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I've been doing some research, and I found a lot of references to the rule that if a marriage lasts 10 years and does not produce any children, the couple must divorce and remarry in a new attempt to have children. This raised two questions in my mind, which I was unable to find the answers to despite research attempts:

  1. Is this still a rule practiced in modern times? If not, when did this change (and what justification was given for the change)?

  2. In the past, one could only guess (perhaps sometimes with a high degree of confidence) if they were infertile or just hadn't yet had a child for whatever reason. But now we have science which can, in certain cases, confirm that it is impossible for a woman to have children. (The most extreme example: if she has had a hysterectomy.). There is a difference between having trouble conceiving and likely being infertile (in which case my research seems to show that you should keep trying and hope G-d will bless you with a child) and knowing for an absolute fact that you cannot have children (hysterectomy, or a few other medical conditions where conceiving is an impossibility). So my question is, if a woman is entirely certain that she cannot have children, does that mean she cannot marry? Or that she may, but the marriage can only last 10 years (dependent upon the answer to #1). This seems silly though, as the 10 year period seems to exist to give enough time for the couple to try to conceive, and in this case they already know going into it that they can't. Of course the woman should disclose this fact to her future husband, but I read that producing children is the husband's responsibility and that he flouts Jewish law if he has none. So would such a woman be barred from marrying because she would prevent her husband from carrying out his duty to have children? (Or could/should she marry a non-Jew, who has no such restrictions? Or could adoption fulfill this requirement?) I also read that the primary purpose of marriage is not procreation, but love and companionship and partnership for the married couple. These two ideas seem to be at odds in the case of a woman who cannot have children. So what would happen?

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The original rule is if he doesn't have kids after 10 years, he should marry another wife. – Double AA Feb 11 '14 at 15:03
@double Thanks for the link. So, following that rule, if the woman knows she can't have children, she knows they will be divorced in 10 years. So is it wrong to knowingly enter into a marriage that will end in 10 years without question? – Seeker Feb 11 '14 at 15:43
Well-asked question. Thanks for bringing it to Mi Yodeya! I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. – msh210 Feb 11 '14 at 16:02
@Seeker That doesn't follow. He may have children from elsewhere or take a second wife. – Double AA Feb 11 '14 at 16:03

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted
  1. The last Lubavicher Rebbe did not divorce his wife, as we have not forced divorces after ten years, at least for half a millennium. I am not sure what the reasoning was for the change – if there ever was a change. It may be that rule has always just been taken to justify divorce.

  2. A undisputably infertile woman can still get married; either to an undisputably infertile man, or to a man who already has children, and therefore is not depending on this woman to fulfill his obligation.

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this answer mentions some other subtleties – Danno Feb 11 '14 at 19:02
Also, the Chazon Ish didn't have children and didn't divorce AFAIK. Though who am I to divine why. I imagine you could find many more modern examples. As to why, I don't know. – Eliyahu Feb 11 '14 at 22:17
Thanks for the answer! I think it's also important to note what is mentioned in the link in @Danno's comment--adoption counts as having children. So an infertile woman could marry a man, it being both their first marriages and neither of them already having children, and if they adopted they would still be compliant. – Seeker Feb 13 '14 at 23:30
@Seeker However, that is one one view, and not accepted universally. While one should seek advise from his rabbi, I would not rely on that opinion initially, to allow an infertile woman marrying a fertile man, but instead use it as last resort to avoid a divorce. – NBZ Feb 14 '14 at 1:07

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