Birth Control by Women

Because women’s birth control does not involve the destruction of seed, Hashkhatat Zera, which constitutes a major transgression, Judaism is relatively permissive when it comes to women using artificial methods of birth control. This attitude finds its origins in Talmudic precedents. We know that Judith, the wife of Rabbi Hiya, not wanting more children sterilized herself by drinking boiled roots.A second reason for this attitude is that women are exempt from the commandment of procreation. That Mitzvah is only for men. Furthermore, the Talmud states that, “Women, whose lives are jeopardized by conception and birth, were not enjoined.” (Meshek Hokhmah to Genesis 9:7 – Rabbi Gold) Still, Rabbinic authorities offer differing opinions as to when and, which methods of contraception are acceptable.

To summarize the diverse views:

-Rashi and Rabbi Meir, and based on their writing, also Rabenu Tam, are lenient, allowing the useof contraception.

-The Sages do not allow any form of artificial contraception without a “Pikuakh Nefesh” (reason) such as endangerment of the life of the mother.

-The most lenient view is that held by Rabbi Luria. According to Luria, as long as normal intercourse takes place, and “…one body derives natural gratification from the other, birth control is permissible.” Based on the precedent set by Judith in Talmudic times, (Yevamot 65 b) women are allowed to take oral contraceptives, but men are not.

Still, most Orthodox authorities following the Sages say, “no” to contraception except in life threatening situations. Maimonides ruled that Judith’s act was “Patur aval Asur”, not punishable or forbidden. Modern Rabbis, like Rabbi Moshe Tendler, states that, “In general, only the health requirements of the wife, both physically and psychologically, can modify the Halakhic disapproval of all contraceptive techniques.” (Pardes Rimonim, 1987)

The word psychological gives latitude to more liberal interpretations.