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"Better to marry young and use contraceptives than to have extramarital sex" was the unstated motto of a conference organized by a group of modern Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Don't expect truckloads of diaphragms and birth-control pills earmarked for young, upwardly mobile religious couples to inundate the nation. Nevertheless, the rabbis promised to lend a sympathetic ear to couples who choose to marry but want to delay childrearing in favor of self-realization.
"We understand that the wedding age is getter later," said Rabbi David Stav, spokesman for Tzohar Rabbis, the organization that sponsored the conference. "We believe this is because career-motivated young people are apprehensive about getting tied down with children.
"We are saying that fear of children should not be a reason for delaying marriage."
Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, who led the discussion, said that "Each couple's circumstances will be dealt with discreetly and seriously.
"I understand and support women's need for career development. But strengthening family values in also important.
"We need to find the right balance by encouraging marriage, while at the same time helping the mother develop a career. That means providing child daycare, economic incentives and, in some cases, temporary use of contraceptives, when necessary."
Ariel's comments were part of a vehement attack on Prof. Tzvi Zohar. Zohar aroused controversy in modern Orthodox circles for advocating concubines instead of marriage.
Zohar suggested that young people who are unripe for marriage, but unable to overcome their libido, should set up an arrangement, based on an obscure halachic precedent, in which a single woman would be designated to a single man for the purpose of sexual intercourse. The woman would immerse herself in a ritual bath (mikveh) beforehand, as dictated by Halacha.
"Hiding behind claims of scientific objectivity, Zohar irresponsibly opened the way for wanton behavior," said Ariel.
"Our duty as rabbis is to encourage the holy institution of marriage, not to ape the licentiousness of the Western world, which puts individuals' satisfaction before everything else. That's why Europe has negative population growth."
In principle, the use of contraceptives by a married couple without children is opposed to Jewish law. However, rabbis, including Ariel, have taken into account various considerations, such as career, economics and health, to permit their temporary use.
Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, chairman of the Chief Rabbinate's Marital Council, agreed in principle with Ariel.
"We can't just bury our heads in the sand and pretend nothing has changed," said Arussi. "There has been a serious spiritual deterioration among all of us.
"Like secular people, our own youths live lustful lives without marriage. We must devote more time and energy to education. And in some cases, under the supervision of a rabbi, contraceptives can be used."
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