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I have heard it said, "Every Jew must have at least three children (though more is preferable). Two to replace the parents when they die, and at least one more to make up for those lost in the Shoah."

I thought only my parents said this until I read it in a novel recently. I know that to "be fruitful and multiply" is an important value, but articulated like this specifically - is it a popular notion? If so, amongst whom? What is the origin?

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Do you refer to having more children specifically to counteract the Shoah? –  HodofHod Apr 16 '13 at 20:38
    
Yes. As in, "we have to make up for the would-be children of Jews tragically lost in the Holocaust." –  Meliorate Apr 24 '13 at 4:41
    
R' Yehuda Henkin would not give a heter to a couple to use birth control pills regularly until they have two boys and two girls. –  Daniel May 17 '13 at 14:27
    
I've heard this only from a friend, but she said it as if it were a common idea. I have no idea where it came from. –  Charles Koppelman Jun 16 '13 at 4:24
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Upvote this comment if you have not heard of this notion before. –  Double AA Jul 17 '13 at 12:27

2 Answers 2

Yevamot 61b:

Mishnah: One may not desist from reproduction unless he has children. Bais Shamai say two males, Bais Hillel say one male and one female, as it says (Berashis ch. 5) “He created them male and female”

Gemorah: Bais Shamai says: two males. What is the reason for Bais Shamai’s position? We learn from Moshe as it says (Divrai Hayamim 1 ch. 29) “the sons of Moshe: Gershom and Eliezer.” And the reason for Bais Hillel? We learn from the creation of the world. Why does Bais Shamai not learn from the creation of the world? We do not learn what is possible from what is impossible (Rashi explains the opinion of Bais Shamai that it was impossible to create the world with only two males since they could not reproduce. However, now that there is a large population and no lack of women in the world, the mitzvah could be defined as having two sons)

copied from http://www.hochheimer.net/rabbi_audio/Mitzvas%20Peru%20Urvu%20sources%201.pdf

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The Shulhan Arukh itself brings in Even HaEzer 1:5 that a man need only father a son and a daughter, with the caveat that they are both fertile and out live him. However Rav Haim HaLevy Donin writes in his book To Be a Jew p123 that a person should have four. However he does note:

The minimum number of children one must have to fulfill the command is a matter of Rabbinic dispute.

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I would argue that this doesn't really answer the question about whether the idea of having 3 children is a popular notion. –  Daniel Apr 16 '13 at 20:44
    
It's a matter of Rabbinic dispute. That is an answer. There are no sources of which I am aware that specifically say three. I know of two(which is codified in the Sh"A) and have heard an argument for four. –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 16 '13 at 21:05
    
@RabbiMichaelTzadok What is the reasoning for four (just curious)? –  Double AA Apr 17 '13 at 0:13
    
judaism.stackexchange.com/a/450/21 –  Shalom Apr 17 '13 at 0:53
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Two to fulfil "pru urvu", and another two to fulfil "uva'erev al tanach yadecha." –  Shalom Apr 17 '13 at 0:54

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