Just when I thought I could continue to live my life based on my own choices, I had to go and read a blog post. Whoops. Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s piece, “Why Being ‘Childless by Choice’ Often Reflects Jewish Disengagement,” featured in the Forward’s Sisterhood Blog on August 6th, actually includes the line, “I don’t know any Jewishly engaged woman who is childless by choice.”
Speaking as the alleged rare bird in this situation, a Jewishly engaged woman who does not plan to have children (that’s right-ever), I have some thoughts as to why Nussbaum Cohen may not know women like me.
Many mainstream Jewish settings claim to be welcoming of all kinds of folks. Some of them even mean it. Still, I have yet to encounter a space where I’ve felt safe enough to profess that my version of family looks drastically different than the one presented to me by the Jewish world at large.
The Jewish community has shut the door on women who choose not to have children. Where will we fit in? How will we become real Jewish women if we insist on listening to our instincts that say motherhood is not the right decision for us, instead of caving to institutional and/or biological pressure? What will we do with our empty lives? Nussbaum Cohen’s reminder to her readers that the Torah commands us to be fruitful and multiply is a prescription: women, have babies. Don’t look to contribute to the Jewish world through your intellect, your politics, your creativity, your passion for Jewish education, etc, because the only legitimate contribution is babies. Got it? Without babies, you don’t count.
Women who choose a life without children are regularly made to feel uncomfortable and guilty for our decision (or circumstances, depending on your reason for being childfree), in and out of the Jewish community. Being constantly contradicted and pathologized for failing to be the “right” kind of Jewish woman is exhausting, especially when it’s the result of our own authentic choices. Therefore, we’re driven to seek out alternative communities or build our own, rather than remain in these painful, narrow spaces.
So to Debra Nussbaum Cohen, I say, thanks for judging the level of Jewish commitment of myself and many other Jewish women whom you don’t know. As it turns out, I don’t so much want to be Jewishly engaged with you.