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Why Ivanka Trump’s Maternity Leave Plan Wouldn’t Help Us ‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’

The first commandment in the Torah is pru u’rvu, be fruitful and multiply. That is, have babies, lots of ‘em. According to Jewish law, it’s a mitzvah – an obligation. Which Ivanka Trump would seem to take seriously, already 3 kids in. The Torah – and Jewish tradition – was able to require this of Jews because of the assumption that the community in which Jewish children were raised would throw all their resources behind supporting the mothers – and children – that were the product of such a commandment.

Which raises the question of why – and how – Ivanka Trump has failed so spectacularly to effectively advocate for policies which Hilary – a mother of one – has had in place for months (despite Ivanka’s insistence to the contrary). The policies Ivanka claims her father will fight for – maternity leave – only applies to married birth mothers. That leaves out single mothers, LGBTQ couples, transgender parents and all men (what would a gay male couple do, were they to adopt?). It also puts the onus of after-birth childcare entirely on the shoulders of women, which would likely lead to hiring discrimination. If you know only female employees are going to need paid family leave, why hire women at all?

To make matters worse, though Ivanka claims that her father would require paid leave for new mothers, her own company offers exactly zero paid maternity leave for workers. As L.V. Anderson in Slate pointed out yesterday, the contractor that designs Ivanka Trump’s clothes doesn’t offer employees a single day of paid maternity leave.

But above and beyond politics, Ivanka’s Judaism insists on the primacy of the family, and if she’s paying even the slightest attention in synagogue, she’d know that. In Parshat Tazria, the Torah requires that after childbirth women should be considered t’meahunclean, or unready to reenter the Tabernacle. While this has long been interpreted by feminists as emerging out of a fear of women’s procreative power, Dr. Sharon Weiss Greenberg – the Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, has suggested that, “The Talmud (in Tractate Niddah 31b) suggests that this period of time was implemented to benefit the new mother, to give her a period of time to recover without having to worry about the sexual needs of her husband. By ascribing the status of tumah to the new mother (like the time during and immediately after her menstrual period), the Talmud adds the prescription that her husband cannot ask her to fulfill his desires for at least 40 days.”

Other Jewish scholars have understood these prohibitions to mean that, in contemporary terms, anyone with a new baby should not need to be part of the public sphere or need to worry about providing for their families after birth. The organization Advancing Women Professionals in the Jewish Community has advocated specifically for paid family leave in Jewish organizations, making it clear that Jewish organizations actually hurt themselves when they fail to provide for new families.

Ultimately, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply is about creating community and supporting continuity – essential Jewish values. It’s about supporting new families, and the next generation. Ivanka, an Orthodox Jew, should know this – and value it. By arguing against Hilary Clinton’s comprehensive family leave policies and for a maternity leave policy which applies exclusively to married birth mothers, Trump is not just fighting feminism, and damaging equal opportunity for women workers everywhere, but throwing over centuries of Jewish values which place the family at the forefront of a healthy society. She should know better.

Rabbi Jordie Gerson works as a full-time Rabbi for Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado. She is an accomplished writer and speaker with a blog at the Huffington Post religion. Follow her on Facebook.

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