Yichus is a big deal. In shidduchim, it’s up there on the question list, right after what detergent you use to wash the shabbos tablecloth and whether she uses an electric or standard toothbrush. (Electric might indicate she’s careful about hygiene and health and therefore will be a good mother, but then again it might just mean she’s too lazy to move her hand in a circular motion and will be the kind of mother who sits on the couch and makes her infant children cook for her, whipping them with two belts tied together so she doesn’t have to get up from the couch. And you always thought those sort of questions had no value, didn’t you?)
The questions must be asked; is yichus a valid question? Is frum society valid in it’s assumptions that past ancestral performance indicates future decisions and abilities? Or is it just another way to marginalize and divide religious Jews further into social classes and castes? Is the very fact that I would bring it up an indicator of my own lack of worthy yichus? Some would say yes. Most people don’t read my blog (anymore) and therefore are caught between ignorance and apathy. So I’ll answer for those people too: yes.
During the off hours of my yeshiva summer this year I tried to research my genealogy. Armed with a folder full of scanned pictures from my fathers family and a three thousand credit international phone card I annoyed various relatives for hours attempting to put names to faces and put faces in order of marriage and children. Rather than finding a heimish genealogy to boast about in Brooklyn I found the exact opposite – I’m around a sixth to an eighth not even Jewish, ancestrally speaking.
I'm not Jewish. But I married one. Three cheers for matrilineal descent!
A few days into my research my dorm-mate from across the hall came to check on my progress. Not yet realizing how shameful it was, I told him the facts of what I’d found. I thought it was interesting, learning about my family so many generations back. Luckily he put me straight. First he ascertained that no, I hadn’t found any great rabbis amongst my ancestors yet, then he explained how his father had hired a professional to go back to the old countries and plot their families illustrious line back hundreds of years, uncovering a great many rabbis and community leaders. I wasn’t jealous, because luckily it proved my point. Your yichus is nice for what it is, but it has no bearing on the type of person you might be. My friend for example, skipped afternoon seder regularly to play video games and find unsecured wi-fi. I’m no saint, but at least I know I don’t have a thousand years of rabbis staring down disapprovingly if I do it.
And I even managed to avoid the shidduch problems because I found a girl who is more interested in who I am than who my ancestors were. Me: 1 Society: 0.
(In fact, greatness is rarely passed down. Most gedolai yisroel of the past didn’t have grandchildren who followed in their footsteps to such great heights. I discussed this with one of my rabbis who theorized that maybe the shadow cast by most fathers was too large for their children to live up to. Our modern day lineages of rabbi fathers to rabbi sons is largely taken from the chassidim who were the first to create royal courts and dynasties.)