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 three 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 if they were sterile 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.). Is there a difference between having trouble conceiving and likely being infertile, and knowing for an absolute fact that you cannot have children?

  3. 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 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.

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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, 2014 at 15:03
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    – Double AA
    Feb 11, 2014 at 15:20
  • @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, 2014 at 15:43
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    Well-asked question. Thanks for bringing it to Mi Yodeya! I hope you stick around and enjoy the site.
    – msh210
    Feb 11, 2014 at 16:02
  • @Seeker That doesn't follow. He may have children from elsewhere or take a second wife.
    – Double AA
    Feb 11, 2014 at 16:03

3 Answers 3

  1. The last Lubavicher Rebbe, the Chazon Ish, and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach (to name just a few prominent Rabbis who were never blessed woth children) did not divorce their wives, 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.

  • this answer mentions some other subtleties ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/83/Q1
    – rosends
    Feb 11, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 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.
    – Adám
    Feb 14, 2014 at 1:07
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    @Adám Do you have a source for #2? The Rema I quote seems to disagree explictly.
    – LN6595
    Mar 6, 2018 at 23:23

Rema, Even HaEzer 1:3

וּבַזְּמַן הַזֶּה נָהֲגוּ שֶׁלֹּא לָכֹף עַל זֶה. וְכֵן מִי שֶׁלֹּא קִיֵּם פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה וּבָא לִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה שֶׁאֵינָהּ בַּת בָּנִים, כְּגוֹן עֲקָרָה וּזְקֵנָה אוֹ קְטַנָּה, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁחוֹשֵׁק בָּהּ אוֹ מִשּׁוּם מָמוֹן שֶׁלָּהּ, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמִּדִּינָא הָיָה לִמְחוֹת בּוֹ, לֹא נָהֲגוּ מִכַּמָּה דּוֹרוֹת לְדַקְדֵּק בְּעִנְיַן הַזִּוּוּגִים.

And nowadays, we do not force this [we do not force a person to get married.] And similarly, one who did not fulfill the mitzvah to procreate and came to marry a women who cannot have children, like an infertile women, an old women, or a "ketana" [possibly referring to a women with no menstrual periods], because he desired her or for her money, even though legally we ought to stop this, we have not been accustomed already from many generations to be picky regarding marriage partners

From this Rema we see clearly that a man can marry a totally infertile women despite never having fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation. A women well past menopause (the old women of the Rema's time) is totally unable to have children, no different from the lady with the hysterectomy of today's time.

Of course, CYLOR for practical guidance.

  • is not the ramo saying "that a man can marry", but he should not
    – hazoriz
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:04
  • it seems Even HaEzer 1.8 sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh,_Even_HaEzer.1.8 is more applicable to the OP (then 1.3)
    – hazoriz
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:07
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    @hazoriz To me 1:3 seems more in line with the OP’s true question. The OP considers strong alternatives (marrying and divorcing, marrying a non-Jew). It seems he is looking for the most permissive perspective. If you think otherwise, go ahead and post 1:8 as an answer.
    – LN6595
    Mar 7, 2018 at 18:40

Isn't there an option to adopt a child? If the husband teaches Torah to others, are they not his children? In addition, the Torah refers to the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, as “the descendants of Aaron and Moses.” (Numbers 3:1)

The Talmud explains that although they were in fact Aaron's sons and not Moshe’s, the Torah considers them Moshe’s sons as well because anyone who teaches another Jew Torah is considered as if he had borne him - (Sanhedrin Ibid)

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    So can she marry or not? That was the question.
    – mbloch
    Sep 20, 2018 at 6:29
  • I don't think there is any law that forbids it. Abraham and Sarah were married for years without Yitzchak.
    – Prism
    Sep 20, 2018 at 7:17
  • so your answer should address that point since it is the question. But it should be sourced since we don't know you and what you think is less relevant than the sources you can bring to support your point. This is how this site works. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Sep 20, 2018 at 7:27
  • Also Sarah might not have knows she was infertile. That is the question here, can a woman who knows from the beginning she is infertile still marry?
    – mbloch
    Sep 20, 2018 at 7:28

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