This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Religion and the Role of Women in Society

The status of women in society has emerged as an issue in what seems like an unlikely place--Israel. Today's New York Times reports on the increasing influence of the ultra-orthodox Jews in that country. The attitude of this particular religious group with respect to gender roles in society is very similar to those of fundamentalist Islam--the group that has been most often criticized in the modern world for its stance on the place of women.
The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women’s health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.
Mr. Carmon [president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem research organization].compared the strictly religious Jews of Israel to the Islamists in the Arab world, saying that there was a similar dynamic at play in Egypt, with tensions growing between the secular forces that led the revolution and the Islamic parties now rising to prominence.
“Today there is not a city without a Haredi community,” said Rabbi Abraham Israel Gellis, a 10th-generation Jerusalem Haredi rabbi, as he sat in his home, an enormous yeshiva on a hill outside his window. “I have 38 grandchildren and they live all over the country.” 
And in that sentence one can see the influence of demography in this situation--the fertility rate among the ultra-orthodox Jewish population is very high.
Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said fertility rates in the Haredi community made the issue especially acute; the very religious Jews are the only group in Israel having more children today than 30 years ago.
“They make up more than 20 percent of all kids in primary schools,” he said. “In 20 years, there is a risk we will have a third-world population here which can’t sustain a first-world economy and army.” 
This is just another reminder that the future is a foreign country.

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