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Being Fruitful and Multiplying

Last week, Hannah Farber posted an interesting blog on Jspot.org, a blog featuring “Jewish perspectives on contemporary issues of social and economic justice.” Her piece, “I’m Going to Count to Three, and Then All Rabbis Need To Get Out Of My Uterus,” brings to light two contemporary concerns relating to women. The first concern, which is in response to an article in the Atlantic Monthly, is whether women should settle for Mr. “Almost” Right when looking for a life partner. While there are many issues with the Atlantic Monthly article, I am not going to get into those here. Instead, my focus is on the other issue that Hannah brings up—the Conservative movement’s newest program for ensuring Jewish continuity.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, has released a responsum (a rabbinic opinion based in Jewish law) encouraging all healthy Jewish couples to have more than two children. According to their theory, these additional children, “mitzvah children,” would help to rebuild the “diminishing Jewish population.”

I understand and agree with the importance of a strong and active Jewish population, but as a female member of the Jewish community, I was surprised that the Rabbinical Assembly interpreted the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply as having upwards of two children. In addition, the “mitzvah children” responsa was written largely to combat the “Jewish demographic crisis.” Rozele, who comments on Hannah’s blog, writes:

first of all, as many folks more ‘legitimate’ than me have pointed out over the past few years, the whole notion of a ‘demographic crisis’ is pure fiction. it relies on wildly flawed survey data which (in its u.s. versions) massively undercounts non-ashkenazim, jews of color, non-synagogue-affiliated jews, poor & working-class jews and jews by choice, and preemptively disqualifies folks who actively identify themselves as jewish for having the wrong combination of grandparents or for simply being under 18 in a household where the older folks don’t identify themselves as jewish.

There are many points-of-view about the expanding or diminishing Jewish population, but I hope that as we look for ways to strengthen the Jewish community, we make sure to include and welcome all those interested in finding Jewish meaning and community.



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