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Jewish Metadata: Suggestions for the Womb

Is there any other ethnic or religious group that devotes as much time, effort, and money to thinking about itself as the Jewish community does?
As a people, we are so “meta.” Case in point: The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) releases an annual report on the state of the Jewish community, with suggestions for improvement. (Another case in point — the fact that there is a Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, and numerous other organizations with similar concerns).

2007’s report finds Israel placing a less central role amongst Diaspora Jews, a largely cosmopolitan bunch who aren’t as wealthy as one might think we are, and who are often in mixed marriages but also often raising their children Jewish (the Jewish Chronicle has a good summary of the report’s findings but you can read it in its entirety on the JPPPI website). Still, the JPPPI’s main suggestion for improvement? More Jewish children. Seems the ancient precept of p’ru u’rvu [be fruitful and multiply] is still the best advice they can come up with. And they would have the community give middle class families financial incentives to have a third or fourth child.

Can you say Big Brother?

Almost a year ago, I wrote about a debate over a similar suggestion to increase childbirth in Israel (JPPPI focuses on the Diaspora) and sided with the demographics researcher rather than the feminist who told him to “spare my uterus your fancy ideas.” Yet, now, maybe because of the mention of money and the desire to put this demographical theory into practice, this suggestion makes my skin crawl. There’s something about using children for a cause that’s just yucky, not to mention the increased social pressure (already so intense in the Jewish community) to have children.

The suggestion reeks of desperation — typical Jewish anxiety over the destruction of our ranks — and there’s nothing less attractive. As a people seeking to attract new members, and keep existing ones, we need to get beyond it. Don’t pay people to have children, pay to create communities and programs that will make the children they do have, of their own volition, want to stay.

–Rebecca Honig Friedman