The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness By Elliot Jager


mishbookElliot Jager, who unwillingly has no children, strongly protests what he says is Judaism’s stigmatization of the childless. He’s “searching for a defense counsel, someone to offer perspective to my bill of particulars charging Judaism’s canon with disrespect, disregard, even disdain for the childless.”

That idea never had entered my mind. Nor, I suspect, does it occur to many Jews who, like me, are blessed with children.

“Pater” is a short, punchy revelation of how Judaism and Jewish life are centered on the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and of how isolating it can feel to be a Jew — especially an observant Jew — who wants children but cannot have them.

It’s even worse if, like Jager, you’ve moved to family-centered Israel, where, he says, people believe that “childless people have empty lives. That this attitude is understandable doesn’t make it any less condescending.”

“Pater” — Latin for “father” — is more than a personal lament. Its interlocking themes tell of being abandoned by his Shoah survivor father at age 8 and being raised impoverished as an only child; feelings and experiences of other childless Jewish men; data on childlessness and IVF; Bible characters’ fears of childlessness; re-establishing contact with his father after 30 years of silence; the fear of being forgotten after death; and what he says seems the unfairness of it all.

Reading of children abused, abandoned, even killed by their parents angers him. He asks: “Why would God give children to the people who didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them, instead of to us?”

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