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Rabbi's fecundity held accountable for coming Holocaust

Failing to understand the exponential function or failing Kant’s moral litmus test?

Jason Brent is a unique individual. By his early twenties he was he was a young man of astounding academic accomplishments, having earned both an MBA and a degree in engineering, and later on, the legal training to finish his working life as a judge. He is a dedicated Malthusian from Brooklyn who lost well over a hundred relatives in the Holocaust, and his draconian prescriptions for rapid population reduction to sustainable levels are rooted in a desire to avoid a holocaust inflicted by nature on a vaster scale failing our intervention. As such, Jason has a problem with Orthodox Rabbis who tell their flock to go forth and multiply and at the same time be good stewards of the earth. Viable biodiversity cannot co-exist with relentless human expansion. Moreover, as a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, he is all too aware that water shortages trump the tribal ambitions of orthodox Jews to win a breeding war with the Palestinians, whose wombs, according to the late Yassir Arafat, are their best weapon.

Mr. Brent also finds that one Rabbi Shanowitz is caught in another moral contradiction. He is in logical violation of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. Namely, that one cannot will for himself, a privilege or a right which he would not accord to everyone else in the same situation. I cannot, for example, argue that it is acceptable for me to steal someone’s wallet without allowing everyone else the right to steal mine. Thus, if Rabbi Shanowitz is morally justified in siring 9 children, as he has, then he must permit everyone else the same privilege. What would be the consequences then, if those 9 children, and the 10 generations which followed them, modelled their reproductive behaviour on Rabbi Shanowitz’s example?

Mr. Brent answered that question by constructing a table consisting of 10 generations each separated by 35 years. He calculated that the number of the good rabbi’s descendents would rise exponentially from 9 in the first 35 years to 6,561 in 140 years, to 43,046,721 in 280 years, to over 3 billion Shanowitz products in 350 years. Then, he pointed out to the rabbi,

“ln just one more generation (11 generations), a total of less than 400 years, you would have in excess of 31 billion descendants. If this were to continue for just 100 generations or 3,500 years, your descendants would exceed the number of atoms in the entire universe. And by the number of atoms in the entire universe I include not only our sun and its planets, not only our galaxy, the Milky Way, with in excess of 100 billion stars, I include at least 100 billion galaxies with each having in excess of 100 billion stars and each of the stars having a number of atoms that you cannot conceive of. God himself could not cause the number of human beings to exceed the number of atoms in the entire universe in 3,500 years. To be more realistic, not even God himself could cause the earth, our planet, to support in excess of 31 billion human beings and your descendants would exceed 31 billion in under 400 years...Your descendants, based on the assumptions above, will destroy all of humanity substantially before 400 years by destroying the ability of the earth, our planet, to provide the resources needed by humankind to survive. And the previous statement does not take into consideration the descendants of any other person on the face of the earth.”

Mr. Brent then concludes that,

“Your descendants will cause resource wars, with or without weapons of mass destruction, concentration camps will make those of Nazi Germany look like a picnic, ethnic cleansing, massive rapes of innocent women, and deaths beyond your wildest imagination. Having nine children is an evil so monstrous that there aren't any words in the English language to describe it. Hitler killed six million Jews. (But) you and your penis will cause the death of every Jew on the face of the earth when the earth is no longer able to support the needs of humanity and humanity turns into wild beasts fighting for every scrap of resources to survive. Any person who advocates having a large number of children should be executed for crimes against humanity.”

Amen to that!

Tim Murray,
January 2/09



There are plenty of people in the world who decide to have lots of children. The argument that that is unwise in our currently overpopulated world is fine. To single out a jewish rabbi because his tribe was victimised by Hitler's holocaust in order to make a point, seems totally insensitive. Are we now going to see articles about how the Irish Catholics will cause holocausts greater than the Jacobite refugee diaspora, or how Hutterites will die of starvation on their farms? (Actually the Hutterites, having a limited circle of marriage mates to draw from, are not able to multiply as fast as huge mixed populations, which can practise serial marriage or simply multiple inseminations.)

The title of the piece objectifies the rabbi into a penis, whereas it is actually his religion or his fecundity that causes the problem. Women are usually targeted as being like rabbits for having many children, so you could say that this argument redresses the gender balance of insults if you like, but, the point is, do you have to be so perjorative in the first place? Is this really necessary? Won't it reflect badly on

Also, to argue as a fact that his tribe would expand exponentially to fill the universe with warring peoples, is to hang your hat on such a distant nail that the whole thing simply looks contrived. In the end what stands out is "Rabbi's Penis", dwarfing all the rest or magnifying its disproportions.

Editor's comment: Whilst Tim's argument may or may not be wholly valid, I think that your point about the title is valid, so I have replaced the word 'penis' in the title with 'fecundity'. - JS

I would take Kant's categorical imperative to mean that I should act such that the moral content or intention of my actions is my universal recommendation.

The rabbi may have have other intentions than to overpopulate the world and bring about an impossible numerical situation.(Even though this is the consequence of everyone following suit) Instead ,his intentions may be to follow what he thinks is right as dictated by the readings of his faith or it may be to protect future generations, through numbers. Who knows? What does he intend by siring 9 children? That is what is important from the moral point of view and Kant's categorical imperative.

Even the stealing of a wallet-whether one can really recommend that others follow suit depends on the circumstances and motivation behind the wallet theft.

Nice, fresh perspective, Quark.

What would Kant have to say about restraining Australia's population growth and our Prime Minister and his corporate friends forcing it on the rest of us?

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

I don't think I can channel Kant but from the moral perspective , looking at the PM and his corporate friends boosting the population

1. Are they acting morally at all? I would say they would be giving no thought to whether or not they have failed to act in adherence to the categorical imperative. Is it more like part of the job such as a demolition job or laying bricks- without moral content to them?
2. Are they in a state of self deception? Jean Paul Sartre coined the term "bad faith" for this (Being and Nothingness). The PM and friends are possibly aware that they are causing problems for most of us by shooting for a "big Australia" but they have convinced themselves that "Big Australia" is such a good idea that the whole downside is disregarded. It may disturb them in their dreams but they disassociate from reality functioning in their respective roles whilst awake.
3. They may be completely expedient and act purely in their own short term interests knowing that the rest of society will pay for what they have done but they don't care or tell themselves that they might as well profit (from population growth) as someone else will anyway.

4 Are they (perhaps unconsciously) acting in accordance with the categorical imperative after all? We need to know their motives. Are they saying to themselves- "I will make money and be more prosperous when I have doubled Australia's population and so will you!" (Genuinely forgetting or being unaware of the negative environmental consequences.) In this case they have fulfilled the categorical imperative but one would have to say they are incompetent and should not be let loose to engineer Australia's future.

The Genesis command to "go forth and multiply" was given to Adam and Eve when the Earth, as we humans know it, was relatively young. If rules and commandments are literally applied today, with rigid adherence and religious ritualism, then the outcome will mean that families are burdened with more children than they can manage. Religious blindness will ultimately mean that our species will consume natural resources and eventually have to cope with mass starvation, wars, climate change and death. The human race is on a course of mass suicide - driven by a collective conscious that drives us to multiply, consume our excess now as there is little future.
It required only 40 years after 1950 for the population to double from 2.5 billion to 5 billion. This doubling time is less than the average human lifetime. The world population passed 6 billion just before the end of the 20th century. Present estimates are for the population to reach 8-12 billion before the end of the 21st century. During each hour, more than 10,000 new people enter the world, a rate of ~3 per second! "Go forth and multiply" should be revised to "go forth and cherish your family and the Earth that sustains"!
According to Physicist Al Bartlett, we humans have an evolutionary failure to understand exponential growth. Blind adherence to religion, without the use of intellect, is dangerous.