The liberal Jewish community is grappling with the question of attracting and retaining men and boys, both as participants in religious life and as spouses for Jewish women (who are less likely to marry out and tend to marry out older, if they do at all).
This blog covered one response a couple of months ago: Moving Tradition's Campaign for Jewish Boys. One core aspect of their Brotherhood program is engaging Jewish boys in thinking about, amidst American ideals of masculinity, antisemitic stereotypes of the feminized Jewish man, and a patriarchal text and study-based religious tradition, what it means, to them, to be a Jewish man.
But what is really the relationship between internalized conceptions of masculinity and men's patterns of out-marriage and religious participation?
On Homespun Wisdom, Jamila asks: What do Jewish Women, Chinese Men, and Black Women have in Common? Referring to Sylvia Barack Fishman's 2008 work Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent, she writes:
An article I read about the feminization of the Jewish church makes the Jewish religious community sound eerily similar to the black church community: more women than men; women lamenting the loss of men to the community, imploring them to ‘come home and have babies’; men who are disdainful of ’their’ women and have become avoidant of religion in general.
This is fascinating to me. My (not all that expert) impression is that the history and politics of masculinity in the African American community are very different, even radically different from that of the Jewish community - and yet the outcome, at least with regards to out-marriage and religious participation, is quite similar.
One possibility is that despite their apparent differences, there are some important fundamental similarities between African-American and Jewish masculinity. Another is that conceptions of masculinity are perhaps more tangential to the issue of men's religious and romantic orientations than one might have thought.
Jamila's hypothesis about the common denominator among Jewish women, Chinese men, and Black women is:
"Who dates out, the men or the women, has a lot to do with who the culture puts more pressure on–the boys or the girls–to carry that culture in the future."
While my impression is that traditionally, the Jewish community has done its best to put plenty of pressure on everybody not to marry out, thinking more closely about how that pressure is gendered might be helpful. Jamila makes a connection between that pressure and the fact that Judaism has been a matrilineal religion - but it seems to me that factor could go in both direction. In a way, Jewish women are more free to marry out because they don't need to reproduce with a Jewish man to have Jewish children.
On the other hand, women have done and continue to do (despite wonderful progress) most childrearing work. Liberal Judaism has let go of many of the traditional modes of more or less mandatory men's involvement in the religious life and religious education in which boys participate: heder, shul, yeshiva etc (modes which incidently also at least periodically relieve women of some of the burden of childcare for boys). It makes sense that the gap in Jewish continuity work created by the loss of those traditional forms of childcare/education would have naturally shifted over into women's general basket of childrearing responsibilities. Especially since Jews too are immersed in a broader culture that has all too often placed near complete accountability for children's welfare, morality, and behavior on mothers.
I think that increasing the childrearing expectations placed on Jewish men (and increasing their ability to fulfill them by instituting and advocating for more family friendly workplace conditions: flextime, paternity leave, etc) could only help in encouraging men to value and transmit their own heritage to their children.