J.J Gross

Why do the poorest men often have the most children?

We often wonder why the men who have little or no visible income are inclined to have the most offspring.

The answer can be found in the sixth Mishnah of Ketubot 5.

This Mishnah lists the frequency with which the husband is obligated (i.e. for the wife’s pleasure) to cohabit with his wife, depending on his vocation:

הָעוֹנָה הָאֲמוּרָה בַּתּוֹרָ

הַטַּיָּלִין – בְּכָל יוֹם

הַפּוֹעֲלִים – שְׁתַּיִם בַּשַּׁבָּת

הַחַמָּרִים – אַחַת בַּשַּׁבָּת

הַגַּמָּלִים – אַחַת לִשְׁלשִׁים יוֹם

הַסַּפָּנִים – אַחַת לְשִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים

דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר.

  • The unemployed: Every day
  • Laborers: Twice a week
  • Teamsters: Once a week
  • Camel drivers: Once every 30 days
  • Seamen: once every six months

With the exception of the unemployed, this breakdown makes perfect sense. A laborer is exhausted from his labors, and may have to spend some nights sleeping in the fields. A teamster’s work often keeps him away from home from Sunday to Friday. The camel driver is away with a caravan for 30 days at a stretch. And a sailor can be absent for half a year.


For this I have two possible explanations:

  1. Understandably, the wife is disgusted by her husband’s indolence; the absence of a regular paycheck, the shortage of food with which to feed the children, the constant harassment from the landlord for overdue rent. In order to keep the marriage from falling apart, he is therefore required to do the only thing he can, other than finding a job, in order to keep her happy;
  2. Hopefully my cohabiting every day there will be so many children that he will have no choice but to get a job and start supporting his family. This would alleviate the hunger of his wife and children and reduce the obligation for intercourse to only twice a week,

Based on the empirical evidence we know that #2 is ineffective.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.