Study: Non-Orthodox men less connected than women

Is the increasingly dominant role played by women in Jewish activities turning men off?

men women 88 (photo credit: )
men women 88
(photo credit: )
After decades of women feeling disenfranchised from a male-dominated Jewish tradition, the tides are turning, with non-Orthodox men today becoming less and less connected to Judaism, according to a new study released Sunday by Brandeis University. Non-Orthodox Jewish males, from school-age to adult, have fewer connections with Jews and Judaism than their female counterparts, the study showed. "Men invest less of their human capital into Jewishness," said study co-author Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of contemporary Jewish life in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis. "This is a matter of deep concern, because minority groups with high amounts of ethnic capital are much more successful at transmitting their culture to the next generation." The study, entitled "Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent: Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life" and released by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, found that women have been taking an increasingly more dominant role in Jewish rites. As a result, the phenomenon of "Ima on the bima" (mom on the podium) has become the rule rather than the exception in liberal Jewish settings. "When it comes to gender equality or gender balance, contemporary American Jewish life is caught between a rock and a hard place," said co-author Daniel Parmer, a Brandeis graduate student. "Boys and men as a group are not attracted to feminized Jewish activities and environments." In contrast, Orthodox Judaism, which has not integrated women into traditionally male roles such as rabbinical ordination and leading prayers, has managed to maintain the masculine connection to religious devotion. In their conclusion, Fishman and Parmer suggested that the increasingly dominant role played by women in Jewish activities might be turning boys and men off. The authors suggested that initiatives more geared toward Jewish men and boys could help strengthen the frayed masculine Judaic connection. "Without advocating single-sex education, it is critical to recognize that programs geared to Jewish boys and men - and to Jewish girls and women - create positive connections to Jews and Jewishness, beginning with the preschool years and extending over the life cycle of the individual," they wrote. "Excellent coed and single sex programs and activities may be particularly important in the middle school and teen years, when boys in liberal Jewish settings often grow most impatient with female religious and educational leadership," they went on. "Ironically the women's movement - responding to great gaps in Jewish life - has often created successful materials and programming for female teens, while teenage boys have often been left behind." Fishman and Parmer noted in their introduction to the study, which was based on 300 interviews, that 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. "In Fall 2005, women outnumbered men two to one in the entering rabbinical class in the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Nationally, girls and women outnumber men in weekly non-Orthodox worship services, in adult education classes, in volunteer leadership positions, and in Jewish cultural events," they said. "Only in lucrative, high-status executive positions in the Jewish communal world do men outnumber women. Perhaps most disturbingly, Jewish men rank lower than Jewish women in secular ethnic, social, family or peoplehood connections as well... Jewish men have measurably lower rates of ethnic and religious social capital than Jewish women, as characterized by involvement with distinctively Jewish activities and connections with Jewish social networks."