Ruth and Marty: Is Their Love Story Your Love Story?

I am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy. I do want to tell you what I think about a number of articles such as the one that appeared in Vogue entitled May Every Woman Find Her Marty Ginsburg. By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg’s marriage reads as a solid love story, a partnership with an intelligent, accomplished man who delighted in her professional success as she delighted in his.

My question is whether encouraging every woman to aim for such a collaboration is wise. Students, especially girls, in Jewish religious schools are taught the story of Akiba and Rachel. Here is a (very) shortened summary. Akiba was an uneducated shepherd working for a wealthy man who had a beautiful daughter, Rachel. At the age of forty, Akiba’s soul sparked a desire to find God through studying the Torah, leading him initially to sit next to small children as they learned the aleph-bet. Rachel recognized his potential and joined her destiny to his, marrying him despite her father’s repudiation of the couple, leaving them in desperate poverty. Over many, many years, Rachel lived not only with the barest necessities but even without her husband as she sent him off to learn with the greatest teachers, far away from her.

Decades later, Akiba, now the highly respected Rabbi Akiba and teacher of thousands of students, returned home. As they entered the town, a peasant woman rushed to greet him only to be rudely blocked by those flocking to greet the esteemed rabbi. Rabbi Akiba turned to the crowd and said, “Let her through. All my accomplishments and all your learning are only because of her.”

Romantic visions fill the minds of Jewish high school girls hearing this story and they too picture marriages of sacrifice and suffering where they help to transform their young husbands into this generation’s giant in Torah scholarship. Wise parents and teachers ask them a simple question: “What makes you think that you can be Rachel and that your husband can be Akiba?” The story of Rabbi Akiba and Rachel is famous not because they are representative run of the mill prototypes but precisely because they are exceptional. Inspiring? Yes.  Easy to emulate? No.

Visionaries in the 1970s painted a rosy picture of a society filled with thriving and optimistic men and women, happily relating as equals in the workplace and at home with fulfilling careers, enduring marriages and well-adjusted children. That has not come to pass.

Something went wrong.

Instead of a world filled with light, sunshine and joy as we frolic in a feminist utopia, we keep hearing about how unhappy and dissatisfied both women and men are. Children—when there are children—are increasingly emotionally fragile. Marriages are fewer and less stable. Most of us aren’t living the lives of our dreams. We may not even know what those dreams are anymore.

Let’s be completely honest. How many women and men can say that they are Ruth and Marty Ginsburg?

If I may, I’d like to share one more story. In the book, House Calls to Eternity, Rabbi Yaakov and Hadassah Wehl write about the rabbi’s physician mother, a woman clearly blessed by God with unusual talent, intuition and ability. Dr. Wehl, who qualified as a physician while a young woman in Germany in the 1920s, overcame numerous hurdles to become a pediatrician and to qualify as such a second time after arriving in  America as a refugee. She and her husband decided that the couple should focus on her doing so, rather than on his establishing a new profession.

Dr. Wehl said, “I insisted that my young son, who was one and a half years old, should not be sent to a baby-sitter. He was to be cared for by my husband.”

Aha! A working mom and a stay-at-home father back in 1939! Dr. Wehl’s husband completely supported her work as the following quotes from the book attest:

[In the early years] “Sometimes my husband and I would stay up to twelve or one o’clock at night recording the blood counts.”

[Years later, after their son was grown] “Omi (grandma) went to check on a baby in the hospital at twelve-thirty at night. The mother, dumbstruck at seeing Dr. Wehl at that hour, couldn’t understand why she was there and finally remarked,

“Dr. Wehl, all alone at this hour of the night, isn’t it dangerous?”

Omi answered, “I am not alone, my husband is sitting outside in the car waiting for me.”

Opi (grandpa) was ninety-two-years old at the time.”

Let’s be honest. Most of us, men and women alike, do not have callings like that, where we happily devote ourselves to our professions day and night, never thinking of retirement, working not for money but because our souls allow us no alternative.  Dr. Wehl would have gone out in the snow in the middle of the night even had she won the lottery and never needed to work for financial reasons again. How many of us can honestly say that about our jobs, professions and careers? How many of us have been blessed with a unique gift that the world needs such as Dr. Wehl’s ?

From their son’s book, it seems that the Wehls were blessed with only one child.  The Ginsburgs leave behind two children. I know nothing more about them. I hope that they are happy, well-adjusted and have loving memories of their parents. But, in the adulation of career, how many women today are rejecting motherhood or limiting it, unaware that decades from now the only lasting impact they might have made would be through the next generation? Most of these women are not going to sit on the Supreme Court. They may well savor the zest of a professional challenge when they are young, but will that excitement and the accompanying experiences and ‘stuff’ for which a good salary provides have been a worthwhile trade-off for marriage and children? For many women, the answer is a resounding No!

Few men have the fire, passion, desire, talent and persistence to act boldly on the world’s stage. As I have written before, most of those who do, fulfill their potential only due to their wives’ support. While it is politically incorrect, I suspect that even fewer women have such dreams, though certainly some, like Justice Ginsburg, do. Just as thousands of boys each year handicap their lives by ignoring education as they fantasize at being a sports superstar, let’s acknowledge that we are selling a myth if we present Marty and Ruth Ginsburg’s distinctive relationship and accomplishments as an easily attainable goal that is or should be universally desired.


This time of year is especially suited to an honest appraisal of ourselves.
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19 thoughts on “Ruth and Marty: Is Their Love Story Your Love Story?”

  1. There are women who are not interested in having children, not because of our careers, but simply because we are not interested in having children. Those of us who fit that description and were born in the Fifties were sometimes warned, as we reached adulthood, that we would horribly regret not becoming mothers and that we would end up as miserable old unhappy women, knowing we had missed our one true calling in life.

    For my childless-by-choice friends and I, now in our sixties and seventies, that has not happened. I am grateful that younger women now are not so pressured to have children, and that younger women who don’t want children are no longer so quickly labeled as selfish, warped, weird, child-haters, etc. Motherhood is wonderful for women who want to be mothers. My sisters are good mothers, and being mothers and grandmothers has brought them great joy. But women should not be pressured to become mothers, just as they should not be pressured NOT to become mothers. It should be a free choice.

    1. Anne, I am very happy that you made what you see as the right choices for yourself. As human beings we tend to want to be part of a crowd. Inevitably, there is pressure to do something. What that ‘something’ is changes at different times and places. We don’t have as much free choice as we like to think we do, if free means free from the attitudes of our times or our families or our culture or…This is especially so for those decisions we make at a young age. I agree with you that labeling people with hateful names is a poor way of communicating whether whatever side of any divide those people are on. Interestingly, in ancient Jewish wisdom, men are commanded to have and raise children, while women are not. Nonetheless, in our times, and for the past few decades, marriage and motherhood have been devalued (turning it into a status symbol devalues it as well) and too many women have unrealistic expectations of being able to ‘have it all.’

  2. Mrs. Lapin,

    Thank you so much for those two beautiful, inspirational stories. Every since I was a child, stories like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Snow White were handed to me and other children. The teacher or our parents have never asked “what is the moral of the stories.” Now a days, teachers are asking children that question. When we watch television or even a classic movies, it is always about two wealthy, good looking couple and the end is mostly fantasy. We are so indoctrinated with that so we grow up looking for these, unrealistic, fictional, outlandish fits. I believe many times we miss God’s blessing because we may not want a carpenter or a secretary, we want an attorney, engineer or even a pilot. We look for titles and not character. May God guide us.

  3. How truly well written. I had the same thoughts when I read about their marriage- ‘how great and unattainable for most women. This is the new goal of relationship nowadays, but how inconvenient it is for actual women, how exhausting!’
    Very few women will reach this level of career high, and very few women actually truly desire it. They are sold a lie. I, too, was sold this lie and picked a career in healthcare that was touted ‘great for mothers’. However, working evenings and weekends and holidays I kept wondering how it was great for mothers. I was never home when they needed me, and when I was home, I was EXHAUSTED beyond belief and only wanted to get some rest. The house suffered too, in constant disarray, messy kitchen and no real food plan. Running always late and sleep deprived. Not a future I would ever wish upon my daughters. I would rather teach them about the ‘3 most important things’ according to Rabbi Lapin: God, money, and relationships, and see them marry well, build strong families, and enjoy their life and their proper role in this world. Only to think of all the effort and years I have wasted to get a doctorate degree, only to work in sweat and tears to pay for it and then leave exhausted, working few hours in a month, knowing that I will NEVER return to the profession again. It’s a cautionary tale for most young girls now. How right you and your husband are in explaining how the world really works, in contrast of what we are made to believe by current popular culture.

    1. I truly appreciate your sharing your cautionary tale, Nina. It is almost impossible for a young woman to understand the ramifications of the choices she makes when she puts a career as her priority. When one is internally driven that is one thing, but so many women end up with a similar experience to yours.

  4. My thoughts exactly. Fantasy meets reality eventually. Don’t try to rewire how God has hardwired us for the best outcomes.

  5. I have 6 well-adjusted children, now grown. My 4 daughters are at all points on the career/stay-at-home spectrum. I made the decision (and sacrifice) to stay home with them. I do wish I had found a way to work part-time during those years, but I was free to help at their schools and volunteer with ESL adults. My oldest daughter is a physician, expecting her 2nd child. She needs a lot of paid help to maintain her career decision, as her husband is also a physician, with a crazy work schedule. My son’s wife, on the other hand, chose to give up her engineering career to stay at home with her young child. I am proud of both my daughter and daughter-in-law, but I believe my daughter-in-law has made the better choice for her family.

  6. Inspirational, yes. But more important, sober, reflective, penetrating, and a well-justified warning.

    1. It is very hard for a young woman in her late teens and twenties to picture a different path than the one she is being told is right. That was true for RBG when she went to Law School (I assume) and it is true for a young woman today who pictures heading a large family with a deserving man.

  7. If only…..

    We followed God’s ideal, design and plan – in all things

    We must return to the God of our Fathers

    II Chronicles – start at chapter 6 (not just chapter 7, verse 14)

      1. I see so many paralles between those passages concerning Israel and where we Americans now find ourselves.

        Blessings to you and thank you for you messages

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