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.