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In bYevamot 65b there is a discussion as to a woman's mitzvah obligation (or not) to have children. The gemarah cites an episode of a woman who had an (unusually?) painful childbearing experience who was told a woman (in her situation?) is not obligated to bear children. She then, seemingly with permission, goes and drinks something which sterilizes her.

My questions are:

  1. Do any sources cite this story as precedent for contemporary halacha - meaning allowing a woman in a similar situation to sterilize herself (or have a doctor perform a procedure which sterilizes her)
  2. It is common knowledge that most, if not all, women experience pain during childbirth - does the dispensation cited in this story apply only to this woman's unique case or would it apply to any woman who has already born 2 male and 2 female children (as this woman had) and wants to avoid the pain of childbirth?
  3. Do any commentators and/or halachic authorities consider the pain this woman was seeking to avoid as psychological pain (fear/anxiety)?

Full story from Sefaria

יְהוּדָה וְחִזְקִיָּה תְּאוֹמִים הָיוּ, אֶחָד נִגְמְרָה צוּרָתוֹ לְסוֹף תִּשְׁעָה, וְאֶחָד נִגְמְרָה צוּרָתוֹ לִתְחִלַּת שִׁבְעָה. יְהוּדִית, דְּבֵיתְהוּ דְּרַבִּי חִיָּיא, הֲוָה לַהּ צַעַר לֵידָה. שַׁנַּאי מָנַהּ, וַאֲתַאי לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי חִיָּיא, אֲמַרָה: אִתְּתָא מְפַקְּדָא אַפְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה? אֲמַר לַהּ: לָא. אֲזַלָא אִשְׁתְּיָא סַמָּא דַעֲקַרְתָּא.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Ḥiyya’s sons, Yehuda and Ḥizkiyya, were twins, but one of them was fully developed after nine months of pregnancy and one was fully developed at the beginning of the seventh month, and they were born two months apart. Yehudit, the wife of Rabbi Ḥiyya, had birthing pain from these unusual deliveries. She changed her clothes to prevent Rabbi Ḥiyya from recognizing her and came before Rabbi Ḥiyya to ask him a halakhic question. She said: Is a woman commanded to be fruitful and multiply? He said to her: No. She went and drank an infertility potion.

לְסוֹף אִיגַּלַּאי מִילְּתָא. אֲמַר לַהּ: אִיכּוֹ יְלַדְתְּ לִי חֲדָא כַּרְסָא אַחְרִיתָא, דְּאָמַר מָר: יְהוּדָה וְחִזְקִיָּה אַחֵי, פַּזִּי וְטָוִי

Eventually the matter was revealed, and Rabbi Ḥiyya found out about what Yehudit had done. He said to her: If only you had given birth to one more belly for me, i.e., another set of twins. As the Master said: Yehuda and Ḥizkiyya were twin brothers and became prominent Torah scholars, and Pazi and Tavi, Rabbi Ḥiyya’s daughters,

אַחְווֹתָא.

were twin sisters, and became the matriarchs of families of distinguished Torah scholars.

2 Answers 2

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These laws are dealt with in Even Haezer 5:12. The Bach mentions this case. His general opinion is women can only do this if they experience unusual pain. Other authorities disagree. In Jewish Law, mental health is an aspect of health, and may be considered.

But in all these cases, a Rabbi should be consulted before a practical ruling can be decided.

On the Mitzvot of Marital Intimacy and Procreation / Asking a Rabbi 2The generally accepted instruction, as written in most responsa that deal with questions of this sort, is that a rabbi should be consulted on all questions involving contraception and birth control. Since the subject is complex and the consequences are fateful, such questions demand serious consideration. The factors on which the ruling hinges, in short, are: a) the number of children the couple already has – i.e., whether they have already fulfilled the Torah commandment or the rabbinic commandment, and to what degree; b) the man’s age – the more time that has passed since he turned twenty, the harder it is to permit the use of contraception before the fulfillment of the mitzva to procreate; c) the woman’s age – the older she is, the greater the risk that using contraception will end up preventing the couple from having the number of children they desire, or even from fulfilling the Torah commandment; d) the reasons for seeking contraception – they may include physical or mental illness, financial difficulties or psychological issues, the need for personal fulfillment, difficulty with raising children, or prevention of anger and tension; e) the metod of birth control... (source)

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Rav Herschel Schachter deals with this case in an article on family planning (p.21-24)

However, the permissibility of sterilizing a woman through medication is explained by the Talmud to apply only in such a case where the husband will not be prevented thereby from fulfilling his mitzvah of Piryah V'riuyah. Even in that case, the Acharonim debate the nature of this permissibility. Most feel that non-surgical forms of sterilization are not forbidden for women. Some, however, rule that there still exists a rabbinic prohibition which may only be lifted if the woman is known to suffer unusual pain at childbirth. According to this view, this Heter (lenient ruling) is similar to the law allowing violation of rabbinic prohibitions on Shabbos for the sake of a sick person (Choleh She'ein bo Sakona) even though there is clearly no danger of life or limb. "In a situation of pain (tza'ar) the Rabbis did not insist upon the observance of their prohibitions."

Further on the Rav records an opinion cited in the name of the Chasam Sofer that the story cited in Yevamot cannot be used as precedent today because in those times the husband had the option of marrying a second wife to continue his biblical obligation to be fruitful and multiple whereas (according to the predominant opinion) today that option does not exist.

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