Focus On Gender Issues
Tue, 11/08/2011

While the debate about filling the void of a national Jewish population study is certainly worthwhile (“How Many U.S. Jews, And Who Cares?” Nov. 4), the disconcerting silence about gender at the Brandeis socio-demography of American Jewry conference also merits attention. By gender I mean the socially constructed roles of men and women, and the power dynamics between the sexes.

Whether the Jewish population numbers 5.2 million or 6.4 million is of less significance than the direction either of those numbers goes. Some demographers argued that low Jewish fertility and high rates of intermarriage would lead to a decline. However this view does

not take into account the gender of the intermarried Jewish parent or changing gender roles over time. Both quantitative and qualitative studies have found that if the intermarried Jew is a woman, the children will more likely be raised Jewish. Further, intermarried Jewish men stand a greater chance of raising children to identify as Jews if the organized Jewish community will count those children as Jews.

Rather than squabbling over methodological approaches or lamenting the demise of the National Jewish Population Survey, researchers and policy makers alike would benefit from focusing their attention on determining which programs promote practical outcomes designed to increase egalitarian parenting. Intermarried Jewish men can raise Jewish children as effectively as intermarried Jewish women provided they are able to integrate work and family, currently a national challenge evident by President Barack Obama urging “Take time to be a dad, today.” Increasing the contemporary understanding of the relationship between gender, religion and culture will be what determines how Jewish is the Jewish population in the future.

The 3-to-1 ratio of male-to-female speakers at the conference and the scarcity of positions held by women in the field of Jewish social science suggest a disinclination on the part of academic leadership and donors to grapple with the gender imbalance. Hopefully “this, too, shall pass.”

The writer is the author of “Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America” and scholar-in-residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.
 

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