The Day the Arabs Stopped Using Birth Control

The Day the Arabs Stopped Using Birth Control

Over 1400. That is the number of descendants left behind by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l when he passed away last week at 102. I know this sounds incredible, but if, over the course of 4 generations every family has 6 children, then the number of resulting great-grandchildren is 1300 (actually 1296, get out your calculator, 6 times 6 times 6 times 6. It’s actually true!) By contrast, when Binyamin Netanyahu’s father passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 102, he left behind only 10 descendants (and even this number is relatively high for secular Israeli families, thanks to a granddaughter who became Orthodox).

Here’s another excerpt I translated from Dr. Chana Katan’s fascinating new book Woman’s Life regarding the reason for the low-birthrate crisis and what she’s trying to do about it…

During my residency I was sent to work at a clinic in East Jerusalem in order to treat Arab women who requested a female gynecologist.

Among the women who visited my clinic were quite a few who had decided to limit the size of their families, generally with the encouragement of their husbands who were having difficulty supporting their families. I helped these women, in accordance with their requests, usually by inserting an IUD to prevent future pregnancies.

And then the Gulf War broke out, and I along with the entire Israeli nation was living in terror and worried about my children whom I had left at home, but I was forced to continue working as usual, and even more than usual. On one of the days of the war, when my husband was away at reserve duty and my babysitter was at her home, refusing to come to watch my children, I arrived at the clinic where I discovered a long line of women awaiting me, and each of them had the same request: to remove the IUD that was preventing them from becoming pregnant. When I asked each woman the reason for her request—whether there had there been complications, or bleeding, or infection, or pain, I was answered with the same words, without hesitation and without embarrassment. The reason was the Intifada: “We are at war against the Jews, and we want to have many children.”

That morning I learned the additional value of having children: the national value. [CJW adds: Having another child, not because it’s easy or fun or convenient for me at the moment, but rather because the Jewish people needs more Jews in order to survive.]

Between 2002-2007 I participated as a member of the Government Commission for Demography, a commission originally established by Ben Gurion in order to fight the significant demographic decline of the Jewish people after the Holocaust…

During the period that I participated in the Commission its central goal was: promoting higher birth rates among secular Jewish families, in light of the troubling demographic statistics.

The average Israeli woman gives birth to 2.9 children, a number that means an average of 2 children among secular families. The commission’s goal was to make these families decide to have a third or fourth child [through financial incentives and other benefits].

An interesting research finding that I discovered during my work on the Commission was the fact that, as a general rule, older couples regret the fact that they did not have more children, regardless of the number of children they actually had. When they reach old age, with the marathon of life and career behind them, they are able to perceive the importance of the coming generation. In general, this new perception is not based on ideology or “for the sake of the State of Israel”—but rather, based on selfish personal reasons, because “Children are happiness.”

So why is the cause of declining birthrates so neglected? It appears that real change will only come about when we start educating towards proper priorities: the fact that this Commission was quietly dissembled several years ago testifies to the current popular approach, which demands change. This approach favors the individual over the whole. We don’t see the value of the Jewish nation as a whole being taught in schools or even in hospitals, except for one exception: Maternity Wards.

After one of my births I shared my hospital room with an older woman from a community near Jerusalem who had just given birth to her 15th child. She was a wonderful woman, and we became friends. She told me about her many financial problems (she didn’t even have a washing machine), and despite this she experienced great joy over her new baby girl, and along with her, her husband and her children, big and small, who came to visit their new sister.

The next day a social worker from that same hospital entered our room in order to speak with this woman, after the nurses drew her attention to the “interesting case” that they had in their department. I allowed myself to listen to the conversation taking place behind the curtain that divided between us. To my surprise, the social worker rebuked this woman—how had she allowed herself to get into this miserable situation, without taking steps to prevent or to abort this pregnancy?

The woman responded that she is happy with every child she has and that she manages well, but the social worker would not leave her alone, and continued to rebuke her.

The social worker left our room, and I followed her out. I forcefully told her that as a social worker it would be preferable for her to concern herself with the needs of this heroic woman, for example that she should acquire a washing machine for her, instead of rebuking her from her position of authority and based on her own values. I told her that I could testify regarding the great joy and tranquility of this mother, and that she deserves only appreciation and definitely not sermons.

As a result of that event, and in light of the general atmosphere in the medical world, an atmosphere that promotes limiting family size and criticizing women who have large families—I decided to adopt a fixed tradition when I serve as a maternity ward doctor. During my daily visits, I make sure to say to every woman I see, and especially to women who are blessed with many children, “Mazal tov! Well done! I hope to see you here again sometime soon!”


  1. I read and re-read the first excerpt from the book and felt the pain of Dr. Chana Katan who missed out on the special opportunity of personally raising her children. Yet it was she who made the decision to give her career priority in pursuit of academia and an advancing medical career. There is no denying that has presented some excellent papers in her field and there is no doubt that she has helped countless women.
    The second excerpt discusses how she decided the champion the cause for addressing Jewish demographic decline and encouraging secular woment to have larger families.
    The home-work balance is a difficult one, particularly where a woman has the capacity and ability to make a real difference with the work she does. However, it is a juggling act for all women. Work outside the home in contemporary society is given more kudos.
    I personally feel that being a home maker and personally raising one’s kids (even for a short period of time when they are so dependent) is one of the most important and gratifying roles.
    I question the rationale behind her decision to continue to raise a growing family of thirteen children, knowing full-well that she was going to actively pursue her medical career. That these children would be brought up by nannies and babysitters and child care providers. Did she personally feel the need to address the statistical decline at the expense of her family?
    Is there a magic number to change the rationale for staying home to enjoy and bring up your own children? I don’t think so. Certainly i have already made the decision to put my career on hold. I didn’t have that choice when my husband was in full-time learning. Now, even though we make do without a lot of things, I wouldn’t change it for the world! We are busy…and happy!
    Chana Katan’s children continued to have all of their developmental milestones. She missed them all, and the nachas that went with them.

    • M. Gordon

      Life is not so black and white.A stay at home mother is not necessarily a better mother, nor does a working mother necessarily neglect her children. It’s a Mitzvah to bring children into the world, and it’s crucial that parents provide the basic physical and emotional needs of their children, however, each individual parent has to find the best way to do that in their particular circumstances. No child grows up in perfect surroundings, but we have to do the best we can. A working mother who shows her children love,warmth, and strength of character is better than a stay at home mother who is distant, depressed, or indulgent.

      • And then you can have a working mom who is distant, depressed and indulgent for whatever reason. There are myriads of factors and no foolproof answers in either direction .

  2. This excerpt is unbelievably inspirational!!! Chana Jenny, I am so grateful to you for translating and posting these excerpts. As a mommy to 3 under 3 and wishing I could somehow return to school to pursue a medical degree, I would love to read this book… but my Hebrew just isnt good enough. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for more excerpts!!! Please continue posting them!!!

  3. This, like yesterday’s excerpt, is incredibly depressing, all the more so, that people might find it inspiring. This woman actually doesn’t say that ANYBODY was watching her kids while she aided and abetted the enemy (“we’re at war against the jews and we want to have many children”)she said her husband was in the reserves and the babysitter didn’t show up and she still went to serve our enemies. i am not taking a position of stay at home vs career–there are those who can do it successfully, as your mother seems to have done, Chana Jenny, but this woman, as shown from the last post and underscored by this one, is not an example of it…pretty much by her own admission/regrets. quantity is not more important than quality.

    • I love the “quantity is not more important than quality”; why? because I use that phrase all the time.
      I come from a family of 14 and I’m asked all the time: “how did your mother do it? she must be amazing to have had so many kids!” Amazing? no – as there is no glory in bringing children into this world and abusing them.
      So she “did it” – quantitatively… and failed miserably at bringing them up in a warm and loving environment.

  4. The recently oft quoted comparison between the number of descendents of Harav Elyahiv and Bentzion Netanyahu shows a lack of honor for Bentzion’s son Yoni Netanyahu Hy”d who was killed while on a mission to save innocent Jews.
    The point could be made in a different, nonoffensive way.

    • JewishMom

      thanks menucha, that is an excellent point. I certainly didn’t mean any disrespect to Yoni Netanyahu HY”D.


    And yet, I read that R’ Elyashiv buried 5 daughters and an infant son during his lifetime. So the point contrasting the number of descendents is valid.

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