Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Today's factor in our lovely "cascade" mostly affects non-Orthodox women, but I think we can safely make some deductions that are relevant to the Orthodox community as well.

Fishman told me that among Americans generally, including Jews, women are more likely than men to describe themselves as "religious" and to believe that religion is important for raising ethical children.

American women (including Jewish ones) are also more likely than men to be close with their families and to prefer to marry someone who will please their family.

For both these reasons, Fishman said, Jewish women more actively seek husbands who share a Jewish background with them, while men widen their options by being more open to intermarriage. Remember, women and men intermarry at the same rates, but women do so later on average, indicating that their preference would have been to marry Jewish.

I'm going to go out on a limb and extrapolate that, perhaps, Orthodox men – who generally would never consider intermarriage – are more open to marrying women who are less religious than they are, while Orthodox women are more likely to limit themselves to men who share their "hashkafa" (particular religious outlook).

(I'd like to point out, also, that the more religious a woman is, the more time-consuming it is for a man to match her religious level. Keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and dressing a certain way does not involve the same time commitment as going to minyan regularly and learning Torah x hours a week. The way a woman dresses might involve a certain emotional commitment and raises all sorts of questions about femininity and feminism – indicating a level of dedication to certain type of religious approach – but isn't as time-consuming as the demands put on men. I personally think it would help Orthodox women find good relationships if they had a little more open-mindedness about men who don't appear to be as religiously committed as they are – and boy do I wish I'd known this 15 years ago.)

Back to the subject of non-Orthodox communities, Fishman had a lot to say about why Jewish men aren't as committed as women to in-marrying. Remember we've already discussed her study showing that Jewish men hold active antipathy toward Jewish women. This is in addition to the fact that men are less likely than women to self-label as religious, and less likely to care about pleasing their families.

Another problem, Fishman said, for women in the Reform and Conservative movements, is that as they have become increasingly powerful and involved in those movements, the men have disappeared.

"Feminism has done lots of wonderful things to bring women to the center of Jewish life,” Fishman says. “But we didn’t notice that in the meantime, a lot of men were alienated from Jewish life.” In her monograph "Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent" she writes: “Just as Jewish women were marginalized from the centers of Jewish life for much of Jewish history, for complicated social-psychological reasons, American Jewish men now feel displaced from Judaism."

According to studies cited in the monograph, American Jewish girls are more likely than boys to receive a Jewish education, especially after their bar or bat mitzvah. They are also more likely to join Jewish youth groups, participate in college Hillel activities, take Jewish studies classes, describe themselves as affiliated with a wing of Judaism, attend weekly worship services (except in Orthodox congregations), attend Jewish cultural events, partake in adult Jewish education, visit Israel, attend secular Jewish events and engage in volunteer Jewish leadership. In liberal synagogues, women constitute many of the rabbis, cantors, presidents and the majority of participants.

If women in general are more inclined to be religious, then perhaps there will always be a gap between the observance and affiliation levels of Jewish women versus Jewish men. But there is room for policy change as well. Perhaps solving the "singles' crisis" means looking at how we educate Jewish kids. The Reform and Conservative movements need to look at how to keep boys interested and engaged, so that they can't imagine themselves marrying someone who doesn't share their love of Judaism. And Orthodox leaders could help by letting teenagers and young adults know – especially girls – that people's religiosity can change over time, and that kindness, patience, and a sense of humor (for example) are more long-lasting than what sort of kippah a man wears, or how many hours a week he spends in shiur..

1 comment:

  1. Shalom! I'm an MA student in London writing my dissertation on female identity and Zionism since 1980, using both oral history and Israeli literature. I'm looking to speak (via e-mail) to women both in Israel and abroad, and have contacted 5 bloggers (yourself included), as well as organizations such as Hadassah and WIZO. Would it be possible to e-mail you about the paper and your possible participation? If so, I can be contacted at sophieclairethomas at gmail.com. I wanted to send you a private e-mail but couldn't find an address here. Toda raba and really enjoy the blog! Sophie