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Yeshaya 45:18 says:

כי כה אמר יהוה בורא השמים הוא האלהים יצר הארץ ועשה הוא כוננה לא תהו בראה לשבת יצרה אני יהוה ואין עוד

... it (the world) was not created to be void, to be settled it was formed...

This verse is taken to have Halachic ramifications in the realm of the Mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply (see, for example, Bava Basra 13a and Tos. there).

Is there any point at which we say the world is sufficiently settled, and this concern no longer applies? In today's world, there are concerns of overpopulation in some places. Is this Mitzvah-qualification subject to world population?

  • Despite the context of the pasuk itself, I always got the impression that Chazal/poskim understood this as referring to the person's own feeling, that even if not technically commanded to, a person shouldn't be in a position where they can't get married (context of Tosfos there). Would it suffice as an answer if I can justify this impression? – הנער הזה Oct 6 '14 at 3:35
  • @Matt I'd have trouble imagining how you could get it to not mean what it says (I don't think it is context that you'd be contravening, but simple reading of the words), but I guess if you could show that "לשבת יצרה" does not mean "לשבת יצרה" then that would undermine the assumption of the question. – Y     e     z Oct 6 '14 at 4:15
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Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein shlit'a actually endorses this opinion. (At least theoretically -- when/if we reach a point when the world is suitably "inhabited.")

Article here.

Furthermore, Doniel Ehrenreich reports the following conversation:

I actually once asked R Lichtenstein: What do you think is the significance of the impact of worldwide usage of birth control over the last century in light of lasheves? He said maybe the world is no longer tohu and that therefore this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I assure you the substance was as I remembered it. I was pretty surprised by the answer.

  • Link to Rav Lichtenstein's article is broken, it's now here, and I don't see what you are suggesting he says anywhere in it. Although the quote below is certainly telling, so no -1 – רבות מחשבות Oct 30 '18 at 16:05
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In Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer siman 1 siff 8, the Mechaber as explained by the Beis Shmuel, has multiple levels of chiuv for a person to marry a woman of childbearing capabilities, and what his chiyuv would be to sell a Seffer Torah in order to marry her. If he has kids (i.e. yotzeh pru urvu), or if he does not have kids, or just to get married so as not to live alone and possibly come to aveira. The Beis Shmuel explains that marrying to have more children is only Derabanan and therefore we are not so machmir so we wouldn't force him to marry (back when that was enforced).

Most importantly though is the Ramma who mentions some cases where he should not mary a women of childbearing capabilities, one of them is if he already has many kids and he is afraid that marrying a new woman who will have kids will cause fighting between his children and his wife, than it is allowed to marry a woman who cannot have children.

This is the closest to population planning you will get. Its all on a personal level, which the mitzvah is, personal, not societal. Notice also its only about a new wife, no hetter to be mishamesh bimoch with the childbearing wife, even for fear of yorshim fighting. One more point is he is addressing a real fear of yorshim fighting. Worrying about running out of earth started with Kayin and Hevel and has continued ever since, as of yet it is hard to justify as a real fear, but then we might not need a real fear, just the type of fear that gets people to fight. And land is definitely a good one at that.

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    I'm having trouble seeing what this has to do with my question. – Y     e     z Oct 6 '14 at 4:13
  • The way I understood your question was to what extent does sheves force someone to involve himself in pru urvu. Untill someone is actually mikayem pru urvu, the is no leniency. Past that stage, when a person was mikayem pru urvu and he is up to uli'erev al tanach yadcha then certain cheshbonos can be made for the sake of peace, which is what I wrote. – user6591 Oct 6 '14 at 14:03
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    So then you misunderstood my question. My question was does sheves take into account whether or not the world really needs more people or not. – Y     e     z Oct 6 '14 at 14:55
  • Ah. A taamei mitzvah inquiry? Don't we overlook that type of reasoning? – user6591 Oct 6 '14 at 15:02
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    When the whole statement is a taam? I don't know. This isn't like we are trying to figure out the reason - it says it explicitly. – Y     e     z Oct 6 '14 at 16:15

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