Reconceiving Jews

Last night, just for fun, I googled “childfree Jewish community.” (To be clear – the term “childless” implies that one wants children but does not have them for some reason, whereas “childfree” alludes to someone who’s happily without children and aspires to stay that way). What I found were feature articles written years ago, an assortment of alarmist opinions from rabbis and other Jewish communal figures on the declining Jewish birthrate, and one recent piece from Frum Satire called “I Don’t Want to Have Kids.”

As another Jewish woman who’s committed to living a childfree life, I was so excited to see this post, especially since it was written by a woman who’s committed to a halachic life. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you know you’re going to get skewered by your own community.

I destroyed my own bliss by reading the comments on Tova’s piece. It’s not like I haven’t heard most of them before-you’re selfish, you’ll figure it out when you’re older, you don’t know what you want yet, you have issues that you’re refusing to deal with. What wasn’t said was that in addition to being angry and frustrated, people are confounded by Tova (and me and every other woman who doesn’t want to be a mother). Who is a Jewish woman if not a nurturer, a creator? What does a Jewish woman look like if she’s not building a family or aspiring to build a family?

I’ve always known I didn’t want to parent, but I admitted it rather early. Now I’m 31 and my friends are on their second babies. I’m watching my avowed childfree life proceed as planned. In the secular world, people are confused and skeptical about my feelings, but in the Jewish world, it’s a different kind of message-a questioning. What are my priorities? How will I be a member of a Jewish community as an adult if I don’t have children? Don’t I feel a responsibility to the Jewish community to create more Jews?

The blogger and author Emily Gould said in a recent interview in New York Magazine, “I do think that people who write honestly about their lives are doing people who won’t or can’t a favor, to put it bluntly.” Part of writing honestly about your life is admitting that you don’t have answers, that everything you think and feel is complicated. This is especially true for women, since we’ve been socialized to not trust our instincts and therefore to dismiss our own emotions, lest we become consumed by them and be labeled hysterical. For me, there aren’t clear answers to the questions about what it means to be in a community that I consider to be mine when I feel at odds with it about so many things. There are only more questions.

–Chanel Dubofsky