Progressively speaking: In relationship breakdown, our main concern must be the children

Progressively speaking: In relationship breakdown, our main concern must be the children

Rabbi Neil Janes discusses a progressive view on ensuring children don't suffer from a broken marriage

As we began 2017, this newspaper ran a story about a girl aged nine who faced being “shunned  by ultra-Orthodox Jews for eating at McDonald’s”, according to her father.

The end of a relationship is difficult and no couple wants to contemplate the end of their marriage on their wedding day. But Judaism is a very practical religion and the ending of a marriage is part and parcel of what lies beneath the text of a traditional ketubah.

Beneath romance and love is a realism – some relationships will not endure. In most cases, divorced couples do their utmost for the interests of any children. But, there are some things to bear in mind as Progressive Jews.

I hope we all want to avoid using children as pawns in relationship breakdowns. Our primary concern must always be what is in the children’s best interest. That might mean swallowing our pride as we reassure them they are loved by their parents.

The community should avoid being sanctimonious or quick to judge. I’d suggest finding a new one if it is quick to sanction its members.

In Progressive Judaism, we uphold the ideals of personal autonomy and education. Children should be enabled to make their own choices as they grow up and we should have confidence these will be right for them.

Personal autonomy means that ultimately neither community, nor text, nor ‘golden arches’ have the power to obligate us in what we do.

No one can be coerced into slavish obedience. As a Progressive Jew, all things being equal, our communities keep out of the business of passing judgement or shunning children.

Of course, all this is easier said than done and you might ask: “Rabbi, are you living in the real world?” The answer is that I have seen the deep pain and hurt of divorce.

I am a realist but also believe in the positive power of community and most people’s goodness.

υ Neil Janes is a rabbi at West London Synagogue

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