Rav Yehuda Henkin's Rulings on Family Planning
Contemporary halachic authorities often have divergent opinions on questions of when contraception is permitted and which methods are preferable. Our website generally reflects widely held halachic positions, making special note of the rulings of our rabbinic supervisor, Rav Yehuda Henkin.
This article presents a summary of Rav Henkin's rulings on the topic of family planning, primarily as they appear in his volumes of responsa, B'nei Banim. Couples seeking a personal ruling from Rav Henkin can write to us at "Ask the Yoetzet", specifiying that they are requesting an individual halachic ruling. We encourage couples to seek a ruling from a rabbi who knows both husband and wife personally and is able to take their individual circumstances into account.
1) Rav Henkin, following the approach of his grandfather, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin z"l, generally permits the diaphragm with spermicide as a contraceptive method when contraception is permissible, (Benei Banim I:30).
2) Rav Henkin generally considers the diaphragm with spermicide halachically preferable to contraceptive methods that are likely to lead to prolonged staining (e.g., Progesterone-only pills, Mirena IUS).
3) Rav Henkin generally permits newlyweds to use contraception for up to the first six months of marriage if they feel they are not yet ready for children, (B'nei Banim IV:15). He is generally more stringent when a couple seeks a longer delay for reasons of work, school, etc.
4) Rav Henkin, following the approach of the Chazon Ish, generally permits a woman to practice contraception for one year after giving birth to allow her to recover from childbirth.
5) Rav Henkin, following the approach of his grandfather, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin z"l, generally permits contraception for at least two years following the birth of a baby, in order to allow a woman to devote her time and energy to caring for the baby. Where the primary motivation for contraception is to allow the woman to pursue work or education, he may not permit such an extended break, (B'nei Banim I:30).
6) Rav Henkin considers a couple to have fulfilled the rabbinic injunction of "la'erev al tanach yadecha" (based on Ecclesiastes 11:6) with two girls and two boys. Thus, once a couple has at least two children of each gender, he generally permits them to practice contraception indefinitely, (Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women's Issues, p. 186).
7) Rav Henkin generally permits a couple that has already fulfilled the mitzvah of piryah v'rivyah (the Torah commandment to be fruitful and multiply) and has compelling reasons not to have more children, such as concerns about the woman's health, finances or shalom bayit, to practice contraception indefinitely, (B'nei Banim II:38).
8) Where a couple has been told by a physician that there is a significant risk of serious medical problems or congenital defects if the woman becomes pregnant, Rav Henkin generally permits contraception indefinitely while the risk remains high, even if they have not yet fulfilled piryah v'rivyah, (B'nei Banim II:38).