STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro sends us this portrait.
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LOURDES GARCIA: The head of this branch of the family is Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Kanievsky, he's the grandson of the leader of the Lithuanian branch of Haredi or Ultra- Orthodox Judaism. He'll be a hundred next year. Rabbi Avraham says he thinks his grandfather has at least 1500 living descendents.
AVRAHAM YESHAYAHU KANIEVSKY: (Through Translator) My grandfather had 11 children, and each of those had around 11 or 12 children, and the following generations did too. I don't know how many exactly there are. I don't know everybody, frankly.
GARCIA: He says there's no such thing as a small family gathering.
YESHAYAHU KANIEVSKY: (Through Translator) For a wedding, we basically, on average, would cater for 500 people, but usually it's thousands of people who show up.
GARCIA: Now in his mid 50's Rabbi Avraham was married at 19, his wife was 18. They had nine children. His wife, Hannah says having so many people of different ages in the family is wonderful.
HANNAH KANIEVSKY: (Through Translator) My oldest child is 33 and my youngest is 11. I have 16 grandchildren. My youngest child was born after my first grandchild was born. My last daughter is younger than my eldest grandchild.
GARCIA: While the rabbi's extended is remarkably large, it's far from unusual in the ultra-Orthodox community.
YESHAYAHU KANIEVSKY: (Through Translator) Man was created by God to procreate. The Scriptures tell us we are here to be fruitful.
GARCIA: And it's not as much hassle as one would think, he says.
YESHAYAHU KANIEVSKY: (Through Translator) It's much easier having 10 children than having two. Because once you have five or six children, they can help each other and take care of each other. Shopping for bigger quantities cost less. It's nice to see how everyone helps each other out.
GARCIA: Tamar El-Or is an expert on the Orthodox community at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Speaking by phone, she says the Haredi have large families for a number of reasons: religious, social and also historical.
TAMAR EL: After the Holocaust, of course, there was this sort of feeling that we have to fill up the gap and we have to fill the lines that are vacant.
GARCIA: She says the Israeli government also promotes large families.
EL: The government pays per head, pays for every child. If you have more than five children, if you have six children and up, you can more or less manage to live.
GARCIA: El-Or says now 52 percent of all elementary school children are either ultra-Orthodox or Arab-Israelis, who also tend to have large families.
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GARCIA: Back at Rabbi Avraham's house, he says his community has a different way of seeing the world.
YESHAYAHU KANIEVSKY: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Bene Beraq.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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