Friday, May 05, 2006

Genealogy, Yichus, and Fathers-in-Law

While researching information on the Shotzer Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Moskowitz, I read that, "The Shotzer Rebbe was a son-after-son descendant of Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlatchov". I verified this in Alfasi's sefer "HaChassidut M'Dor L'Dor" and then noticed that this information is also noted on the Shotzer Rebbe's kever in Enfield Cemetery in London.

(Photograph courtesy of Yarzheit.com)

As a genealogist, I found this to be particularly interesting since many of those who trace their yichus back to a famous rabbi often include a number of fathers-in-law in their lineage until they reach their distinguished ancestor. One rarely claims to be a son-after-son descendant.

Does anyone know why is it a standard practice to trace yichus by counting fathers-in-laws? I tend to have a narrow viewpoint on who is truly a relative or ancestor and would appreciate any insight that would allow me to view this from a broader perspective.

21 Comments:

At May 5, 2006 at 9:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

You take what you can get?

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:02:00 AM EDT, Blogger The real me said...

Their kids would be direct decendents.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:05:00 AM EDT, Blogger The real me said...

A number of father in laws? The only one that is not a direct line is the persons father in law, if someone mentions many father in laws in the fam tree, its prob because they want to mention only the men, but there is still a direct line thru the mother.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:06:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT & The Real Me: What do you mean? What I am saying is that while my children continue my father-in-law's lineage, I am not continuing his lineage since I am not a "blood relative". I do not have any blood ties to my father-in-law's ancestors.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:12:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

The Real Me: Addressing your second comment. While I understand that a person only has one father-in-law, what I meant by many fathers-in-law was that the person includes many fathers-in-law throughout the generations in the family tree in order to traces the person back to the famous rabbi.

I am not explaning myself clearly, but I hope you understand.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:41:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Chaim said...

If A is B's father, than B is a "blood descendant" of A's father in law. As "the real me" pointed out, they are just too frum to mention the mothers!

Of course, it is not ben achar ben, if that's what you meant.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:49:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chaim: That is what I meant in the comment above when I wrote, "my children continue my father-in-law's lineage".

BTW, why are they too frum to mention the mothers? I don't know if I understand the point you two are trying to make.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 10:51:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

If you are trying to point out the descendants of someone, then the FILs are irrelevant. If you are looking at ANCESTORS, then FILS count as ancestors, although as previously stated, it would have been much less obtuse to simply name them as the "mother's father" or maternal grandfather.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 11:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: Perhaps I am clouding this issue. What I am talking about is ancestors; not maternal grandfathers (which are certainly ancestors).

Quite simply what I am asking is, is my father-in-law's mother or father my ancestor?

 
At May 5, 2006 at 11:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

ASJ,

Example: The Bobover Rebbe, R’ Shlomo had two sons, the older was R’ Naftoli (born before the war from the first wife), and the younger is R’ Ben-Zion (born after the war from the second wife).
After R’ Shlomo passed away, R’ Naftoli became Rebbe, but he had no sons. Now, since R’ Naftoli has passed away, there are 2 Bobover Rebbes: R’ Shlomo’s younger son R’ BenZion, and R’ Morechai Dovid Ungar, son-in-law of R’ Naftoli.
Now, from a genealogical standpoint there would be no claim of direct decent for R’ MDU (although his children are, of course, another story), and his right to claim family connection is as a son-in-law only.

I do understand what your trying to say, but I think that there is some merit to listing in-laws since it theoretically would mean that a person who is a son-in-law of a famous individual would most likely be a special and worthy individual as well, right?

 
At May 5, 2006 at 12:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for your insight on this, Chabakuk Elisha. No doubt the son-in-law was probably a special individual, but my point was that genealogicaly speaking he was not really related.

I am probably way off base on this whole topic so I will quit when I am ahead....

 
At May 5, 2006 at 12:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

ASJ,
You remain correct! As I understand it, the rule is:
Any relation that can be changed by a divorce is not a true relative.
All I am saying is that I think that listing a a father-in-law does reflect somewhat on who the son-in-law is...

 
At May 5, 2006 at 1:40:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Shoshana (Bershad) said...

With regard to this post and the previous (linked) one, I think people are discussing two separate issues: 1) that family relationships can be extremely close, whether or not the members are actually connected by "blood," marriage, adoption, or simply a strong, intimate friendship; and 2) your original question about relationship through fathers-in-law. Of course, YOU are not a blood relative of your FIL (or MIL), but your children ARE; going back a generation, your father was not a blood relative of HIS FIL and MIL, but YOU are (through your mother); genetically speaking, you are equally related to all members of the same generation (e.g., to all your great-grandparents). The genetic material, DNA, passes down through mothers as well as fathers (although there are some differences: characteristics can be passed paternally via the Y chromosome and maternally via mitochondrial DNA; this distinction becomes important with regard to tracing the ancestry of Kohanim, for example).

My guess is that the reason you speak of ancestry through the FIL is because it is much more convenient to trace genealogy through the family surname, or possibly because the FILs you speak of were very prominent individuals, and the first names of their wives were perhaps not even recorded in the historical records. But, as the day approaches when we especially honor our mothers, don't forget that they contributed equally to the genetic makeup of their descendants!

Shoshana (Bershad)

 
At May 5, 2006 at 1:53:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Shoshana: Thank you very much for your thoughts on this!

 
At May 5, 2006 at 1:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jewish Thinker said...

I think the real question is the relevance of Yichus altogether.
But perhaps father-in-law yichus may be more valuable than others. When arranged marriages were commonplace, having a great father in-law meant that you were chosen by him, when they were not arranged, it, at the very least, means that the descendant chose you. You cannot choose your children, though you can do the best to mold them.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 2:30:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Jewish Thinker: Thanks for your thought.

I guess the point of what I am trying to say in this posting is if you claim that you are a descendent of Rashi and then say that your FIL's father's, mother', father's, FIL's, father (going back a few more hundred years) was Rashi....then you are not really related.

 
At May 5, 2006 at 3:13:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Shoshana (Bershad) said...

OK, I see what you are saying. I think there's some confusion between the words "descended from" and "related to." You're correct that, in the scenario you just outlined, YOU are not a descendant of Rashi (or whomever). But YOUR WIFE is, and YOUR CHILDREN are, so all your descendants will be!!

The word "related" is a lot more general and nonspecific; you have a "relationship" to your wife, through marriage, so you are related to all of her family, to one degree or another. You're not a descendant of her ancestors, but you're related to them, by marriage.

Another point I wanted to make is that, from a genetic/genealogical viewpoint, it doesn't matter whether any of the intermediate generations were connected through the father or the mother; genetically, their descendants are equally related.

However, when you talk of "yichus," that's an intangible element of "honor by association," isn't it? That's a cultural definition, not scientific. Thus, Jewish culture could place more honor on some relationships, as opposed to others. I don't know enough about this to comment.

In my personal view, it's nice to "come from a good family" and be tinged with their glory and status (whether it's for their great achievements or for their piety and righteousness). We certainly share some characteristics with our ancestors, so we can hope that we have inherited their outstanding qualities. But we each have to develop our own "personhood," so to speak, so that we can be respected in our own right. Otherwise, we end up as the "black sheep" in an illustrious family!

Shoshana (Bershad)

 
At May 5, 2006 at 3:31:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Indeed, Shoshana. See here

 
At May 6, 2006 at 11:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger The real me said...

The only thing a FIL does is take away the yechus from the SIN but his kids have it thru their mother.

So if my FILs MILs FILs great grandfather was rashi, my kids would be rashis einklach.

 
At May 8, 2006 at 10:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Your FIL or his ancestors are not your ancestors from a geneological POV. But from a "Yichus" POV, it can add to your prestige level.

Of course, they are your kids' ancestors.

 
At May 8, 2006 at 10:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks PT :)

 

Post a Comment

<< Home