In Wisdom and Beauty

בְּחָכְמָה, יִבָּנֶה בָּיִת;    וּבִתְבוּנָה, יִתְכּוֹנָן. וּבְדַעַת, חֲדָרִים יִמָּלְאוּ–    כָּל-הוֹן יָקָר וְנָעִים.

Through wisdom is a house built, and through understanding it is established, and with knowledge the rooms are filled with precious and pleasant riches.

(Proverbs 24:3-4)

When I went to see my aunt and uncle for Thanksgiving dinner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last year, my cousin and his wife showed up with their two young children. Their daughter, Eliana, and their son, Sam, both energetic as two toddlers will tend to be, ran around their grandparents’ house, and the other dinner guests laughed and told my cousins, “You have such a beautiful family!”

They do indeed have a beautiful family. But what makes a family beautiful? The parents? The children? Where exactly does that beauty lie?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a matter of the types of people in the family. It doesn’t make any difference what the parents do for a living, what religion they practice, what pets they choose to bring into the home, what gender the parents are, how many children they have, or how aesthetically pleasing the various family members may be to the beholder. It’s not in the number of adults in the family – single parents can have gorgeous families, and I am personally quite close with a family with four non-related adult caretakers for the five children among them.

On the other hand, I also know some families that may look “perfect” on paper – a man, a woman, two kids, a puppy, white picket fence and all – but aren’t nearly as beautiful as they could be.

The beauty doesn’t come from external circumstances, but rather from within: the love, caring, kindness, and happiness of everyone in the family.

After moving to Israel six months ago, I was perplexed to learn that any family outside of the government-certified norm is treated like second-class citizens. The United States also has unfair restrictions on who can be recognized as a family and receive the rights that family units are entitled to, such as custody guarantees, power to make medical decisions, tax assistance, among other rights both big and small. My fellow classmate is married to her wife in Iowa, but her marriage isn’t recognized in any other state besides the few others that recognize same-sex marriage. If they are driving through Virginia and (G-d forbid!) get into a car accident, they may not be able to see each other in the hospital because their marriage is not valid there.

Israel, however, takes this discrimination several steps farther: religion plays a massive role in who is seen as married and therefore as a family. Interfaith marriages and non-religious marriages are wholly unrecognized. If a woman is opposed to the idea of the mikveh and refuses to go, she cannot be married in Israel. If a Christian and a Jew fall in love, they must go elsewhere to obtain a marriage certificate and hope the state will issue them a civil marriage, which simply isn’t nearly the same as a religious marriage. If I want a Reform or Conservative rabbi to perform my wedding ceremony, even if I go to the mikveh, get a ketubah, and both my partner and I are inarguably Halachically Jewish, the ceremony is not valid in the law here.


Why should what one group calls the “right” way to form a family be the only one available? This country is supposedly a democracy. In a democracy, people are different from one another and have the right to be so. We have the right to believe in any religion or reject them all. We have the right to love who we love and be loved by them in return. We have the right to shape our lives into the form most pleasing to us. If that form doesn’t involve religion, or involves a same-sex partner, or no adult partner at all, what right does anyone have to say that such is wrong?


A family isn’t built by the law. A family is built by love.

This idea isn’t new. We at New Family aren’t working for revolutionary ideas, not by a long shot. What we want is as old as the Tanach itself: the right to build our house in our own wisdom, to establish an understanding amongst us all, and spread the knowledge that love is what brings the real riches in our lives, not superficially imposed rules on who is allowed to love whom and what families are “real.”

Every family can be beautiful, and every house can be made a home. But it is up to us to make that the case — not anyone else.

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