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Daily Israel Report

Study Finds 'Man Crisis' in Liberal Jewish Circles

A new study shows liberal Jewish boys and men are dropping out of religious activities as the environment becomes increasingly feminized.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/12/2008, 2:10 PM

A new study carried out at Brandeis University finds that as the liberal Jewish community empowers its women, its men appear to be losing interest in their Jewishness.

According to a report in JTA, which published parts of the study, "outside the Orthodox world, men are becoming less and less engaged in every aspect of Jewish life, from the home to the synagogue to communal organizations. Numerous studies show that fewer boys than girls go to non-Orthodox youth groups, religious schools or summer camps, fewer go into the rabbinate and cantorate, and fewer serve on synagogue or federation committees.

This comes as women and girls in the liberal movements are benefiting from a host of programs and initiatives aimed at increasing their Jewish involvement, from gender-neutral prayer books to the popular Jewish identity-building program for teenage girls, 'Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing.'"

Sociologist Sylvia Barack Fishman authored the study, which is called “The Growing Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life” and will be available online June 1 at www.brandeis.edu/hbi.

Tough news for feminists
Using hundreds of interviews she conducted for the American Jewish Committee and data from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study, Fishman and her student co-author Daniel Parmer describe an American Jewish life "increasingly populated by women." Female dominance is especially apparent within the Reform movement, where the numbers of boys in post bar-mitzvah religious schools, youth groups and summer camps are declining, more than half of the recen
"We need to look at what’s happening and be honest about it."
tly ordained rabbis are women, and all this year’s entering cantorial students are female.

While noting that feminist scholars have a hard time accepting the idea of a “boy crisis” in liberal Judaism, Fishman is not apologetic: “As soon as you say that women dominate certain aspects of Jewish life, it sounds as if you’re saying, 'Let’s go back to the way things were.' That’s not the point of my research, but we need to look at what’s happening and be honest about it,” she told JTA.

Her report also suggests that as Jewish men outside the Orthodox fold become increasingly estranged from religious and communal life, they are more likely to marry non-Jewish women. She concludes that "the boy crisis in liberal Judaism is leading to a continuity crisis that will not be resolved until liberal Judaism finds a way to engage its boys and men."