Project of IISHJ

The Jewish Family

The Jewish Humanist, Winter-Spring 1977


The Jewish family is famous. Everyone touts their marvelous sense of family. Even Jews praise themselves publicly for having invented such an institution.

But the historical Jewish family is about as real as the temple in Jerusalem.

Not the Jews are unique. Every year they have here been nation is experiencing the death of the old family.

The rate of divorce keeps climbing. What was scandalous 20 years ago is now commonplace. In some areas of the United States one out of every two marriages end in divorce.

The birth rate continues to fall. Jews are aging. Jewish infants are becoming rare. Religion school enrollments falling- not through lack of interest-but through the lack of recruitable children. Childless marriages abound.

The historic family of mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter, aunts, uncles-all living together as one unit-has vanished. It has become replaced by an ‘itsy-bitsy’ imitation of the original, in which husband and wife are condemned to eternal togetherness.

The single person is now fashionable. He is no longer a social aberration. Armies of Jewish people live by themselves-swingers, divorces, widows and widowers. When you find roommates in lovers, who may be less demeaning and less expensive than husbands and wives.

The Jewish family is still around. But like all over and families, it is beginning to fall apart.


The answer lies in the following realities.

The family is no longer an economic unit in the traditional sense. The shetl family involved a shared project. Parents and children worked together to ensure survival. They spent all their time together. Parents were the primary teachers of work skills for the children. The urban family is a ‘dormitory’ unit. Individuals with different jobs in different places-even children go off to school-come together for short periods of time to eat and to exchange money.

The family is too small to be effective. The nuclear family is no substitute for the extended family. If you are dependent on to fuel. What a man and grow the results.

Public welfare has replaced the traditional support extended by families. People do not need their families in the way they need them before. In the age of Social Security pensions and unemployment compensation, the goodwill of parents and children becomes less necessary. Indifference and abandonment are less threatening.

The most efficient labor unit of a capitalistic society is the mobile individual. Families are converse eight attachments, expensive for corporation to transport and diverting by their eternal demands.

Children are now parasitic. They no longer work for the family enterprise. They are non-productive for many years, requiring long years of education and large outlays of money. In a mobile society they may move away after high school and never return. In a welfare society they are no longer needed to care for their parents in their old age. They generally take -without giving. Unless they are both attractive and loving, they become wearisome projects which guilt never allows you to abandon.

Woman to have the opportunity to be economically independent. They do not have to be mothers if they do not want to be. They do not even have to be wives if they find wife hood uninteresting. The stability of the old family lay in the patriarchal authority and financial power of the husband. The new independence of woman gives the wife the freedom to resistant and demand equal authority and equal power. An institution with two bosses-even if they sleep together-is inherently unstable.

The age of affluence allows people to think about more than group survival. And allows individuals to turn their attention-without guilt-to their personal happiness. The historic family endured because countless men and women found sacrifice and suffering ethically appropriate. The spirit of 1976 define sacrifice as masochism and suffering as self-destruction

Love is not fashionable. Husband-and-wife snuff want to marriage to be a source of intimate friendship. And a time when children are secondary, the family unity depends on the spiritual quality of the Ryan Laois and ship between the man and the woman. Let me know no longer willing to settle for the opportunity of motherhood. When I woke no longer willing to work for the privilege of fatherhood.. It’s very hot and cold natured the demand for love makes any relationship unstable.

Contraception has separated sex from reproduction. Premarital license and extra-marital affair are now possible without the embarrassing risk of children. Sex for the middle class is no longer a family affair.

The consequence of all these new realities is a revolution in personal lifestyle. The revolution seems irreversible.

Here are its manifestations.

The revolution means that-from now on, very gradually-individual identity would replace family identity as the primary self-image of the person. In a mobile changing society for a family membership maybe both temporary and tenuous, urban survival dictates that individuals be able to see themselves as real. Marriage may come and go-children may come and go-but the continuing threat of each person’s life will be his personal identity.

The revolution means that divorce will be a regular and frequent experience in our society. If the criterion for a successful marriage is a successful friendship, the marriage will become a more fragile institution. Without the glue of mutual massages them, people will terminate what is intolerable for happiness.

The revolution means serial marriage (an Alvin Toffler phrase). More people will be married more than once. As an answer to loneliness and insecurity and as friendship as an opportunity for intimate friendship, your to continue to be popular with the majority of people. But it will be less than eternal for increasing numbers.

The revolution means more intense marriages. If people get married for friendship and not for children the relationship, while it lasts(and it might last for a lifetime)will be more exciting. And the age of female liberation women have become more interesting and men have become less rigid. While the possibilities of intersex competition have increased, the opportunities for intimacy and vulnerability also been enhanced.

The revolution means that there will be many childless marriages. Some career woman, after feeling to find meaningful work outside the home, may turn to children as creative projects. But many couples would prefer the freedom of no children. Despite predictions of future fertility fads, the Jewish birth rate will continue to fall.

The revolution means that there will be many single parent families. Because of divorce many women and some men-will have to function as both mother and father to their children. The role of stepparent will also become more prevalent.

The manifestations of this revolution are with us right now. They cannot be wished away by pious appeals to nostalgia. In fact, in terms of the individual fulfillment of adults, and maybe undesirable to wash them away. From a humanistic point of view, the new freedom, with all traumas may be superior to what it has replaced.

The ethical question is not-how do we change people back (that is futile)- how do you cope with the change? What new skills do we need to live more successfully in a new world?

These skills are skills that have no real analogies in the past. They are not traditional skills. They are new, because the urban world we live in is absolutely new.

Humanistic Jews-like all urban people-will need to be able to deal with the following situations well. These adaptations will be essential for successful living in happiness. They are the replacements for all family skills.

We will need to find value in temporary-less than eternal- relationships.

We will need to function as an individual, never identifying completely with any family connection that we cannot imagine ourselves as separate from it.

We will need to find intimate friendships outside of marriage to supplement our primary relationship. Otherwise, in the age of the nuclear family, good marriages will be destroyed by the excessive demands of husbands and wives on each other.

We will need to find appropriate ways to deal with divorced parents and with stepchildren. At present, these skills are both primitive and rare.

We will need to know how to be both maternal and paternal. Men will have to develop historic mother skills. And woman will have to develop historic father skills.

We will, above all, need to find a primary meaning in work and friendship. Investing this meaning in our children will only work( in an age when children move away)if we see child-wearing as our career.

The Jewish Family-like all urban families-is experiencing trauma.

The ethical task of Humanistic Judaism is to provide practical advice for turning this trauma into an opportunity for happiness.

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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