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Making a Jewish Life: Reproductive Decision-Making as Everyday Ethics

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 2 Complex

Abstract

This paper examines the ethics of reproductive decision-making among Israel’s Orthodox Jews. Drawing on an extensive multi-site ethnography, which included—fieldwork, interviews, and textual analysis of reproductive narratives and practices among Religious Zionists, Lithuanian Haredis, and Nationalist Haredis, it reveals how reproductive decision-making serves as a site for making ethical-Jewish selves.
My findings reveal that the second and third generation of Israel’s modern-Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews are currently questioning the high-fertility norms that are customary in their communities. On the one hand, having a large family is a well-established communal norm that turns into a personal dream early on in the life of religious members. On the other hand, economic strains and cultural changes about parenting ideals, gender, body and work/family balance, have transformed the actualization of these high fertility dreams into almost unattainable realities. As they struggle, question, and debate the meaning of reproduction in a hyper-idealized context of national-religious reproduction (Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2004; Gooldin, 2013; Ivry, 2010; Kahn, 2000), I found that reproductive decisions involve a painful negotiation process of major social issues like femininity, masculinity, parenting ideals as well as nationalism, technology and modernity. Through the analysis of the findings, I suggest viewing these negotiations as both social and ethical practices of self-formation. It is through this process of (re) production, that couples construct, negotiate and critique what it means to make an ethical- Jewish life.

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