Judaism and the meltdown

Rabbis are a great resource during this economic crisis, providing both support and networking oppor

In any period of difficulty, it is essential that communities pull together to share their expertise to support those in need. During this period of economic uncertainty, it is certain that there will be no sector, faith, nor community that will be unaffected by redundancy and financial turmoil. It is clear that the leaders of those communities will be looked to for guidance during such a testing period.

I was therefore delighted to speak last week at a seminar, convened by the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, for the communal rabbi’s of the various synagogal bodies across the UK. Featuring industry leaders and communal organisations, the seminar provided the rabbis with an overview of the current economic crisis, the impact it might have on the Jewish community, as well as the resources available to assist those affected.

The common view of those in attendance was that whilst not expected to be business experts, rabbis are, like their counterparts from other religions, often the first point of contact for congregants struggling during testing times. In addition, faith leaders can be a great focal point for networking opportunities within a community. Rabbi’s, with an in-depth knowledge of their congregants skills and expertise, are often able to create positive and beneficent synergies.

By creating positive and mutually supportive relationships it is always possible to develop business contacts, find employment for those made redundant and provide advice in setting up a new business. It can be beneficial in the long-term too – the person you are helping today may have the expertise you need help with tomorrow.

Jewish text tells us that the highest form of charity – as discussed at length by Maimonides, the great twelfth-century philosopher and expert in Jewish law – is to find someone a job, thereby putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid.

At TrainE we work within the Jewish community to empower people to make a strong and sustainable income by offering training and business development options. By offering nationally accredited training courses, a pioneering mentoring scheme and a business incubator supporting entrepreneurial business enterprise, we are supporting those in generating long term and sustainable incomes.

During any economic crisis, the job market is demanding and making career choices is all the more challenging. The tools to make an informed choice may give the added edge needed to make the right decision. We aim to do just that and our training courses together with extensive support network are a perfect way to gain the qualification that can help people stand out from the crowd and find a perfect vocation.

The attendance of so many rabbis at this seminar, and their willingness to engage with these issues should serve as an inspiration to others to think, not only about how to survive the economic downturn, but how to support others through it too. We can certainly draw inspiration from the ancient proverb of first-century Jewish scholar and theologian Rabbi Hillel “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I?”

Shraga Zaltzman is the Managing Director of TrainE, a non-profit Jewish community organisation dedicated to empower individuals to make a strong and sustainable income. He studied at Gateshead Talmudic College and at the Mir Talmudic College in Jerusalem. He holds a BA in Technology, Marketing and Management from the Jerusalem College of Technology and an MBA from Bar Ilan.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.