Almost everyone notices that religious couples tend to have more children then secular couples. Among American Jews the trend is pronounced. American Jews fall into two categories, religious and secular. I define religious as those who believe that God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai about 3,300 years ago and who regard that message, the Torah, as the constitution of Judaism. Only about 20% of Jewish Americans are religious. In the United States, where the national average is 1.8 births per woman, secular Jewish women average about 1.6 births per woman. The figure for religious Jewish women is just over 4.8. During our family excursions, Susan and I were always amused when strangers, noting our seven children, would nod knowingly and, leaning in conspiratorially, whisper to us, “Catholic, right?”
It was not hard to discover that many doctoral dissertations in many universities have been written attempting to explain the correlation between religiosity and large families. They range from fatuous to foolish and from pedantic to perplexing. They assume religious couples know no better or are backwards and unable to accept modern science. Almost without exception, they ignore the positive effects of religion on family formation. I would like to suggest three benefits.
We are more comfortable exercising authority over our children. Susan and I do not run a democratic household; we eagerly solicit everyone’s views and preferences but the final decision is ours. The reason is because the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12) appears in the first tablet of the Ten Commandments, which detail man’s obligations toward God. Commandments six through ten detail obligations humans have towards one another. One might assume that honoring parents should fall into the second set since it addresses the obligations that one set of humans (children) has towards another set of humans (parents). But no; its position in the first five indicates that it is not our parents demanding honor, but God insisting that we deliver such honor to our parents.
When I insist that our children respect Susan or when she demands that they honor me, neither of us does so with any diffidence. We confidently assert God’s wishes, not our own. We are not acting like tinhorn dictators but like responsible parents carrying out our Creator’s wishes. Based on what I have read in popular child rearing articles and books, secular people tend to grapple with the question of by what right do they exercise authority over their children. If you feel uneasy about this question, having a child can be quite frightening.
Second, it is also frightening to feel powerless over the direction of our children’s development. We know that it is our obligation to initiate guidance for our children rather than merely reacting to their foibles. It goes without saying that, “If your child asks you tomorrow, saying…” (Deuteronomy 6:20), you are obliged to provide the answer. But how about if your child doesn’t ask you? Then, “You shall tell your child…” (Exodus 13:8)
However, if you don’t feel comfortable directing your family’s trajectory, you will feel out of control and fearful of how your children will turn out. Obviously there are no guarantees when it comes to one’s children but parents who comfortably and confidently shape their children’s development are far more likely to succeed than parents who allow their children to shape their own destiny out of misguided obeisance to trendy ideas of child autonomy. One of King David’s most disastrous children was his fourth son, Adoniyah. About him Scripture records, “All his days, his father had never saddened him by saying, ‘Why did you do this?’” (I Kings I:6) Leaving aside the question of how David failed in his duty as a father, we know that religious parents do not mind ‘saddening’ their children by asking, “Why did you do this?” Thus religious couples tend to feel less trepidation about their children because they feel confident about actively teaching them and they have a pretty good idea of what to teach them.
Finally, religious parents tend to feel more confident about gender specific education which generally works better than imposing contemporary fads upon little kids. Teach the boys one way and the girls another way just as God told Moses to teach the Israelites.
“…and God called to [Moses] from the mountain saying, ‘thus you shall say (AMaR) to the house of Jacob and [thus shall you] speak (TaGiD) to the sons of Israel.’”
Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that this is no mere poetic repetition. ‘House of Jacob’ refers to women, while ‘sons of Israel’ refers to men. What is more, the Hebrew word AMaR, is a more gentle word for speaking than TaGiD, which specifies speaking in a very firm way.
The identical usage of AMaR (gentle) and TaGiD (firm) is found again here:
…Ask your father and he will firmly speak(TaGiD),
[ask your] grandparents and they will say (AMaR) to you.
Everyone knows that one gets far more gentle treatment from one’s grandparents than from one’s father.
Being more gentle in how we instruct our daughters and firmer with our sons doesn’t come easily to the secular parent swayed by current notions of gender fluidity and other destructive ideas about boys and girls. Again, the advantage is to the religious parent who, with good reason, embarks upon the entire child-rearing enterprise with ever so much more confidence that the secular man or woman. It is truly no wonder that religious couples tend to bring more babies into the world with confidence and joy.