The advice mensch | Wedding boycottover choice of mate ruptures family

Jonathan Harris, the Advice Mensch, is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at [email protected]

My wife and I raised our children in a Reconstructionist environment in which we placed a high value on Jewish education, tradition and identity. Also, my wife’s parents have drifted into Modern Orthodoxy and so have been quite enthusiastic and valuable in their contribution to our children’s Jewish upbringing.

Our oldest daughter, who is 34, lives in another city where she works as a teacher. For over two years, she has been dating a young man who is also a teacher. On Valentine’s Day, they became engaged. My wife and I have met this young man on more than one occasion and consider him to be nice, smart and mature. However, he is not Jewish. While we would have preferred our daughter marry a Jewish man, we are hopeful they will raise their children Jewish. Unfortunately, my wife’s parents have said they will not be attending this wedding on the counsel of their rabbi. They say they do not want to estrange themselves from her but feel it is important not to condone this intermarriage. Their position has made my daughter unhappy and my wife furious. Any advice for improving this conflict? — Mitch in Berkeley

Dear Mitch: First of all, mazel tov. You and your wife have raised an independent young woman with a career as an educator who is about to embark on starting a family with someone you consider to be nice, smart and mature. A lot of parents wish they had what you do. Mensch is sorry for the attendant problems as he tends toward conflict avoidance and is especially troubled when people create their own problems.

Fortunately, everyone has a choice in this situation. It sounds like your daughter has made hers. Her grandparents feel at this point the best choice for them is to decline attending this wedding. Your wife and daughter have time to choose how to react to their decision.

Intermarriage is not a subject on which Mensch is keen to churn about in this space. Not only Jews but people of all faiths have had to wrestle with this fact of life for centuries. It is above Mensch’s station to judge wrong and right in these cases, and it makes him uncomfortable that anyone of mortal flesh would feel comfortable doing so. But you asked merely for advice, Mitch.

Understanding one another can be a sensible path toward reconciliation and alliance. Have your in-laws taken care to explain their position to their daughter and granddaughter? You say they drifted into Orthodoxy, which implies that Jewish life is something they have chosen (there’s that word again) to intensify. Perhaps they might be persuaded to explain calmly the reasons for that choice and why it compels them to forgo the pleasure of their granddaughter’s wedding. It would be a gesture of compassion and respect for your wife and daughter to hear them out. 

Likewise, as they do not want to be estranged from their granddaughter, it would be kind and generous for your in-laws to welcome her and her fiancé into their home and hear what has motivated them to marry and what their thoughts are on raising children. Their granddaughter is 34 with a career and a life she has made for herself. She deserves respect, too.

You say you are hopeful your daughter will raise her children Jewish. Do you have reason to believe she will? Because, if such is her goal, the tutelage of her grandparents would be a great asset. Many people view the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew as the loss of a Jew and a hit to the future of Judaism. For those of us mindful of the Holocaust, especially those old enough to have lived through it, the specter of destruction is powerful and ever-present.

On the other hand, your daughter is not the only one marrying. Her fiancé is marrying in to a Jewish family, a strong one at that, and perhaps therein is an opportunity for the Jewish people to strengthen our future. Mensch hopes this is indeed the case and that your daughter’s wedding is a joyous occasion, for everybody.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at [email protected].