Dennis Prager has a real recipe for wooing female readers: offending them on every level.
At first I just laughed hysterically when I read the talk-show host’s recent article in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. In it, he blames women – who over time have become more educated, professionally successful and older at the time of childbearing – for the decline in Jewish birthrates. Prager argues that bearing fewer children is not only a sociological failing, but also a moral one, for it reflects women’s selfish choice to relinquish their responsibility in combating the demographic challenges faced by the Jewish community.
With time to ponder, I became enraged – not only at his premise, but at the obvious absence of any thoughtfulness toward the subject at hand. Since when has the number of children a women bears been equated with morality?
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.
For the Jewish community to address the various challenges it faces, its members must battle on a multitude of fronts. Most important among them are giving quality Torah, community and meaning. We all have a role in doing this, and while we do need women (and men) to raise children, we also need them to have the time, energy and money to sit on our boards, volunteer in our schools and help fund our synagogues and community organizations.
In his article, Prager completely disregards women (and men) who in their wisdom and measured reason choose not to become parents, or who know that having more than one or two children would be harmful to their family. Sometimes this is a due to fertility issues, and at other times it is purely a matter of affordability. Prager himself, well versed in Jewish life, must be aware of the commonly rued fact that raising a Jewish child is inordinately costly.
And what about men? Does Prager think men have no say in these matters? What about calling for all Jewish men to contribute more at home so that the burden on women who are career driven, or those who are able to or choose to stay at home, can get more help in the giant task of child rearing?
“In such a world, children are often regarded as disruptive to whatever pleasures life affords. With a bunch of kids at home, it is hard to take many trips, and hard to see a movie or dine out whenever you want. “
Reducing childbirth decisions to selfish rationales is not only offensive, but it distracts us from what should be our cause: helping women and men create Jewish lives where they raise children, build communities, grow the Jewish intellectual canon and create a dynamic bond with our mesorah for their family – no matter the size.
Prager is right in one argument he makes: there is much work to be done in addressing the Jewish community’s demographic challenges. But enough with the blame game. What we need from Prager and others like him who have a broad reach is assistance in creating supportive networks of communities that will grow the most enriching modern Judaism possible.
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.
Rabbi Elianna Yolkut works throughout N.Y.C. and beyond teaching, speaking and writing Torah. You can find her at www.rabielianna.com