I just finished Jennifer Weiner’s book Fly Away Home, which details the story of the wife of a philandering Senator and the impact that an affair like this can have on a family. Weiner says that the story was inspired by Elliot Spitzer’s resignation following revelations that he was employing a prostitute. At the time of Spitzer’s resignation, Bill Maher pointed out that both Spitzer and the prostitute who he hired are Jewish.
To paraphrase Maher:
At least Spitzer’s mother can rest easy knowing that her son chose a nice Jewish girl with whom to cheat on his wife.
The joke got a laugh, but it also illustrates one of the more unfortunate aspects of many organized religions:
The importance placed upon children marrying within the religion.
Growing up in a predominantly Catholic community, I can remember the importance that families placed upon marrying within the Church. Even at a young age, I can recall my bewilderment over a parent’s perceived right to help determine their child’s choice of spouse. Forcing an entire personal belief system upon a kid is bad enough, but to eliminate great swaths of potential husbands and wives because they believe in a different version of your Bible story seemed ridiculous at the time and still does.
What right does any parent have to determine their child’s future spouse?
More importantly, what is wrong with the son or daughter who allows this level of parental interference to take place?
Sadly, there probably isn’t a religion more well know for this belief system than Judaism (hence the effectiveness of Maher's joke). After announcing our engagement, I learned all about this expectation of my wife’s religion.
When Jewish friends and acquaintances of my soon-to-be-wife heard about our pending nuptials, one of the first questions they would ask her was “What’s his last name?”
According to Elysha, this is code for “Is he Jewish?”
Some actually asked Elysha if I was “a nice Jewish boy” and my in-laws were told by more than one person that had Elysha been their daughter, they would have forbidden the marriage.
How does a parent forbid their 28-year old daughter from marrying anyone? What would the parent do if the son or daughter goes through with the marriage? Disown the child? Stop buying birthday presents? Provide a lifetime of dirty looks?
Both parent and child must be truly pathetic in order for this to happen, yet it does quite often. I know of one Jewish man who fell in love with a non-Jew when he was in his mid-twenties. Though he wanted to marry the girl, his parents forbid the union, and as a result, the guy is now a 50-year old bachelor who has rarely dated since.
I hope his parents are happy.
And I give my wife a great deal of credit. Throughout her lifetime, she dated many non-Jewish men, spurning cultural and religious expectations in order to follow her heart and mind. Had she been more conforming, we would not be together, and our daughter, Clara, would not exist.
Also credit Elysha’s parents, who accepted me with open arms. While it might have been more convenient for them had Elysha married a Jewish man, they have always made me feel like a son.
A heathenish son, perhaps, but a son nonetheless.
As a result, they have a beautiful granddaughter as well, who they love with all their hearts, which is more than I can say for the fools who now have a 50 year-old bachelor son instead.
I just can’t decide who sickens me more:
The parents who forbid the marriage or the man who allows his parents to renounce his love for a woman who he wishes to marry.
I’ll call it a tie for now.