Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's The Ideal Marriage?

A while ago, I posted about the "custom" of the chosson stomping (or gently stepping) on a bride's foot after the chuppah to "show her who the boss is." Of course, the vast majority of people do not follow this "custom" (which is probably a good thing for shalom bayis all over the world).

Well, apparently, there are some who think that doing anything in moderation is never enough. I don't know if this is just one sick individual (I'm sincerely hoping it is) or something that happens more often. Ariella, over at Kallah Magazine blog points us to a Q&A with Rav Aviner on disclosing possible defects in shidduchim. At the very end of the Q&A is this tidbit:

Rabbi Aviner told of a groom who slapped his bride on the cheek in the Cheder Yichud (right after the wedding ceremony), "to teach her who is boss from the very beginning." When the girl came out crying, her cheek all red, her father called off the marriage on the spot.

I don't know how anyone with more than two functioning brain cells could possibly think that giving your brand-new bride a slap in the face in the Yichud room is a good way to start a marriage. But let's say (and for heaven's sake I hope) that this is just a sick individual.

Nonetheless, there *are* those in the Jewish community who advocate the fact that the man of the house has to be... the man of the house, so to speak. No less a personage than R. Avigdor Miller wrote in his book, Awake My Glory*:

1095. (There cannot be two kings. The marriage relationship is two-fold. 1) The wife is submissive. This is not only Jewish but natural. There can be no harmony when there are two commanders. Without this indispensable condition, the home is disordered. "Arrogance is unbecoming a woman" - Megillah 14B. For a man it is not an ornament, but for a woman it is as if she wore a mustache. 2) The second, but equally essential foundation: a man must always demonstrate respect for his wife. This is "the way of Jewish men that... honor and support their wives in truth" as stated in the Jewish marriage contract. "He honors her more than his own body" - Yevamos 62B, Bava Metzia 59A. He is the captain,but she is the First Mate whose counsel is respected. She cannot be made a doormat, she need not beg for money, she deserves some assistance in the house chores, and the husband sides with her against his kin. He must express frequent appreciation and give words of encouragement, and he should remember his wife from time to time with gifts, big or little. Husband and wife should always say "Please" and "Thank You" and never forget to be always polite to each other.)

I find it interesting that Rav Miller thought it had to be that the man was in charge and that there is no other way. His worldview dictated that the man has to be in charge, and that the wife has to be submissive (although I highly doubt he would have ever advocated hitting one's wife to make the point).

And yet, I know of many Jewish families where that isn't the case. I know of quite a few marriages where (from my outside perspective -- granted I don't know what goes on behind closed doors) the wife is the dominant person -- and that it works fine for them. They're happily married, they manage to raise kids that are perfectly sane, normal and well-adjusted and are indisputably leading a frum lifestyle and adhereing to halacha.

I can even tell you that, in my own household, we don't follow the "the man is the boss" gameplan. Neither Eeees nor I are dominant personality types (in fact, we're both quite laid back). We're both perfectly happy to run a marriage as a partnership. Of course, that doesn't mean that no one can make an independent decision - but I would never make a major decision that affects the whole household without seeking her approval. Nor would she do the same without seeking mine. In other words, we both have veto power over major decisions. To use R. Miller's phraising, we don't have two kings -- but we do have two partners. Our household is not a kingdom, and does not need an absolute monarch.

But then again, that's what works for Eeees and I. Other households may have different requirements based on the personalities of the people that are in them. In other words, I don't think that you can make a general rule for marriages that the man has to be the boss. Every marriage is different, because the people who are in the marriage are different than the people in any other marriage. Each marriage has to work as it sees fit - whether with one person in charge (whichever it is) or as a partnership.

The Wolf

* Any typos or spelling errors are mine.


Ezzie said...

(Why does your blog only show on GoogleReader after a day? Odd.)

I've heard that story, and other similar ones. They're insane.

At the same time, I think we all know countless people in the frum community who agree with R' Miller - wife subservient, but in no way disrespectful. She is a Queen, he is a King, and the King ultimately rules. Done truly properly, it certainly "works", and with little/no negative effect, whatever one may think of the concept. I think that the problems often stem from others misunderstanding how this is supposed to work and taking out only the first sentence while ignoring the rest.

That said, even within those circles and certainly outside of them, women tend to have far more control than they are perceived to have. They make most decisions within the house in most situations. (By us it's somewhat flipped and/or shared; my friends used to joke it was the Luchins home and not the Goldish one.)

Anyway, good post. :)

BrooklynWolf said...


I started this post on Monday, but didn't finish it until today. And yet, Google/Blogger put Monday's date on the post.

I usually start and publish my posts on the same day, so I wasn't aware of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I'm going to change the date to today's date.

The Wolf

Gil Student said...

I don't believe you. I don't know what goes on behind closed doors but I am still quite certain that your wife is the boss in the family. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"When the girl came out crying, her cheek all red, her father called off the marriage on the spot."

The real question is how did it get to a chupa? Shouldn't the chosson's obviously serious issues have been caught before a wedding?

ProfK said...

If you were to ask one of our kids who is the dominant figure in our marriage they would respond with "regarding what?" We don't do monarchies--we're an oligarchy. Each of us has our areas where our knowledge/skills/affinity makes one of us the more logical choice to "rule" in that area, but we still talk things over before major actions are taken. My husband is thrilled not to have the whole decision making process on his shoulders alone, as am I. A partnership between us means that we are both working for a mutal end. In a monarchy there is always someone looking to usurp the ruler.

Re the slapping event, I'm with anonymous. Is someone seriously trying to say that this choson was "perfectly normal" before the chupah and no one noticed anything?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i wonder if his ideas about the necessity of hierarchical marriage are connected to his ideas about the hierarchy of humanity (thinking that the rest of the human race only exists to be exploited by us).