Sisterhood Blog

The Implications of Being Jewish and Childless by Choice

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Somehow, I am not surprised that just as I find myself at what has for me been the hardest stage of parenting (working mom with three boys, ages 9, 14 and 16), studies are showing that fewer women are choosing to be mothers.

A recently released Pew Research Center study shows that a quarter of American women in my age and demographic group (40-44 , with an advanced academic degree) are childless. While that percentage is down from 31% in 1994, there is evidence that choice, and not just infertility, is involved.

The recent report cited a 2007 poll, showing that 41% of respondents felt that children were essential to a successful marriage, down from 65% in 1990. A recent, much-talked-about article in New York magazine titled, “All Joy and No Fun,” covered the supposed revelation that parenting is hard and captured the zeitgeist of today’s young parents hating to be parents.

While I view this change in numbers — and more importantly attitudes — as a shift for women, I also see it as one for Jews. Half a generation after I married and began having children, more young women think that the economic expense and drag on personal fulfillment that come with having kids are legitimate reasons for having fewer, if any, babies. While I don’t think that this is a primary consideration for most young Jewish women, I do think that they are unburdened by a religious and national procreative responsibility that my cohort shouldered.

Growing up in Jewish day schools and spending time in Israel learning about the Holocaust, and even being taught by Holocaust survivors, we perceived a clear directive on doing our part to carry the Jewish people forward. Pru u’rvu (Be fruitful and multiply), Am yisrael chai (The People of Israel Lives), and “Never Again!” combined with one another to create a potent message.

Then, not too many years later, I arrived as a newlywed at the Jewish Theological Seminary for graduate studies in the immediate wake of the release of the National Jewish Population Survey in 1990. That was the study that sounded major alarms in the Jewish community and seared the notion of “Jewish continuity” and all its attendant desperation into our consciousnesses.

This double-whammy, together with my innate desire to be a parent, resulted in my husband’s and my welcoming our first child just one week after my 28th birthday. From recent conversations I have had with several of my former students from my days of teaching in New York day schools, it sounds like things are different for them. They are not taking any calculations other than the personal kind into consideration.

“[Having children] is important because I love children and want a family, and having children is a big part of life,” said one of these young women — now the same age I was when I was rushing home from her 5th grade classroom to be with my newborn.

“I don’t really think my Jewish identity factors into this,” she continued, noting that community and raising children in the Jewish faith are important to her, but being Jewish is not the reason why she would like two or three children.

“While my mother has always said that all Jewish women should have three children in order to deal with Jewish continuity and numbers, I think the numbers have more to do with simple family math and affordability,” explained another of my former students.

Caught in the middle, between the generation of these young women and that of their mothers, I identify with both. I admire my former students for being more level-headed than I was about the costs of parenting. But at the same time, I cannot but be concerned about what this will mean for future generations of the Jewish people.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parenting, Motherhood, Children, Childless

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.