Crotchety old lady talk about Jane Eisner

Today two Jewschool contributors got together over irritation at this article, and both of us agreed on one thing: the article should have started at the end.
XK: I’m disappointed. I hold Jane Eisner to this weird higher standard, because she’s usually
such a bad ass. She’s called out the Jewish community for awful gender and class stuff so many times, I’m surprised that she’d take on something so retro and do it in this way where she sounds like such a yenta. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a yenta.

Random Bystander: I totally agree. Although I agree with much of what she says (and yes, she *does* sound like Mrs. Bennet) – and really there’s not much to disagree with: it’s true that it’s a problem that non-Orthodox Jews marry out at high rates, that we marry later and later, and that -although why this is even part of the article at all, I don’t know- that increases risks of children born with birth defects, if couples even have them at all- this is all a pretty big yawn. I mean, this has only been written about what, 50 times in the last couple of years? Probably more.
XK: I mean, the sociogical conversation about Jews not marrying each other has mainly been the domain of men. (Steven Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, Jack Wertheimer, etc) So it is interesting to hear it from the point of view of a woman. (Just to put this out there so I said it- I don’t agree with the whole idea that Jews have to marry each other to make sure there are more Jews. I think there are a million more creative ways to make sure there are more Jews that don’t rely on marriage as the panacea.)
Random Bystander: Well, yeah, that’s kind of the point. This whole matter is a big anti-feminist boondoggle – or maybe a distraction, or whatever. I actually do think that Jews should marry each other, if they’re going to marry, and I think they should have children. And I also think that they (we) should be raising them to be observant in various ways. Because I also think that being Jewish only matters if you care about being Jewish – and I do- but if there’s no content, who cares? Menachem Mendl of Kotsk tells of a man who came to him and asked him how he could get his son to study Torah. The Kotsker asks him, do you study Torah? If you study Torah, then your son,too will study Torah, but if you only want your son to study Torah, then your son will not study Torah, he will only want his son to study Torah.
Oh, wait, and more! if the Jewish community really cared about solving – or at least addressing the problem, we could, instead what we really want is to have a whine-fest about women, and shove them back into the kitchen or whatever. If we wanted to actually address the problem here’s a solution (and why couldn’t Eisner think of it or mention it?): Have the Jewish community open (full day, thank you, instead of the ridiculous numbers of half-day synagogue programs that help exactly only wealthy stay at homes or women with nannies) day care that is free or extremely cheap, and offer it to Jewish couples. Or even to mixed religion coupes that promise to convert and raise their kids as Jews. Or whatever. That took me three seconds. It would be cheaper than Birthright!
XK: Also, this article started in the last sentence.Earlier in the article,she says that the assimilation-y business is endangering “egalitarian, progressive American Judaism,” which is important. And then, she finally starts talking about LGBT folks, NOT STRAIGHT PEOPLE, and then the piece is over. The issue of real, serious, money-where-your -mouth-is-inclusion, has everything to do with how we use resources, who is in our Jewish communities, and if we chose to close our eyes to people or not. She literally started to hit on something really important and crucial to the future of the Jewish people, and then…why did she stop? Was something on fire?
Random Bystander: That’s true, that it has an effect on the numbers of liberal Jews. But bludgeoning women with anti-feminist rhetoric about how they should get married younger and start popping ‘em out isn’t exactly going to fix the problem. Because it doesn’t address any of the causes of why people are marrying later and having children later (the answer is actually pretty well-documented – it’s because of economics, and many women and guys who really do want to get married, and some of them even care about marrying other Jews, and they have a lot of trouble finding partners. Partly because we don’t develop communities – we’re transient, and we don’t commit to growing our communities Jewishly. Our friends are from everywhere – and that’s great, mostly. But it does have some side effects.
XK: Right, so that’s what worries me, and why I think I was/am so disappointed. She’s so good at being a feminist. It’s alarming how we can fall into these scary tropes that are so antifeminist when it’s clear that she has feminist values and isn’t shy about expressing them. It reminds me of folks who have great politics about everything except Israel and Palestine. (So far in this piece, we’ve mentioned intermarriage, feminism, assimilation, Israel and Palestine. Is there anything else potentially offensive?) Anyway, the point is that she’s compartmentalizing, which is something we all do, especially when we feel like our communities are being threatened. But still, I’m disappointed.
Random Bystander: Anything else potentially offensive? Well, I suppose we could drag in Republicans. Oh, I know! So, not long, there was another article – I think it came out just about the same time as this one, a journalist in Germany who is -partnered, I don’t kow if he’s married- to a non-Jewish German woman, was talking about how he convinced her to have their son circumcised, because he felt that his son should know that part of his heritage. For some reason, this article made me think of that: y’know, he basically goes on to say that there is no other Jewish anything in his or his son’s life other than this circumcision. And I’m thinking, wait – why bother? SO , he goes on to say that when the German judge ruled circumcision illegal (temporarily, after the guy’s son was circumcised already) he felt it was even more important, and I”m thinking – if it’s all that important, then do something Jewish, and don’t subscribe to the stupid Jewish blood by itself is enough idea. Because, in that case, maybe they’re right, and you shouldn’t circumcise. Okay, some mixed marriages produce great Jewish environments, but this is clearly not that kind of marriage – so why bother? And it’s kind of a related question to me – this kind of I don’t know, cud-chewing about what Jewish women ought to do because there aren’t enough Jewish babies, or there are too many defective Jewish babies, or whatever. It’s just not the point. The point is that that’s way down the line – and we don’t really care, or we’d address the needs of the people trying to have Jewish families as well as individual lives, rather than blather on without doing anything -even some fairly simple fixes that could be tried.
XK: And there it is. Gauntlet thrown.

6 thoughts on “Crotchety old lady talk about Jane Eisner

  1. Sooo glad this issue is back. (Extra o’s used to indicate sarcastic tone.) I was beginning to think that the Jewish community had ceased its fixation on marriage and children and moved on to other issues. Don’t worry, message received – I will cancel the “They’ve Moved On!” parade.
    “many women and guys who really do want to get married, and some of them even care about marrying other Jews, and they have a lot of trouble finding partners.” I wrote about this for years, and many of my friends and I are still trapped in the middle of this challenge myself. We all understand the value of marriage (in- and out-) and of having Jewishly engaged families (even if what that looks like is changing), but time passes, and many of us are no closer.
    I still want a marriage and a family. But I have to believe that if either or both elude me, I’ll still be of value to the Jewish community and making positive contributions to the world. And that’s the human, compassionate message that always gets lost as soon as anyone starts crying about assimilation, intermarriage, or delayed marriage.

  2. I’m still wrapping my mind around Eisner’s quote, “What haunts me and the many parents I know who have children in their twenties and thirties is whether they will marry and, if so, whether they will marry Jews. The fact that this concern is rarely discussed publicly by the organized Jewish community highlights the disconnect between our so-called leadership and how most of us live our lives.” Seriously?!?! Every Jewish population survey is seeped in these numbers. I just did a google news search of ‘jewish intermarriage’ and 16 of the top 20 links are from January 2013. It’s 14 or the top 20 links for ‘jewish birthrate’ Granted all these articles aren’t precisely on this topic, but to say this is rarely discussed is ludicrous.
    Even with her argument at face value, I have no clue how she’s concluding birthrates are below replacement. Replacement birthrate is 2.1 children per woman. A world were half the women are married at 31 and many more within childbearing ages is well able to keep replacement. Relating to what XK and Random Bystander say, Jewish replacement concerns should actually be focused on giving generations a connection to Judaism and Jewish communities/practice. Judaism loses more people to apathy or lack of education than to whether or not women decide to procreate at age 25 or 30.

  3. I’ll second Esther’s comments and add that they apply to men as well! Males also have value in our communities. In fact, people do, and that’s what sometimes seems missing. Members, individuals are not assets or chattle to be counted but souls to be nutured.
    “I still want a marriage and a family. But I have to believe that if either or both elude me, I’ll still be of value to the Jewish community and making positive contributions to the world. And that’s the human, compassionate message that always gets lost as soon as anyone starts crying about assimilation, intermarriage, or delayed marriage.”
    Yes, and that value goes beyond what we can contribute to the bottom line, be it in dollar bills or babies.

  4. I’m with Dan Ab- I’ve been told, educated and lectured about the need to marry a Jew and have Jewish babies early since I was in high school, if not before. This certainly made me feel more guilt when I was searching for a partner, and now, when I’m married and haven’t the ability to support a child yet. What it didn’t do was provide me with any help in order to do those things.

  5. You make very good points, but I feel your points on feminism would be better taken if you chose a different title ( less stereotypical possibly agist and sexist- why are old women crotchety? I know it was not intended to be so)
    The part of Eisner’s article that I think was new or at least new to the mainstream Jewish press was that Liberal Judaism as an entity is her continuity concern and that Liberal Jews who are concerned about it ( though how much they should be is obviously a question) cannot rely on “community” efforts like birthright as they often undermine Jewish Liberal values.

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