Sunday, February 14, 2010

Defining Large

There has been a lot of talk online and in the "real" world about Jews and large families. Many people who are upset about the cost of yeshiva tuition point to that cost as a reason for why they aren't having a large or larger family. Some will tell you that Jews need to have large families so as to replace the numbers lost during the Shoah. Some will tell you that you are supposed to have as many children as you can, citing the edict that we go forth and multiply. But in all these discussions no one has ever put forth any figures for what constitutes large.

So what number is large? From some comments I've read, 3 children does not constitute a large family. It doesn't? So is 4 a large family? Is 5? And if 4-5 is a large family, how do you describe 6-12? What would you call a family with over 12?

If a doctor told us that it's healthy to drink a large amount of water every day we'd push him to quantify that. We'd ask for a figure. When we are told we are not exercising enough each day/week, the first question is how much is enough? What's the amount in minutes/hours? So, what quantifiable number is there for a large family?

And in this discussion, where is it mentioned that childbirth is not a given? You can want a large family (again, what defines that) but nowhere is that guaranteed. Plenty of couples who find themselves unable to have any children. Some are thankful just to have been able to have one. And lots of hurtful comments by the uninformed that they aren't doing their job.

And while I'm at it, large for one couple may not be large for another couple. There are some couples for whom 1-2 kids is about all they can handle, in every way. There are some couples for whom 3 kids seem like an immense responsibility--they consider this a large family...for themselves.

And if we add into the large family equation that being able to take care of that family--in every way--is also part of the definition, then one couple's large family really may not be another couple's idea. What might parents owe to those children of theirs already born when they think about having another child? Should that be part of the equation?

In short, when we keep talking about large families just what is it that we are talking about or should be talking about?

Just a thought: if it is to Klal's benefit that frum families be large, then what is Klal, as a whole, willing to do to make sure those large families can function fully in Klal? Is Klal willing to offer them reduced or no tuition to yeshiva? Is Klal willing to say they don't have to pay the full dues to shuls nor pay fully or at all for shul seats for yom tov? Is Klal willing to pitch in, or is it only willing to say that large families have to be there, no matter the cost?


Anonymous said...

Don't think it's possible to come up with a real number for large. Like you mentioned, large as a number needs to include how many can you take care of in every way you have to take care of them. If paying tuition is part of taking care of them (and that's yeshiva tuition and college tuition) then 2-3 can be a large family if you have limited resources or can't cope with more.

Michoel said...

Not ever going to come up with one number because you'll never get agreement across all frum Jews as to what it means to take care of or be responsible for your kids. Sure won't get agreement on what is considered necessary to provide for the kids you have. Lots of comments on blogs all over that yeshiva education is a luxury not a necessity and if you can't afford it and that is what is limiting your family size then find a different alternative.

A said...

Large has nothing to do with how much you can handle. Large is merely a number. If one has 12 children, that's a large family, whether you have the means to take care of it or not. A family with only one child is not considered large simply because you can't cope with it.

Ruth said...

Not so sure commenter A that large is just a number. I think it depends on what is being counted and what the circumstances are. If three is not a large number then three broken bones or three flat tires is no big deal? But they are, because three of those things is large for what is being counted.

For my friend who was told she and her husband would never have any kids three isn't just a large number, it's a huge number--for them their triplets are a humongous family. Might not be how someone else defines large. But isn't that the point? Large is what is large for YOU, and yes what you can handle will help define that large.

Miami Al said...

You are 100% right, if Klal wants large families for socio-political goals, then it needs to support it. Telling each family "have as many as you can handle" needs to be matched with penalties/subsidies.

For example, the building fund for schools is a penalty for small families/subsidies for large families, but a small one. Granting every child free tuition after 4, for example, would be a collective statement that we want >4 families and are willing to support it.

If Klal wants large families, Klal should shift costs to benefit large families over small families. The Yeshiva situation does the opposite, where a family's finances, for the middle 80% of families, has VERY LITTLE to do with income and VERY MUCH to do with number of children and spacing.

I believe the Catholics schools have a maximum tuition rate of around 4 tuitions, with the idea that the communities subsidizes the really large families. This, combined with tuition that is half that of the Day Schools, means no Catholic family partaking in Day School education is paying more then $18k-$30k/year in tuition (depending on where in the country you live), whether they have 4 children or 12 children.

That's a serious effort to support very large families.

A said...

Ruth, I think you and I disagree with the basic meaning of the word "large". I take it to mean exactly what it is: big, great, exceeding in quantity or capacity, etc. You are applying other subjective meanings to the word. No biggie.

Anonymous said...

A and Ruth, you are both of you right and wrong. Large is just a big number but it can also be what you A would call a small number. That's because large isn't a number at all but a way of comparison. If I have three kids I can call that a large family if I compare that to someone with only 1 or 2 kids. Compare me to someone with 4 kids and that family is larger, or mine is smaller, by comparison. Compare that family to someone with 9 kids and my family is large, the next family is larger and the last family is largest. But only by comparison. Now take a family with 13 kids. That family considers itself large. That would make the other families small, smaller, smallest in one way of looking at it.

This is one reason why you are going to have trouble giving a number for what a large family is. Compared to who? The average US family is 1.9 kids. So if you have 2 kids you have a larger family then the average. 3 kids is a large family compared to that average.