Here at JOI, we often speak about various populations that are traditionally underserved by the Jewish community: interfaith families, Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews, and many more. A recent article in Slate suggests that Jewish men in general may now need outreach because, in recent years, there’s a perception that men have become less active in the Jewish community than their female counterparts. The article seeks to discuss why this may be the case, and what we as a community can do about it.
The article reinvigorates a conversation from a few years back that we felt lacked some nuance, particularly around cause-and-effect. There are too many factors impacting upon people’s decision-making to suggest that an increase in female participation in Jewish life is therefore the cause of male decline in participation. For example, the suggestion that Jewish men feel “hostility” toward Jewish women is offered as a factor, yet that doesn’t explain why this trend of “feminization” seemingly impacts upon all of American religious life in general, not just Jews.
Still, the article presents a thoughtful overview of how the Jewish community might serve men and boys in the future. It mentions some new programs that seek to reverse gender disparity in a way that is both thoughtful and respectful. These programs, such as men-only seders, a new “Modern Men’s Torah Commentary,” and an education program for teenage boys, purport to create a space to explore modern masculinity without going backward on the hard-won egalitarianism of liberal Judaism.
Whatever the reasons for the gender imbalance in modern Jewish communal life, we at JOI applaud any group creating vibrant and creative new programming that seeks to address the unique needs of different segments of the Jewish community. As many of these programs show, a diversity of options can help even more unengaged Jews find meaning in Jewish life. The more ways that we as a community have of celebrating religion and values, the better.
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