Oh the humanity…

Poor Laura Derbigney! The Hispanic Catholic woman married her husband Nelson and then found herself in the middle of a nasty custody battle. See, Nelson married a Jewish woman a while back. At the time his wife practiced Reform Judaism. They had a son and divorced within a year and a half. Shortly thereafter the wife became Orthodox and remarried. The son’s custody had been at issue ever since. A Chicago judge recently ruled that the seven-year-old son of that marriage must live an Orthodox lifestyle even while in the care of his father and step-mother. He also imposed a gag order on the the biological parents, however this gag order did not apply to the father’s new wife. Let’s hear what this court order means to poor, poor Laura:

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com/video.

On the basis of her statements and some of the ignorant pap that’s been written on this topic, you’d think Laura and Nelson are being asked to actually live as if they were Hassidic Jews! Well, please don’t fret Laura. First of all, relating to culture, there are in fact lots of people who are both hispanic and practicing Jews – one does not negate the other. Surely Laura, you are not claiming that a culture and tradition as rich as that of the Hispanics boils down to mere food and the consumption of pork???

As for living a Hassidic lifestyle, no one says you have to do anything yourself other than provide the boy with the same food that your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would have eaten when he was alive. You can drive, you can use electricity, you can do whatever you like – just make sure that the boy isn’t obliged to perform activities that are forbidden by his religion. That might mean buying pre-prepared, pre-packaged foods and stocking up on disposable cutlery and plates. You can still feed him all the raw fruits and vegetables you like.

OK Laura? Wait… what? This isn’t really about the child’s best interest? This is about the sort of one upmanship that is typical in a heated custody battle? You mean as witnessed by your end run around the spirit of the gag order imposed by the court on the biological parents? Oh. OK. I wonder what Robin Margolis or Paul Golin have to say about this and other similar cases? They never seem to discuss that, do they – what happens to the kids when intermarriages go south?

Follow me

About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Well, he may not eat strawberries. 🙂 Also, the Chasidic stringency when it comes to what counts as kosher has been a result of a few decades’ worth of kosher food business; in all likeliness, today’s Chasidim wouldn’t even eat what their ancestors ate after arriving in the New World or back in the Old World. Also consider that it requires her to obtain other kosher household items and detergents, to remove anything from her home that might challenge the boy’s religious beliefs etc.

    You need to befriend more *real* Chasidim, not the pop-culture variety that eats OU, fish and vegetables out.

    BTW, had the court been in the father’s favour, would there have been blog posts complaining about a lack of religious sensitivity?

  • Had the court found in favor of the father I would have been outraged. None of the Chassidim I know eat out at non-kosher places ever. Not fish, not vegetarian, nothing.

    As far as kashrut goes, we don’t really know what level the mother keeps (because of the gag order) but apparently acceptable pre-packaged, pre-wrapped food is available nearby as are disposable cutlery, plates, cups etc. Laura and Nelson can inform themselves or ask about other dietary restrictions and thus give the kid apples instead of strawberries.

    Of course there are other issues that have to be dealt with when one is forced to live with goyim. But kashrut and sabbath observance are a good place to start. None of this however ought to have an unreasonable impact on how the Derbigney’s live their lives. To hear it from Laura however, you would think that the court ordered her to become Chassidic, which is uhm, not quite accurate.

  • If the order is to provide care not in conflict with the boy’s religious upbringing, there must not be a TV, video games, secular music, modern art etc. in the house. Arms, legs, collarbones must be covered and there must be no bright colours in order for it for the boy to be ok to look at his mother-in-law. And if the boy’s mother is Chasidic as in really Chasidic, she doesn’t permit OU.
    Not saying that it’s impossible, but it is a tough request that will also impact the life of the family. The one who’s paying the biggest price though is the child, whose welfare should be put first, and I agree with you on that; the biggest factor in the equation is usually paid too little attention.

  • Uhm Froylein? We don’t know what level of observance the mother is requesting. There’s a gag order that the Mother’s side has respected and the Father’s side hasn’t. Non-Jews are not obligated to follow the laws of modesty, or silly chumras related to Television or modern art or video games.

    The only things that seem to be at issue from what I’ve read are shabbat and kashrut. All custody cases in the civilized world are premised on the notion of the child’s best interest and absent facts to the contrary, we kind of have to assume that that is what motivated the Judge’s decision. These cases seem to be going all over the place however. Joseph Reyes, in another Chicago interfaith custody case, brazenly violated a court order barring him from taking his Jewish daughter to Church and a Judge in April nonetheless found in his favor. The daughter in that case was 3 and the boy here is nearly 8 so maybe that played into it. I guess we’ll see!

  • I can tell you for certain that if the mother is really Chasidic, OU is a no-go, no matter what particular degree of observance. Non-Jews need not follow Jewish laws, but those gag-orders are usually tied to not exposing the child to anything conflicting with their beliefs, and that would either be restricting the family or the boy’s interaction with them.

    If children’s interests were at the centre of law and how it’s exercised, parenting in general would be tied to certain qualifications. 🙂

    • Who said anything about the Mother being Chassidic? All we know for sure is that she is, to one degree or another, kosher and sabbath observant. Gag orders in these cases are usually put in place in order to protect the child’s privacy – and have nothing to do with “not exposing the child to anything conflicting with their beliefs.” The gag order just means that the parents are not supposed to publicize the details of the case.

  • If it’s not Chasidic, it’s not Orthodox, just Fauxodox. 🙂

    Sorry, I misunderstood “gag-order” as being tied to certain conditions as I went by how I’d seen the term used on previous occasions, but I just looked up a definition.

  • ck, I don’t always agree with your posts, but this is the first one that has actually made me want to stop reading jewlicious. Have a little compassion. The “goyim” are not the enemy, they aren’t out to destroy this boy’s Judaism. Nor is the mother a terrible person for marrying somebody outside the tribe.

    This woman is understandably upset for having another culture thrust upon her, one that she did not choose nor does she identify with. No, pork and tacos aren’t the only thing Hispanic culture is made of, but imagine how you’d feel if someone came to your house and told you that all the food you made was not good enough, dirty, morally suspect…

    Whether it’s right or wrong that the judge made the call that the boy has to live an ortho lifestyle isn’t my issue (though, for the record, I think it’s a pretty terrible place for the judge to stick his nose). My issue is the utter lack of compassion that you are showing this woman. Open up your heart a little bit, huh?

    • well, stopping to read Jewlicious over this post seems to be an over-reaction, since there are several other writers here.

      However, I have to say that this is an extremely complex story and I don’t think anybody here is really evil. The stepmother in the video is justifiably upset. Her home has been penetrated by a different culture through no fault of her own. Arguably, it’s also not her husband’s fault.

      The problem here is that the biological parents, in their selfishness, didn’t work out a compromise and an arrangement that would suit the child. Surely even an Orthodox family of a child, especially one who is not yet 13, can find ways of compromising if it serves the child’s best interests.

      And surely, the father’s family can find ways to avoid pork and unkosher meat without too much difficulty, and there are many sports groups that play on Sunday instead of Saturday if the stepmother wants him to play on teams.

      What the hell this has to do with intermarriage baffles me, however. Aren’t both biological parents Jewish? And furthermore, since the stress of the situation is caused primarily by the choice of the mother to live as an Orthodox Jew, can’t the last sentence of this post where the blame is laid on intermarriages also be placed on Jews who live a strict lifestyle that closes itself to other groups?

      • Oh and there’s another thing I need to emphasize to both Susan and TM. Yes, I am personally opposed to intermarriage, but I don’t begrudge anyone the right to marry whoever they like. I do not shun people who have made that decision, I do not consider them reprehensible or evil. The only thing I have ever advocated for was an honest discussion about the possible pitfalls of intermarriage. Some people like to paint a scenario that is all roses, with the improvements to the gene pool and the exposure to other cultures that will make us better and more cosmopolitan etc. There is little or no discussion regarding what happens in the case of interfaith divorce in either of the web sites I cited. Conversely, InterfaithFamily.com has a virtual treasure trove of articles on the topic coming from a number of perspectives. These articles are refreshing in their honesty and are a must read for anyone contemplating an interfaith marriage.

    • Susan. I used to be a lawyer. I know shenanigans when I see them. This woman went to the press in order to publicize the story because her husband was precluded from doing so by the court’s gag order. I never said she was the enemy. I never said anyone was out to purposefully destroy the boy’s Judaism. I never said anyone was terrible for making whatever personal decision they wanted to make! No one said her food was dirty or morally suspect. I think you’re reading a little too much into what I wrote. I am absolutely certain that this woman’s food is awesome. I have no doubt that she has a spotlessly clean household. Despite the legal shenanigans she just pulled, I am certain that her and her husband are fine and morally upright individuals. I really have no reason to believe otherwise.

      However, the court made a determination, based on the child’s best interests, that the Father’s family had to respect his Jewish upbringing. Providing the kid with kosher food is SO not a big deal. If I were in the Jewish mother’s place, I’d even volunteer to provide acceptable pre-packaged meals! And if the Catholic woman wants to expose the kid to her cuisine, why not bring the two families together over some kosher Mexican food? The Jewish family can provide the kosher ingredients and a kosher kitchen, and the two women can prepare it together! There are so many positive ways that this can go down but not if maintaining an adversarial position is more important than what is in the child’s best interests.

      Believe me Susan, I have nothing against non-Jews. I think you read a little too much into my post. I’m totally willing to be compassionate but before she went to the press with horror stories of having to give up her culture and her pork and electricity, don’t you think it would have helped to maybe consult a Rabbi? Or even Google? She admitted she knew very little about Jewish practice. She could easily have simply looked it up. Instead she decided first to undertake a course of action that was extremely adversarial. If anything, I was extremely kind to her.

  • David, you are right, and I know you know shenanigans when you see them.

    Pork loving lady needs to chill and make some kosher quesadillas.

    I packed Esme’s food when she went to Grandma’s and made sure Grandma kept the jesus coloring books and her ginormous king james bible on a shelf where the kid wouldn’t see it.
    We do all the fun holidays with my sister in law who studies all the hebrew feasts in her jesus freak bible study group.

    And we don’t even keep OU kosher, and I’m like, ultra reform, but we have some standards, you know what I mean?

    And I’ll attest to the fact that David doesn’t have a problem with the goys, he’s still my friend even though I married a Lutheran. And yes, there are a ton of pitfalls in the interfaith multicultural environment, but it works for me.


  • Jen! You evil wench! I thought you married an Episcopalian! I didn’t know he was a… a… a… Lutheran! Oh that’s it. We’re done.


  • CK, since I’ve seen you write about intermarriage and divorce several times now, I guess this is pretty important to you. But I can’t help but wonder, what’s your point? Seems to me that you think you’ve found a new spin – intermarriage leads to messy divorces – on an old story – Jews shouldn’t intermarry.

    It’s not a new spin. The higher rate of divorce among intermarried Jews compared to in-married Jews is a fairly well-tread road among those who feel a need to “discourage intermarriage.” However, over the past two decades, the number of leaders in the community who engage in that kind of vocal “intermarriage discouragement” has decreased substantially. Why? Mainly for two reasons: first, they realized it was ineffective — the skyrocketing rate of intermarriage occurred concurrently with (and despite) the vocal opposition to intermarriage — and second, they realized that it pushed people away, not just the intermarried themselves but their friends and family as well.

    Still, if you want to be the new guy to take on the mantle of Anti-Intermarriage Crusader, despite the lessons learned by others, that is your prerogative. Best of luck with that. But please don’t mischaracterize the work of the Jewish Outreach Institute while you do so. To quote Marshall McLuhan, you know nothing of my work. The overwhelming majority of JOI’s efforts take place offline. We do not purport to achieve our mission through the creation of Internet content, and therefore it is unfair to judge our work by the content of our website alone. As far as I know, you have never attended a JOI conference, presentation, training session, or direct-service program.

    While divorce is not a major topic of ours, it is certainly not a topic we try to cover up as you are suggesting in your post. In fact, if you had looked carefully at that “treasure trove” of content about divorce on InterfaithFamily.com, you would have found a piece penned several years back by one of my former colleagues on behalf of JOI:

    That should put to lie your assertion that we have “never” discussed divorce; and anyone who has actually attended our training or other programs (or actually read our blog) would also know that we do not “paint a scenario that is all roses.” JOI has been consistently vocal about the challenges of intermarriage, and the need for interfaith couples to have an increased level of communication before and during marriage about how to raise the children and other issues that might arise. But as we are primarily focused on creating successful Jewish marriages, we do not focus on divorces because the overwhelming majority of couples we work with are likewise not focused on divorce.

    Why is your issue just divorce among the intermarried? Have you written about the effects of divorce among the in-married on their children? It may happen less, but the detrimental effects on children are similar in terms of documented impact on Jewish identity (such as higher rates of dropout from organized Jewish life). You seem to be suggesting that divorce among the intermarried happens because they’re intermarried, but divorce among the in-married happens…why? Just the natural progression of a mismatch?

    Whenever blanket statements are made, it’s not very helpful to individuals. Just as it’s ridiculous to say “all Jews” are one way, it’s equally ridiculous to say “all intermarried” are this or “all in-married” are that. Playing the percentages game is of no use to the individual. Telling a single Jewish person that they are 20% (or whatever the percentage is) less likely to get divorced if they date exclusively Jewish will have no effect on the vast majority of single Jews, so why do it?

    Maybe it has something to do with your line about “I am personally opposed to intermarriage, but I don’t begrudge anyone the right to marry whoever they like.” Reads to me a lot like, “I can’t be racist because some of my best friends are black.” Of course you begrudge the intermarried. Why not at least be honest about it? Your blog post takes to task half-Jewish organizations. Why? Because they’re not openly promoting that their parents may have a higher divorce rate than in-married parents? And they’re doing that why, to deceive people into becoming half-Jewish like them?! I mean seriously, what kind of statements do you expect them to make, “My parent’s marriage was a mistake?” And why aren’t you asking that same thing of adult children of divorce who have two Jewish parents? Seems pretty begrudging to me.

  • Look Paul, I haven’t dedicated my life to this issue as you have. I didn’t even realize that intermarried couples have a significantly greater likelihood of getting divorced until you mentioned it. And of course Divorce isn’t one of your major topics – your support for intermarriage is based on personal happiness at the expense of communal vitality. How did you state it on Esther’s facebook page?

    SOME Jewish women might actually find their most compatible life partners among the other 98% of men in this country who aren’t Jewish; that singles who use “Judaism” as the first filter before considering someone date-worthy might actually be cutting themselves off from finding their besheret.

    And yet? Higher rates of divorce! Doesn’t sound very happy. Doesn’t sound very… besheret. So you pointed me to one article someone in your organization has written about interfaith divorce. Great! I take it back. Once, several years ago, someone in your organization touched upon interfaith divorce. That having been said, it was a pretty good article, honest, refreshing and chock full of good advice.

    But you know, I’m not a family counselor. If any friend of mine is about to get married, I always strongly urge them to get a prenup. If they’re Jewish said prenup and the ketuba has to have rock solid protection against the possibility of the woman becoming an agunah. If someone I know is contemplating an intermarriage, regardless of the faiths involved, I would urge them to have serious discussions about family life, how the children will be raised and like in a discussion revolving around a prenup, what they ought to do with the children in the event of a divorce. That’s the responsible thing to advise, especially given how you yourself note that most intermarriages between Jews and non-Jews end in divorce.

    And folks ought to also take into account the fact that things change – especially as one gets older and has children, religious upbringing all of a sudden becomes more important. We also need look no farther than the Reyes case in Chicago where a Catholic Father who converted to Judaism, decided to go back to his original faith.

    These are not fun things to talk about but anyone who counsels interfaith couples or couples considering an interfaith marriage is just plain irresponsible to the extreme if he or she does not bring up these issues. That’s all I’m saying Paul.

    Your implication that I hate intermarried couples like a racist hates black people is stupid beyond belief. It merits no further response.

    • CK, I’ve just read that divorce is least likely in marriages in which the husband is the sole breadwinner and does a large share of the housework and the wife doesn’t hold a job and does a little of the housework. And that, my dear, appears to favour the JAP. 🙂

  • you, you, you lutheran hating begrudger!

    anthony’s a bad lutheran anyway (seriously, he didn’t even know that martin luther was a real person who wasn’t dr. martin luther king junior [boulevard]), and he rocks the kippah nicely and makes really good latkes.


  • What you just wrote is so unintentionally funny that you have no idea. And no. I can’t explain. Sorry.

  • CK, the entire philosophy of kosher is that non-kosher foods are unclean. To anyone who enjoys cooking food from their own heritage a ban on providing that to their step child is an insulting slap in the face.

    The family is under court order to observe the Sabbath and purchase food for the son from a specific grocery store chosen by the mother. Now that’s a little intrusive to me.

    What about the rights of the father to expose his child to his own culture and his wife’s culture? Jewish culture may place more value on the cultural heritage of the mother, but we’re a pluralistic society, not a Jewish society. The child won’t be hurt by exposure to different cultural norms on the weekends, in fact there are few things more beneficial to raising well rounded children than exposing them to multiple cultures.

  • Mike, summoning up all the restraint I can, please allow me to correct your factual errors, ok? Ok!

    Your statement that “the entire philosophy of kosher is that non-kosher foods are unclean” is, simply put, wrong. Certain animals are considered unclean but even “clean” animals have to be slaughtered as per the rules of kashrut. And even then, “clean” kosher meat cannot be mixed with dairy. Otherwise “clean” fruit from trees can’t be eaten before the fourth year. There are a wealth of rules surrounding kashrut, and issues of cleanliness are but a small part of it. Please do a little bit of research before making such assertions.

    The family is not under any court order to observe the Sabbath. They just can’t put the kid in a situation where he would have to violate the Sabbath. They can continue to drive, use electricity, work, etc.

    If you had a family member who was a vegan and you invited them to dinner, wouldn’t you want to make sure you had appropriate food available to them? That’s not onerous. That’s being respectful of dietary restrictions. It’s the same thing here. The Court sure didn’t think it was intrusive.

    The Father can expose the kid to whatever culture he likes. I myself have been exposed to many cultures without having to sacrifice any of my core religious beliefs. You know it’s possible to be both Hispanic and Jewish, right? Ok! So expose the kid away, but respect who the kid is and how his main custodial parent wants him to live. You don’t have to drive the kid in a car on Saturday or make him eat pork burritos in order to expose him to the vast majority of hispanic culture.

  • I guess my question is why does mom get to make the rules? What if the court ruled the opposite– that the mom and her husband were NOT allowed to observe Shabbat or keep Kosher in their home on weekends that the son was with them?

    As the “product” of an intermarriage (Jewish father, Episcopalian mother) myself, I can see the hurdles that such a coupling can result in, but I also see a lot of beauty in it. Thankfully, my parents are still happily married, so I don’t know what it would have looked like had I been a child of an ugly divorce as this one seems to be.

    A couple of months ago, my grandmother, my father’s mother, passed away. Judaism was important to her, so we held a Jewish burial/funeral service for her, and sat shiva in my parents’ home. My mom, never having hosted (or attended in any meaningful way) a shiva before, had a little trouble figuring it all out. We were very patient with her, explaining customs and traditions as we went along, since, after all, it was her home that all this stuff was coming into. She was unsure of herself, but very gracios about the whole thing. This story makes me think of how different things would have been had we forced the tradition on her, or told her sharply to Google Jewish mouring rituals or to go call a rabbi. A little compassion and understanding went a long way in that situation.

    Maybe the connection is tenuous, and hard to tease out, but my sense is that if we showed the mother in this story, Laura, a little more compassion things would actually be better for her and for the child. Again, I disagree with the court/judge sticking its nose in the religious practice– but if this has to be the case, let’s say to Laura, “wow– this must really be hard for you” and “how can we help?” To be receptive and not aggressive, understanding and not hard-hearted and defensive…

  • Well, I may have been a tad aggressive Susan, but I was so unimpressed by the end run around the Judge’s gag order represented by her talking to the media. Those sorts of shenanigans make it hard for me to elicit sympathy.

    Had she sought wise counsel before talking to the press, she would have learned that hosting a kosher, sabbath observant boy does not mean that she has to hide her culture or her religion, or that she must live an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle while he is in her home.

    As for your hypothetical opposite ruling “that the mom and her husband were NOT allowed to observe Shabbat or keep Kosher in their home on weekends that the son was with them?” that’s not really the opposite. The Judge didn’t tell the Derbigney’s (The Catholic family) that they had to observe the sabbath and keep kosher themselves – just that they had to provide an environment that allowed the child to do so. Serving Kosher food to the boy and not planning activities that require HIM to violate the Sabbath does not require the Derbigney’s to violate their own religious beliefs. After all, they worship a guy who ate kosher and respected the Sabbath all his life!