There is a wonderful story about a village whose residents wanted to present their feudal lord with a gift: a full barrel of whiskey.Â Â There would be a grand celebration on the lordâ€™s birthday, when the mayor of the town would present the gift accompanied by choir and song. To spread the cost of the whiskey, each villager was asked to contribute one cup to the barrel. One enterprising villager decided that he would add water instead, thinking that no one would notice.Â Â On the day of the festival, this villager put in his â€œcup of whiskey,â€ confident that he had saved himself money and trouble. Unfortunately, everyone noticed when the lord tasted from the barrel. The nobleman was disgusted by the gift. Everyone had had the same idea and the barrel was filled with water.
Debra Nussbaum-Cohenâ€™s recent piece, asserting that child-free Jewish women do not engage in Judaism, reminds me of this story. Her rebuke is also painful to me. I am single, have no children and donâ€™t know if I want them. My dreams of world travel and sleep-filled nights do not work with children, and I am still shellshocked after babysitting my beloved niece and nephew for three days. Furthermore, I understand the bloggers who said that they are child-free because itâ€™s more â€œgreenâ€ and that the â€œworld is overpopulated enough,â€ stating those as Jewish values.
There are other Jewish values as well, though–more important ones–and having a good reason to do something can still mean that what you do is problematic.Â While the worldâ€™s population Â has skyrocketed, Jewish population has not. Seventy years ago, our growth was stunted by the Holocaust and our numbers havenâ€™t recovered. According to Harold Damerow, a historian at Union College, the world Jewish population in 1939 wasÂ 16,648,000.Â Â In 1989, three years after my birth, the Jewish population was 13,276,300.Â Â Â According to the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, weâ€™re currently at 12.9 million. We have had negative population growth.
While many of Nussbaum-Cohenâ€™s critics talk of their commitment to Jewish education and community, there is little point to their endeavors if there are fewer Jewish children. Â No one should be forced to have children if they do not want them, but they should not cloak the choice as pro-Jewish. Judaism is an ethno-religious culture that thrives when passed down from parent to child and from teacher to student. Take away the children and the students and you come to a dead end.
Nussbaum-Cohen is right. Judaism needs more children. I am the product of four Holocaust survivors who made the ultimate act of defiance against Hitler by choosing to reproduce and perpetuate what the Nazis tried to eradicate.Â Â My niece and nephew may be a shrieking handful, but they are the next generation of Judaism.Â Â They will continue when their parents are gone and will hopefully pass on the traditions to their own children.
There are excellent reasons to not have children and I donâ€™t condemn any familyâ€™s choice.Â Â Yet, we cannot say that choosing to be child-free is an attitude positive to Judaism. Rather, it’s just adding water to the whiskey.