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Did She Ever
February 21, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

When Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants.
posted by R. Mutt (130 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article mentions she was a Holocaust survivor as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2010


Well, that certainly blows the doors off this guy's record.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2010


In comparison, my grandmother died a few months ago at 96 and left behind 2 children, 4 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren-- 11 descendants. What can I say? We're not very good at breeding.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2010


Just wait until the Duggar's kids start multiplying... that'll really be something.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:01 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What better legacy could any of us ask for than to have descendants who fuck like bunnies.
posted by troybob at 7:07 AM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Isn't there a natural logical limit to how far one ought to consider taking the "be fruitful and multiply" thing? At a certain point it just starts to look like an experiment.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:10 AM on February 21, 2010


I doubt that the Duggars will match her numbers. The Duggars have 19 children so far, but Michelle is 43 and without artificial assistance she'll only be able to have a few more children. Admittedly Michelle has more children than Yetta, but I would bet not all of Michelle's children are going to follow in her footsteps and join the quiverful movement. For one thing, they won't all have the financial ability to raise 12 or more kids and for another the quiverful movement is more of a recent cult that doesn't have the cultural support as does Hasidic Judaism. As the Duggar boys get married will they be able to convince outsiders to have a baby every year? Will all the Duggar girls want to stay home and have a bay every year or two?

Mrs. Schwartz gave birth 18 times, but lost two children in the Holocaust and one in a summer camp accident here.

Lots of heartbreak there.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:15 AM on February 21, 2010


Isn't there a natural logical limit to how far one ought to consider taking the "be fruitful and multiply" thing?

Oh hell naw! Check the QuiverFull movement in Christianity, taking its name from this Psalm verse:

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:


Like many other roleplaying systems, Christianity is a system in which arrows have no encumbrance value, so there are no perceived drawbacks to over-filling your quiver.
posted by explosion at 7:16 AM on February 21, 2010 [36 favorites]


At a certain point it just starts to look like an experiment.

While I would never have 15 children, if I did want to, how that looks to other people would not be my primary consideration.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


She had 15 children and 200 grandchildren? That means each of her kids had, on average, 13 children. Jesus! And if one or two of them slacked off, that means some of the others had 18 kids or whatever.
posted by grumblebee at 7:29 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:33 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man, I really wish Atheists multiplied like this.
posted by nevercalm at 7:38 AM on February 21, 2010 [17 favorites]


There was also this (very similar) story about an Israeli woman from the end of last year, "Woman dies at 99, leaves behind 1,400 descendants"
posted by andoatnp at 7:38 AM on February 21, 2010


My parents had five and we still had people assuming we were some kind of bible nuts.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:39 AM on February 21, 2010


Isn't there a natural logical limit to how far one ought to consider taking the "be fruitful and multiply" thing?

99% of the time, yes.

But, I think Holocaust survivors should get a free pass on this. When a government conspires to wipe you and your kind off the face of the earth, be fruitful and multiply seems like the appropriate response and a perfect way to spit in the eye of evil.
posted by marsha56 at 7:45 AM on February 21, 2010 [57 favorites]


Let me point out that the woman in question in the post was ninetysomething when she passed. Not like she'd have been a candidate for the Pill or something back in her fertile days.

I'm impressed that she, her husband and four of her children SURVIVED the camps, honestly.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:45 AM on February 21, 2010


I wonder if she knew all their names.
posted by theredpen at 7:51 AM on February 21, 2010


My Grandmother, who's been gone for thirty years, has a grand total of 15 decedents which goes up to great great grand children by now. For a bunch of (lapsed) Catholics, we're not very prolific.
posted by octothorpe at 7:58 AM on February 21, 2010


Not like she'd have been a candidate for the Pill or something back in her fertile days.
That's true, but most European women of her generation did not have 18 children. There were methods of limiting family size even before the pill. She had a lot of kids because she's a member of a religious/ cultural group that prizes having a lot of kids.
posted by craichead at 8:06 AM on February 21, 2010


I wonder if she knew all their names.

You wouldn't if you'd read the article.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ugh, you're right -- I skimmed and missed it -- thanks.
posted by theredpen at 8:24 AM on February 21, 2010


Wow.

Does her gravestone have the inscription "Suck on THAT legacy, motherfuckers!"
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:24 AM on February 21, 2010


I guess vaginas are clown cars.
posted by stavrogin at 8:28 AM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Psh. Come visit the fantastic land of Utah where 7 kids and 50 grandkids is the norm. You walk into anyone's office or home here and they have to obligatory 36"x24" photo of the brood out in nature with The Patriarch in the middle. Ahh this place I call my home.
Someone save me.
posted by msbutah at 8:32 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess vaginas are clown cars.
posted by stavrogin at 8:28 AM on February 21 [+] [!]


You know, I really do think that is a very disrespectful statement, whether directed at a Duggar or anyone else who has a lot of children.

I'd like to think we here are better than that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:34 AM on February 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'd like to think we here are better than that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:34 AM on February 21 [+] [!]


You're right. We should probably say that vaginas can be used to create an unsustainable human population load on the planet leading to resource destruction, starvation, unchecked global climate change, and propagation of homogeneous genetic material. But clown cars sound so much cooler.
posted by msbutah at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2010 [41 favorites]


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posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2010


Yay! ... 'cause we need more people on this world. Let's all hear it for responsible family values.
posted by jannw at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2010


she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis.

I don't really spend much time in my daily life feeling particularly jewish (and I tend to look at hasidic jews as really alien to my understanding of judaism), so it's an odd sensation when I happen upon stuff like this and find myself dancing a little internets jig of glee.
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


pass a law limiting the number of children a woman can have. also, tax for every child, after 1, maybe 2.
posted by billybobtoo at 8:50 AM on February 21, 2010


You're right. We should probably say that vaginas can be used to create an unsustainable human population load on the planet leading to resource destruction, starvation, unchecked global climate change, and propagation of homogeneous genetic material. But clown cars sound so much cooler.

You know that the US fertility rate is below replacement even with these loons, right? I'm unaware of a definition of "reproductive freedom" that really means "you have agency over your own fertility to the extent that it doesn't make me personally too uncomfortable." Taken as a species, human women have always controlled their fertility to the extent that it was possible, legal, and safe, and even beyond that. A tiny number of outliers isn't going to doom the species.
posted by KathrynT at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


msbutah: "Psh. Come visit the fantastic land of Utah where 7 kids and 50 grandkids is the norm."

Never saw a 110-pack of Gorton's Fish Sticks in the supermarket until I moved to Salt Lake City.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


Our species' inability to understand exponential growth is going to destroy us.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Attention, citizens of the internet: that clown car joke you're thinking about making? The one about vaginas? Other people made it already. Sort of stupid, unlikeable people, people you avoid getting stuck in conversations with because you come away from them feeling awkward and embarrassed just by association. Those people are really proud of that joke, because it gives 'em a great chance to (a) be totally witty and shit and also (b) mention vaginas.

You're smarter than those people. You know a stale joke when you see it. You chew with your mouth closed. You don't need the clown car joke, and nobody else here needs it either. Put it down. Say anything else instead.
posted by cortex at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2010 [81 favorites]


You know that the US fertility rate is below replacement even with these loons, right?

You know that the global population is circa 4 billion more than is sustainable for modern living, right?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know that the global population is circa 4 billion more than is sustainable for modern living, right?

Yeah, and what's your point? The nations in which fertility is above replacement value are basically those without safe, effective birth control available. In other words, people who CHOOSE high fertility aren't the contributing factor here. If you want to fight global overpopulation, get birth control to people in Mali rather than shaming people who make fully-informed reproductive decisions.

Think of it this way. This kind of superfertility has been a guiding principle of Hasidim since, well, forever. Are we overrun with Hasidic Jews? If not, why not?
posted by KathrynT at 9:00 AM on February 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


KathrynT: "This kind of superfertility has been a guiding principle of Hasidim since, well, forever. Are we overrun with Hasidic Jews? If not, why not?"

Speaking as a Jew, I would attribute this to the disparity between who pretends to be the dominant partner in Jewish marriages and who actually is the dominant partner.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


To put this in perspective, if my math is right, her entire clan equals about the number of Jewish deaths that happened in one day in the concentration camps.

Yeah, I'm inclined to giver her a pass on this too. It took her 93 years to undo the damage of one day.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2010 [17 favorites]


She has a great grand-daughter named after her? I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?
posted by anniecat at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2010


The people who are having lots and lots of kids for religious reasons are grossly outnumbered by the people who are having lots of kids due to lack of birth control or because they need support in their old age.

Complaining about Hasidim is really weak.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2010


I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?

Many don't. Some do. German Jews, in particular, had a lot of Juniors and The Thirds and whatnot. It's a regional cultural tradition, and not a religious obligation.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:07 AM on February 21, 2010


So wait, first she got 15 people to join her group, then those people got 200, and eventually she has 2,000 of them? This sounds awfully like a pyramid scheme to me.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


She has a great grand-daughter named after her? I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?

Yitta died last month; the kid was born February 10, so presumably she had already passed. Hasidim are often pretty strict and sometimes superstitious about names, not only with regard to naming kids, but in other situations as well. If a man's prospective wife has the same name as his mother, that might be enough to put the kibosh on the marriage.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2010


Complaining about Hasidim is really weak.

Oh come on, its not having a go at the Hasidim, its having a go at anyone who has 15 kids.
posted by biffa at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2010


She has a great grand-daughter named after her? I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?

As I read it, she died in January and the great grand-daughter was named in February, probably shortly after she died.
posted by sueinnyc at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2010


But greatgefilte explained it better first.
posted by sueinnyc at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2010


Yeah, I should have been more specific. Going after Hasidim in particular for having a lot of kids is really weak.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:18 AM on February 21, 2010


And this thread is about the Hasidim. If you want to make a post about those other groups, I can send you some links.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:19 AM on February 21, 2010


This thread is about Hasidim? Someone went after Hasidim in particular? You people are daft.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 AM on February 21, 2010


Going after Hasidim in particular for having a lot of kids is really weak.

I think there are still legitimate concerns. Look at Kiryas Joel, the exclusively-Hasidic town in upstate New York. They have tons of kids, and they have one of the highest poverty rates in the US. If you're going to have a dozen kids, you should be able to (a) support them, and (b) make sure that when they grow up, they'll be able to support themselves. In a community that rejects higher education, and sometimes gainful employment in general, having lots of kids isn't, in my opinion at least, a sustainable practice. You can only depend on wealthy in-laws for so long, until there are no more wealthy in-laws.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:27 AM on February 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Don't worry. I'm having few enough kids to subtract whatever she added.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2010


I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?
By tradition, most Ashkenazi Jews don't name their kids after living relatives. It's not a religious rule: it's just a practice. Naming kids after dead relatives is extremely common. It would be entirely typical for the first descendant after she died to be named after her.
posted by craichead at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2010


My maternal grandmother had 18 children for religious reasons, all single births, all within the span of exactly twenty two years. Of those, 17 made it to adulthood. Most of my aunts and uncles are religious, but none of them have more than three children.

Life in a super-sized family is tough. Despite a rosy outlook on her childhood, I think my mother can't deny that it was stressful being so poor and after a while more and more of burden fell to the older siblings. Not one of her brothers or sisters enjoyed that lifestyle enough to repeat it and used family planning of one sort or another to keep their offspring a modest number.

I'm really glad that we have the means to choose how big our families get. I think Mrs. Schwartz's family is remarkable because it is so rare that all of her children chose to follow in her footsteps. Even with strong religious beliefs people are capable of exercising reproductive control, even if it's nominally against the rules.
posted by Alison at 10:01 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Admittedly Michelle has more children than Yetta, but I would bet not all of Michelle's children are going to follow in her footsteps and join the quiverful movement.

I grew up in said movement, back before it had a name, and most of my childhood friends came from large, conservative, evangelical-Christian home-schooling families. I separated myself from that culture years ago, but so far as I have heard, none of us have carried on our parents' fecundity. The majority of those who have started families at all appear to have done so accidentally, and after the speedily arranged marriages have had no more than 2 or 3 kids total.

In my own family, I am oldest of eleven; six of us could reasonably have begun reproducing by now, but thus far our tally remains steady at zero. I'm sure one of us will get around to it eventually, but so far nobody has displayed any interest, and my parents may well end up with fewer grandchildren than children.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:02 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, if she had 19 cats, the state would have taken them away.
posted by notsnot at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Look at Kiryas Joel, the exclusively-Hasidic town in upstate New York. They have tons of kids, and they have one of the highest poverty rates in the US. If you're going to have a dozen kids, you should be able to (a) support them, and (b) make sure that when they grow up, they'll be able to support themselves. In a community that rejects higher education, and sometimes gainful employment in general, having lots of kids isn't, in my opinion at least, a sustainable practice. You can only depend on wealthy in-laws for so long, until there are no more wealthy in-laws.

The people of Kiryas Joel--like many Hasidim, aren't depending on wealthy in-laws, but Uncle Sam. Much like the breakaway Mormon polygamist enclaves out west, the lifestyle depends heavily on the food stamp and other entitlement programs. As of 2008, 41% of residents are on the food stamp program--the highest percentage in the nation.

A look at life in Kiryas Joel.
posted by availablelight at 10:07 AM on February 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


...That being said, and back on the subject of the actual FPP, I'm on the side of those who see poetic justice in the Holocaust survivor with 2,000 living descendants.
posted by availablelight at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2010


Oh come on, its not having a go at the Hasidim, its having a go at anyone who has 15 kids.

My grandma had 15 kids. They were French Catholic farmers. *Shrugs*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2010


You know, if she had 19 cats, the state would have taken them away.

Some states also require owner to spay and neuter their cats, which we don't require of humans. And thank God. I may not agree with this woman's choice to have so many children, but the last thing I want is the state dictating that choice.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't worry. I'm having few enough kids to subtract whatever she added.

I helping kill kids by supporting access to safe abortions on demand. I also support retroactive abortion rights to the age 15, by which point we know full well whether they're worth keeping. Gonna have us a whole generation of respect, I tell you! Keep off my lawn or I'll revoke ya! HAH!

Where's my soup? I want my soup.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there some long compound German word for greatly admiring someone for living their life according to values that one despises? Because I honestly do admire her commitment if not the hubris implicit in that kind of culture of reproduction.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know that the US fertility rate is below replacement even with these loons, right?

There are other ways of "replacing the deceased." The U.S., for instance, is pretty good at getting other people to come on over and trying the country out, despite treating them poorly through its messed-up immigration policies. Focusing on the fertility rate is a nativist impulse.
posted by aswego at 11:01 AM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thanks, availablelight, for making that point. It's one you rarely if ever hear about, unless you're living around one of these communities.
posted by nevercalm at 11:02 AM on February 21, 2010


I helping grammar standards two. Guh.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2010


I'm on the side of those who see poetic justice in the Holocaust survivor with 2,000 living descendants.

Me too.

A woman born in 1917 having 15 kids doesn't even strike me as particularly unusual, though. My grandfather was the youngest of 12, his father was one of 11 kids. I am glad I was born in this era, but I can easily envision the world of my grandparents and greatgrandparents, with cultural and religious support of having many children, lack of birth control, increased risk of miscarriages, and the high probability of losing kids to disease or accidents.
posted by desuetude at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2010


I'm pretty sure my WASP ancestors were breeding like rabbits, too. Heck, both my parents come from over-large families. Some of my relations are breeding greater than 100% replacement. You'd think there were a deficit of human beings on this planet.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2010


Look, I want a show of hands from everyone who has derided this woman or any other who chooses to have more children than you deem acceptable -- how many of you consider yourselves pro-choice? Because you know what choice means, right? Hint: It's not just supporting the right to have an abortion. Reproductive freedom means that individual women get to choose how many children they have, if any. As many have already pointed out, it wasn't out of the norm for women to have as many children as she did at that time. But even today, if you want to restrict population growth, you don't do it by curtailing women's reproductive choices, but by enhancing them. Providing free puublic education, affordable and socially acceptable birth control options, better equitability with men, and decent pre- and post-natal care for women and children. Not from cheap shots at people you deem as having made irresponsible reproductive choices.
posted by stinker at 11:31 AM on February 21, 2010 [14 favorites]


From the article: "A son-in-law, Rabbi Menashe Mayer, a lushly bearded scholar, said she took literally the scriptural command that “You should not forget what you saw and heard at Mount Sinai and tell it to your grandchildren.”

I can only dream of being described so gloriously in print one day.
posted by friendlyjuan at 11:39 AM on February 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Because you know what choice means, right?

I also support Freedom of Speech, but that doesn't strip me of the right to disagree with what people say.
posted by explosion at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


[H]ow many of you consider yourselves pro-choice? Because you know what choice means, right? Hint: It's not just supporting the right to have an abortion. Reproductive freedom means that individual women get to choose how many children they have, if any.

Right, and I get to choose whether I slather myself in mayonnaise and run around in a blizzard. I do not get to choose, however, whether I am talked about as a result.

Plus, if my doing so results in harm and requires hospitalization paid for with money provided by the society I live in, that society is suddenly going to want to start talking about whether I have the freedom to do so if it results in a $100,000 hospital stay after every occasion. Knowing as we do that 41% of the people in her community are on public assistance paid for by our tax dollars, don't you think that perhaps we can have a bit of a discussion about whether this birth rate is practical or sustainable? I think it's perfectly in line.
posted by nevercalm at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


don't you think that perhaps we can have a bit of a discussion about whether this birth rate is practical or sustainable

I don't think that is a reasonable or productive way to frame the discussion. But to be fair, let's say it's not. What is the solution to this problem as you've defined it? It's a slippery slope, my friend. This should not be framed in terms of the reproductive choices of indivuals.
posted by stinker at 12:03 PM on February 21, 2010


(That is, "Let's say it's not 'practical or sustainable'.")
posted by stinker at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2010


As many have already pointed out, it wasn't out of the norm for women to have as many children as she did at that time.
I'd have to do some digging to find stats, but I think it actually was out of the norm for the time. It's probably hard to say, because so many people of her age cohort had their fertility drastically limited by World War II. But my hunch is that a relatively small percentage of women born in Europe or North America in 1917 had families that large. And her children also had very large families, which would be even more unusual. That's not a judgment: just a statement.
Providing free puublic education, affordable and socially acceptable birth control options, better equitability with men, and decent pre- and post-natal care for women and children.
I'm not entirely sure how you apply those ideas to people who totally opt out of the mainstream culture, though, be they Hasids like this woman or quiver-full Christians like the Duggars. What good is free public education if people homeschool or send their kids to yeshiva because they think secular, coeducational schools are sinful? How do you make birth control socially acceptable to people who are convinced they're commanded by the Almighty to have as many children as possible? What on earth does "better equitability with men" even mean in the context of religions that preach male headship or that teach that women are literally theological non-persons?

I'm not defending clown car jokes, and I, too, take a degree of pleasure in the story of the Holocaust survivor with 2000 descendants. But I think it's naive to pretend that there's nothing sketchy about Hasidic culture's ideas about women or that there's nothing going on here that wouldn't be fixed if we just provided the citizens of New York with access to free public education.
posted by craichead at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


The solutions I gave obviously pertain to those countries that lack such infrastructure. In the context of the US, asking whether a certain group of people has a birth rate that is too high is useless. So they problem is that the Hasids are having too may children, overwhelming infrastructure? The only solution given the way this problem is defined is to coerce women into having fewer children. I'm arguing that we just can't go there. Then again, maybe we're happy just to ridicule them behind their backs.
posted by stinker at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2010


stinker: Look, I want a show of hands from everyone who has derided this woman or any other who chooses to have more children than you deem acceptable -- how many of you consider yourselves pro-choice? Because you know what choice means, right? Hint: It's not just supporting the right to have an abortion. Reproductive freedom means that individual women get to choose how many children they have, if any. As many have already pointed out, it wasn't out of the norm for women to have as many children as she did at that time. But even today, if you want to restrict population growth, you don't do it by curtailing women's reproductive choices, but by enhancing them. Providing free puublic education, affordable and socially acceptable birth control options, better equitability with men, and decent pre- and post-natal care for women and children. Not from cheap shots at people you deem as having made irresponsible reproductive choices.

You know, 'Pro-choice' is just a name for the group, it isn't a complete summation of their philosophies, which often differ substantially from person to person. For instance, my own personal support for abortion rights derives partly from my general belief that fetuses are not sapient, certainly not at conception and almost certainly for quite some time after, and partly from my belief that it is unacceptable to force a woman to bear a child regardless. This doesn't in any way conflict with my other belief that population control is necessary to prevent the ecological destruction of the Earth.

And yeah, education is doing well right now, but I worry that insular religious groups, which usually are quite good at conditioning their children, will breed themselves into the majority over time. And I question whether we can fix the economy and education systems of the entire world before we end up at the malthusian catastrophe.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:14 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


population control is necessary to prevent the ecological destruction of the Earth

This is a fallacy and extremely dangerous territory. Population is only one factor in "preventing the ecological destruction of the Earth" (which, I would argue is more like "stemming the tide of ecological destruction" but let's not quibble over terminology). The equation is population x affluence x technology. The latter two are much more easily addressed. Also, if we're talking about global impact, the influence of fringe religious groups in the US is hardly the population we need to target.

Also, malthusian thinking has been challenged and the more dire predictions disproved already.
posted by stinker at 12:22 PM on February 21, 2010


Also, note that I personally have no problem with what this one woman did. It was done at a time before the damage of population growth to the ecology was well understood, and I can understand the motivation, right after the holocaust.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2010


I personally have no problem with what this one woman did.

That's just it. You don't get to decide. She does.
posted by stinker at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2010


I also support retroactive abortion rights to the age 15

That's a bit radical. I think that if you're spry enough to avoid your mother's grasp you should have the right to live.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:32 PM on February 21, 2010


stinker: The equation is population x affluence x technology. The latter two are much more easily addressed. Also, if we're talking about global impact, the influence of fringe religious groups in the US is hardly the population we need to target.

Well, first of all, remember that population can and will win on its own. If the population gets high enough, the ecology will collapse no matter what else is done.

Secondly, population decreases quality of life while affluence and technology increase it. Part of the anti-population growth concept is avoiding a starving mass of peasants on a ruined Earth, and part of it is dodging the slightly better future where everyone lives in tiny cubicles and eats homogenized bean paste, and nobody has ever seen a tree.

Or, to put it more simply, the less people there are (to a point), the better everyone can live without ruining the Earth.

And yeah, fringe religious groups are not a big deal now. I merely worry about the long-term potential impact.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I had 15 children I'd have to have Calvin, Hobbes and a Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod in there somewhere.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2010


The only solution given the way this problem is defined is to coerce women into having fewer children. I'm arguing that we just can't go there.

That's BS. You could mandate education which includes the idea that women have value outside of childbirth, and notes the fact that opportunity of many kinds awaits outside of the narrow culture of their birth. Stop subsidizing their tax unit so heavily. The availability of information for children and economic collapse of unsustainable models is pretty effective at destroying insular societies. Cults which want to form their own governmental unit are a common problem, and forced reproductive limits are not the only way to deal with them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:39 PM on February 21, 2010


everyone who has derided this woman or any other who chooses to have more children than you deem acceptable -- how many of you consider yourselves pro-choice?

There's a distinct difference between mocking someone for being stupid, and making that stupidity illegal. That's the difference between "pro-choice, but dismayed at some people's choices," and authoritarian.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


So they problem is that the Hasids are having too may children, overwhelming infrastructure?
I couldn't care less about infrastructure. I think that's a huge red herring. My problem is that a growing portion of my own religious and ethnic group sees women basically as baby-making machines. And while I think that people have a right to make their own reproductive decisions, including ones that I find really odd, I think it's too easy to talk about this as if it's just a matter of choice. "Choice" doesn't really get at the constraints on people's options. If a young Hasidic woman decides that she doesn't want to have 15 kids, what "choices" do you think she has?

For me, as a feminist and a Jew, this is a really tricky question.
posted by craichead at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's just it. You don't get to decide. She does.
But we do have a right to judge. And that's what we're doing.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 12:59 PM on February 21, 2010


Her thumb's mentioned again in a hitchiking context, after that "thumb in the eye of the Nazis" part.

Whatever the occasion, she would pack a small suitcase and thumb a ride from her apartment in Kiryas Joel to Williamsburg or elsewhere.

It sounds like hitchhiking. But on second thought, in those two communities, maybe whoever pulled over to give her a ride would end up being a relative anyway.
posted by PY at 1:15 PM on February 21, 2010


But we do have a right to judge

Have fun with that (it appears that you are). But whom does your judgment serve? Or is this just good echo chamber fodder? I hope that none of you are on public assistance and that your combined carbon footprint is zero.

You could mandate education which includes the idea that women have value outside of childbirth...

It's nice to see a proposal for action instead of jokey disdain.

Mandating feminist curricula for separatist religious groups is an interesting proposition, but I suspect its much harder to put into practice than you assume. I am not arguing cultural relativism here. I believe that the basic tenets of feminism are universal, but imposing them on groups already wary of the mainstream is likely to backfire.
posted by stinker at 1:17 PM on February 21, 2010


Needs "philoprogenitive" tag.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2010


But we do have a right to judge

Have fun with that (it appears that you are). But whom does your judgment serve? Or is this just good echo chamber fodder?


I realize you're sorta new here, but you DID realize what this website was about before you forked over your 5 Washingtons, right? This is a place where someone posts a link, and others discuss it in varying shades of seriousness and snark. There's no need to get all het up.
posted by nevercalm at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2010


How do you make birth control socially acceptable to people who are convinced they're commanded by the Almighty to have as many children as possible?

From my reading online apparently a lot of children of these Quiverfull families limit their own families or even put off having children altogether. OTOH I know one happy family with 8 or 9 kids who each themselves came from big families-but in their case, they simply really liked kids.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2010


How do you make birth control socially acceptable to people who are convinced they're commanded by the Almighty to have as many children as possible?

How do you do anything with anyone who is commanded by any almighty to do anything?
posted by nevercalm at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


She has a great grand-daughter named after her? I thought Jews did not name their kids after living or dead relatives?

obviously, they ran out of names
posted by pyramid termite at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mandating feminist curricula for separatist religious groups is an interesting proposition, but I suspect its much harder to put into practice than you assume.

The trouble is that some groups get a free pass on the requirement to provide an education by defining "education" down. Basic knowledge about how the rest of the world operates isn't "feminist curricula".
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:04 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no need to get all het up.

When arguments about the need to control women's reproductive freedom are bandied about by those who claim to support such rights a het-up I will get. Roe v. Wade determined that abortion should be legalized because what a woman does with her body (i.e., abortion, birth) is between she and her doctor (not based on when life begins, btw).
posted by stinker at 2:05 PM on February 21, 2010


This is a place where someone posts a link, and others discuss it in varying shades of seriousness and snark. There's no need to get all het up.

This is also a place where people can argue and discuss issues if they arise and are relevant to the FPP. I don't see stinker as getting "all het up."
posted by Falconetti at 2:25 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's just it. You don't get to decide. She does.

That's the problem isn't it? People get to make decisions that collectively impact upon the welfare of everyone else. It's all very well to harp on freedom to choose how many kids you have, whether you're male or female but more rapid population growth will mean more aggressive degradation of the biosphere and more damage to future generations, restricting their freedom and wealth.
posted by biffa at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2010


My problem is that a growing portion of my own religious and ethnic group sees women basically as baby-making machines.

I'm having a really hard time with this and similar comments. While this may be true when talking about some fundamentalist Christian groups, it really doesn't hold true with respect to Judaism - even Chassidic Judaism. The mitzvah (commandment) to be fruitful and multiply is an obligation for men, not for women. Infertility is seen as a tragedy, not as a mark of lesser value as a person, and while birth control is frowned upon because having children is seen as an unmitigated good, it is not forbidden (though some barrier methods such as condoms are prohibited). If a woman is suffering as a result of too many children, and that includes mentally or emotionally, she can get a heter (rabbinic decree) allowing the couple to use birth control. It is less common in Chassidic circles, largely due to societal pressure, and that is obviously unacceptable from a feminist perspective - but it's a far cry from saying it isn't allowed or that she has no choice. This is especially true if having another baby would endanger her physical health. In that situation not only is birth control required, abortion may be as well. According to even the strictest interpretation of Jewish law, abortion is not only permitted to save a pregnant woman's health, it is religiously mandated when her life is in danger - a fetus is not allowed to take precedence over the living, breathing woman, period. It also probably bears saying that Orthodox women are not only allowed but are often expected to have jobs and are often the family breadwinner. She may be pregnant, but she is not chained to the stove because of it.

I'm not Chassidic and I don't approve of many of their practices or the society's treatment of women in general, but I have Chassidic friends, and I can assure you that when it comes to childbearing, the issue really has nothing to do with a woman's role as a 'baby-making machine' and everything to do with genuinely wanting to have those children, especially in the shadow of the Holocaust. It is far harder to be infertile or unmarried in that society - both for men and for women - because of the high value placed on children. I won't pretend that there aren't individual cases where women feel unable to make reproductive choices because of the patriarchal system, but that's true in most societies, unfortunately. It is far more a reflection of the patriarchy in general (a woman who has no voice becomes powerless to fight the system) than of Judaism's views on women's role in fertility.
posted by Mchelly at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


stinker, your arguments are eponysterical (or more simply, crap). Being 'pro-choice' means you do agree that individuals get to decid their own fertility, but it does not divorce them from the larger societal or cultural issues that they raise. And you cannot handwavingly say that population is not an ecological issue, it is, both in the USA and elsewhere, whatever you may believe, or whatever other issues are at play.

And reproductive freedom is not the same as abortion. There are these things called contraceptives...
posted by wilful at 3:21 PM on February 21, 2010


I did not say that population was not an ecological issue. I said that it is one multiplicative factor in the equation. Population growth in the US, however, is not a factor, even considering these groups. Here, far worse for the environment is the affluence (but more importantly acquisitiveness) and militarism (not included in the equation referenced above, but let's not leave it out).

If you support reproductive rights inasmuch as women make choices that you agree with, you might as well just call yourself pro-abortion (or pro-contraception as you point out).
posted by stinker at 3:35 PM on February 21, 2010


She's got nothing on Genghis Khan, but then she never sacked the known world either.
posted by bwg at 4:19 PM on February 21, 2010


That's just it. You don't get to decide. She does.

Say, what?! If that argument were valid, wouldn't that apply to any value judgement about anyone's actions? "I feel person X was wrong to have killed her whole family" "You don't get to decide, she does."

The fact is that if she'd been having those kids in, say, contemporary China, pretty well every human on Earth would agree that this was a Bad Idea. It'd be perfectly reasonable to say that, and perfectly reasonable to claim, "It is OK in this circumstance."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:26 PM on February 21, 2010


Just because you have the right to do something, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.
posted by various at 4:53 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just because you have the right to do something, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

If that argument were valid, wouldn't that apply to any value judgement about anyone's actions? "I feel person X was wrong to have killed her whole family"


By all means, feel free to judge the actions of others. But first be sure that your own are unassailable. A woman with many children suffers scorn because her impact is so publicly obvious. But your own impact is not zero. And if you sincerely hope to improve the situation, blaming an individual for [ACTION THAT HARMS THE ENVIRONMENT] never works as well as engaging directly with the communities in which these people live. E.g., complaining that "I hate assholes that drive hummers" probably won't fix anything, but increasing the taxes on gas may just have an impact.
posted by stinker at 6:11 PM on February 21, 2010


You know that the US fertility rate is below replacement even with these loons, right?


No it isn't. The U.S. is one of few industrialized nations to have a fertility rate above the replacement level of 2.1.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:01 PM on February 21, 2010


If a young Hasidic woman decides that she doesn't want to have 15 kids, what "choices" do you think she has?

I'm not sure how familiar you are with Chassidic Jews, but I have to say, the questions you ask do not indicate much familiarity.

First, she can go on birth control. Yes, really. I actually personally know more than one Chassidic Jewish woman who has been on birth control while married. In one case, it was to finish her schooling before starting a family. And once a couple has a boy and a girl, the religious commandment is fulfilled, and their continued child-bearing beyond that is a matter of custom -- yes, it's encouraged by the community they're in, but there are women in that community who limit family size.

Second, 15 kids is quite unusual. There is actually some religious-based preference for a 3-year gap between children, which does not result in 15 total. Many Chassidic women breastfeed for an extended time, which results in a longer gap between children.

Your other questions seem to suggest that in your impression, Chassidic women are consigned to a role as babymakers that excludes working and living in the world. It's really not true; many of them work outside the home.
posted by palliser at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2010


Oh, and really, this notion that the uteruses of people on public assistance are subject to the prying gaze of the taxpayer is grotesque, no matter who it's applied to.
posted by palliser at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


complaining that "I hate assholes that drive hummers" probably won't fix anything, but increasing the taxes on gas may just have an impact.

Why is it okay to tax people who directly consume excessive amounts of resources, but not okay to tax people who produce excessive numbers of resource-consuming children?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:28 PM on February 21, 2010


We do tax consumer goods, which means we are taxing the resources consumed by large families.
posted by palliser at 7:32 PM on February 21, 2010


Regressive taxation, that's the ticket.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2010


We do tax consumer goods, which means we are taxing the resources consumed by large families.

But when the large families live on welfare, they don't pay proportionately higher taxes because they're getting much of their resources for free. So the social control dimension of the taxes -- that of trying to curb their resource-heavy behavior -- fails.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:57 PM on February 21, 2010


The welfare argument for deterring people from having large families rings particularly hollow in this case. This woman was part of, and clearly played a very active role, in a very close knit religious and cultural community that allows people who want to have huge families to do so with modest means. There is no indication that this woman or her family members have children they cannot afford to have. They appear to have worked very hard and done without so that they could have a large family. The Duggars (who admittedly make me uncomfortable for a number of other reasons) do the same. Everyone pitches in and helps each other. Most things are cooked from scratch, everyone wears hand me downs, there are 2 - 4 kids to a room, no cable, no cell phones, the list goes on. It's more a 1950's lifestyle than a 2010 one, but that's their sacrifice to make.

Yeah it's not for me. It's probably not for you. I don't really get it. I can't really relate to the desire, but it's their choice and they appear to be taking full responsibility for that choice, that's all I can ask for.
posted by whoaali at 9:00 PM on February 21, 2010


There is no indication that this woman or her family members have children they cannot afford to have.

Well, she was a martriarch in a village where, as was pointed out above, 41% of the population is on food stamps -- the highest proportion in the nation. We don't know if that includes her family of course. But she was clearly part of a culture that believes it's okay to have huge numbers of kids that must be subsidized by other people.

Anyway, I wasn't arguing against deterring people from having large family for welfare reasons, I was just a little confused about why it's okay to speak out against people who use lots of resources, but it's not okay to speak out against people have lots of kids that use lots of resources.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:47 PM on February 21, 2010


To anyone implying that this woman, upon exiting a death camp, before the advent of functional birth control, should have thought twice about screwing her husband all the dang time and hugging babies in between, fuck off, hater! Go cock-block your own ancestors, whydoncha.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:57 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I might have chosen a different way to express it, but the sentiments expressed above by Ambrosia Voyeur? I heartily agree with them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:49 AM on February 22, 2010


But when the large families live on welfare, they don't pay proportionately higher taxes because they're getting much of their resources for free.

Food stamps do not displace taxes; the food that is eligible for purchase using food stamps is not taxed anywhere I've lived. I'm talking about other consumer goods. I guess if she's buying 20 shirts for 99 cents, though, as described in the article, she's really screwing you out of your hard-earned tax dollars.
posted by palliser at 5:45 AM on February 22, 2010


As this woman lived in a time where impacts and worries of overpopulation were not appreciated as they are today, I agree we should not be judging her actions. At the same time, the celebration of her and her descendant's fecundity is what I find objectionable.
Perhaps there is an interesting discussion to be had around taking 'be fruitful and multiply' a little too seriously, but perhaps that is subject matter for another post.
posted by batou_ at 6:53 AM on February 22, 2010


Oh, and really, this notion that the uteruses of people on public assistance are subject to the prying gaze of the taxpayer is grotesque, no matter who it's applied to.

People have a legitimate concern about creating an incentive for people to have more children than they can afford. Nobody at all is suggesting efforts to directly restrain women from having as many kids as they want. The suggestion is that there could be an upper limit on the subsidy that we want to provide, or that there is a geographic component: enclaves of self-sustaining poverty aren't what we want to promote.

I am not concerned over cultural norms which value children. I am concerned about somewhat coercive tactics like those discussed in the NYT articles: arranged marriages at 17, harassment, and education which elevates particular people as authorities, which does not include the legal rights available to women, and which demonizes the other parts of American society. If those are gross exaggerations, then all the better.

There's much less complaint here about the quiver-full folks vs JK and the FLDS. They're similar (nominally, in practice they may hold women in lower esteem) with respect to beliefs about children. They differ in population distribution (not enclaves) and cultural transmission to their kids (not very successful). Given the world-wide demographic transition in which free women choose to have smaller families with greater investment per child, cultures which resist that transition and look like they try very hard to keep people away from it raise an eyebrow about possibly coercive tactics.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:35 AM on February 22, 2010


The suggestion is that there could be an upper limit on the subsidy that we want to provide, or that there is a geographic component: enclaves of self-sustaining poverty aren't what we want to promote.

An "upper limit on the subsidy." So, you don't get food stamps for the "extra" children you have, beyond your income-determined allotment?

Families get food stamps because we agree, as a society, that the most important thing is to feed the child. I don't care what other values you might have, they are subsidiary to the importance of children being fed. If you disagree with that, you're a bad person and should feel bad.
posted by palliser at 7:53 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


To anyone implying that this woman, upon exiting a death camp, before the advent of functional birth control, should have thought twice about screwing her husband all the dang time and hugging babies in between, fuck off, hater!

To anyone accusing people who are simply discussing overpopulation of being motivated by hate, fuck off yourself, asshole.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:02 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, my bad. A thread commemorating the long, happy life of a woman who was tortured, along with her family and millions of others, for years on end, but survived attempted extermination to flourish, is probably the most appropriate place ever to exercise pedantic resource ascetics. That's what the memory of the holocaust is best used for: object lessons in the morality of just about anything, because the context of a genocide is something we all relate to and therefore use for rhetorical ends. I'll definitely learn a lot about how to balance joie de vivre with sustainable sensability from this eminently well-reasoned discussion. Kotletan!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:00 AM on February 22, 2010


And of course anyone who thinks the topic at hand could be wider than just an individual and her experience must be full of hate and told to fuck off.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:03 AM on February 22, 2010


Everybody please stop telling each other to fuck off and we'll be in better shape in general. Being bothered is fine, stating your case is fine, trading nuclear-level exhortions is not so okay.
posted by cortex at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Fuck on, you get better results."

- Popular 7th Grade Retort To 'Fuck Off' Which I Still Don't Quite Understand, I Mean, I Get What They're Saying, But Since When Is 'Fuck On' Another Word For Coitus?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:12 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


An "upper limit on the subsidy." So, you don't get food stamps for the "extra" children you have, beyond your income-determined allotment?

Families get food stamps because we agree, as a society, that the most important thing is to feed the child. I don't care what other values you might have, they are subsidiary to the importance of children being fed. If you disagree with that, you're a bad person and should feel bad.


The alternative to "subsidize parents who can afford private school for 10 kids" is not dickensian scenes of #15 starving. This is insulting and argued in bad faith, so you'll have to continue the discussion by yourself.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:30 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fine. Kiryam Joel's an impoverished shtetl, and if the Hasidim there like Yitta didn't believe in rampant procreation, they'd be more like us and less of a burden on our social fabric and planet, by our measure. But they do believe in it, and that's their right in this country, and I don't think we're discussing laws they're breaking, just naughty, unsustainable choices that result in more and more poor people and fewer bougie atheists. How dare this sect desire to produce and indoctrinate people at a higher rate than we condone! Let's all wring our hands.

I'm not over the distaste of judging religious people, especially devout holocaust-surviving Jews, harshly for their profligacy, because it smacks of liberal fascism just a little too much. The birthrate is here being presumed to be a result of the religious belief. So what's the treatment for this economic and environmental malady — secularization? I'd say it's better to just live and let live and eat the tax burden, to judge not lest ye be judged, and to stay clear away from fascism.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:40 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


The alternative to "subsidize parents who can afford private school for 10 kids" is not dickensian scenes of #15 starving. This is insulting and argued in bad faith, so you'll have to continue the discussion by yourself.

Not sure where you get the idea that people on food stamps don't really need them, and if they would just economize in other areas, they could afford to feed their own kids, and relieve you of the burden, but you're wrong.

Your argument that they "can afford private school for 10 kids" is ill-informed. At the Chassidic schools I'm familiar with, the poor get full scholarships in exchange for services to the school.

And it's pretty amazing to me that you can make the argument that food stamp benefits should be capped based on family size, and then turn around and claim bad faith when it's pointed out that this will result in hungry children.
posted by palliser at 2:10 PM on February 22, 2010


That's what the memory of the holocaust is best used for

No, no, everyone knows the memory of the Holocaust is only to be used to give Israel a free pass.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:05 PM on February 22, 2010


So what's the treatment for this economic and environmental malady — secularization?

Yep, enforced secularization, that's what we want. Maybe have to do it at gun-point. What other false dilemmas do you have for us?

We could try the usual mechanisms we use to influence behavior -- communication, education, tax policies, welfare policies. The same tax breaks that the government uses to encourage couples to have families could be structured to discourage excessively large ones. Things like that. I'm not sure if that qualifies as "liberal fascism." I'd have to check the Teabaggers' placards to find out.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:35 PM on February 22, 2010


The same tax breaks that the government uses to encourage couples to have families could be structured to discourage excessively large ones.

This is a reasonable idea (though I wouldn't vote for it, myself), but you have to acknowledge that there is a bottom to this barrel, and at the point where a family is qualifying for food stamps, there's no "discouraging" you can do that would not be irresponsibly cruel -- completely out of proportion to your goals. Limiting food stamps is a different animal from taxing Hummers, and my issue was with your comment here that argued for their comparability.
posted by palliser at 7:14 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Yep, enforced secularization, that's what we want. Maybe have to do it at gun-point. What other false dilemmas do you have for us? We could try the usual mechanisms we use to influence behavior -- communication, education, tax policies, welfare policies. The same tax breaks that the government uses to encourage couples to have families could be structured to discourage excessively large ones. Things like that. I'm not sure if that qualifies as "liberal fascism." I'd have to check the Teabaggers' placards to find out.

Have you ever heard of... China? I'm a non-procreating intransigent Marxist, myself, and I STILL think prescribing procreation or prohibiting it is the domain of the dictatorial, full-stop.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:19 PM on February 22, 2010


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