Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Jewish women's miraculous capacity for asexual reproduction

David Schraub just alerted me to Rabbi Elianna Yolkut's op-ed, which is a response to Dennis Prager's, which is, in turn, a somewhat fish-in-a-barrel, stunningly out-of-date article blaming Jewish women (and decadent university life) for what Prager sees as an insufficient number of Jewish babies. What with WWPD's longstanding but underutilized "Jewish babies" tag, I must weigh in.

Anyway, the glaring problem with Prager's article, which Yolkut points out, is that he doesn't seem to realize that it takes two to tango, and by "tango" I mean produce a baby of the Jewish persuasion. Not necessarily two Jews, given that any child a Jewish woman gives birth to emerges in full Hasidic garb. But human reproduction being what it is, Jewish babies don't come from cultivating the tree clippings of a particularly fertile Jewish woman. That men also somehow enter into baby-making and baby-raising might seem relevant. Indeed, if the idea is that a Jewish woman can bear a child without having intercourse or otherwise involving male reproductive materials, I think we're looking at a festive December 25th chez Prager.

Prager blames fancy schmancy educated women for not wanting to be housewives, as if it's 1970 or who knows, and as if there are great numbers of men who want women with no outside income or ambitions. It's a big jumble of beyond-stale, beyond-refuted arguments about career gals and their wanton ways. But he does make one interesting, highly original point: female fertility declines with age. We women had never heard this before, so it's good he brought our attention to it.

Yolkut, meanwhile, gets it right:

We women are not our wombs. We contribute more than just children to the dilemma of Jewish continuity and growth. We are rabbis and teachers, we are synagogue presidents and we are the breadwinners and the primary volunteers.
Mr. Prager, you want more Jews in the world? Stop chiding women for not having more children, and start finding ways to offer reasonable, paid and significant family leave in all Jewish communal organizations. Start working to find a solution to funding day schools and synagogues that are out of reach for so many. Try helping the rabbinical establishment figure out how to educate dynamic and engaging new leaders so they might draw more people close to Torah. But take your hands off women’s bodies. They do not belong to you, and neither do their sharp, thoughtful and complex minds.
Precisely. There are other conclusions one might draw - that we shouldn't be in the business of systematically influencing the number of X babies by any means, for example. But as an observant-Jewish refutation, it's spot-on.


Maya Resnikoff said...

Thank you for your analysis and for sharing the lovely refutation of that argument. I heard it all so many times as a young person (Hebrew High, college, summer learning program...) that it worked its insidious little way into my brain- all the while the same community didn't provide any help in any of the requirements for reproduction- finding a mate, feeling secure in ability to afford childcare, education, etc.

On the other hand, I'm part of that rabbinical establishment, these days, and I try my best- but I haven't turned my energies to this issue yet, at all. But I don't really know where to start...

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Glad you appreciated the post! In terms of what the rabbinical establishment can do, I think understanding that shaming individual women is counterproductive may well be the crucial first step.