Thursday, October 16, 2008

"... and his wife"

I received a mailing from a prominent mainstream Orthodox institution the other day, and was jarred by the Mazal Tov listings. “Mazal tov to Rabbi Ploni X and his wife on the birth of…” went several lines of the text.

The funny thing is that I am, in my beliefs if not my practice, a sex-segregationist. Knowing the effect that an adulterous relationship has on a community, on a shul, on friends and families, and especially on children, I want to stay as far as possible - and then some! - from anything that might possibly somehow in some infinitesimally small way lead to that kind of situation.

*The fact that I teach mixed classes is a concession to reality, not my preference; I would much prefer to teach men and women separately.

*I use women’s first names when I address them, but that, again, is a concession to reality. I would use “Mrs. Smith” if it didn’t have such a jarringly stilted sound in my world.

*As much as I don’t like sitting apart from my wife at a wedding, I understand the need for that separation.

So I understand where the “and his wife” listing originates: Erect another barrier to inappropriate liasons, by reminding us that we ought not mix. I get it, believe me I get it.

But I still don’t like this “and his wife” construction:

It’s too close to nullifying the wife’s significance, by robbing her of her name – and in an announcement about her birthing a child, for Gd’s sake!

It’s too unbalanced; it sounds like saying, “The husband is the one who counts; the wife is his add-on.” I'd rather see it say "Rabbi and Mrs. X" without any first names.

It's also too much of a reach; this reminder of sex-segregation seems to me like a rather distant גזירה לגזירה לגזירה.

I sometimes wonder, and only semi-facetiously, if this might one day lead to a Mi sheBeirach in which we say “אברהם יענקל בן אמו Avraham Yankel ben Imo” rather than say the mother’s name! (Note: In the Chasam Sofer’s own practice, not only did they use the mother’s name when praying for the ill, but they also used it in the Kel Malei for the dead, and they inscribed it – rather than the father’s name – on the headstone. See בצל החכמה ג:צא.)

There is much more I could say, but I’m squeezing this in between derashah-prep and minchah, and you shouldn’t go from קלות ראש (frivolity) right into davening. Suffice it to say, for the time being, that I am Mordechai and my wife is Caren, and all mazal tovs (ken yirbu) should be directed to both of us by name.


  1. Is there necessarily any kind of agenda involved, though? Could it be that they simply didn't know her first name?

  2. Hi Alex,

    A good thought and a nice case of dan l'kaf zchus - but there were four relevant lines, and all of them were that way:

    "Rabbi Shmuel X and his wife on the marriage of their daughter..."

    "Rabbi Shmuel X and his wife on the birth and Bris of their son..."

    "Rabbi Yehuda X and his wife on the marriage of their daughter..."

    "Rabbi Dovid X and his wife on the engagement of their son..."

  3. At least your publication said "and wife." We got an announcement that read "Rabbi_____has a mazal tov on the birth of a son." Truly a modern scientific miracle--the first male to bear a child all on his own with no female involved. Quick, someone give a scientist a grant to study the phenomenon.

  4. That sounds like a Shalom Bayit issue in the making. As a father I was intimately involved in bringing my children into the world.

    But let's face it, the hard part of bringing them in was not done by myself or any other man.

  5. ProfK-

    Not just pregnancy/labor/birth, either; it continues through late-night nursing and more...

  6. To Caren-
    Mazal Tov on having such a thoughtful husband. I wish that more men would be sensitive to these small details that often hurt women's feelings.

  7. "I understand the need for that separation"

    what's the need at a wedding?

    in general, what do you think is the limit of male/female mixing?

    regarding using mothers' names, what about mother-in-law (i.e., maharsha)

  8. Lion-
    I'm not sure that one can define a limit on the mixing issue, other than to say it requires senisitivity to cultural norms as well as cultural flaws.

    I haven't seen anyone use mother-in-law, no...

  9. i don't understand why it is dangerous for a man and woman to be seated at the same table at a simcha. i can "understand" a society that is completely segregated, but most of us don't really live in that type of a society. so why do we pretend to on certain occasions?

    i don't know if the maharsha used it when called up for an aliyah, but he did go by his MIL's name:

  10. Lion-
    I agree that segregation at a single event like a wedding is irrelevant if the rest of the life is conducted in a fully mixed manner.
    However, reality is that for many of us who live in the modern world, life is still not truly fully mixed. Close personal friendships are still same-sex, both out of natural inclination and out of a desire to maintain boundaries. In such a world, the wedding segregation, particularly with the drinking that often goes on in that setting, is most appropriate, if regrettable.