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Be Fruitful and Multiply

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Oct. 2006


"Be Fruitful and Multiply"

On the day that I was contemplating America's 300 millionth resident, I became a zaydee (grandfather_ for the ninth time.  My daughter-in-law in New york had given birth to a baby boy, a six generation of Hechts born in the U.S.A.

Coming from a family of nine and being a father of six made me think of the Malthusian nightmare. Thomas Robert Malthus, an Anglican minister, wrote a fantastic futuristic essay called “The Principle of Population.”  In it he stated, “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” 

He predicted that the growth of humans would outpace the Earth’s capability to provide the food needed for human survival and advocated population control.  Limiting subsidies to the poor was a must, he said.  Meanwhile, his family grew to three children but he continued to preach and influence the leadership of the government about overpopulation and the resulting famine and mayhem that would occur.  New laws forbade giving food to the poor.

Paul R. Ehrlich's book, "The population Bomb," discussed food scarcity and world starvation.  In the late 1960s, Ehrlich predicted that hundreds of millions would die from a coming overpopulation in the 1970s, and that by 1980 life expectancy in the United States would be only 42 years.  By now, we know that much of the data is totally erroneous.

The Bible commands mankind to be “fruitful and multiply.”  Judo-Christian religions advocate large families and discourage birth control.  They preach of a world full of God’s glory where the earth will be plentiful and there will be ample food for everyone.  It’s incredible that we now live in a time where some countries are starving while others literally pay farmers not to grow crops.  Some countries dump produce in order to keep prices high. 

In traditional religious thinking we believe that if we are given a command by a higher authority, then we are given the power and means to carry out the mission.  If God wants big families, then he provides the means to sustain the loyal population.

As practicing Jews we believe that each pregnancy is a gift and that each child is a miracle.  Each birth causes a new admission of faith.  As the baby is born the mother is given a laminated paper with Psalm 121, My help will come from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. She keeps this with her all through the hospital stay. 

The first Friday night after the baby is born, family and friends hold a small celebration in honor of the baby boy.  They sing and tell stories and have refreshments.  Most of the evening is spent with words of encouragement to the parents in receiving the blessing of parenthood.

On the seventh night, children gather around the baby’s cradle singing songs or prayer and reciting verses from the Bible. At the end of the recitation, candy bags are distributed and the pure little children bless the new baby boy.

On the eighth day there is an important ceremony called a bris – circumcision.  It is the reenactment of the 4,000-year-old custom called the Covenant of Abraham.  A sandek, or godfather, holds the baby.  After the bris is performed by a mohel, a specially trained rabbi, the baby is named.

There is a seat prepared for Elijah the Prophet, who joins in the ceremony by an angelic visit to bring blessings and good cheer.  All this is followed bya sumptuous meal.  Friends and family come from distant places to join in the festivities.

My little grandson was named after his maternal grandfather, an American born Jewish scholar.  As Jews, we believe it is an honor to reintroduce the names of the departed loved ones to the newly arrived babies.  By doing so the departed people are remembered and their souls honored.

As I held my little grandson, I saw the Mohel come by with his surgical scalpel and place it on the baby and, as quick as a wink, he removed the foreskin.  The baby whimpered, the mother cried, and everyone called out Mazel Tov – good luck.  A hush fell on the participants.  A cup of wine was filled and another rabbi, the baby’s great grandfather, announced the baby's name.


The grandmother cried out, “My husband has his name back in the family.”  The mother said, “In my baby I find joyfulness as my dear father passed away when I was quite young and now I can thank him by perpetuating his gift through my baby boy.

I greet my ninth grandchild with love and deep appreciation.  I only wish I could inspire others to experience the religious joy of having large families.

Remember:  It’s not God who makes the commandments that are impossible to keep.  In the Malthusian nightmare it is man in his gluttony and acts of obesity that destroys the balance of life and the earth’s ability to replenish.

Mazel Tov, Yisroel Yehuda Hecht.  May you grow to be an asset to the world’s population.