| Challenges of the Modern World: Tikkun Ho'olom|
| by Mordecai Plaut|
A gemora at the beginning of Erchin (2b) discusses what society should do about a man who is half-free and half-slave. Beis Shammai argue: "He is forbidden to marry a female slave and he is forbidden to marry a free woman. Should he not marry at all? Wasn't the world created for nothing else but for the creatures to be fruitful and multiply, as it says, `He did not create it for desolation but to be settled' (Yeshayohu 45:18)? Rather [than let him remain thus] for tikkun ho'olom we force his master to make him a free man and he must write a note to pay for half his value [to the master]." Beis Hillel accepted this reasoning.
Tikkun Ho'olom are words that appeal to many, and especially to Jews who know very little about Jewish tradition. They in fact fill these inspiring words with content that they draw from the broken cisterns of the West. Sometimes the result they work towards under the slogan of Tikkun Ho'olom can be opposed to the true Jewish understanding of those words.
To deny a man the opportunity to raise a family is not just causing him a personal problem. It is a crime against humanity. It goes against the very purpose of the world itself. Certainly -- and all the more so -- any individual or couple who exercises their admittedly free choice not to raise a family has not just acted against his or their own long-term interests, but has also failed in the most basic way to achieve a tikkun ho'olom that is within their ability to achieve.
The natural behavior of all forms of life -- except for modern man -- leads them to have offspring and to raise them to adulthood. The principle that the world was created to be settled, and that all life strives to produce as many offspring as it can, is deeply embedded in all natural systems.
The Jews are not the worst offenders against humanity. In Israel the Jewish fertility rate is about 2.3 children per woman. All American Jewish women had an average of 1.83 children throughout their lifetimes, though the average American woman had about 2 children. Both of these figures are below the simple replacement level of about 2.1 children and thus far from fulfilling the Biblical injunction "He created it to be settled." However Europe is much worse: In France the fertility rate is 1.85; in the UK it is 1.66; in Germany it is 1.38; and in Italy, Spain and Russia it is only about 1.27! Even in the developing world where the birth rate is much higher, it is falling. The United Nations Population Division projects that future fertility levels in most developing countries will likely fall below 2.1 children per woman within the next fifty years.
People no longer think of having a family as the central project of their adult years. Many women decide to have children only when they are relatively old and it is much harder for them.
All this comes in an age in which it is easier than it ever was to have children. Neither mother nor child are likely to die in childbirth, nor are the young likely to die from childhood scourges. Most people in the whole world do not have trouble feeding their children, though many cannot supply them with a cellphone.
It is not our purpose to advocate that the nations of the world have more children. Our concern is with the Jewish people.
The problem is probably not a serious one in the chareidi Jewish community, but with the spirit of the world blowing so strongly in this anti-humanity direction, in this month of Elul -- as always -- we feel it is important to emphasize that we must stand firmly against this trend and do our part to bring about tikkun ho'olom as the Creator originally intended: "He did not create [the world] for desolation but to be settled."
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