Crossposted from Jewesses With Attitude
It’s Mother’s Day, and the way this secular holiday is celebrated in the Jewish media reveals a range of beliefs and attitudes towards Jewish motherhood and the role of women in the Jewish world.
On one end of the spectrum, Mother’s Day is an opportunity to recognize Jewish mothers as unsung heroes of the domestic sphere — as the cherished, revered, spiritual and moral compass of their nuclear families. This is exemplified in a new commercial for Wissotsky Tea called “Tribute to the Jewish Mother,” shared with us via Twitter.
Obviously, this video by Shmuel Hoffman was intended for an Orthodox audience. It was commissioned by the Ptex Group, Wissotzky’s ad agency in Brooklyn. While it recognizes the dedication and hard work of religious Jewish homemakers, which should be recognized and valued, it is limited by its reductive definition of Jewish motherhood. The whole story of Jewish motherhood is so much broader than that.
Women cannot win.
If we have children, we are criticized about the way we raise them, how many of them we have and who they turn out to be. If we don’t have them, we are pathologized, essentialized and told that we don’t know what we want. Most insidious, I think, is when these painful attacks comes from other women. In her recent Sisterhood piece, “Why Being ‘Childless by Choice’ Often Reflects Jewish Disengagement,” Debra Nussbaum Cohen contemplates the ability of Jewish women who elect not to have children to be active members of Jewish communities.
For me, this piece zeroes in one of my worst fears as a Jewish woman who has made the choice not to have children — the accusation that because of a very personal choice that I have made, my Jewish commitment will never be sufficient. This is what we do to each other, Jews, we compete with one another to be “enough”: religious enough, Zionist enough, and in this case, to have enough children, or any.
The personal is political, said feminist writer Carol Hanisch back in 1969, and while reading Renee Ghert-Zand’s recent blog post on childbearing, I couldn’t help but think that procreation is political, as well.
That’s especially true when it comes to Jewish parenting; anyone who is Jewishly engaged is aware of the cultural/religious imperative to have children.
And it is an imperative. Being fruitful and multiplying is not only in the first book of the Bible, it’s also a way to respond to those who, through annihilation or assimilation, would see the Jewish people winnowed away to nothing.
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.