Is my wife wrong for conditioning our girls to marry Jewish men?

My wife drives our daughters, ages 8-14, to excel in school and she repeatedly tells them how proud she’ll be when they go to MIT, graduate from medical school, marry a nice Jewish man and give her lots of grandchildren. I have no argument with her goals for our kids or her methods of motivating them, except that I wonder if conditioning them to marry Jewish men somehow encourages them to discriminate.  — Al

Dear Al: You make a very interesting point. Stripped of its baggage, the word “discriminate” simply means to choose one thing over another. To shoot for MIT over Casino College of Los Angeles is to discriminate. On the other hand, Merriam-Webster’s No. 1 definition of the word is “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” The question in your mind, Al, is what manner of discrimination is your wife encouraging?

Many, particularly those on the orthodox end of the spectrum, believe that a Jew marrying a non-Jew represents a net loss to the Jewish people. Some believe that a Jew marrying a non-Jew represents a possible gain – someone new to join us in celebrating our culture and heritage.

Your wife seems to be in the former group and the Torah agrees with her, stating rather unambiguously “you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son. For he will turn away your son from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others, and the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Heavy.

More recently, Jewish thought and culture has been influenced by the consequences of discrimination against our people. In living memory, forces of anti-Semitism seeking to eradicate the Jewish people succeeded in wiping out one-third of us. Many touched by this horror have passed on to their children and grandchildren an imperative to preserve and protect our heritage, culture and religion. If that means following the Torah or simply honoring tradition and one’s parents by making Judaism a condition of marriage, we should seek to understand and respect these motives.

However, Mensch believes there is a significant cost to this approach. In limiting your daughters’ marital horizons, your wife is closing a door. She wants them to fly far away to MIT and through medical school, but only so far. Maybe there is an interesting, intelligent, accomplished man (or woman) of another faith, or without faith, who would lead one of your daughters on a path of great happiness and success, perhaps in a new and exciting direction or perhaps sharing her Judaism and even joining up.

Assuming the wife is not planning an arranged marriage soon, you have some time to work this out. She sounds like a really good mom and a good influence on your girls. If she gets any three of her four conditions met, she’ll have a lot to brag about.
I recently discovered my son wearing an expensive wristwatch he did not own. After some pushing, I got him to admit to stealing it from a department store. Should I make him fess up and return it to the proprietor ? — Melanie

Dear Melanie: In the olden days, one might be tempted to have a wayward child go back to the store to return the merchandise to the proprietor for a valuable lesson in honesty, shame and humility. However, these are not olden times. Stores rarely have proprietors and more often have security protocols. Certain aspects of our society have become quite punitive. If he is 18 and charged with theft, a youthful indiscretion (albeit a serious one) could become a criminal record branding him for life. Have him return the watch anonymously with an unsigned note of apology. Then get to work on preventing this behavior from repeating. Find someone versed in criminal justice to talk to your son about the consequences of thievery. Also, Google “teen stealing.”

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Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. Send your questions to advicemensch@gmail.com.