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On Jewish Men and Jewish Women

I’ve spent the past few days defending Jewish women against all sorts of stereotypes and criticisms, and, frankly, I’m exhausted. I personally know so many amazing Jewish women, and I report on amazing Jewish women I don’t personally know all the time. So all this complaining by Jewish men about Jewish women makes me think there must be something wrong with Jewish men.

For starters, there aren’t enough of them.

(Yes, that sounds like that joke from Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”: “The food is terrible … and such small portions,” but there’s truth to it).

There are simply more Jewish women than men (there are more women than men in the general population, too) — not to mention men have far less pressure from biology and society to get married by a certain age — and so Jewish men have the luxury of being picky, and of complaining.
When they do decide to choose a wife, finally, and settle down, they often marry women who are younger than they are, leaving single Jewish women in their upper thirties and forties with an even smaller pool of Jewish men to date.

The editor of the L.A. Jewish Journal, Rob Eshman, has what he clearly thinks is a brilliant solution to this problem: encourage single Jewish women over the age of 35 to intermarry.

I have to admit, it’s superficially an appealing idea. The women would expand their pool of potential mates, making it, perhaps, easier to find a suitable husband; hopefully they would have children before their eggs ran out, and those children would still be Jewish by birth. Brilliant!

Except that it’s not. It’s actually quite patronizing and insulting.

Jewish women who are 35 and over and looking for Jewish men to marry aren’t doing so just because their rabbis are telling them to. These are adults we’re talking about, who we should assume are acting according to their own convictions and value systems, not just doing what their rabbis tell them. (While this may not be so in ultra-Orthodox circles, that’s not where the problem of unmarried women exists).

Having Jewish children is not the only reason one would want to marry a Jewish spouse — sharing Jewish values and community is, and should be, just as important. The idea of telling women, hey, just go out and marry a non-Jewish man so you can have a kid already, undermines women’s abilities to make their own decisions and, even worse, reduces them to walking wombs to be guided, if not outrightly controlled, by the community.

And another thing. Eshman’s argument is inconsistent. It’s reminiscent of another bit of advice I’ve heard — don’t have premarital sex, but it you’re still not married by the time you’re X age, well, maybe it’s ok. While this reasoning is obviously meant to encourage psychological health, I don’t think I need to point out its inconsistencies. The same ones apply to Eshman’s thinking. If you’re going to say that women should not be stigmatized for marrying non-Jewish men, why start at 35? Why put women through 15 years of dating disappointment?

Because Eshman’s viewing this only as a desperate move.
But the only thing worse than desperate dating is a desperate marriage.

Eshman is clearly well-meaning, but way off-base.

–Rebecca Honig Friedman