate whether your conceptual assumption is true. One of the issues which underlay the debate between R' Ahron Lichtenstein and R' Shapira regarding surrendering territory is whether there is a threshold of loss of life beyond which we are exempt even from milchama, or the enitire parsha ofd milchama is mufka from pikuach nefesh calculations.

  8. R. Chaim--The statistical assumption was true during the time of Chazal, and remained (in general) true until the 19th century, when mortality rates from childbirth began to decline and mortality rates among soldiers from warfare began to climb sharply, both the result of technological advances. (I differentiate soldiers because, presumably the mitzvah of milchamah would apply only to them, and also because the death rate of civilians during war has always been very high, unlike that of the soldiers who killed them.) If women were exempted from p'ru v'uvru because of pikuah nefesh considerations, then the changed circumstances--that childbirth is much less dangerous now than it was in former times--would suggest that they are now not exempt. And that suggests to me in its turn that the exemption from p'ru v'uvru is based on other reasons.

  9. Anonymous1:39 PM

    Even if the reason for womens exemption from p'ru u'rvo was due to a no longer relevant sakana,they would still be exempt today as the gezeras hakusov that exempts them(always the primary reason) does not change.

  10. Anonymous10:43 PM

    Kishnevi: Your reasoning would abrogate other mitzvot as well. If purported reasons were paramount, then women who are not married and do not have children for whatever reason would be obligated for time-bound mitzvot, since the reason given is that their primary attention must be to their spouse/children

  11. Yes, the Meshech Chochmah does suggest such an idea - here:

    I hear your question. (Milah, though, is controversial nowadays :P) We do find precedent of exemption due to danger: child whose brothers died bc of milah, woman whose husbands died regarding yibum, etc.. It seems the Torah is a bit choosy.

    What bothers me regarding the Meshech Chochmah is that the Torah nevertheless commanded man in peru urevu. I know the danger is to a man's wife, and there is no personal danger, but the Torah should decide whether children is something to be promoted or not. It is bizarre to sanction it only from the man's side.

    I hope you will see this despite the old post. If there is no response, I will email you.