When must parental interference stop?

A young 20 year old university student informed me that he is planning to marry in a few months. His parents are minor observant in Judaism, travel on Shabbat, attend films and concerts on Shabbat, keep a kosher home but eat non-kosher foods outside of home.

Somehow, the young man chose to become a baal teshuva, desperately wanting to return to the traditions and practices of orthodox Judaism. In this regard he attached himself to the Chabad Hassidic movement, wears tzitzit hanging outside to his knees, black hat, small beard and payot tucked behind his ears.

In every respect, outward and inward, he has made the successful change in his return to orthodox Jewish teachings, studying Torah and Talmud daily.

At the university he met a young lady, two years older than he, who also turned to orthodox Jewish practices, beliefs and observances. She had come from a completely non-observant of religion family. She had spent some time studying in a Jerusalem yeshiva for women. They fell in love with one another and set a date for their marriage without any parental involvement.

The young man’s parents immediately objected to the marriage. Some grounds were reasonable, others were despicable.

“He is too young to be married. He never had a date with a girl before. The girl’s mother is too fat. He has two more years of university. Why the hurry to marry”?.

When he came to me as a close friend seeking advice I told him that 20 years of age, while young, is legally acceptable and is not discouraged in religious Judaism. I did agree that, in my opinion, it would be better for him to complete the remaining two years of university studies, find a good job and begin to earn a salary that would provide for a secure marriage prior to the wedding ceremony.

The girl’s parents are not financially able to pay for a wedding. His parents, protesting the marriage, will offer little if any help. With no involvement in the arrangements, the mother in particular out of her anger, makes no promises and gives her son no assurances.

In describing her son’s choice of a wife in her conversations with friends, his mother describes her as “short, fat and ugly”. Are these the words of a future mother-in-law and future grandmother to be? How can there be shalom bayit when such despicable words are shared with strangers and repeated from one person to another?

Many couples have had mother-in-law difficulties, me included, but usually never before a marriage. The difficulties often develop overtime when one believes that there is too much mother-in-law interference. (God bless the silent non-interfering fathers-in-law).

When the young man first approached me and asked for some advice, I referred him to a highly respected modern orthodox rabbi, an Ish ha-Elokim, a man of God beloved and admired by all.

The son agreed to a meeting with him and they in fact did meet. His mother insisted on a meeting with the rabbi to share her feelings. And they did meet.

After long and careful thought, the rabbi’s decision was on the side of her son. He felt that the young man (and the young woman whom he later met) were mature in their feelings and plans and were able to cope with whatever difficulties may cross their respective paths. The mother’s reaction was unreasonable.

I understand how parental interference can create disharmony and ill will. As a parent, I fully understand the concerns that a parent has for children, wanting only the best for them. But at an age when the umbilical chord needs to be cut, it can be done painlessly and with love and care.

Parental advice can and should be given but parental interference must stop. If not asked for, it is not welcome and only creates ill-will and hostility.

I have, on occasion, been guilty in interfering with decisions my children have made. And therefore, I understand the hostility and hurt which can follow. It is not as our Torah would wish of us. The commandments of kavod (respect) and ahava (love) must overcome all ill-will and hostility.

The young man and his intended bride have told me that their wedding will be in early January. I wish them the very best of good luck and happiness.

I hope that I may be invited to their wedding, my health permitting, with only one request:

Please… do not sit me at the table next to the groom’s mother. More anguish I do not need. And her interference I will not accept. She’s not my mother, thank God.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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