Birth control in Jewish law: One rabbi says condoms might be OK

"We need to know that the use of condoms is possibly relevant even when there is no danger to the woman if she gets pregnant and only if birth control is permitted for her spouse."

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February 10, 2019 23:01
3 minute read.
Durex condoms are seen in a photo illustration in Manchester, Britain, July 31, 2018.

Durex condoms are seen in a photo illustration in Manchester, Britain, July 31, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE)

 
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Rabbi Saul David Bochko released an article that once again brought up the halachic debate surrounding whether birth control measures, specifically the use of condoms, are permitted by Jewish religious law. The article garnered a variety of responses, both for and against the rabbi’s decision.

Bochko, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Kokhav Yaakov, published the article, “Birth Control in Halacha,” in a collection of works by rabbis in the Tzohar organization.

“In my position as a rabbi, I realized how much of a central and troubling issue birth control is, and there are women for whom the accepted forms of birth control aren’t suitable and the use of condoms is a suitable outlet for them,” he wrote in the paper. “This realization caused me to search for an opening for allowing [their use] within the framework of halacha.”

He clarified that concerning the prohibition of wasting seed, taking hormones is the preferred way to go.

“We need to know that the use of condoms is possibly relevant even when there is no danger to the woman if she gets pregnant and only if birth control is permitted for her spouse,” Bochko wrote. Therefore, he says, “initially, if one of the other ways of birth control is suitable for the woman (i.e., hormones, a intrauterine device (IUD), etc.) then it’s preferable to use one of these instead of condoms – out of respect for the great religious arbitrators who ruled that the use of condoms is forbidden. If the other ways of birth control don’t work for the woman, it seems to me that it is permitted to use condoms, even if the woman’s life is not in danger if she gets pregnant.”

In a later response to critics of the article, Bochko wrote that his ruling was directed toward “saving couples from a turbulent household.”

In an interview with Srugim, Bochko said, “I think that we need to bring autonomy to the life of every person.”

Bochko wasn’t interested in the article being circulated. His goal was to show an alternative for couples who already are permitted to use birth control.

“A woman who doesn’t want to take pills, or thinks that she doesn’t want to take hormones because she thinks that it’s harmful to her health, or she doesn’t want an IUD or it causes her to bleed, needs to know that if these ways aren’t suitable for her, then there is another solution,” he said.

According to Bochko, later religious authorities held that birth control by men is different than birth control by women, but he holds that “in essence, there is no difference.” He clarified that he respects other opinions and that many religious authorities forbid birth control measures for men and hold that these measures are considered wasted seed, and he indicated that his opinion is the only one that disagrees.

Bochko brought as an example a couple who called him when they had a three-month exemption from relations for the sake of having children, and they asked the rabbi for another three months. Bochko asked them why they didn’t call the first rabbi who gave them the three-month exemption. They answered that they were worried that he wouldn’t give them another exemption. In this case, the rabbi lays out his central idea: “The couple doesn’t need to explain to the rabbi all of their psychological and personal details. This isn’t the rav’s business to judge their intimate lives. The couple needs to receive the halachic picture and to receive an ‘adult decision.’”

Bochko stressed that a rabbi is not a psychologist and sometimes personal, intimate stories are things that “aren’t nice to hear.” We need to bring people who ask questions like the aforementioned couple “autonomy for their lives,” to tell them that there is a great commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and only in unusual cases is there a permit to use birth control. And then after showing the halachic picture: that it’s preferable to take hormones and use an IUD, and a third preference that is possible is birth control for men. It is on the couple to take on the permission for birth control and to decide on how to use that permission.

Bochko’s words are nothing new, but they set off a storm of social and religious discussions due to a post written about the article.

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