Divorce: A Laughing Matter?

Sometimes the best way to deal with difficult issues is through humor. It certainly worked for Sholom Aleichem, whose work is remembered perhaps more for its humor than its social criticism. Maybe that is what motivated the playwright Theodore Kemper to write FMNJ (Formerly Married to Non-Jews) and what enthused the New York Jewish cultural venue Makor to host it. Perhaps the abbreviation will even make its way into the Jewish community’s vocabulary, much like FFB (Frum [observant] From Birth) or MOT (Members Of the Tribe).

This play reminds me a little of the film The First Wives Club. I don’t really know what divorced women who were left behind for “trophy wives” felt when they watched that movie. I imagine that they were less than thrilled. Maybe it takes some time and perspective until it can be laughed at. But it may take a lot of time.

Divorce in the context of intermarriage may be similar. People who go through a divorce, especially if connected to issues that emerge from intermarriage, may not be in a position to laugh about it. This is especially true about the children who come from such a union. For so-called insider Jews, maybe it is a laughing matter. For others, I am not so sure. But the play does examine a lot of issues relevant to intermarriage and the Jewish community, perhaps in a more meaningful way than popular culture does.


  1. I’d be interested to hear more about it. Anecdotally I seem to hear more about second marriages to non-Jews (following a first marriage to a Jew). And in pop culture representations of interfaith marriage and divorce, my favorite (though eccentric!) comes from the other side–that of the originally non-Jewish spouse, who in this case has converted to Judaism and has no intention of leaving it just because his wife has left him:

    I am speaking, of course, of Walter in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, unforgettably portrayed by John Goodman (possibly the only man to couple the phrase “shomer shabbes” with a profanity unrepeatable on your blog, when he refuses to bowl in the tournament on a Saturday because he’s “shomer f—ing shabbas”).

    Despite the expletives, the conversation he has with The Dude abot his religious observance and identity is revealing. In reponse to his friend’s insistence that “you’re not even f—ing Jewish…You’re f—ing Polish Catholic,” Walter retorts:

    What the f— are you talking about?
    I converted when I married Cynthia!
    … What do you think happens
    when you get divorced? You turn in
    your library card? Get a new driver’s
    license? Stop being Jewish?
    … I’m as Jewish as f—ing Tevye! …

    Three thousand years of beautiful
    tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax–

    Few of us would want to take any Coen brothers character as a role model (well, maybe Marge Gunderson in Fargo)–but Goodman’s well-meaning if explosive divorced convert Walter certainly extends the range of pop culture’s representations of Judaism and those who come to it.

    Comment by Becca — August 16, 2006 @ 1:14 am

  2. Thanks for your post. For the record, the rate of intermarriage (and unfortunately divorce) is higher among second marriages. One explanation is perhaps that the decision regarding children which is often a challenge in the first marriage is generally not so in a second marriage.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — August 16, 2006 @ 4:45 am

  3. And of course, there is Charlotte from Sex in the City. When she temporarily fiancÚ broke up with her, she had no intension on converting back to Christianity. (The two met up again at a Jewish singles event.)

    I had and acquaintance who was in similar position. Everyone seemed surprised with this Puerto Rican from the Bronx mentioned that he was Jewish.

    Rabbi: another reason the incidence of intermarriage is higher in second marriages might be that parents might be less of an influence at that point.

    But even with second marriages — or perhaps especially so, since divorce is so high in that group — reaching out to encourage “shalom bayit,” making sure that cultures don’t clash, is very important.

    Comment by Ron in Croton — August 16, 2006 @ 9:12 am

  4. Oops

    Second sentance above should read “When her fiance temporarily broke up with her…”

    Comment by Ron in Croton — August 16, 2006 @ 9:15 am

Leave a comment



Click Here!