Choice or Consequence?


More than 6,000 people attended 90 year old Winston Churchill’s funeral. More than 400 people attended 92 year old Chaya Gretman’s funeral. Both these lives were irrevocably altered by the Nazis, and the homage paid to them at death directly reflected this fact. 

Who was Chaya Gretman?* Most of the Israelis who escorted her body to burial knew little about her. What they did know was that she was a Holocaust survivor who, as the victim of Nazi medical experimentation, could not bear children.  When she died, her neighbors used social media to ask her extended family, the Jewish people, to pay her this final respect. Hundreds responded.

Last week, our Ask the Rabbi questioner asked whether there were single mothers in the Bible. We printed only part of the response we originally wrote. We were concerned about sounding insensitive to women who are despairing of marriage and yearning motherhood, so we deleted part of our answer.

What we left out was a paragraph discussing how the Tanach (Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings) heavily links widows and orphans. Society is obligated to care for widows and orphans, clearly suggesting that the word orphan refers to a fatherless child. What does this mean for our society, where so many make the voluntary choice to raise fatherless children? Does this suggest that mothers don’t matter, that a motherless child is not an orphan? 

God’s instructions provide guidance for successful societies. A child  whose mother is dead lacks so much, but society as a unit cannot fill that void. Individuals can and should provide extra warmth and loving kindness to such an orphan, but by definition those maternal qualities are hard for society to command or supply. A child whose father is dead lacks much, including protection and financial support. Those are things that we can obligate extended families and society to supply. The Bible does so.

Is this a proof that we must increase taxes and provide more social services to single mothers and their children? No, it is not. You see, the number of fathers who die is finite. We can deal with that. Once society devolves so that fatherhood is not valued and is voluntarily renounced, compensating for what those children lack moves beyond what is possible. In a similar way, in a healthy society most people marry and have children. Those children, and the children’s children, mourn the death of their parents and grandparents. When the rare individual dies childless, either because he or she was not blessed with children, or tragically because children pre-decease them, or, as in the case of Chaya Gretman, human cruelty decrees they be childless, society in general can step in. 

As today’s culture validates, and even encourages, people not to have children, more and more people will – by choice – die without descendants. The older they are when they die, the fewer of their same-aged relatives and friends will be around. Perhaps, like Winston Churchill, they will have benefitted so many during their lives that multitudes of all ages will yearn to honor them (as did my husband who as a young boy attended Churchill’s funeral). Barring that, society will not be able to substitute for offspring, as it did for Chaya Gretman. 


*A thank you to Jewish Mom blogger, Chana Jenny Weisberg, for bringing Mrs. Gretman’s funeral to my attention.


Encourage the young people in your life to make wise choices

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5 thoughts on “Choice or Consequence?”

  1. Lora, I don’t think we have begun to confront the problems we will face, as individuals and as a society, as we devalue the idea of family. Thanks for writing.

  2. You made me think about my own family. Of the six of us children, only three produced children. There are only seven grandchildren, and very little chance of any more. On my husband’s side, of the two children in his family, only he produced children. Much of this was beyond our personal ability to deal with- huge medical issues, for instance. The children we did manage to get here are their own miracles. All the same, I see that we rather reflect the trend of depopulation. Some of our siblings chose not to have children, which I struggle to understand.
    This reminds me of the old idea that one must somehow choose between ‘quality’ time and ‘quantity’ time. Why are these even separate? Why would we consider that we have to choose? In my mind, this is like how we perceive children. Either we have more, which by the world’s standard is ‘too many’, or we have only one or two and give them ‘good, full’ lives. Yet growing up in a large family can be such a blessing.
    I am glad to be able to give my own kids a good quantity of quality time.
    On a side note, I used to give financial support to my siblings and my widowed mother as much as I could, until taxes drove me into survival mode. This is the pretense at compassion of those who would strip me of my own compassion, when they force me to provide support at the expense of my own family.

  3. So sad it is when a maladjusted psychopath with an agenda attains to the wheel of an entire society. The Jews in Germany were as a rule exemplary citizens. I have an article from a local newspaper in Baden-Württemberg that recently recounted with praise the extraordinary life of Dr. Aron Tänzer, who served the German Army as a rabbi chaplain during WWI. He was renowned for his great learning, and as evidence of that, he also founded the Stadtbibliothek, the city library. He submitted for a military service medal near the end of his life, but the government, now in Nazi hands, denigrated his military record and refused to issue. Perhaps fortunately for Dr. Tänzer, he died before he could witness the Holocaust. He was spared the experience of seeing his entire Jewish community on the hill summarily evicted, herded away like animals and shuttled off to slavery and death. One solitary non-Jewish German citizen paid final respects by marching in Dr. Tänzer’s funeral procession, and for that act of decency he was pilloried in the local press. The ultimate horror is that Nazi doctors would maliciously vivisect living bodies at their disposal under the pretext of experimentation as if humans were but cattle.

  4. I think we find it hard to differentiate between sympathy for individuals and condemnation of the views that led them to need sympathy. So, we stopped stigmatizing children born out of wedlock – and it is true that they did nothing wrong – but that led to thousands of more children being born without fathers and all the negatives that ensue from that.

  5. We,as a society, have shunned God’s plan and then want to condemn God for the consequences of our choices that go against Him…
    God is never wrong, late, silent, cruel..
    It is up to us to “be still and know that I am…”

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