Sometimes the search terms on Google that bring people to this blog break my heart. “Will God be mad at me if I don’t have kids?” – that question came from an anguished heart. It deserves a reply.
The very first commandment in Genesis has to do with offspring. God says to Adam and Eve:
And God blessed them; and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1:28)
In traditional Jewish law this has been interpreted to mean that every Jewish male has a duty to father children, if he is able.
First: note that the obligation is on the male, not the female. I could speculate about the reasons for that, but I’ll just leave it there. Old-time Judaism was very patriarchal.
As a rabbi in the Reform tradition, I am inclined to look at the qualifier: “if he is able.” Ability, in a modern context, includes the ability to provide financially and emotionally for a child’s healthy development. If a person has serious doubts about their ability to do either of those things, then it seems legitimate for that person to question if parenthood is for them.
At the same time, I feel compelled to note that Jews are a tiny minority in the world. We comprise only 2% of the US population. Out of the world’s population, we are only 0.02% – a tiny, tiny fraction. Every Jewish child is an investment in the Jewish future, a continuation of thousands of years of tradition.
However, your original question, “Will God be mad?” is a little different. God knows what is in your heart, what your true situation is. If you are not able to have children, or to raise them properly, God knows that.
I believe there are many ways to meet the obligation to “be fruitful and multiply.” One is to be part of that famous village that it takes to raise a child:
- Support the synagogues where those children will be educated.
- Volunteer to teach, or to raise funds to support religious school.
- Befriend families. Many are far from grandparents and other family support.
- Nurture other “children” in the community: be welcoming to converts to Judaism.
- Smile and welcome families in services. The noise a child might bring is the sound of the Jewish future.
I believe that this is a mitzvah that can best be addressed as a community. Supporting young parents and growing children is something all of us can do, no matter what our situation.