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Baby Oneself?

January 12, 2012 By:
Susan Perloff, Jewish Exponent Feature
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Nina Zucker has no children.

Mostly that's OK. "But the major issue I have is that every Rosh Hashanah, rabbis focus on the Torah parshah about Hannah being childless and her prayers finally being answered by God," says Zucker.

"And then they call on the young children in the congregation to come up to the bimah. So the message, clear as glass, is that if you pray hard enough, you will have children, and if you don't procreate, you're not a good Jew.

"In everything we're taught as Jews, from childhood on, having children and educating them is equated with being a good Jew," says Zucker, proprietor of a public relations firm in Bala Cynwyd.

"If you don't have children, for whatever reason, you're not fulfilling either the commandments or the laws of Torah, not to mention your parents' greatest wish.

"It's like some bizarre caste system. Women who have kids are good. Those who don't get married and/or don't have kids are not only bad, but they're looked upon as though they are unworthy," she adds.

"I wanted marriage and children more than anything else," Zucker says. "But I'm not always easy, and I'm strong and I'm smart and I run my own business," characteristics that can put off some potential suitors.

A number of Jews choose not to have children, though not all put a religious spin on it. Their reasons vary: infertility; lifestyles/careers incompatible with kids; costs outweighing benefits; doubts about their parenting ability; beastliness of their own parents; reluctance to raise a child in today's world; and not finding love -- or mutual love -- at the right time.

Melissa (one of a number of Jews who requested anonymity for this interview) never gave birth because "I had a mother who wasn't meant to be a mother, and my father left when I was young. Even when I was small, I knew I could never put any child in that situation."

"I didn't marry until I was 50," says Leah, a married 56-year-old.

"I simply never met a man I wanted to have children with," says Joanna, single, age 48.

Ruthy Kaiser, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that deciding not to procreate can be a difficult decision.

"Some people consciously decide not to have children. But so many more believe that having children is in the future, and then eventually, in stages, they realize it won't happen," says Kaiser, a senior staff member of the Council for Relationships.

"Women who cannot get pregnant are not actually making decisions, and women who try adoption and in vitro and fail, are not actively deciding."

Jews handle these situations no differently from others, she says; some who choose childlessness are more content than others, says Kaiser. Some come to terms with it.

In 2010, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly a fifth of American women don't bear children, compared with 10 percent in the 1970s. The report noted: "While childlessness has risen for all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels, it has fallen over the past decade for women with advanced degrees."

The Pew study said that "social pressure to bear children appears to have diminished for women," and that "today the decision to have a child is seen as an individual choice."

It also pointed to improved job opportunities and contraceptive methods, which help create alternatives for women.

But not everyone is on board with the viability of going childless. Debra Nussbaum Cohen, blogging at the Forward, says that being childless by choice often reflects Jewish disengagement.

The personal is political, she says, and procreation is political, too. "Anyone who is Jewishly engaged is aware of the cultural/religious imperative to have children. Being fruitful and multiplying is not only in the first book of the Bible. It's also a way to respond to those who, through annihilation or assimilation, would see the Jewish people winnowed away to nothing."

Meanwhile, public relations executive Zucker, who adores her nephews, says, "I am surrounded by Jewish families with up to eight children. Believe me, society is not all that compassionate to people who are single or childless.

"I am not childless by choice in any way. I would have loved to have a child."

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