A British-born scholar who combines an interest in popular culture (bachelor’s degree in film history from the Manchester Metropolitan University) with a traditional yeshiva education, Rabbi Simcha Weinstein combines two apparently disparate worlds.
Recently named one of five of New York’s “Hippest Rabbis” by MetroFocus, a web publication of public television station Channel 13, he is a founder of the decade-old Brooklyn Heights Jewish Film Festival and author of two books on decidedly non-rabbinic topics: “Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero,” and “Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century.”
His newest book is more predictable. In “The Case for Children: Why Parenthood Makes Your World Better” (Barricade Books), Rabbi Weinstein argues in favor of childless couples having kids, and of couples with few kids having more.
This is excerpted from an e-mail interview The Jewish Week conducted with the rabbi.
Q: Why the switch from fictional people to real ones?
A: I wrote this book to try to inspire couples to accept the challenge of becoming parents — and ultimately reap all the rewards that come with the awesome responsibility. Having written a book about superheroes, I’ve spoken at lots of comic book conventions; seeing men my own age dressed as Jedi knights having light-saber fights is funny; adult men today are busy buying toys for themselves instead of for the children they don’t have yet and maybe never will.
Never before have birth rates internationally fallen so far, and so fast, and in so many places. Close to half the planet (including most of Europe, East Asia, and many Central and South American countries) has a fertility rate below replacement. Studies show that most married couples who say they want to have children will have them — eventually.
Religious authorities traditionally are in favor of large families. What’s your new twist on the subject?
This book is intended to be a candid, honest exploration of why young people aren’t having children. Many young people I meet seem to be doing everything during their reproductive years except reproducing. I empathize with the arguments against parenthood. In many cases, childless couples choose to be so for what they consider altruistic ideals. The irony is that the reason they give for not wanting kids is the reason they would make the best parents: they care about the future of our planet.
What’s your most convincing argument in favor of larger families, or of having children in the first place?
On a micro level, as corny as it sounds, not even Apple has invented an app that can measure the wonder you feel when your son or daughter falls asleep on your chest while you marvel at [his or her] perfect little fingers and toes.
On a macro level, without a sizable, stable tax base, many of America’s entitlement programs will crumble. The welfare state taken for granted by Europeans has flat-lined for precisely these reasons. Many people claim they can’t afford to have children, but if we want to maintain our social safety net and standard of living, we can’t afford not to.
We read stories — too many —of children being abused or ignored by their parents. Are all adults qualified to be parents?
Of course not everybody could or should be a parent. My book seeks to present a case to couples that are clearly qualified.
Do you ever hear regrets from couples that had no — or too few — children?
Why do you think I wrote the book? One of the most famous childless women in the world is known for her dedication to helping children. Oprah Winfrey said about the child-centered charities she has founded, “These are my children. I made a decision to be a voice for those children, to empower them, to help educate them, so the spirit that burns alive inside each of them does not die.”