The Tiger Mom and her Jewish Family

By now, you have probably heard of Amy Chua, the Tiger Mother. (And, if you haven’t, read this article by Amy Chua that started the tiger mothering phenomenon). While many have responded in uproar to Chua’s self-described Chinese parenting methods (notably, Jewish mother Ayelet Waldman), we at JOI are most interested in how Chua and her Jewish husband Jed Rubenfeld have incorporated Jewish values into their two daughters’ Jewish upbringing.

Chua first notes her daughters’ Jewish background in The Wall Street Journal article excerpted from her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

When her daughter Lulu struggled with playing a piece on the piano, Chua threatened to withhold her Hanukkah presents. A review of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in Entertainment Weekly confirms that Rubenfeld “agreed to the Chinese rules of engagement as long as the kids were raised…Jewish.” While according to The New York Times Chua intentionally left out her conflicts with Rubenfeld out of her book, we would love to hear more from them about how Jewish values aligned or conflicted with Chua’s tiger mothering.

Although we have yet to learn more about the interplay between Jewish and Chinese values in the Chua-Rubenfeld household, Sue Fishkoff recently reported about the experience of other Jewish and Chinese families in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Fishkoff writes about a series of interviews with 37 Asian-Jewish couples conducted be sociologists, Noah Leavitt and Helen Kim. Fishkoff writes:

When it comes to parental expectations, it’s hard to tease out the Asian from the Jewish component, [Leavitt] said. Both cultures prize academic excellence and hard work. But children are subject to a myriad of influences, as are their parents, and after a certain point, causality becomes murky.

The study is still underway, but it is certain to provide us with valuable insight into how Asian-Jewish couples navigate their cultural identities. Where do the lines intersect, and how do families with such distinct cultural and ethnic backgrounds address the challenges of intermarriage? Looking at these differences will help us better relate to and meet the needs of the growing number of diverse Jews in our community.

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