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Paid Maternity Leave Should be a Right, Not a Privilege

Oh to be a working mother in Israel, where women who give birth will soon get 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. Fourteen weeks? I’d have been happy to get 14 days of paid leave in this country.

In Jane Eisner’s Forward editorial this week, she writes about Israel’s move to extend legally mandated maternity leave benefits. She also writes about the dismal reality among American Jewish organizations, as recently documented by Advancing Women Professionals.

In the editorial, Jane writes about Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side whose chair, Ariela Dubler, made instituting paid parental leave a priority. I loudly applaud Hadar’s policy giving four weeks of paid maternity leave for each year of employment, up to 16 weeks.

If someone were to take four months of paid parental leave it would be a fiscal challenge for the small organization. This is an argument long used by businesses and not-for-profits to justify not providing paid parental leave, as it was in the early 1990s, when the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was being debated. Pregnant with my first child at the time, I clearly remember the debate – and the eloquent rhetoric in favor of FMLA from leaders of several Jewish organizations even as they had no family leave provision in their own company’s rules, which I documented in an article for JTA (which is unfortunately not available online).

But Ms. Dubler, a law professor at Columbia University, is quoted in the editorial as saying Mechon Hadar is “balancing generosity and risk.”

Therein lies part of the problem. Having a paid parental leave policy is viewed as “generosity,” as a gift, as something “extra,” or “over and above.”

It should not be.

Read more

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a regular contributor to the Sisterhood, which crossposts weekly with Jewesses with Attitude.

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More on: Mothers, Pregnancy
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How to cite this page

Cohen, Debra Nussbaum. "Paid Maternity Leave Should be a Right, Not a Privilege." 18 December 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/paid-maternity-leave>.

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