Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar on Wednesday denounced the notion that economic considerations justify having fewer children, which he said is becoming "more common" even among the Orthodox.
Medical problems and even severe mental distress may be legitimate reasons for not having more babies, but financial concerns should not be, as God provides for every child, said Amar at the sixth annual Puah Institute conference in Jerusalem.
Amar, who just married off his 19-year-old daughter a week ago, told an audience of more than 1,400 participants - an equal number of men and women but completely separated by dividers - that many Jews have "gotten scared" by the economic burden of having a large family.
"Our generation wants it easy; they don't want to exert themselves. They say they need a room for each child, that it's expensive to send them to school, but if Abraham and Sarah had worried about this and about their advanced age, they never would have had Isaac, and the whole Jewish People would not be here today," Amar declared.
He noted that Jews haven't become more numerous since the end of the Holocaust six decades ago due to intermarriage, assimilation, late marriage and low birthrates. "There were 70 souls who went down into Egypt, and 210 years later, there were millions who left for the Land of Canaan. They were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, and life wasn't easy, but they nevertheless had many children and multiplied," Amar said, adding that conditions in modern day Israel cannot be compared with the hardships in Egypt.
Amar also denounced the thousands of abortions, illegal and legal, carried out each year for socio-economic reasons or convenience, not because of medical dangers to the mother. "A fetus is small, but its spirit is large. A fetus must not be killed for socio-economic reasons," he said.
As the subject of the conference was women's health, Amar discussed the issue of older women becoming pregnant either naturally or with medical intervention by infertility specialists.
"Older women who have no children and want them should seek fertility treatment," he said, "while older women who already have children and want more should not be ashamed. They should go for help, too, if there are no medical problems that preclude it. Children bring light into the home at any age," he said.
"Having more children is the order of the day. Older parents," he added, "often make better parents than young ones because they have experience, wisdom and patience."
The chief rabbi noted that "some of our great political and military leaders might never have been born, because their parents were considering not having another child or getting an abortion. Their births were miracles. Believe in God, and making a living will follow."
The 12-hour conference, convened at Ulamei Nof in Jerusalem's Bayit Vagan quarter, invited not only leading rabbis to speak but also the most authoritative medical experts in the field, most of them not Orthodox.
The annual conference is always held during the week before the reading of the Torah Portion of Shmot, which deals with Pharoah's decree of death for male babies born to the Israelites.
But Puah and Shifra, the two Jewish midwives, saved infants.
The Puah Institute counsels couples on fertility, gynecology, women's health and marital purity and holds courses for rabbis, bridal counselors, in-vitro fertilization supervisors and ritual bath staffers.