Friday, June 17, 2005

Sharing our knowledge—on the advantages of a 100% Jewish (by birth or by choice) marriage

Since celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary only a few days ago (see my June 12 post, "Anniversary Waltz," at, I've had some thoughts on the subject of Judaism and marriage.

The Punster was very lucky as a child. His parents sent him to a really good Hebrew school, where he learned Hebrew much more thoroughly than I did. His knowledge of Hebrew grammar is much better than mine, which is particularly handy since we switched to Sefardi pronunciation as adults—he almost always knows when a kamatz (that little T-shaped vowel) is supposed to be pronounced Aw and when it’s supposed to be pronounced Ah. He’s also a much faster Hebrew reader, and is much less likely to trip over difficult words—he can chant a haftarah on the spot, whereas I need a month’s practice. And he learned his way around the siddur (prayer book) as a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy, whereas I’m still learning—he lead the Musaf service for his Bar Mitzvah celebration, whereas I’m still sticking a siddur under his nose, pointing to a passage, and waiting for him to nod “yes” or “no” so I’ll know whether to pray that passage or not.

I was also very lucky as a child. My parents were really into home ritual, and got me interested, as well. So I taught the Punster how to chant the kiddush for Erev Shalosh Regalim (the eve of any of the three Pilgrimage Festivals) and how to do havdalah (the ritual for the end of the Sabbath).

When it came time to teach our kid, I worked with him on kiddush (largely a home ritual), and the Punster worked with him on the brachot (blessings) before and after the Torah and haftarah reading (shul [synagogue] rituals) and on laying tefillin (putting on phylacteries).

I don’t know how it works with Jews by choice in the Orthodox community, but, in the non-Orthodox community, Jews by choice have a rep for making their Jews-by-birth spouses more observant. One of my best friends took a hard-core Secular Yiddishist and made such a shul-goer out of him that he sent his kids to a non-demoninational day school to ensure that they would learn Jewish tradition and Hebrew.

I would think that it must be quite a challenge to raise a Jewish kid in a home in which one spouse is not Jewish.


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