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The Population Panic

Why Jewish leaders want Jewish women to be fruitful and multiply

For just about as long as anyone can remember, Jewish speakers, leaders, thinkers, writers, and general semi-professional groaners and hand-wringers have been overwhelmingly concerned with the question known as “Jewish survival.” Although we have survived for over 3,000 years, we do not take that survival for granted; in fact, we seem to regard it as an inexplicable anomaly, and our mind-set is one of perpetual vigilance against threats to our continued existence. In the past, of course, and in other parts of the world, the threats have been obvious physical ones: wars, pogroms, persecutions, forced conversions, political repression, the Holocaust. Here in America, we have long recognized and identified the greater danger as deriving from more subtle causes, such as assimilation, ignorance, apathy and intermarriage. But now a new threat has been spied on our bleak horizon, and it is spreading over us rapidly like a malignant black fallout cloud.

This new danger is an insidious three-initialed foe more to be feared than the KGB, the PLO, or the KKK—namely, the ZPG, or Zero Population Growth movement. Young Jewish people, it seems, ever concerned about all the problems of humanity, have thoughtfully, though misguidedly, taken it upon themselves to volunteer en masse to do their share in not adding to the world’s “population explosion.” The result is a “demographic crisis,” according to our many commentators on the subject. They point out that our birth rate is lower than that of the rest of the American—not to speak of the world—population, that it is declining, that we have not yet recovered our pre-World War II numbers, that we are barely reproducing ourselves even now, and that, at this rate, given the large numbers of defectors we have to account for, we are dooming ourselves to imminent extinction unless something is done immediately to turn this pernicious trend around.

To this end, a large number of Jewish periodicals and newspapers have published at least one article on this “hot” subject, many rabbis have sermonized about it from their pulpits, and in February 1976 a Conference on Jewish Fertility was held in New York at which scholars read papers exploring the problem from various historical and sociological perspectives. Moreover, as is usual in Jewish life, an organization has been formed to tackle the problem at hand: “PRU”—for Jewish “Population Regeneration Union”, punning on the Hebrew commandment p’ru ur’vu (“be fruitful and multiply”)—founded in New York by Rabbi William Berman, a recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Among other things, “PRU” disseminates question-and-answer leaflets urging us to save ourselves before it is “too late.”

As we Jews know only too well, an idea that is hammered out continually in an alarmist or propagandistic manner by very sincere and devoted, sometimes fanatic, people, can begin to take hold, regardless of its relationship to truth. That a serious and even critical Jewish demographical problem exists is gradually coming to be taken for granted. Even such a hip new publication as The Second Jewish Catalog, for example, in its opening chapter on “Birth,” alludes in passing to “the fact that Jews as a people have a lot of catching up to do.” Leaders of organizations obviously feel called upon to issue statements (see box page 16) not on whether or not the problem exists—for this is already considered a given—but on what is to be done about it.

On January 24, 1974, The New York Times reported that Rabbi Sol Roth, newly-elected president of the New York Board of Rabbis, stated “that Jewish families should have at least three children and asserted that the frequently projected goal of zero population growth ‘should find no application in the Jewish community.'”

On July 14, 1975, Time Magazine published a brief article called “The Disappearing Jews,” including an already much-publicized recommendation by Orthodox Rabbi Norman Lamm—now president of Yeshiva University—that “each Jewish couple should have four or five children” because “Jews are a disappearing species.”

At its annual convention, in June 1977, the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), an organization known for its liberal stands on most issues, released a statement scarcely differing from those of the Orthodox rabbis, urging Jewish couples “to have at least two or three children.” Their reason? “Because there are simply not enough of us to be assured of survival in succeeding generations.”

Clearly the idea has “caught on”—with all the power of an idea whose time has come. But why, we might naturally ask, has the time for this idea come just now? Has our “fertility” been attacked by some previously unknown disease and taken a sudden downward plunge? Is it because no one thought of it before—because, as one of Rabbi Berman’s “PRU” leaflets puts it, “until recently the most immediate threat to our survival has been unaccountably ignored”? Would the other problems to which Rabbi Berman alludes—”Jewish illiteracy, secularism, materialism, and of course persecution”—miraculously disappear if only we could dispatch this “most immediate threat”? Are we, in fact, in imminent danger of going the way of the dodo bird and the sabre-toothed tiger? Or are there other reasons for this preoccupation just now?

And, finally, what does it mean for the Jewish woman, just beginning to seek an identity for herself beyond the old familiar role of “Jewish mother,” to be urged to have a family of at least two or three, or four or five children? Does it not seem a strange, if not a perverse, coincidence that, after all these centuries of Jewish history, just in the very decade when Jewish women are demanding greater and more meaningful participation in Jewish religious and communal life, beyond and even, in some cases, outside of motherhood—in the very decade when, for instance, women are finally being ordained as rabbis—certain segments of the Jewish community are loudly hitting the old “barefoot and pregnant” motif as if our very lives depended on it?

Perhaps the most basic question—the one that must be dealt with first—is: How much do our lives depend on increasing our birth rate? Why are the prospects for our survival deemed to be so precarious—and why now?

Nearly always mentioned is the fact that we lost six million of our people in the Holocaust and that we have not yet numerically replaced them. A recent CCAR position paper notes “a touch of irony” in the fact that some people are choosing to have no children at all just when “the need to replenish the Jewish people has never been greater.” But is this true? It seems, on the contrary, that, despite God’s promise to Abraham, the Jews have never been a particularly numerous people. As we know from our long history of wanderings and persecutions, and from our liturgy itself, we have long been “a small remnant,” “a saving remnant.” As recently as the year 1650, there were only about 675,000 Jews in the entire world. Despite relatively poor medical conditions, the arrival of the Enlightenment, which led to rapid assimilation in western Europe, and semi-medieval persecutions and pogroms which continued in eastern Europe, we did not die out as a people. If we did not die out then, why should we die out now, when, even after the Holocaust, we are 14,000,000 strong? Moreover, inasmuch as the Holocaust ended over thirty years ago, the allusions to it do not in themselves explain why we are hearing this frantic call to action just at this particular time.

Another explanation offered is that we have had our eyes newly opened by the most authoritative Jewish population survey ever to have been undertaken, the 1970 National Jewish Population Survey, the results of which are being released gradually in the American Jewish Year Book. This survey confirms that our birth rate is indeed relatively low.

But even this information should come as a surprise to no one. As far back as 1889, a study of over 10,000 Jewish families in the United States revealed that the Jewish birth rate was lower than the non-Jewish. Similar findings were noted in 1905, and even during the heyday of what we remember as the mammary-gland fifties, when a house in the suburbs and a family of 3.7 children were supposed to be every girl’s dream, a study showed that in 1955 the average family size of Catholic and Protestant couples was 2.1, compared to an average of only 1.7 for Jewish couples. Several studies cited through the sixties reveal similar proportions. Thus, the survey does not actually seem to indicate that the 1970’s are any more critical a period in Jewish history than earlier decades.

It is, as I suggested above, largely due to the malign influence of ZPG that the various doomsayers attribute our latest “danger,” and against which they raise their heaviest artillery. ZPG, according to the rather frenzied and much-repeated argument, though fine and even important for the rest of the world, must not apply to the Jews. It is only other people whom we should expect to exercise self-restraint, reproducing, as it were, on the quota system.

This view reflects another popular argument for reversing the current trend towards a low Jewish birth rate—namely, that Jews are special people. According to this argument, it is the highly talented, intelligent young people who are limiting their families, and in some cases choosing not to procreate at all. Nevertheless, the remarkable attainments of American Jews and their admirable contributions to society have frequently been noted as a strong reason why we owe it to society to continue to produce and raise as many of these prodigies as possible. “The Jewish people,” as one of the “PRU” leaflets puts it, “have made great contributions to civilization and ‘cooperating’ themselves out of existence would be a disservice to ‘humanity’ as well as to themselves.” The fact remains, however, that the survival of even so “special” a people as the Jews cannot be guaranteed unless the human race—of which, after all, we are a part— survives.

One might justifiably wonder, nonetheless, how many couples actually base their childbearing decisions on concern about the survival of the human race, or, for that matter, how many would base their decisions on concern about the survival of the Jewish people. It may well be that the whole ZPG argument simply provides an additional rationalization for couples who have already made up their minds for other, more personal reasons, and even the doomsayers would do better to turn their attention to the more likely reasons.

Running at a distance behind the ZPG Movement as another reason for our current “plight”—but perhaps closer to the mark— is the matter of values and priorities—the high value placed, as one advocate for Jewish fertility puts it, on a “lifestyle of hedonism and unimpeded mobility” or “the arbitrary purpose of pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle.” In addition, of course, there is also the growing number of people who are divorced or whose marriages are so unstable that they hesitate to bring a child or another child into a world that might involve a stressful single-parent situation or a complicated, even nasty, custody case.

It may seem strange, but in most of the discussions of this burning issue of Jewish “fertility,” there is little or no direct reference to the effects of the women’s movement, even though it should be obvious that the number of children a woman chooses to have or not to have is likely to be related to her aspirations and her achievements in other areas of life. One might conclude, from reading the various articles, that most couples consult world population charts before deciding whether or not to have a baby, rather than consider who will be responsible for taking care of the child. In most of the articles and speeches, feminism, when it is mentioned at all, is passed over quickly, as though it were another faddish trend like hedonism or a swinging lifestyle. Despite the fact that attempting to raise the birth rate above its present levels means, for the most part, urging the diminishing number of people who are in stable marital situations to have three or four children, there is little mention of the woman who must decide, not whether to have a child or a Cadillac, but whether to have that third or fourth child or to take advantage of newly expanded opportunities and seek a much-delayed education or career. Passed over rather lightly is the fact that additional childbearing and childrearing are likely to be at the expense of women’s emergence and self-fulfillment, precisely at a time when, as we noted earlier, Jewish women are beginning to assert rightful claims for a life and an identity of their own, apart from their roles as wives and mothers.

One might have supposed, offhand, that the women’s movement, far from being ignored, would be attacked head-on as the principal culprit responsible for the diminished Jewish birth rate, but, as we have seen, this is not the case. It is, indeed, this absence of a feminist awareness, this evident inability to come to terms with the feminist implications of the issue, that renders the current panic about Jewish “fertility” somewhat suspect and strongly suggests that its emergence so close on the heels of the emergence of Jewish feminism is something more than a coincidence.

This suspicion is intensified when we consider that most of the speakers and writers of articles and position papers urging Jews to have more babies are male—a notable exception being Blu Greenberg, who deplores the fact that “many Jewish women continue to put off having children until their middle thirties so they can pursue careers,” and whose husband Irving Green-berg’s name is listed among the “supporters” of “PRU.” Interestingly, all the other people whose names appear on the PRU letterhead are also male. This is perhaps not entirely inappropriate, inasmuch as the commandment to be fruitful and multiply is considered by the traditional-minded to apply, like nearly all commandments, to men only. It is rather a pity, indeed, that they cannot fulfill it by themselves—but, in the present state of technology, women are necessary.

Even this fact is not always to be taken for granted. At the end of one of the first popular treatments of this subject—what one might call the seminal piece—written for Commentary in September 1961, Milton Himmelfarb inquired: “Where does a Jew’s obligations lie? Should he absent him from paternity awhile, for the good of the human race? Or should he be of good courage, and play the man for his people?” One hardly dares to wonder what “play the man” means in this context. It seems clear, however, that man is making decisions about his paternity quite as if he were a self-fertilizing flower. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Himmelfarb’s name also appears on “PRU'”s stationery.

One still can hardly avoid the possibility that this latest panic is a kind of gut response to the rapid changes that are everywhere taking place as a result of the women’s movement—changes that are obviously taking place too rapidly for many people, especially for many men.

There is little to be gained, however, from pretending that the women’s movement does not exist, or that its influence is trivial. Only by being aware, for example, that family size is related to women’s aspirations for themselves, can we truly understand the dynamics of population growth and make effective decisions about what, if anything, needs to be done.

For lack of a feminist perspective, the causes cited by the various doomsayers for the alleged demographic crisis here in America tend to miss the mark and therefore not to lend themselves to appropriate solutions. If couples are refusing to procreate for such reasons of hedonism and materialism, we may as well admit that these people are already lost to Judaism through assimilation, not sterility. But is the pursuit of pleasure and material goods really the motive for postponing parenthood? From a feminist point of view, the allusions to hedonism and materialism may be explained partly as code language recalling the days when women’s income was considered mere “pin money,” and women were often urged to stay home and give their children the love and attention that they needed more than the “little luxuries” a housewife’s outside income might procure for the family. Couples who delayed having children while the wife continued to work were thought to be saving up their money for the purchase of a home or to indulge in trips and other extravagances.

This point of view, besides failing to take into consideration a real economic world in which a woman’s income usually goes to buy necessities, not luxuries, ignores the possibility that women, like men, work for reasons other than money—to utilize their talents, for example, to meet people, to contribute something to society, to maintain dignity and self-respect. These complex motivations are lost when the head of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger, bemoans the fact that “the pursuit of personal careers and other indulgences are taking precedence over the traditional joy of family life and the transmission of the Jewish heritage to the next generation.” He is clearly suggesting that a career is an “indulgence,” not a necessity; but since we all know that a career of some sort is a necessity for a man, we might conclude that he was speaking in a disguised way about women.

It seems unwise, to say the least, for responsible spokespersons of the Jewish community to be thus suggesting, however implicitly, that a woman’s career is unimportant, or, its obvious corollary, that a woman’s place is in the home. Those who point with such pride to the remarkable achievements attained by American Jews as a reason why we should raise our birth rate should recognize that this high achievement level has been reached almost entirely by Jewish men, and not by Jewish women. Quite conceivably, not one of these men interrupted his career to spend several years diapering babies. Since Jewish women presumably inherit the same genes as Jewish men—the genes that our doomsayers urge us to pass along to a multitudinous next generation—we can only conclude that a great deal of talent is being lost somewhere along the line—perhaps in the diaper pail; for Jewish women, in stark contrast to Jewish men, have been underachievers in virtually every field, or, at best, the mothers of overachievers. Unless the continued production of Jewish male prodigies is our only goal, we must wonder what appeal this argument could possibly have for the modern woman who may no longer be content to experience her achievements vicariously— in the time-honored, but much-maligned, Jewish-mother manner—through her children? And what sort of a future is envisioned for the larger number of girls who would doubtless also be born—would they, too, be seen primarily as the breeders and nurturers of future Jewish male prodigies?

The Holocaust argument, too, must be understood in a different perspective. This argument in all likelihood owes its effectiveness to the fact that survivors of the Holocaust feel a certain guilt at having survived—and, in one way or another, we are all survivors. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, it seems for the purpose of nurturing such guilt feelings that the present downward trend in population growth is constantly associated with the Holocaust — as if those who are failing to reproduce in sufficient numbers are somehow collaborating with Hitler. Commentators quote Emil Fackenheim’s powerful statement, “Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler.” And, to reinforce the point still more strongly, the term “genocide” is used with abandon to describe what we are supposedly doing to ourselves. No one, however, should be more sensitive than Jews to the loss of meaning implied in the watering-down of the term “genocide” to mean anything less than the wholesale murder of human beings as practiced by the Nazis during World War II.

The fact remains that we cannot replace the Holocaust victims, and any attempt to equate the unborn with Jews who were murdered is an insult to the martyrs’ memories—for surely we define those six million Jewish lives in terms more significant than their numbers alone. Moreover, those who urge women to breed more babies for the sake of increasing the Jewish population are strangely, indeed shockingly, echoing Hitler’s exhortation of German women to breed more babies for the Fatherland.

If, on the other hand, we really seek to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust victims and to render their lives and perhaps even their deaths somehow meaningful, it may well be that a person who studies Jewish history, researches shtetl life, or teaches Yiddish is doing more to effect these goals than a person who stays at home producing a large number of babies. As Rabbi Rebecca Trachtenberg Alpert put it in the Reconstructionist (April 1977), “whether or not one chooses to become a biological parent, by a commitment to enhancing the life of the Jewish people, a person can exert an influence, can be a spiritual ancestor to future generations.”

At this point, of course, one would expect any doomsayer to retort that one can hardly be a spiritual ancestor to future generations if there are no future generations. “Sociologists maintain,” according to Rabbi Berman, “that if the present birth-intermarriage rates continue indefinitely, American Jewry will be reduced to a remnant within four generations.” Rabbi Jonathan M. Brown of the Reform movement asks “How many Jews will there be in 2073, when our movement will celebrate its two hundredth anniversary? There is an increasing awareness of the possibility [his italics] that only a few Jews will remain; all the others will have disappeared, victims of assimilation, mixed marriage, indifference, and a low birth rate.”

But inasmuch as the low birth rate is only one of several factors affecting Jewish prospects for survival, it follows that there is indeed room for the “spiritual ancestor,” the Jewish woman, for example, who makes a commitment to tackling one or more of the other problems and who hands down a meaningful Jewish heritage to a niece or nephew, a neighbor’s child, a student, a YWHA “little sister,” an adopted child, or even a perfect stranger—perhaps even a future convert. There are more ways of enhancing the chances of Jewish survival, and even of increasing the number of Jews, than just making a number of trips to the local lying-in hospital.

It also follows that we can ill afford to alienate young Jewish women by promoting a primitive pronatalism that is almost insulting, in its implication that Judaism wants their wombs more than it wants their minds. Our drop-out rate is high enough, and it is no secret that an increasing number of our intermarrying young people are women.

Let us suppose, though, that we are talking about women with some degree of interest in or commitment to Judaism or to Jewish life or culture—for obviously the already-tuned-out are not listening. Although it seems improbable that anyone would actually act on the suggestion of a rabbi (unless, indeed, it is the rabbi’s wife—or, in a few cases, the rabbi herself) and have a baby to “save” the Jewish people, the net result of all this talk is undoubtedly to make a significant number of people feel guilty or at least uncomfortable if they have no children, one child, or even the commonly accepted quota of one boy and one girl—the halachically-approved minimum. Coming at a time when new opportunities are finally opening up for women—including, as we have already noted, alternative, previously unavailable ways of serving the Jewish community—this insistence on raising the birth rate seems to be saying to the Jewish woman that, no matter what her capabilities or interests, the best and perhaps the only contribution she can make to Jewish survival is the production of more Jewish babies. She is now given to understand that if the Jewish people should die out, it will be her fault. This is the kind of guilt trip that Jewish women, already struggling with a career vs. motherhood conflict, clearly do not need.

Of course, in a modern, liberated society, there is no reason why there should continue to be any such conflict—no reason why women should have to choose, as if we were still back in the nineteenth century or earlier, between being “biological ancestors” and “spiritual ancestors.” The more savvy of the doomsayers would doubtless claim that both brains and wombs are wanted and would disagree that they in any way advocate the suppression of women’s efforts at equality—if for no other reason than that such suppression is not likely to work. As Rabbi Berman puts it, “the pious pronouncements of some, enjoining all women to choose a home career, will do little to reverse present trends toward careers outside the home.” Although the phrase “present trends” can easily be seen to contain a subtle undercutting of the movement, implying as it does that we are not talking about a serious permanent change, Rabbi Berman presents himself as a sympathizer: “What we hope to do,” he claims, “is dispel the myth that more children and outside careers are mutually exclusive.” He provides some historical precedent: “Jews have a long tradition,” he says, “of women working while raising families that reaches back to Bibli’al times.” Naturally there is a difference between shearing sheep just outside the tent and going off to work as an executive in a corporation, however. Rabbi Berman, perhaps, has thought of this. “Many career women,” he continues, “find more children burdensome since despite their careers they must bear the burden of childrearing single-handedly. This is unfair. We feel men should play a greater role especially when their wives work.” The “especially” is a curious give-away, for it indicates that the degree to which husbands play a role in childrearing is still thought of as optional.

The Reform rabbis’ position paper likewise suggests that “a mother who objects to being ‘tied down’ to the home, might undertake a larger family if her husband was more helpful.” (The fact that “tied down” appears in quotation marks is again an indication that the problem is not taken as seriously as it might be—that, perhaps, it is still a matter of letting the harried young mother out of the house for an occasional shopping trip— and the word “helpful” suggests, again, that the husband is helping the wife perform her role.)

Anyway, societal changes take a long time, and Jewish children are needed “now,” according to PRU, “before it is too late.” What can be done in the meantime? Rabbi Berman proposes the establishment of synagogue-sponsored Jewish day care centers— to his credit, because not all commentators on the subject seem aware either of the problem or of this potential way of handling it.

The fact is that so far the Jewish track record on day care has been far from good. Not or’y have very few Jewish day care centers been established, but those that have come into existence have been aimed mainly at the children of poor Jews or non-Jews (such as the efforts expended by the National Council of Jewish Women to establish day care centers for black children), or children from “broken homes”—not at the children of middle-class Jewish working parents who are often perfectly willing and able to pay for a service which they just cannot get Jewish parents who desire day care are likely as not to find it in a church—certainly not in a synagogue. This is in spite of the fact that the synagogues, with their inadequate, if not moribund, afternoon Hebrew schools, could use a way to attract new families.

One of the worries of social planners is that, with people marrying later and having fewer children closer together, the motivation to affiliate with synagogues—which is related to having children of Hebrew school age—will diminish even below its present low level. Offering a valuable service like day care might serve to bring the family within the fold sooner; it would also provide the opportunity to educate the child Jewishly at an impressionable early age, so that we might hope to increase not only the number of Jews, but also the Jewish commitment and knowledge of children already born. Similarly, offering the equally necessary service of after-school care for the older child— mainly by expanding the existing Hebrew school programs into more complete recreational programs—might result in what many people have considered to be patently impossible: the revitalization of the afternoon Hebrew school.

Another advantage that would be reaped from the establishment of Jewish day-care centers would be the formation for the child of a kind of surrogate extended family—a social and psychological support system beyond the limited bounds of the nuclear family that used to be provided by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Children whose parents have followed employment opportunities to a new city or whose grandparents have migrated to Florida often can no longer drop in at “Grandma’s” after school; the day care center, ideally, could help to fill the gap—by utilizing “foster grandparent” programs, for instance. It could help take the stress of constant child supervision off the parents who have to bear it alone as never before in history; and it would be particularly important, of course, for the rapidly growing number of single-parent families. It could also help give children and parents a sense of a caring Jewish community that is hard to come by today.

Indeed, it is not only day care that is needed, but a reorientation in our attitudes towards children altogether. Even people with small families—even with just one child—are virtually ostracized, not only from many restaurants, theaters, and apartment complexes that openly discriminate against children, but from many Jewish community events as well—unless, of course, they submit to the bother and expense of arranging for baby-sitters. How many couples, for example, are welcomed in synagogues with their restless small children or wailing infants? How many Jewish adult education programs offer child care for those who would otherwise not be able to attend them? Every Jewish institution, school, volunteer agency, synagogue, or recreational and cultural center should routinely provide child care for all daytime and evening activities, not only so that Jewish parents can be parents, but so that they can be Jews. Otherwise we are saying that all we want is an increased quantity of Jews without any consideration for the quality of life —including the quality of Jewish life—of those individuals, parents and children.

And indeed, I find that this is what depresses me most about the current debate concerning Jewish population. I find that the urging of Jewish women to become, as Mary Gendler put it, “baby machines,” in order to save the Jewish people from extinction depresses and disgusts me—not so much because I am a feminist, but because I am a Jew. I am deeply ashamed at the idea of Judaism sinking to a level where we are scrounging around for every warm body we can get. It was for this reason, I thought, that we Jews rarely engaged in proselytizing or missionary work—because we were never unduly concerned with numbers, with quantity rather than quality.

Ultimately it is not appealing to be told that one must raise additional numbers of children, not only to make sure there are enough of us left after any possible future disaster, but to make sure there are enough of us left after taking into consideration those who intermarry, convert to various other religions and cults, or are hopelessly lost through assimilation. To assert that our major problem is now our low birth rate does not make these other problems go a-way; nor does it make them less severe. There is still a desperate need to ensure Jewish survival by making Judaism and Jewish life clearly meaningful and necessary, 

Shirley Frank works at The Feminist Press, where she is Managing Editor of the Women’ s Studies Newsletter.


Women’s Views

by Blu Greenberg

The Jewish community has the lowest birth rate of any religious or ethnic group in the country, yet many Jewish women continue to put off having children until their middle thirties so they can pursue careers. For the rest of the world ZPG is a wonderful thing. For the Jewish people, in view of the huge losses our people have suffered in our own lifetime, it is a form of suicide, a death wish.

Perhaps the Jewish thing to do in light of our community’s population needs would be to begin our families early, with part-time or delayed career for the husband or wife. Starting a family ten years earlier would add a new generation of Jews every 30 years.

Blu Greenberg, from a speech to the American Jewish Congress Women’s Division, April 25, 1977


The continuity of Jews and Judaism is not only a numerical issue but a qualitative one requiring the strengthening of a Jewish identity. Losses due to intermarriage, secularization and assimilation. . .cannot be countered simply by advocating an increase in the Jewish birth rate. There is no guarantee that more Jewish children will necessarily mean more committed Jewish youth.

Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Call Them Builders (booklet), Reconstructionist Federation of Congregations and Havurot, New York, 1977


I feel that what the Population Regeneration Union (PRU) is asking shows a lack of respect for the woman, for the child and for the family. To be blunt, they are asking Jewish women to become baby machines, hatching …as many kids as possible for the political benefit of the community. Nowhere do they talk about how a woman might feel using her body in this way…. Women, mothers, are already feeling burdened and wanting an opportunity to do more with their lives than simply care for their children and their men. PRU is asking women, once again, to be “enablers” —to subordinate their own needs to that of the community and to become either eternal mothers and housewives or baby-makers!

Mary Gendler, Women’s American Ort Reporter September/October 1976


Men’s Views

by Milton Himmelfarb

If you want emergency powers— authoritarian, even totalitarian powers—you must first persuade people that there is an emergency.

Milton Himmelfarb, Population Control: For and Against (New York, 1973, p. 200)


We have not paid sufficient attention to ZPG…. While the rest of the world has been increasing, Jews have been decreasing. In effect, we are now confronted with the problem of a “preventive Holocaust” by which I mean not the murder of Jews already alive but the prevention of Jews from being born.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, Canadian Jewish News, September 9, 1977


Many “liberated” young Jewish wives no longer regard the opportunities and responsibilities for rearing children, keeping a home, and engaging in constructive social or philanthropic work as sufficiently fulfilling….Even mothers of small children with successful husbands arbitrarily elect to return to the labor pool leaving much of the vital influence of early childhood training to maternal surrogates and day centers The dramatic decline in the fertility rate of young women with greater educational background and higher family income… has been thoroughly documented….

H.L. Roberts, “Endogenous Jewish Genocide—The Impact of the ZPG-Nonparenthood Movement,” The Reconstructionist, November 1974 (italics added)


The disastrous implications of the ZPG movement for Jewish survival grow out of factors such as Jewish contraceptive expertise, delay in marriage, the favorable attitude of Jewish women and most Jewish physicians (92%!) to abortion on demand, and high and increasing rates of mixed marriages, assimilation and divorce…

Rabbi Asher Bar-Zev, “ZPG and the Jewish Problem,” Conservative Judaism Spring 1976


The Devil if he exists.. . exists to tempt God’s creatures into refusing to breed.

Norman Podhoretz, “Speak of the Devil,” Commentary, April 1971


Reform Rabbis

Outspoken opposition to the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolution calling for Jewish couples to have more children comes from Rabbi Balfour Brickner, Director of the Department of Interreligious Affairs at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform).

Brickner, who along with Rabbi Edward Klein of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue is a member of the Clergyman’s Committee of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, said; “I didn’t know that the CCAR passed such a resolution and if they did, it’s stupid and I would oppose it. You can’t say that the world suffers from overpopulation and at the same time say Jews should ignore this. I don’t want to put myself in the vulnerable position of saying it’s good for Puerto Ricans and poor South Americans to cut back on their population and not the Jews. I’ve never thought for a moment that the way you insure Jewish viability is sheer weight of numbers.”