Recent postings on the uterus problem (see here) have been right to question the tshuvah that recently was issued from the bowels of the CJLS. I’m sorry that I got scooped on this because it’s a long standing argument that I have been having with my teachers (whom I respect very much, despite our disagreements) for years now. First of all, here is the URL for the actual tshuvah. I recommend reading it.
Secondly, I want to give kudos to Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ and Rabbi Jason Miller’s comments on the post at jspot. Both of them note that there need to be more social supports put in place for people to have children, Rabbi Jacobs noting:
–Would rabbinical students be more willing to have kids while in grad school if the rabbinical schools offered on-site child care?
–Would it be easier for Jewish women professionals (and men) to participate in professional conferences (such as the RA, from which I just returned, and where I bumped into a few poor women trying to nurse on the floor of the bathroom), if these conferences offered nursing rooms, child care, or other accommodations? (a shout out to the Wexner Foundation for being a leader in this regard)
–Would Jewish women professionals be able more easily to “have it all” if more Jewish institutions offered flex time, family health insurance, on-site child care, and paid for child care when the mom or dad is on the road?
And Rabbi Miller adding:
— not just for the women. As a 26-year-old rabbinical student whose wife was working full-time, I often felt the challenge of sitting in a class while bottle-feeding my baby son. An on-site day-care facility at JTS would have been an important resource.
He also on his own blog made some comments.
(Although I do want to note that I can’t imagine why any women were nursing on the floor of the bathroom, since the hotel in question is luxurious to the point of ridiculousness, and the WC had an anteroom with, I’m told, quite comfortable chairs and, I’m told by a nursing friend, the heat turned way up so that it was a perfectly comfortable place to strip down and nurse if necessary. Of course, the very luxuriousness of the hotel was apparently rather a sore point amongst the many, many Conservative rabbis who lack large convention stipends or, indeed, any, such as those who aren’t pulpit rabbis, or who are, but whose pulpits are more modest, say, under 500 members. A sore point indeed).
I would like to add to theirs my (usual) comments on this topic:
1. Parental leave. The average synagogue does not offer to their clergy, let alone to their general staff, either maternal or parental leave. And maternal leave won’t do it, frankly. It must be parental. Why? Because there’s already a problem with women being less likely to get hired, less likely to get even standard benefits, and getting paid less when they are hired. If we then require maternal, but not parental leave, the response will simply be to not hire women, because they’re more expensive. And secondly because fathers being home with their children is just as important as mothers being home. It’s incredibly important, especially when people are going back to work that the child doesn’t have to go straight into daycare at 2 months, but an extra two months with Abba might well give an extra boost. Furthermore, the RA needs to make this a non-disputable option. I understand that both the Rabbinical and Cantors Assemblies have model contracts – however there is no requirement to actually use anything in the model contracts, let alone the entire things. They seem to be treated as well, a nice idea, but not really. Someone needs to get a little backbone about this. How can we be serious about children if our clergy has to spend after four years as undergrads, five more years as grad students in which they get no assistance in childbearing needs, and then contracts in which there is no obligation to put any breaks for childbearing, and the respective assemblies won’t insist on them, because after all two months of paid leave is expensive? Well, yeah, it is expensive. You want your clergy to be a model for the community or not? You want Jews to have kids or not? Y’all can talk the talk, but I don’t see much walking the walk.
2. Flexible workplaces. Granted, it’s not going to be easy to have a kid around once they’re walking, but in the average Jewish institution, there really isn’t any good reason not to allow, accept,and welcome people bringing their children with them to work while they’re still of an age where one carries them everywhere. The truth is that it’s not anything to do with the work level or needs that forbids it, but peoples’ attitudes towards children in our society.
But imagine what a better place our communities would be (and how people would flock to work here) if every Jewish institution actually loved Jewish kids as much as we claim to do. If the shuls and schools, and JCCs and foundations were full of imas and abbas with babies strapped into their snugglies roaming the hallways. If they all had nursing rooms where anyone could go to have little break and quiet time if needed. I bet not only would they be more welcoming places – but we’d probably get more work done, too, since no one would have to be frazzled about their infant’s day care situation. And then if, as Rabbi Jacobs suggests, there were also on-site day care for the older children, imagine how much more Jewish our future would be? Kids in these programs would be growing up saying their brachot before and after meals, observing the holidays firsthand, maybe learning Hebrew as a native tongue (why not? Israeli expats need to work too) and so on. What if being Jewish in pre-school years was as natural as breathing, instead of being raised by someone who isn’t Jewish at all (not to diss the excellent care given by these dedicated -mostly- women who give our children such incredible care, usually. Even though my child is no longer in her care, our babysitter is someone whom we still make a point of seeing regularly so that said child can maintain a relationship with her and her family).
3. It’s not just rabbinical schools that we need to think about. We need to be providing care for all the children whom we are hoping for women to have, because, let’s face it, Jewish women, should Jews actually take this advice to heart, are going to be the ones bearing the brunt of it. It would require women to get less education, leaving them in the situation of being less educated than their partners, should they find one. (And by the way, women getting less education is no longer a good way to find a partner. See the Cato article here. And this is just an example of quite a few good studies showing that in fact, women are better off matrimonially – or its equivalent- if they stay in school longer).
This is not a good outcome. Jewish women (like most women) are already getting the short end of the stick money- and security- wise. If we want to as a community be pro-natal, we need to be pro-child care for everyone. So, if the rabbis are recommending that we all should be bearing more and earlier, fine. Institute free, quality day care for all undergrad and grad students. Not dependent upon marital status either. If your parent (i.e. of the baby) is Jewish, you (the baby) get care. Period. No excluding women partnered with women, men partnered with men, people partnered with no one, deal with halachic issues later.
You want babies? People will be converting to get this deal. I promise.
But these comments don’t actually get at the germ of the problem here: the rabbis in Hannah’s uterus. I’m personally not interested in residing there. It strikes me as too crowded these days (and not just -or even mostly- with rabbis, to be frank). But I disagree that we don’t belong there. People talk all the time about certain things being “deeply personal decisions” as if that was something which excluded rabbinic guidance. This is a peculiarly American idea. Judaism is not a hobby. We can debate ad nauseum what mitzvot are, depending on what, if any, movement one belongs to. But it’s important tot recognize that deeply personal decisions are exactly what mitzvot are about. If one is a halachic Jew (theoretically, Conservative/Masorti and Orthodox) then what Jewish law has to say about childbearing, as well as many other personal topics is of extreme importance, because it tells us what God hopes for us in some way (I’ll leave it vague as to what, but it is at the very least the way to know what God desires of us).
Halachah is worthless if it only tells us what we already want to hear, and instructs us to do what we already want to do. At the very least we should be open to hearing instruction where we are uncertain as to what the right thing is. But what I think it the heart of the matter here is that it is unclear that this tshuvah actually has anything to do with halachah. Unlike, say, the matter of openly gay Jews going to rabbinical school, in which there were halachic matters to be worked out, we already know perfectly well, thanks, that the halachah requires men to have two children. We also know that that can be accomplished through adoption. SO what was the point of this so-called tshuvah?
Well, here’s the halachic summary of the tshuvah:
1) Every couple who can produce children is commanded to have at least two children. If the couple is infertile, they are no longer bound by this commandment, but may explore alternative ways to have children such as adoption or assisted reproductive techniques.
2) The gender of the children is not a consideration in the fulfillment of this commandment because over time the number of boys and girls will balance out in the Jewish population.
3) Although the Jewish legal duty to produce at least two children technically applies to men alone, both men and women should see procreation as their duty (for men their Jewish legal duty, and for both men and women their moral duty to the Jewish people) and should participate together in the decision of how many children the couple will have beyond the minimum of two set by Jewish law.
4) Rabbis should discuss the desirability of having more than two children with young couples as part of premarital counseling and in other settings. They should inform them that every couple who has a third child or more, whether through sexual intercourse, any of the artificial reproductive techniques, or adoption, may rightly feel that such children
are mitzvah children not only in the sense that they fulfill the Jewish legal duty to have as many children as one can, but also in the sense that they have done a good deed in contributing, beyond replacement of themselves, to ensuring the future of Judaism and the Jewish people. The limit of this good deed this mitzvah in this second sense is the number of children that it is physically and psychologically safe for the couple (especially the woman) and the other children to have.
5) Jewish institutions should take steps to encourage young adult Jews to have three or more children. They can do that through steps such as these: funding and programs to enable young Jewish singles to meet a Jewish mate; flexible work schedules for the institution’s own employees who are parents of young children; pricing policies that award tuition relief for families with multiple children; day care options; school schedules that do not leave parents without day care for any more days during the school year than absolutely necessary; and volunteer networks to help with babysitting and day care.
So, okay, we already knew #1, Number two is kind of a no-brainer, and there aren’t that many people who are going to have a billion kids because they haven’t yet had a girl, or feel hideously guilty because they had two kids of the same sex and then stopped.
Number 3: so not just men are responsible for the number of children a couple has: well, okay. Maybe there are a lots of couples out there where the guy decides to have kids and the woman plays along because it’s his mitzvah, but uh, I’m guessing the tshuvah wasn’t written for just those folks, so, I’m guessing the core of the matter here is that we should all “see procreation as [our] duty (for men their Jewish legal duty, and for both men and women their moral duty to the Jewish people) and should participate together in the decision of how many children the couple will have beyond the minimum of two set by Jewish law.”
This, I will note, is not a halachic comment, but one of social control (we should “See” it as our duty. But it isn’t already. Our duty being to God, not the rabbis of the CJLS). We (the 14 men and 1 woman who voted in favor of this tshuvah -out of, I will note, two women listed in the CJLS ranks that day-WTF. Rabbi Reuven Hammer in the JPOST trumpets happily that the tshuvah was “was passed overwhelmingly by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards” without noting that “overwhelmingly” is actually 3 opposed and 3 abstentions, and only two women on the committee able to comment at all. If we only count the women, one voted in favor and one against. Not quite as triumphant a picture.) have decided that it is our moral duty to refill the draining ranks of Judaism by having more kids to grow up and be bored senseless by the religious schools that can’t get their act together and provide an education that will interest these future Jews because religious schools are about raising money for the shuls, making them thus incredibly territorial instead of sharing resources to make a credible school, and for the parents a bar and bat mitzvah factory. Do we really believe that the demographic is somehow going to change so drastically that all of a sudden having more kids is (assuming that people start doing this) going to make people more interested in schools taught by people who know barely more than the students they’re teaching, that parents are suddenly going to start having shabbat at home and living their Judaism just because the CJLS told them to have more kids? And if they don’t, how is having more kids going to help the problem?
Here’s another interesting tidbit. What has changed in the way we look at ourselves in terms of our roles: Two interesting articles (I don’t know that I buy either of them – in fact I don’t, but food for thought): Single young men, single young women.
Number 4, see comments to number 3, except with rabbis being annoying.
Number 5, then is the only interesting item we have out of this entire tshuvah, in my opinion:
“Jewish institutions should take steps to encourage young adult Jews to have three or more children. They can do that through steps such as these: funding and programs to enable young Jewish singles to meet a Jewish mate; flexible work schedules for the institution’s own employees who are parents of young children; pricing policies that award tuition relief for families with multiple children; day care options; school schedules that do not leave parents without day care for any more days during the school year than absolutely necessary; and volunteer networks to help with babysitting and day care.”
This first point is just more of the same old stuff. Jewish singles programs are mostly ridiculous. Put the word singles on something and it- rightfully- has received the kiss of death. And that seems about right to me. When is the Jewish world going to stop “creating programs” for people who don’t want them? When is the Jewish world going to being seeing Jews as its members instead of its customers to whom it needs to sell product? Maybe around the same time that it finally gets why indies are so healthy, and synagogues are so… not. Maybe shuls could consider simply asking people what they want instead of selling programs that no one wants. This wasted effort of programs designed by people who won’t use them for people who don’t want them is known in the common parlance as “pounding sand down a rat hole,” and is just about as useful.
The last point, similarly; people aren’t living in Jewish communities already. They drive miles to come to shul, and mostly don’t know their fellow congregants. Volunteer networks to help with babysitting? WHO would that be exactly? The armies of stay-at-home mothers? The same ones who are serving as volunteers for all the other programs that can’t find volunteers? Uh, this ain’t 1950, folks. Try again.
The ones in the middle (flexible work schedules for the institution’s own employees who are parents of young children; pricing policies that award tuition relief for families with multiple children; day care options; school schedules that do not leave parents without day care for any more days during the school year than absolutely necessary) are a good start, but not even close to adequate. How about free day school for everyone who wants it? How about free afterschool care for everyone who needs it (hey, you want to revitalize your religious schools? How about that? Get a good program going, and you’ll get a lot more success if it happens every day after school). I dunno, there’s got to be a lot of other things that I haven’t even considered. How about it folks – what do you think?
Maybe if we stopped pouring money into more and more holocaust museums and sending teenagers who will never again walk into a shul to Israel for a nice, free (of real content or anything that might be difficult to see or hear) vacation, we could afford this. It sounds crazy, but let’s face it, it’s not. We actually could afford this if we stopped focusing on the mindless other things that have taken over Jewish life in place of what it should actually be about.
The tshuvah began by asking two questions, “How many children should a young married Jewish couple seek to have? What are the duties of the Jewish community to make it possible for them to have more than two?” but in the end, except for essentially an afterthought, spent all of its time focused on the first. But this is completely bass-ackwards. It is typical; somehow the Conservative movement at the moment has a great grasp on what it wants other people to do for it to be more successful. What it really needs to do is focus on what it needs to do in order to be successful. And when I say successful, I don’t mean in terms of the future of the Conservative movement. Whether or not this or another movement survives is ultimately a historical question. The priority needs to be what the Conservative movement needs to do in order for Judaism -as a whole- to survive as a way of being that is worth living, that is what God commanded us to do, as a mission from God to increase shivyon, tzedek, and rachamim -equality, justice, and mercy- to increase the presence of God in the world, and love in our communities for one another. Let’s quit inventing halachot that have no bearing on reality and instead focus on making Judaism the way to bring God into the world, build community, and repair what is broken. Then we could stop reading yet another tshuvah telling women to get off the stick and have a few more babies. Can we get real already?