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Letters

Dear Editors:

Since some of the propaganda for larger Jewish families is based on my analysis of the data I would like to make the following comments: A 1957 sample survey run by the U.S. Bureau of the Census made it possible for the first time in a long time to make fairly accurate comparisons between the fertility of American Jews, white Protestants and Roman Catholics. The Jewish birthrate was found to be lower and slightly below the replacement level. This was the basis for anxiety. (See “The Population Panic” by Shirley Frank in Vol. 1 No. 4.)

Recently I went over the data for a second time and found that the differences between Jews and other groups were very small, perhaps even insignificant, when the comparison is limited to the population in urban areas. In other words, in a large urban area like New York or Los Angeles, whites have about the same fertility level regardless of religion.

This analysis also revealed that the Jewish population participated in the baby boom after the war, but not to the same extent. There is a good deal of evidence that there is a time lag between the decline of general fertility and Jewish fertility in such a manner that the decline in Jewish fertility precedes that of other population groups.

A new specialty in the field of demography addresses itself to the problems of motivation for having children. My guess is that the decision to have children is not influenced by propaganda.

by Prof. Erich Rosenthal Dept. Of Sociology, Queens College Flushing, NY


To the Editors:

I do think that some of the cause-effect relations posited between the role of women and the changing concern with fertility levels can be disputed, but there is certainly some element of truth in this argument. I agree strongly, of course, with the arguments presented at the end of the article with respect to the need for the organized community to change its institutional structures to facilitate higher fertility, if that is seen as a goal worth pursuing. I am not convinced personally that it will make much difference since I believe there are much larger “forces” at work. However, any pleas for more children in the absence of the kinds of changes that the article advocates are certainly not justified.

My wife and I very much enjoyed the other articles in the journal, too. Congratulations to you and your colleagues on putting out such an interesting publication.

by Sidney Goldstein, Director, Population Studies and Training Center Dept. of Sociology Brown University Providence, RI


Dear Friends,

Shirley Frank’s closely reasoned polemic against those advocating an increased Jewish birth rate manages to ignore totally the statistics on Jewish population —the basic reason so many Jewish women and men have been commenting on ZPG and the Jews.

To be sure, among those advocating more Jewish babies are some who fear the implications of the women’s movement and want to lock up Jewish women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and/or nursery. But they are an insignificant minority. Concerned Jews have reason to be alarmed at our low birth rate which, combined with assimilation, intermarriage and remaining pockets of persecution, does threaten creative Jewish continuity.

For those whose Universalist sensibilities are offended by pleas that Jews should be an exception to the current population crisis —don’t be. It is not wrong to place one’s own interests first, especially since not doing so contributes to our destruction. And anyway, we’re not part of this problem. Our population isn’t growing, it’s diminishing which is why Jews are worried in the first place. And finally, we’re not alone. Some other countries and groups feel that their population is also too small or shrinking and they too are trying to increase their numbers by encouraging births.

Ms. Frank correctly emphasizes the importance of Jewish day care and the need for making Jewish education available for all. These areas must be improved. However, this still does not negate the need for having children for whom these services will be available.

by Ethel C. Fenig Advertising and Promotion Manager, LILITH New York, NY


Dear Editor:

The laws regarding birth control and abortion do more to coerce women into having unwanted children than all of PRU’s propaganda. Under the Halachah, a woman who wants to use a contraceptive or have an abortion must ask for permission from a rabbi, who will give it to her only if her reasons for wanting to avoid childbirth are “good” ones. Margaret Sanger said, “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” By that standard, Jewish women still have a long way to go.

by Aloha, Dr. Jeanne Fertel Honolulu, HI


To the Editors:

You offer a conspiracy theory to explain the rise in talk about our population crisis: male chauvinists are sounding a false alarm in order to turn back the progress of Jewish feminism. My explanation is simpler. First, how much talk is there, actually? A recent survey showed our low birth rate to be toward the bottom of the list of Jewish concerns.

We have shown that we prefer not to reproduce ourselves. No doubt it is less convenient for the individual to have three or more children than to have one, or at most two —not to speak of none at all. But the sum of the conveniences of the individuals in a group does not always equal what is good for the group as a whole. You may believe in the Kabbalah’s disembodied souls. I do not. If it is true that the presence of Jewish bodies does not guarantee that there will be Jewish souls —though we can try to lodge them there —it is even truer that the absence of Jewish bodies guarantees that there will be no Jewish souls. Births are not a sufficient condition for our survival, they are only a necessary condition. Although we have cleverly hidden our suicidal behavior from ourselves, reality has a way of finally seeping through the cleverest defenses. That may be beginning to happen.

I am quoted [as saying]: “If you want emergency powers —authoritarian, even totalitarian powers—you must first persuade people that there is an emergency.” Out of my own mouth I have convicted myself, have I not? First I talk about the crisis of Jewish infertility and then I say that when people wish to grab power they talk about a crisis.

How can your readers know that I was referring to “population hawks” like Paul Ehrlich and Garrett Hardin? The book in which that quotation appears was published in 1973, after one of their company had proposed not only compulsory abortion and sterilization for any American woman pregnant over quota but also tattooing, as a mark of infamy. Who remembers now that the best people on the campuses, professors and students alike, were so impatient with mere Zero Population Growth that they called for Negative Population Growth and volunteered for childlessness? Or that in the last century an eminent personage said of the Jews that they were littered [with children]?

Why do I bother writing this? I have no great hope that we will change. When intelligent people need to be told simple things, there is no use telling them. They do not want to know. But though most of your readers will close their eyes and shut their ears, maybe a few will not. Nor is it too late for you yourselves to repent of your sophistries and, what is worse, your abetting us in our doing away with ourselves.

The question that haunts young Jewish historians doing research into the 1930’s and 1940’s is why the American Jewish community responded so inadequately to Hitler and the Holocaust. For their successors, if they have any, the haunting question may well be why the American Jewish community in the Sixties and Seventies responded so inadequately to warnings of our poor life expectancy.

Let such historians at least be able to record that LILITH stopped arguing for a future without Jews.

by Milton Himmelfarb New York, NY


Dear Editors:

The fact that we are conscious Jewish feminists should never preclude our being conscious Jews, concerned as much about Jewish survival as about our own personal fulfillment. A more constructive approach than Ms. Frank’s would have been to point out the inconsistencies in the Jewish community’s posture towards large families. If the Jewish community is serious about this issue, Jewish men must learn to be more supportive and active child rearers. Communal institutions must make it easier for workers to accommodate both home and family. Men and women must join together in sensitizing the Jewish community to the need for communal support systems which will ease the formidable burdens extra children place on Jewish families—mothers and fathers alike!

by Deborah Cardozo Blum New York, NY


Dear Editor:

Jewish leaders who urge Jewish women to “be fruitful and multiply” ought to be shouting a corollary message: Childbirth in America is all too often a threat to the intelligence and emotional well being of children. We have startling numbers of dysfunctional children with every degree of damage from gross defects to subtle difficulties in functioning. Among them are obstetrical casualties, victims of drugs and meddling that were unnecessary and unwise.

by Estelle Cohen Bronx, NY


Dear Editors:

If we are an endangered species, it is not because the Jewish woman is not procreating enough. The progeny that we do have are being killed off by war in Israel, and are being destroyed by assimilation in America.

We know that in all religious groups children are highly influenced by the mother. The Jewish woman who stays home with her children is basically their sole influence in their early formative years. The woman who is “turned off” also influences and turns off her children. How can we anticipate survival when more than 50% of our population is put down or ignored?

by Ita Aber Yonkers, NY


To the Editors:

An ad for Empire Poultry extolling the product’s “luscious legs (also thighs)… and beautiful breasts” appeared in the National Jewish Monthly. This ad is sexist and offensive to all women and to men who respect women. I see that ads for Empire Poultry have appeared in LILITH and that’s why I’m writing to you. Since you sell advertising space to Empire I am asking you, on behalf of your readership, to ask them to discontinue the use of this particular ad. If Jewish firms wish to sell their products to Jewish women they should certainly treat those women with respect.

by Frayda S. Turkel Program Director, Hillel Foundation at Ohio State University Columbus, OH


Dear Friends,

The Fund for Animals appreciates the policy of LILITH, which prohibits the advertising of products made from animal fur.

by Duncan G. Wright Vice President, The Fund for Animals New York, NY


Dear Editors:

When I read the article about children’s responses to “Describe a Jewish Mother,” I was disappointed and even disturbed. Has so little changed in our Jewish communities? I posed the question to my daughter, who was at the time nearing her seventh birthday. Here is her reply: “A Jewish mother is a woman who is Jewish and has children or a child and believes in Judaism.”

Tearfully I blessed her (and wow! Was I surprised). Curious, I asked her to write a paragraph description of a Jewish father. Her reply: “A Jewish father is a man who has a child or children and believes in Judaism.”

Thank you for providing a forum for Rena and me to continue to discover each other without stereotyping either of us.

by Debbie Dubin Houston, TX


Dear Lilith Staff:

I am truly delighted with your magazine. Not only does it say the things I have long suspected, and never said, because like all Jewish women, I have been brought up not to criticize “my own,” but it also offers some creative and meaningful ideas for positive changes in our Jewish living habits.

I had indeed reached the point where I had begun to consider myself a feminist who was almost no longer Jewish. I felt that it was virtually impossible to be both Jewish and feminist. What I suppose I really admire and enjoy in the magazine is the chance to learn about people who have begun to do something. I also enjoy and use (via Xerox) the muckraking gripe articles to offer facts that support what goes on in Israel and here. I refused to donate —first time ever —to the Jewish Theological Seminary, and offered to send proof of why (it was declined).

You have made me once again proud to be a Jewish mother.

by Gayla Copland Stein Phoenix, AZ


Dear Editors:

I have decided that LILITH is not for me. I long ago passed through the slick magazine stage. When LILITH was a revolutionary paper, I identified with it. In its present Jewish imitation of Ms., it has very little of interest to me. It seems to me to be geared to the “young” Hadassah member. When I was “young” I attended three consecutive Hadassah meetings and decided these “ladies” are not my “cup of tea.” That was a long time ago —now that I am “older” and not unstrangely much more revolutionary —I look at them as an anachronism.

by Charlotte M. Gray Forest Hills, NY


To the Editors:

Wish you weren’t so aggressively feminist—but I encourage your efforts.

by Sylvia Freedman Westbury, NY


To The Editor:

I looked with great interest at the article, “Selections From A Prayer Book Where God’s Image Is Female.” I suppose it is necessary to counter male chauvinism with female chauvinism, but if so it should be done consistently. “Lord,” the very first word in the selection, is as chauvinist a word as “lady.” I find it distressing to lead worship in the traditional chauvinist style. I would find it no less distressing to speak of God as her than I do speaking of God as him. Perhaps all of us need to reach for language that admits the possibility of deity being non-sexist.

by Rabbi Fishel A. Pearlmutter Toledo, OH


Dear Editors:

I read the latest issue from cover to cover, and I found it stimulating and challenging. It is extremely well written and you address yourself to issues that are of great concern to the future of American Jewry. I particularly enjoyed the book review by Ida Cohen Selavan. It is first rate.

by Rabbi Saul Teplitz Rabbinical Assembly New York, NY


To the Editor:

When my husband was interviewing for a pulpit, an officer of the congregation said to me, “Rebbetzin, tell us a little about yourself.”

“The first thing I will tell you,” I replied, “is that I don’t like being called ‘Rebbetzin,’ which identifies a woman by her husband’s profession.” My husband took the job, and no one here calls me “Rebbetzin.” I shouldn’t have to explain such connotations to the editors of a feminist publication, or to Jewish feminists. Nevertheless, there is that word, with all its traditional baggage, in Ida Cohen Selavan’s article on Miriam Small in Harry Kemelman’s “Rabbi” books. Selavan’s final comment is that Miriam and Kemelman need their consciousnesses raised; so, alas, do Selavan and LILITH.

Selavan notes, in questioning why “Miriam has not taken an active role in the synagogue or community,” that “most of my Rebbetzin friends of Miriam’s age work as Hebrew teachers in their husbands’ congregations. Many congregations take for granted this addition to their religious school staff when they hire rabbis.” Obviously Selavan—and LILITH—don’t think twice about that.

But should congregations take such a thing for granted? Should women married to rabbis feel obligated to take an active role in the synagogue? Should patients expect the wife of their doctor (if they go to a male doctor) to prescribe treatment? Should the wife of an attorney feel obligated to research his cases? Don’t women and men who are married to rabbis have the same right as any member of a congregation to decide how much or how little they want to be involved in that congregation?

Jewish feminists should also be aware of the work of the Task Force on Rabbinic Family Relationships of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) to sensitize all to the fact that not every woman married to a rabbi accepts the role traditionally imposed on any clergy wife. This educational process is even more difficult when not even our liberated sisters will forego the stereotypes and acknowledge that women can be married to rabbis and be feminists too.

by Sherry Levy Reiner Topeka, KN

Ida Cohen Selavan Replies:

My discussion of Miriam’s lack of involvement in the community was to point up Kemelman’s ignorance of the present role of rabbis’ wives. I was not approving the role, necessarily. Marriage to a rabbi does involve one with Jewish life but it does not mean that a rabbi’s spouse should be regarded as a source of free labor for the community.


Dear Editor:

Because I support almost all the immediate demands of the feminist movement, I find myself distressed by the sort of ideological rigidity, to say nothing of plain ignorance, which characterizes Barbara Joans’ review of my World of Our Fathers. I do not want your readers to think I am some sort of “enemy,” since you already have enough real ones. I confine myself to a few points.

1. Ms. Joans says, “Jewish women occupy only a small part of (Howe’s) chronicled world.” Not so. There are full sections on Jewish women workers, on Jewish women staying at home, on Jewish young women entering college for the first time. There are substantial sketches of Lillian Wald, Anzia Yezierska, Rose Schneiderman, Belle Moskowitz. Women figure in almost every chapter, whenever and wherever they played a role in Jewish immigrant life.

2. Ms. Joans objects to my calling the shirtwaist makers “girls,” and in so doing reveals a lack of historical knowledge. In fact, if one means by “girls” young persons of the female sex, that is precisely what most of the shirtwaist makers were. As I write in my book, they were “in their teens or early 20’s.” There is no condescension here: I write about them as “natural leaders, fighting with great boldness, even ferocity” — a phrase, of course, Ms. Joans chooses not to quote.

The whole matter of courtesy designations is complicated. The term “girls” now seems condescending to feminists, just as “Negro” does to blacks. But it was not always so. I have recently reprinted in a book of essays some pieces I wrote several decades ago about Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison in which I refer to them as Negro writers. I think it a sign of respect for human experience, that I have not changed “Negro” to “black.” If it is understood that the current feminist view of “girls” was not shared 65 or 70 years ago, it may be clear why a historian writing about that time should feel it appropriate to use a term that in that context suggests no lack of respect.

3. Ms. Joans objects to my saying that “on the East Side only a tiny fraction of wives worked full time…”. In seeming rebuttal she cites several writers—all of whom speak about the economic role of Jewish women in Eastern Europe, where wives did often work full time. She just does not know or understand that conditions changed from there to here. As I write on p. 174: “it was so hard to maintain any sort of decent life in the tenements. ..That the immigrant wives, who in any case seldom possessed marketable skills, had to stay home. For both husband and wife, even if there were no children, to spend 60 hours a week in a shop would have made family life all but impossible. Nor did staying home mean leisure or indulgence for the wives.”

4. Ms. Joans says I highlight the heroes of the shirtwaist makers strike, but “nowhere does he detail the importance of the rank and file.” Untrue. I’ve already quoted the sentence about “natural leaders,” i.e., that the ranks contained natural leaders. I further refer interested readers to the entire section, pp. 295-300.

5. Ms. Joans quotes me as saying about Lillian Wald that “By some later perspectives, she missed a good deal in life. She never married, she seemed to have no intense personal relationships etc.” She then rebukes me for not recognizing that Wald “might have actually been quite happy and enjoyed her position.” But this is really outrageous, for anyone turning to p. 94 of my book can read directly after the sentence to which Ms. Joans objects: “If these were the costs of (Wald’s) life, the rewards were at least as high… Like the other superb women of her generation who plunged into the work they saw ahead of them —women like Jane Addams, Rose Schneiderman, Lavinia Duck, Florence Kel-ley —she made a mockery of all the idle chatter about ‘a woman’s place.'”

Ought that not to satisfy the most ardent feminist reader? And ought such a reader not wonder why it is that misplaced ideological fervor will lead a reviewer to misrepresent a book in which such sentiments appear?

by Irving Howe New York, NY

Barbara Joans Replies:

1. Mr. Howe believes that he has written “substantial sketches” of four women and that women, in general, are appropriately represented in his work. I would suggest that they occupy, at best, 10 percent of The World of our Fathers and that in a 650-page book, 65 pages is a little less than appropriate.

2. Mr. Howe should look at his own pictures. The one titled “girls at the machines in a garment shop” (between pages 300 and 301) has women of all ages represented and at no stretch of even an aging imagination could they be called girls.

But more to his point, the use of the term girl is only partially analogous to the racist use of the term boy. Mr. Howe states that he did not change his use of the term Negro when referring to Richard Wright or Ralph Ellison. He did, however, call them Negro and not nigra, darkey or boy. It was a term used then by both black and white writers. Similarly, the term girl (meaning woman) was used 75 years ago but Mr. Howe is writing today about yesterday. His book of essays (where he refers to Ellison and Wright) was written several decades ago when black men referred to themselves as Negro writers. But World of our Fathers was published in 1976 well after women’s linguistic preferences had already been made clear.

3. The statement on page 174 “…that the immigrant wives, who in any case seldom possessed marketable skills, had to stay home” is in direct contrast to the other historians’ information quoted in my review. They claimed that it was primarily the women, not the Torah-studying men, who had the “marketable skills” and that they continued to use them with cunning and strength in America.

4. Mr. Howe has highlighted the importance of the rank-and-file women in his section entitled “The Girls and the Men.” This section (all of five pages) is devoted to contrasting the two major strikes of the time. He writes of the primarily female shirtwaist makers strike and then of the later cloakworkers strike. To quote Mr. Howe (page 300) “What the girls began, the men completed.”

5. Mr. Howe perceives Lillian Wald’s rewards in terms of her influence upon generations to come. I am suggesting that she might have had an exciting fulfilling life in the present.

Finally, when all the remarks are pointed and counterpointed, there remains something to be said about the nature and purpose of feminist criticism. Writers, like all people, reflect the habits, mores, rules, codes, prejudices and foibles of their culture. As we grow and change, our writing matures to reflect our reconsidered values and inspired insights. We do not, however, change all aspects of ourselves equally and are not uniformly sensitive to all areas. Writing requires specialization and long-term involvement that points us in discrete and specific directions.

As a historian and humanitarian, you, Mr. Howe are aware of the inequalities and oppressions of different peoples in this hierarchical, sex, race and class stratified society. You are not, however, sufficiently or forcefully aware of all the inequalities. Those who directly experience the specific inequalities focus more acutely upon them. You can be expected to be only peripherally aware of the multiple aspects of sexism.

As a humanitarian, you oppose inequality and as a historian you chronicle it, but as a man you only partially perceive the enormity of male/female power discrepancies.

It is the task of feminist criticism to point out these discrepancies. Such a sentence as “the girls and the men” would sound right to you. You have been socialized into accepting, without question, its Tightness. Since you are part of the men, it did not occur to you to do the questioning. On this particular issue, it was up to the women to criticize.

Change comes slowly. Some fight it, some ignore it, some ride it out and some facilitate its happening. No, Mr. Howe, you are not an enemy. Of course not. But until you recognize the limitations of your socialization, as we have been forced to, you are not a friend.


Tayere khavertes,

I was disconcerted by an incorrect assumption stated by Sharone Abramowitz, one of the organizers of the LA. forum on feminism, Judaism, and anti-Semitism. (Vol. I, No. 4) You quote her as saying “Yiddish literature is 99% male.” She also says that the few female Yiddish writers were Americans. In E. Korman’s Yidishe dikhterins antologye (Anthology of Yiddish Poetesses) which is copyrighted in 1928, 70 women are represented, 26 of them Americans.

Abramowitz mentions that an English translation of the works of Yiddish women is being prepared. Hopefully this will enable non-Yiddish speaking Jewish women to familiarize themselves with these expressions of the hopes, dreams, and reality of these Jewish women.

by Bobbi Getzoff New York, NY


Dear Editors:

We would really like to use Yuri Suhl’s biography of Ernestine Rose in our Women’s Studies Program, but the book is impossible to obtain because it is out of print since 1959. If the book was in print we could use it in our American Women’s Social History, Abolition and Suffrage and American People courses. Hundreds of students would buy the book. Our library owns two copies of the book and students find it readable and informative. Is there something that we could do to bring this book back in print?

 by Rosalyn Baxandall, Elizabeth Ewen, Naomi Rosenthal, Elaine Scott, Irene Peslikis, Nancy Trichter Professors of Women’s Studies, SUNY Old Westbury, NY