Monday, August 11, 2008

Supporting a Son in Law

We seem to think that the idea of supporting a son in law is one that came into being here in the US in fairly recent times; it didn't. There were instances when sons in law were supported in Europe--few and far between but there. In general the marriages in Europe did not take place until the boys had already served their army time and/or had already trained for a profession. A married man was supposed to support his own family (now there is a custom out of Europe that more people should be adopting!)

There arose an idiom used when a boy was being supported: "Halten off kest." Now here is where a more intimate knowledge of Yiddish can help in understanding what was meant by this. There is the Yiddish word "Kost," parallel to the English word "cost." So the idiom would seem to be saying that whoever was doing the supporting bore the cost of that support. (Note: some people who use this idiom today change it to "kost" because they don't know what the idiom was originally and "cost" seems to make more sense to them.) But it is not "kost" that is used in the idiom but "kest." Kest is the Yiddish version of the word "kastienen," meaning "chestnuts." So the phrase literally means that someone was supported on chestnuts. It would relate to our English saying about something "costing only peanuts." Think minimum outlay.

Families that were held "off kest" were not supported, for the most part, in separate domiciles. They got a room in the wife's parents' house. If they were lucky it really was a separate room; if not, a blanket hung down the middle of a room created two rooms, and the young couple got one half. That couple ate whatever was or wasn't cooking in the family pots. They were expected to pitch in and help. And here is the kicker: it was for a very limited time only--a year or two. Even those couples who were not living with her parents were not living in the lap of luxury.

I wonder how different things would be today if all the sons in law being supported were to be supported in the good old fashioned way of "halten off kest"? How many would be content to live in one room in their in law's house, following the house rules and regulations? How many would do without the separate cars, homes and vacations?

Perhaps the answer to the problems faced by many a set of parents of daughters who are married but still not off the dole would be to actually follow "minhag Europe" and go back to "halten off kest."


G said...

Rabbi Frand has a well used little talk on this subject that he goes through every now and again...when something hits him in juuuuuust the right way.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you from experience that being married and living full time in your parents' house is not a fun experience for anyone involved. When our first apartment was flooded and wasn't going to be occupiable for months we had no choice but to move in with my parents. No one was really too happy about this except for my father, who discovered his bills were lots less this way. We lasted for 117 days and then there was no choice we could see and my husband went out and got a job and we got our own apartment. It wasn't that my parents did anything terrible to us but we felt like we were right back being single only actually being married.

It was a hard way to learn what my parents had been trying to tell us all along--if you are married and think that makes you independent then you had better be independent in every way. Otherwise you are only playing marriage instead of really being married.

Orthonomics said...

If offering a room in the home was the norm, I imagine we could quickly separate the men from the boys.

Anonymous said...

This is a case where it really is the parent's fault and the only way the craziness is going to stop is if parents refuse to continue. My daughters know that we are not going to support them living in their own apartments with all the duplicate expenses. We also had a really strong talk with our son before he got into shidduchim. He was pushing to start at 20 when he wasn't finished with college and still wanted to learn for a good few more years. We said no shidduchim and we stuck by it. When he finished college we started with shidduchim and told him that if he wanted to learn after marriage then he and his wife had better make the financial arrangements.

We aren't helping our kids to grow up and accept responsibility when we continue to support them with no end in sight after they have gotten married.

Anonymous said...

Along with the everybody learned forever myth that people tell about Europe was the everybody had huge families myth. Some people had large families and a lot did not. They may have been pregnant many times but miscarriage was very common and so was the death of infants and young kids from the childhood diseases that we can prevent or treat today. And some had large families because many women died fairly young and due to childbirth complications and the men remarried and had a second family. My grandmother is always complaining that everybody likes to talk about how it was in Europe and usually those talking were never there and have no idea how it really was.

Anonymous said...

And I would imagine that those families that did support a son in law for a year or two weren't supporting 3 or 4 or 5 at the same time.

Anonymous said...

minhag europe means whatever the person saying it wants it to mean. This isn't the only myth of minhag europe. the list would simply be too long. Usually people try to portray life in europe before the war as the pinnacle of jewish life. Even fiddler on the roof did a better job of explainig life in europe.