In an interview for the September issue of British Vogue magazine, Prince Harry interviewed noted primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall (who famously studied chimpanzees for 55 years) and the conversation turned to the need to preserve our planet for the next generation. Harry noted that his travels have allowed him to connect with and appreciate nature, “even before having a child, and hoping to have children.”
“Not too many!” Dr. Goodall said with a laugh. Harry responded: “Two, maximum!”
There is an idea that has gained increased traction in society that 1) The best thing we can do for our planet is have less children and 2) It is wrong/ selfish/ foolish to bring children into the world as it currently exists. This attitude is often associated with those who espouse a commitment to the environment. Earth is over populated. Too many people are fighting over scarce resources. More humans means more pollution and more damage to the planet. A number of celebrities, with millions of “followers” have subscribed to this way of thinking; either questioning whether it is proper to bring children into this world, or declaring that they have no intention of having children until there are major improvements in the environment. In the European Union today, the birth rate is 1.6 children per woman, well below the 2.1 “replacement rate” that is necessary to maintain populations.
But as Jeff Jacoby, columnist for the Boston Globe, points out, if they want to make the world better, the way to do so is not by depriving it of more children. He wrote in his column this week:
It is an inescapable fact of life that to be born is to suffer, to struggle, and to stumble. There has never been an age in which that wasn’t true, and people in most ages have contended with far more daunting fates than a warmer climate: war, famine, slavery, poverty, plague. Not having children may spare theoretical offspring from inheriting a world with terrible problems. But it also denies the world the ultimate resource for fixing those problems — human intelligence, imagination, and grit… Every time parents bring children into a world where things have gone badly wrong, they improve the odds that there will someone to help set things right.
Jacoby quotes the story of the birth of Moshe. At that time most Israelites had stopped having babies: saying why should we have more children subjected to this Egyptian cruelty and oppression? This was Amram’s thinking too, until his daughter Miriam convinced him otherwise. As a result Moshe was born, leader of the Jewish People who facilitated their redemption from Egypt.
On Tisha B’Av some of the most tragic stories are those involving the suffering of children: The tragedy of the children on the ship at sea (Kinah 16 “Zechor Ashar Asah”), the depressing tale of the son and daughter of Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol (Kinah 23 “v’et Navi”), the gruesome story of Doeg Ben Yosef (see Eicha 2:20 and Talmud Yoma 38b). After such destruction and tragedy it might be understandable why some respond by vowing not to bring any more children into a world that is so broken and full of so much pain. And yet our Rabbis (Talmud Yevamot 62a) teach the exact opposite:
אין בן דוד בא עד שיכלו כל נשמות שבגוף:
Moshiach will only come once all souls that have been destined to inhabit physical bodies will do so.
Every child can be viewed as one step closer to the ultimate Redemption. In Israel today the birth rate is 3.1 children per woman, significantly higher than all other comparable developed countries (Mexico is second with a rate of 2.15). The birth rate in Israel is comparable to the "baby boom" in the United States after World War II.
We live in complicated times. Let us respond to these times by valuing the importance of children, for the Jewish People and for all of humanity.