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In Genesis 1, Humans are given a blessing to procreate and multiply, to fill the Earth and subdue it. This is traditionally interpreted as the first commandment G-d gave to humans.

  1. Main question: if this is in fact a commandment, then does it still apply after humanity has spread all around the Earth, and could have been said to have subdued it to such an extent that animal species are going extinct faster than ever? This has serious implications now that we have 9 billion people, because if the population of the world were to decline, humanity would face much smaller issues with resource depletion, overfishing, garbage, pollution, climate change, and so on. At some point, is the size of the population allowed to go backwards, and can people on the Earth (Noahides especially) start using birth control methods?

  2. From where do we get that one must have at least two children, or even child one of each sex?

  3. Also, why is the commandment considered to be given only to men? Is it because in Genesis 2, man was created first? But in Genesis 1, where this blessing appears, we just read that both male and female were created. So wouldn't the commandment apply to both equally?

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    AFAIK Noachides are not obligated in Pru Urevu - they may have a lesser command but that prob wouldn't require more than one child - not sure though.
    – AKA
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 19:56
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    I think the "main question" is unconnected enough from the rest that this should be split into two questions.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 2:09
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    Citation needed that, at 9 billion, population reduction is the only way to reduce any of the above mentioned issues. Until that is proven, we have no reason to use this as a kashe to the purpose of the mitzva
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 12:47
  • 1. Nonsense 2. Yevamois 6:6 and how many children is a machloikes between beis Hillel and beis shamai 3. Logically women don't need to be commanded to have children
    – Dude
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 9:19

3 Answers 3

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  1. Yes. It does still apply.

A good starting point is the first mitzvah detailed in the Sefer HaChinuch:

משרשי מצוה זו, כדי שיהיה העולם מישב (גיטין מא, ב במשנה), שהשם ברוך הוא חפץ בישובו, כדכתיב: (ישעיהו מה יח) לא תהו בראה לשבת יצרה. והיא מצוה גדולה שבסבתה מתקימות כל המצות בעולם, כי לבני אדם נתנו ולא למלאכי השרת (ברכות כה, ב).

It is from the roots of this commandment (i.e the reason behind this commandment) that the world should be settled (Gittin 41b) because God wants the world to be settled, as it says (Isaiah 45:18), "I did not create it for naught, but [rather] formed it for habitation." This is a great commandment, through which all the commandments are observed, as [the Torah] was given to people and not to the ministering angels (Berachos 25b).

In other words, this command is predicated on a Divine will to populate Hashem’s world. The Torah was given directly to mankind and so G-d needs there to be people to fulfil its precepts.

It therefore follows that raising children is to be regarded as one of the greatest blessings that G-d can bestow upon us, something that the Shelah Hakadosh (Shaar Osios, Derech Eretz 23) refers to as “an essential and major principle”.

Indeed, Rambam goes as far to say that one should strive to have as many children as they can, since each new child is like building a whole world! He writes in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ishus 15:16:

אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁקִּיֵּם אָדָם מִצְוַת פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה הֲרֵי הוּא מְצֻוֶּה מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים שֶׁלֹּא יִבָּטֵל מִלִּפְרוֹת וְלִרְבּוֹת כָּל זְמַן שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ כֹּחַ. שֶׁכָּל הַמּוֹסִיף נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּאִלּוּ בָּנָה עוֹלָם

Although a man has fulfilled the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, he is bound by a Rabbinic commandment not to refrain from being fruitful and multiplying as long as he is physically potent. For anyone who adds a soul to the Jewish people is considered as if he built an entire world.

[Please note I will not discuss the topic of birth control as it is beyond the scope of this answer and requires the advice of a LOR for each individual case.]

  1. The starting source is a mishnah in Yevamos 61b:

מַתְנִי׳ לֹא יִבָּטֵל אָדָם מִפְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן יֵשׁ לוֹ בָּנִים. בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים: שְׁנֵי זְכָרִים, וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בְּרָאָם״.

MISHNA: A man may not neglect the mitzva to be fruitful and multiply unless he already has children. Beit Shammai say: One fulfills this mitzva with two males, and Beit Hillel say: A male and a female, as it is stated: “Male and female He created them” (Genesis 5:2).

  1. As far as why it is the man's command is due to several reasons. A good rundown of the reasons can be found here.

The Gemara famously in Yevamos 65b mentions that the reason why the command lies with the man is because:

אָמַר רַבִּי אִילְעָא מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן: אָמַר קְרָא: ״וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשׁוּהָ״. אִישׁ דַּרְכּוֹ לְכַבֵּשׁ, וְאֵין אִשָּׁה דַּרְכָּהּ לְכַבֵּשׁ.

Rabbi Ile’a said in the name of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon: The verse states: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land and conquer it” (Genesis 1:28). It is the manner of a man to conquer and it is not the manner of a woman to conquer. Consequently, it is evident that the entire command, including the mitzva to be fruitful and multiply, was given only to men and not to women. (Sefaria translation & notation)

When referring to the mishnah in Yevamos 6:6 which details the debate as to who the obligation lies with. The Bartenura's comment helps shed some light on the remark of the Gemara:

האיש מצווה על פריה ורביה ולא האשה – as it is written (Genesis 1:28): “Be fertile and increase, [fill the earth] and master it,” and [the word] "כבשה" is written without a “VAV.” It is the way for a man to conquer the woman; he is commanded on “being fertile and increase.”

To put it differently, since the man plays the "dominant" role in the act of intimacy it is specifically his command. Since the women has less control in the matter it is accordingly beyond her remit.

The Torah Temimah in his commentary on Bereishis 1:28 largely rejects this approach and looks at it from a more wholesale perspective. Much like what we said in answer 1, the whole point of the command of peru urevu is to populate the world. Settling the world with war and conflict is an innately male role, a position that is against the natural instincts of a woman. The author writes:

Rejecting this approach, the Torah Temimah (commentary to Bereishis 1:28) argues that the mitzvah to procreate is part of the larger mandate to conquer and settle the earth (we can add that man is charged with raising the world to the elevation that humanity can bring it), and procreation is essential for achieving this. An exemption from conquering the earth, which does not fit with the female nature, entails an exemption from settling and filling it through childbirth – for the two go together.

Finally, a third perspective is that of the Meshech Chochmah who remarks on the following verse in Bereishis 9:7:

וְאַתֶּ֖ם פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֑וּ שִׁרְצ֥וּ בָאָ֖רֶץ וּרְבוּ־בָֽהּ

Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.

Says the Meshech Chochmah:

"Be fruitful and multiply, etc." It is not far-fetched to say that the reason the Torah exempted women from the mitzvah of Pru U'Rvu and obligated only men is because the laws of Hashem and His ways "...are pleasant and all of his paths peaceful" (Mishlei 3:17) and he did not amass on a Jewish person what the body cannot tolerate.

So according to this approach, women would be obligated in the mitzvah but due to the risk involved in childbirth, women are exempt from the obligation.

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    This is a detailed answer to part of the question, but I think it gives short shrift to what the OP calls the "main question": If the Torah says that the mitzvah is מִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ, "fill the earth and conquer it", is it possible that a stage can be reached where that has been done? And is it reasonable that such a stage has been reached already? Interesting question.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 2:08
  • "It does still apply" Maybe, or maybe a [virtually] identical mitzva replaced it judaism.stackexchange.com/a/66842/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 15:42
  • Thanks for this. This whole answer is predicated on the idea that mitzvot exist for a preceding "higher" purpose, which is something challenged from many sources. Understandably, that approach makes it a little hard to answer the question, so don't view this comment as a complaint at your answer!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 12:59
  • Hi @RabbiKaii - thank you for your feedback. I don't really understand what you're saying. A mitzvah by definition is an act commanded in G-d's Torah - if that is not for a "higher" purpose then what is?
    – Dov
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 13:45
  • You are welcome @Dov , your answer here is like all your answers - amazingly sourced, explained and teaches everyone who reads it many important matters in a clear way. I don't follow your definition of "higher" purpose. I mean, we shouldn't say "Hashem commanded X because it achieves Y". X itself is the achievement, the goal, the Ratzon Elyon. If it also achieves Y, that's one of the fruit of the mitzva, but the mitzva precedes the creation. If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to start up a chat.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:08
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Also there in Bereishis, mankind is given a separate commandment to take care of the earth and protect it.

Logically, the spread of mankind is not synonymous with the depletion of resources and the extinction of species. The latter is more of the result of mismanagement of resources and, perhaps more often, outright exploitation of them.

It's mankind's abuse of the earth, not necessarily the inhabitance of it, that's the problem. Even if the population growth was reduced, those environmental problems could very well still be present.

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As for your main concerns I think the above answers are satisfactory, however you seem to lack a basic understanding of why we must give birth to children.

The world was created for Adam and Eve, and that was gonna be it, there was no need for them to have children since they were going to live forever. After they sinned, and brought death to the world, they needed to have children in order that the world should always be populated. When the Messiah comes, and the sin of Adam will be rectified, since there will be no death in the world anymore, there will be no reason to reproduce (Arukh HaShulchan YD 246:45, OC 34:9, 426:1).

I hope this gave you a better insight into 'why we do what we do'.

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  • I checked all the references you gave to the Arukh Hashulchan. He says NOTHING to the effect that when the Messiah comes, there will be no death in the world anymore, nor that there will be any reason anymore to reproduce. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 8:21
  • Do you think that the Torah's command of פרו ורבו have an expiration date? If you think that yes, then you need to provide a Torah source for such a notion. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 9:53
  • Thank you for looking up the sources, and taking to the time to clarify any misunderstandings. The Aruch Hashulchan in YD 246:45 writes שמחת נישואין הוא מפני שהאדם קיים במין ולא באיש, ואלמלא היה האדם חי לעולם – לא היה צריך לישא אשה ולהוליד בנים. And in OC 246:1 לעתיד לבוא, יתוקן חטא אדם הראשון. I think from here it is clear that when mashiach comes, since the sin of Adam will be rectified, there will be no death, therefore there will be no reason to reproduce. It is clear from his words, that Pru Urvu will expire when mashiach comes. I hope I managed to answer all of your queries! Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 19:56

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