The rabbinical organization Tzohar, which represents the younger generation of religious Zionism, has recommended that religious couples marry young and use contraceptives rather than postpone marriage.
At Tzohar's annual conference in Jerusalem yesterday, speakers said that the initiative was designed to counteract the steady rise in the average marriage age, caused by young religious Jews preferring higher education and careers over marriage and children.
Tzohar representatives admitted that the halakhic approach - that starting a family is a higher priority than starting a career - is not followed by an ever-increasing portion of the modern Orthodox community. "Today, it is becoming more acceptable to postpone marriage due to career, and rabbis don't want to ignore the phenomenon, but to deal with it," said one.
The direct impetus for the initiative was an article published recently by Bar-Ilan University Professor Zvi Zohar, which has caused a stir in the national religious community. Zohar used Jewish law to argue that under certain circumstances, premarital sex is not improper.
One of Tzohar's leaders, Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, attacked Zohar's interpretation yesterday, arguing that academics should not issue rulings about Jewish law. Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan and a former candidate for Israel's chief rabbinate, claimed that Zohar's use of permission to take a mistress as the foundation for his arguments was incorrect. Ariel pointed out that Jewish law only permits kings to take mistresses.
Ariel also sharply criticized Bar-Ilan University, where many modern Orthodox students study, for the poor conditions it offers students who are married and have children. He called on the university to expand dormitory housing for married couples and provide more places on campus where women can nurse their babies.