by Azriela Jaffe
Career Press, 199 pages
"And he's such a nice young man.and Jewish!" So goes the relieved, beaming kvell of every new mother-in-law on announcing her child's upcoming non-mixed marriage.
If only blissful married life followed from breathing a sigh of relief because you're both Jewish. It isn't, Azriela Jaffe bluntly points out in her new book "Two Jews Can Still Be a Mixed Marriage: Reconciling Differences Over Judaism in Your Marriage." Even if two Jews have found each other, differences in observance levels and religious involvement can drive a wedge between two otherwise well-matched mates.
Take Julie and Mark, one of scores of couples featured in Jaffe's book. Julie is a "High Holiday Jew," meaning that she never attends synagogue except at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mark is a yarmulke-wearing, Shabbat-observing Jew who madly loves Julie but wants a kosher home, to keep the Shabbat rules, and to follow the laws of family purity. (Easily the most controversial aspect of traditional Jewish marriage, family purity laws state that the couple refrains from physical contact during the woman's menstrual period. At the end of her period, she visits the mikvah, or ritual bath, and they resume their normal sexual relationship. Adherents call it a monthly honeymoon, opponents call it a barbarity.)
What can they do? Jaffe lays out their challenges and opportunities, as she does for couples experiencing a panoply of problems throughout the book. Ranging from kosher compromises to synagogue attendance to Jewish education for the kids, Jaffe offers solutions without ever presuming to have "the" answer. She gives an impressive list of resources, books, and contacts, all good places to start. Her advice is so comprehensive, even voluminous, that one almost wonders if there is inherent value in Jews marrying other Jews.
But in our post-modern era, when religion is allegedly near the bottom of the list of things people seek out in romantic partners, it's refreshing to see a book that not only takes religious commonality seriously, but also admits that same-religion marriage is not the end of the conversation of religion and relationships. For Jews especially, religion creeps into marriage at the most basic human levels--how and what we will eat, where we will live, what we will do with our leisure time. Jaffe, herself part of a "mixed" Jewish marriage--she was unobservant and searching, he was observant and settled--has done a fine job of exploring the complexity of Jewish marriage from every possible angle.
It's enough to make a mother-in-law kvell all over again.