QUESTION: A friend of mine did not want her mother at her wedding. When the mother turned up uninvited, she insisted that the rabbi bar her from the ceremony. Was she right both not to invite or allow her in on the day?
Rabbi Naftali Brawer
Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.
Honouring one’s parents is so central to Judaism that it is included in the Ten Commandments. The rationale behind this mitzvah, as explained by the Sefer Hachinuch (ascribed to the 13th-century Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Barcelona), is that it is fitting to honour those who have given us life. It follows logically that parents are deserving of such honour irrespective of their parenting skills.
The Talmud (Kidushin 30b) equates honouring one’s parents with honouring the Almighty himself, which indicates that it is not really dependent on the nature of the parent. What emerges from these two ideas is that a parent is, in a sense, a reflection of the Creator and for that reason alone she deserves respect.
The only exception to this rule is if a parent demands the child violate one of God’s commands. If the choice is between the parent’s will and God’s will, it is the latter that must be obeyed.
Based on this, I would say that your friend was wrong to not invite her mother to her wedding in the first place. Even worse was her insistence that the rabbi bar her from the ceremony when she turned up. Regardless of how she may have failed her daughter, no mother deserves to be so publicly humiliated by the child she bore.
From a practical point of view, it seems to me that your friend passed up a great opportunity to reach out to her estranged mother by taking the first steps towards a possible reconciliation.
By the same token, I think her mother was wrong to just turn up uninvited. It is understandable that a mother would like nothing more than to be at her daughter’s wedding. However, a good mother would take into account not just her needs but her daughter’s needs as well.
Whatever her reason, her daughter chose not to invite her. To then show up unexpected and cause so much upset on her daughter’s wedding day is an extremely selfish act. It can only reinforce the notion that this mother puts her own needs before that of her child.
The story, however, is not over and in many ways it has just begun. Your friend will, please God, be blessed with a family and then tough decisions need to be made. Will she invite her mother to her children’s birthday parties, barmitzvahs and weddings? I sincerely hope that she will.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain
Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.
What a desperately sad situation. Moreover, the real issue is not what happened on the wedding day itself, but how did the relationship break down so badly in the weeks (or maybe years) that preceded it?
It illustrates what we do not always admit: that not all Jewish families are happy families. It is also the case that appearances can be deceptive, and we do not know what really goes on in a home once the front door is shut. In addition, the engagement period can prove very stressful, and hence the saying that “Jews fall out at weddings and come together at funerals”.
As for your case, it is hard to know whether the daughter was being unutterably selfish without any justification, or whether, given years of either neglect or trauma, she was rightfully trying to start a new period in her life without the baggage of her past.
The fact that the mother tried to gain entry could show how much she cared about her daughter despite the difficulties between them, or it could be because she was totally insensitive to how badly she was perceived and how hateful the relationship had become for her daughter.
It is possible, though, to establish some general guidelines. Children (including adult ones) are obliged to respect their parents; but, equally, parents are obliged to behave as good parents should behave, and they can forfeit that respect if they treat their children badly on a regular basis.
If that was the case, then the daughter has the right to say, “This is my special day and I do not want to share it with anyone who has caused me pain or harm.” However, if there was no such abuse, then although she might not get on with her mother, it is cruel to bar her.
Refusing admission would also make it much harder to improve relationships in the future, and may also deny any children the chance to have an actively-involved grandmother.
The best move would have been to use the forthcoming wedding as a chance to sit down with her mother, discuss what had gone wrong and try to establish a new rapport. Perhaps that happened but failed miserably.
Ultimately, a wedding is a private ceremony and so the bride or groom can chose whom to include or exclude, but the long-term consequences need to be considered carefully.