For Jews, Parenthood Is More Than a Lifestyle Choice

June 16, 2021 | Sarah Rindner
About the author: Sarah Rindner is a writer and educator. She lives in Israel.

After some writers have condemned the study of Jewish fertility and continuity as inherently demeaning to women, the scholar Mijal Bitton responded that such arguments not only ignore the fact that several important students of Jewish demographics are women, but also insult the choice of so many women to have children and families. Sarah Rindner contends that this argument concedes too much:

[R]educing such a core Jewish (and human) value as procreation to a matter of choice and agency is insufficient. While this intellectual move may solve a certain surface-level dilemma as far as squaring feminism with motherhood, it fails to account for the crucial place that childbearing and parenting has, for millennia, occupied in Jewish belief and practice, and the deep human potential that is unlocked when we bring new life into the world. Childbearing is the very first commandment Adam and Eve receive in Genesis. It forms a fundamental part of the blessings and responsibility entrusted to Abraham, whose very name derives from the Hebrew word meaning father, and it is the source of anxiety and promise throughout the Bible as a whole.

Reducing Jewish continuity to a matter of a parent’s choice also marginalizes the outcomes of these choices: children themselves.

In delineating the various people and parties who could conceivably be offended by a Jewish continuity agenda, Bitton [thus] leaves out the most important population of all: the future humans upon whom the entirety of civilization rests. It’s true that having children is physically and emotionally taxing, and undoubtedly the burdens are unequally distributed between sexes, at least for discrete periods in a child’s life. Some of these challenges can certainly be remedied; others are on a certain level inherent.

Far from just one just choice among many equally valid options, Jewish pro-natalism is a cornerstone of our belief system. Without Jewish children we would evaporate into ether, along with the groundbreaking and world-changing ideas we stand for.

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