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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Can't We Push Rewind on this New Social Structure?

Hat Tip: VIN

An article at the 5TJT looks at a Shaar Press book on relationships with in-laws. I'm sure there is plenty in there to keep a reader glued.

In the article Rabbi Twerski goes on record saying:
“The problem is that today more than ever, parents are meddling in children’s lives, and they believe that they have a right to do so,” Rabbi Twersky said in our Sunday-morning talk. He added that the prime reason that in-laws or parents get more involved in children’s lives nowadays is that in an inordinate number of situations in our community, children are no longer independent just because they’ve gotten married. He says that today in our social structure no one is really independent, and that fact is a significant contrast to the way things were not so very long ago.

Rabbi Twersky recalled that back not so long ago, when you turned 18 you went to work and were on your own—that is if your parents were not depending on your efforts to help keep the family unit afloat, which today is an unthinkable option. In discussing whether the situation of such profound dependence of married children on their parents is healthy or not, Rabbi Twersky said, “We can’t change the reality of our social structure. It is what it is and we need to deal with it as such.”

I find this talk that we can't change the social structure, much of which is largely self-created rather defeating. Why can't we push the rewind button and instill some expectations that existed not too long ago? There is a mitzvah for a man to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. A wife is to put her husband before her parents in terms of honor. The ketubah, hardly a romantic document, details the obligations of a husband to his wife. Our sages instruct a man to plant a field, build a home, and marry in that order, stating a fool does the opposite. And we recognize the problems created when dependent children, rather than increasingly independent young adults, marry. So why throw up our hands in defeat if it is our best interest to tackle the issue? Granted, today's adolescent period might be more lengthy due to the increasing education required for jobs. But I believe that we can still give our children increasing levels of responsibility and consequence to propel them towards independence for the sale of all involved.

As for in-laws who can't let go (I think I might know a couple!), the best defense to meddling is to provide fewer opportunities for such meddling. Dependency creates too many opportunities.

Weigh in please on the question of why we seem to feel so powerless today?


Dave said...

Can't in this case means won't.

Bklynmom said...

Because suggesting that going back to planting a field (getting a job), building a house (earning enough to buy one) and getting married is the direct opposite of what's happening today. Except possibly for the very modern Orthodox, religious Jews push their kids to marry early, buy a house (or buy it for them) and NOT work. Suggesting otherwise is considered herecy.
The religious community's leaders are choosing to promote the powerlessness (if that's a word). The community just follows. The leaders of the community can choose to face the criticism and promote the more responsible way of growing up, obtaining an education, earning a living. They have to want to. The members of the community can choose to be sheep or to think for themselves. They have to want to. Neither group wants to at the moment.

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Miami Al said...

Let's remember that being an Orthodox Jew means being a Jew that is Orthodox, Orthodox is an adjective on Jew.

Raise children to be good Jews, including men and woman being responsible for their families and everything will fall into place.

Avraham Avinu left his homeland because idolatry was wrong. "Because the community does so" is NOT a Jewish value.

The push for early marriage is not good, do whatever you can to counter it with your family. Get a job, a place of your own, then bring a wife into it...

Chazal is wiser than today's leadership, that's part of our religion, rememeber?

And, just to irritate ProfK, any Rabbi that advises someone to go against this advice from Chazal, is NOT Orthodox, and should not be listened to, no matter how long their beard is.

G*3 said...

While I agree that married couples should be independent of their parents, I'm not sure that this is defensible as an objective ideal. Different societies have different views on what's right. Is a society in which married couples are wholly independent intrinsically superior to a society in which the new spouse becomes part of his/her in-laws household? Both have pros and cons.

I think that entitlement, rather than independence, is the real issue. Young couples think they are entitled to financial support from their parents, and parents think they are entitled to interfere in their children's lives. Neither, in our current society, is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

There is a fine line between having close, warm relationships among the generations and interfering, and sometimes the difference is in the eyes of the beholder.

Also note that this is not a uniquely OJ phenomenon. I read an article about how involved parents are in the lives of even highly educated, successful young adults to the point where some want to go on job interviews with their children, and some big companies (I think one of the examples was IBM) have orientation sessions for parents of new employees to explain benefit packages and other issues. When kids are away at college, they text and phone their parents all the time, and vice versa. When I was in college, a long distance phone call was an extravagence, so the umbilical cord had to be cut out of necessity. There are some real benefits to the close ties that grown children have with their parents, so we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Ariella said...

It is very difficult to press rewind in real life because we can't really erase our learned patterns of behavior. Behavioral patterns get deeply ingrained. (That is the reason the Sefer Hachinuch offers to the question of why there are so many mitzvos for the korban Pesach alone.) Teshuva is so great because it breaks the behavioral pattern. We know that it is possible, though it requires great effort.

Anonymous said...

For good and bad, Orthodox Judaism values conformity to group norms and does not value individuality. While that provides cohesiveness and group identity, it also means that its hard for someone to say it's crazy for kids to marry before having the means to support themselves or for parents to say I'm not going to support my married children when everyone else is doing it, just like its hard to say my child will be the only one on the block not going to summer camp or the only one going to public school.

harry-er than them all said...

Reminds me of tehillim 45:11
שִׁמְעִי-בַת וּרְאִי,וְהַטִּי אָזְנֵךְ;וְשִׁכְחִי עַמֵּךְ, וּבֵית אָבִיךְ.
Listen my daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget your people, and your father's house;

Couples have to realize that being your own entity means forging your own path instead of having things done the way they were in your parents home

Anonymous said...

Harry: You are forgeting the role of minhagim.

Aspiring Father said...

Anon 7:16:

The mentality that you described is one of the many reasons why I have no interest in raising my kids in a Jewish community.

It's not our responsibility to offer Pavlovian obedience to a bunch of arbitrary habits that have nothing whatsoever to do with God or Torah. Those who try to pass off such mindless conformity-for-its-own-sake as holy writ are either woefully misinformed or willfully fraudulent.

Anonymous said...

It's up to individuals to see the distructive patterns that are created when parents still support and are overly-involved in their married childrens lives. When I got married in 1989 my father told me in no uncertain terms that I was on my own and my husband will have to support me. I may have resented him for the first few years of marriage while watching my friends buy houses with down payments handed to them. However, I am grateful to them for allowing me to carve my own life with my husband. PARENTS use your own "sechel".

Mystery Woman said...

With 2 kids "in shidduchim" (boy and girl), I agree that there is a lot that needs to change. But I don't think it will any time soon.

We encourage our kids to get married young. The boys (except MO and some other exceptions) do not go to college before they are married because that would put them in a more undesirable place when it comes to shidduchim, and they are encouraged to learn exclusively for the first few years.

The girls can go to college (some), but they are so young when they get married, that they are not yet equipped to support their husband and themselves.

It's just the way it is...good or bad...and I don't see it changing.

Anonymous said...

Mystery Woman: It will change when there no longer is money to support all these young couples who can't support themselves. It will probably be the next generation. Because it doesn't look like the current generation of young couples will be able to support their married children.

Thinking said...


I think what R Twerski is trying to say is that you need to work within the current social reality. For example, to ensure that your children don't use the internet inappropriately you can't just push rewind and assume the internet does not exist. You need to work within the reality that there is an internet and then teach your children what is appropriate use and what is not. I don't believe he is "throwing his hands up in the air". He is cautioning parents not to rely on the social structure to teach your children the right derech or blame the social structure for not teaching your children right from wrong.

Even if you plan to raise your children differently, you need to also accept the fact that some of the things that they see outside of the house may be different then what they see from you. This should not stop your from teaching them what you think is right. As R Twerski states “We can’t change the reality of our social structure. It is what it is and we need to deal with it as such.” Now, within that context teach your children what it means to get married and be a responsible adult.

Too often I hear about people trying to change society. Often I find that they are the same people who bow to the pressure, but now they have a good excuse. "I tried to change everyone and it didn't work, what could I do?". Don't change society, change yourself.

I know I have probably posted this before, but maybe it's worth repeating. As much as we try to raise our children with the values and common sense that we have you also need to be prepared for the possibility that one day one of your children may grow up and fall in love with someone with a different social values system. You may need to reconsider some of your own feelings about social norms and find a happy middle ground.

I.e. you may or may not be into jewelry and may feel that there is a limit of what you would spend on yourself for a piece of jewelry. Your son falls in love with a wonderful girl from a more affluent family. As discussions about an engagement and possible wedding come into play you are fortunate to have good conversations with the potential mechutanim, they understand your budget and values and are comfortable with it even if it is different from theirs. However, this does not mean that you should not buy your future daughter in law a ring that is possibly more than you would have wanted to spend. I don't mean exorbitantly, maybe another $1000. While your value system is important to you, if you try to impose it on others it can have a negative affect. In this situation, again within reason, it might be appropriate to put yours aside for someone else's.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

However, this does not mean that you should not buy your future daughter in law a ring that is possibly more than you would have wanted to spend. I don't mean exorbitantly, maybe another $1000.

I can't understand this statement AT ALL. If they understand your budget, why would the girl expect something more expensive? Because she has been used to expensive things her whole life?

I think this would only cause more problems down the road, since by accommodating a need for things of high material net worth, you are setting up expectations down the road.

Is this based on a real situation? Please clarify. I don't mean to insult you, but this is one of the strangest comments I have ever seen on this blog.

Thinking said...


Let us say that you are going to eat a meal at friend who appreciates good wine. You, personally, can't tell the difference between 2 brands of grape juice. Would you not make the effort to purchase a nice bottle of wine for your friend despite the fact that fact that you might be setting up notions about your values or what you spend money on?

I, personally, don't enjoy flowers enough to buy any for myself. My wife does, so on occasion I will buy some for her. Sometimes I will even spend more than I think is reasonable. This has not "caused any problems down the road" she neither expects flowers all the time nor does she expect me to pay an exorbitant amount each time because I did so on one occasion.

It's not a question of expectations, it's a question of appreciating different value systems. Is the DIL's wrong? No. If you read carefully, my suggestion was to up the price a little, not to set unreasonable expectations, but to show that you can appreciate what others value too. By only upping your expense on what item (notice I did not suggest upping it on everything or buying the full, ridiculous list and I limited it to $1000) you can set expectations while also showing you care.

Sticking to your guns is a good value, sometimes setting them aside, within reason, is also a good value.

Yes, this is based on many real situations. I have been doing marital and pre-marital counseling for a number of years now in the orthodox community.

Anonymous said...

To me, $1000 is a lot of money. If I were eating a meal with a friend who was a wine connoisseur, and I couldn't afford the good stuff, I would probably bring something entirely different.

I see your point in that I would not want my child to buy the girl a ring that she would find ugly. I might explain that my child doesn't have that kind of money, that he can buy her a smaller but good quality ring, with the expectation that his income will increase in the future and he will buy her more lovely jewelry in the future, if it is important to her.

Also, if she is marrying into a family of lesser means, what is wrong with her adapting to their more frugal lifestyle? Why did you present it in such a one-sided way?

Anonymous said...

The notion of the in-laws buying the ring is something I've always found problematic. In most of the rest of the country, the groom works to save up for the ring. It has great meaning for the bride because its something that her groom worked for to be able to give her.

Anonymous said...

It's best for people to marry a family within their own financial range. It's called "punching your own weight". It's one thing for Mimmy and Simmy to be friends - another for Mimmy's brother to marry Simmy, or vice versa. There are many areas for potential disagreement. I am happy to see my friend's diamonds and furs and wish her well, but when marrying, it's best if families marry within the same financial category. That's my opinion from life experience. Also to marry with mechutanim who have similar ideas about the amount, if any, to support the couple, and the degree to encourage financial independence. Ideally.

Anonymous said...

It's best for people to marry a family within their own financial range.

I thought learning boys davka look for girls outside their own financial circles, so their FILs can support them.

rosie said...

Because we pushed, encouraged, allowed and otherwise facilitated early marriage, we are helping the kids financially. They also all work and none are in kollel although some of the mothers are stay at home. They are all frugal, even more so than their parents!
In the crowd they follow, most men and women are married in their early 20's.
I agree that things will be different for the next generation. If parents are pushing the responsibility of marriage on kids who are not ready, they should be ready to help financially.

Ariella said...

" It's best for people to marry a family within their own financial range.

I thought learning boys davka look for girls outside their own financial circles, so their FILs can support them."
That, Tesya, is symptomatic of some of the problems with too much parental involvement and too little independence when it comes to the lives of young married couples.
I want to clarify a misunderstanding that some people maintain about the kollel system. It is true that some young men were supported by their wives' parents for a year or two after marriage in pre-War Europe. This only applied for people who married very young. The Malbim, for example, for married at 13 (that didn't work out, but I don't know the details). However, they did not set them up in their own fully and newly furnished apartments. They gave them a room in their own houses, and they ate at the same table. So the parents did not have to cough up living expenses of $100,000 over a few years. And once the couple was older, say 16 or so, the young husband likely took on some work or subsisted on his the income his wife would bring in bykeeping a store or the like, as the Chofetz Chaim did.

The problem of marrying a rich girl is that she has grown accustomed to a style of living that her kollel husband would likely not be able to support, and if she does not pursue a high-powered career herself, there is no way they would be able to be independent while maintainig such a lifestyle.

My own great-grandmother, I am told, was a successful merchant and supported her husband, the Torah scholar. They only had one child, so I suppose that meant she was able to keep working more easily than a woman with a large brood. While my grandmother's parents gave her much when she was first married, WW II put an end to that, and she had to learn how to make do and do everything needed for a household that grew to 10 children.

Orthonomics said...

Thinking-Personally I think an advantage of arranged dating is to avoid "falling in love" with someone that you might not share some very core values.

To keep this short, I don't believe families should be totally inflexible (within their budget and constraints of modesty) when it comes to the actual wedding. I do believe that it is best to marry someone with similar values including child rearing and spending.

But, as far as I am concerned, the ring is a cost to be borne by the chatan. So a son of mine will need to work the ring thing out with his kallah. Stepping in sets a bad precedent. Parental meddling is one of the subjects the said book deals with and it is apparantely a large problem. My approach would be to let the couple work the issue of a ring (or whatever else is of importance) out *prior* to marriage. It isn't a bad exercise.

In our own family, the [cost of the] rings vary significantly.

BTW Thinking, you did make a similar comment in regards to cleaning help. There too, a young couple has every right to work out their own issues. If my kid marries someone who insists on cleaning help, the can work out their budget accordingly or figure out an alternative arrangement that works for them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting - my wife & I have the opposite problem. We got married expecting very little in the way of help from our parents, and decided that we would live VERY frugally. We bought all our furniture second-hand, didn't have a car before kids, hardly ate out, etc. etc. But my in-laws, who (though I didn't realize it when I got married) are quite well-to-do, wanted us to live at a higher standard, and they give us a lot of money, including money for a large house. As Rav Twersky accuratly points out, this leads to "meddling," which they most certainly do, and lots of it. They see themselves as our benefactors, so they assume the right and see it as their responsibility to tell us how we shoudl be doing everything.

We try just to keep cool about it and realize that we can't have everything, and that the benefits of getting help from parents comes with the price of periodic headaches from hearing them give orders.

Thinking said...


My thought is that there are some strong opinions on this blog, yours and mine included. My concern is that these opinions are so strongly instilled in our children that they are incapable "working it out on their own". This is a big issue I have seen with marriages. While couples will typically share many core values, they are not going to disagree on core values, they will have conflicts around the small percentage of values they do not share. This doesn't mean they should not get married.

R' Twerksi's suggestion on this is to be realistic with your children about society. Instill in them your core values, but also help them appreciate others value systems so that they can work things out. Children who are raised without being able to appreciate both sides of the coin cannot "work things out". This is where much of the conflict comes from.

Compromise and collaboration are also a core value.

My example was an illustration of the types of issues that come up and a potential solution (no Tesyaa, don't change your values on everything, but compromise on one so that the other party understands your value system but also sees that you can appreciate others) based on compromising, being clear that it is a compromise and not a changing of your values.

ProfK said...

There are still plenty of people out there who don't buy into this model of planned dependency, and it does not divide precisely, as one commenter said, "Except possibly for the very modern Orthodox, religious Jews push their kids to marry early, buy a house (or buy it for them) and NOT work." We and our family and friends--in fact lots of people we know and know of-- don't fall into the area of "very modern orthodox" (whatever that really is)and with only a few, rare exceptions our kids all work and support themselves. Are there still some parents who try to meddle, even when they aren't giving money to their kids? Of course! And that has been the case from time immemorial. Some parents can't let go or relinquish the authority, and it can cause some real unpleasantness. Throw money into the mix and things can get downright nasty.

Re helping to buy a house, this is nothing new and was around 40 years ago as well. Those parents with money helped out their children with the cost of buying a house, either through a direct gift or through a loan to be paid back. And yes, some of these parents also put strings on their gifts, such as saying no to their children moving to certain areas locally or oot. Most did not.

Sorry, but "giving in" to community pressure to conform isn't a given and is an excuse, the old "the devil made me do it" type of excuse.