|Sharon Shapiro of Kol B'Isha Erva|
How many Jews want to be a rabbi? In any denomination? My guess is that the answer is not too many. Most men have other goals in life. This question was asked by Sharon Shapiro about women on her blog Kol B’Isha Erva.
The context is obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the feminist Zeitgeist sweeping western culture. Her point being that a lot of women that seek equality with men in religion may in fact be losing out by chasing a societal goal that most women may in fact not be interested in. A goal that has been shown to have negative public consequences in those denominations that have embraced it. I think she makes a very valid point.
Statistics seem to show that in Jewish denominations where feminism was embraced there has been a decline in male participation. For example The Reform Movement – the first to do so - consistently has more women than men graduating from the rabbinic seminaries every year by substantial margins. A 2008 study by Sylvia Barack Fishman on this subject (cited by Shapiro) mentions that 25 women graduated their rabbinic seminary that year versus 10 men!
Shapiro references a Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) statistic that women make up 78% of their converts. Their claim that the reasons why they convert being spiritual may not reflect the real reason woman convert. Orthodox Jewish men make good husbands. They are raised to date women for purposes of marriage and they date young. This is unlike their secular counterparts who do not date for marriage when they are young and do not see marriage as a near term goal.
Orthodox Jewish men are raised to date that way. They begin dating for marriage purposes in their early 20s. (Yes,there are exceptions. Aren’t there always?) Shapiro shares the following:
My husband, like most of his friends, wasn’t looking for a girlfriend as much as he was looking for a wife. Contrary to being scared of commitment, Orthodox men are taught that the entire purpose of dating is to find a woman for commitment. This is an attractive prospect for women who seek such an attachment…
If staving off male defection in the Orthodox community means women continuing to ride in the passenger seat, while men take the wheel in religious leadership, it’s a sacrifice most women are ready to make.
That is quite a gutsy statement in today’s egalitarian world. But I wonder just how many women prefer that to egalitarian goals? If I had to guess I would say that the vast majority of women are far more interested in getting married and raising a family than they are in becoming rabbis. What about those laudatory egalitarian goals? They apparently do not measure up to what most women really want.
And then there is the fact that in those movements that have made egalitarian gains, there is dwindling male participation. I’m pretty sure that most men in those denominations support the egalitarian gains. But one cannot deny the reality that has followed.
Why do they dropout? Shapiro says that it is the nature of men to want to hang out with other men socially. Here is how she puts it:
Whether it’s a bowling league, a softball team, a fraternity, a shriners club, or any number of other men’s societies – men like to have a place to group together in a pack without women.
Shul she says is one place like that. Even when women are there, they are behind a Mechitza and for all intents and purposes – aren’t there as far as the men are concerned. When women start becoming more part of the package, the’boys club’ atmosphere disappears and men become less interested in participation.
That may be true. I would like to believe that men seek spirituality – same as women. Especially in Orthodoxy. While that is true in many cases, I can’t discount the fact that for many – it is about the social aspect of the Shul. Once you have women there in prominence, that particular social dynamic does disappear.
Is that the reason that these denominations have become so female-centric? I don’t know for sure. But I can’t think of any other reason for this statistic since this is what seems to have happened after these movements became egalitarian.
The obvious question is, is the push towards an ever increasing level of egalitarianism in movements like JOFA and Open Orthodoxy what the 21st century Orthodox woman really wants? Is reaching that goal worth sacrificing male participation? And the changing attitudes about marriage that might go along with following the Zeitrgeist? Even if some women get a greater degree of spirituality out of being more involved in nontraditional ways may come at a cost too high? Isn’t it possible that the success of Orthodoxy over other denominations might just be connected to their insistence on tradition rather than chasing the current fad?