The In-Laws. Originally Published February 5-6, 2021.

This week in Parashat Yitro we read about a gentleman who - in the humble opinion of your correspondent - is the best parent-in-law ever.

Just a side note - in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses had two original parents, Amram and Yokheved.  (Aaron and Miriam would have called them mom and dad as well.)  Amram had married his father’s sister, and that may be one reason we do not hear much of them, even though Amram lived 137 years and probably had lots to talk about.

At any rate, a while back someone had asked about the Yiddish words we use for our in-laws, so let’s bring them in.  As with many details we explore here, this one is not simple.

Mekhutn (מחותּן, plural mekhutonim) refers to the father of a bride or a groom, as seen from the opposing family (though we do not advocate literal family opposition this early in a marriage).  The bride would refer to her groom’s father as her mekhutn, and the groom would do the same for the bride’s father.  (Yes, we are using official Yiddish transliteration, which differs from Hebrew transliteration.)

Mekhuteneste (מחותּנעסטע, plural mekhutenestes) similarly refers to the mother of either a bride or a groom.

The words come from the Hebrew mehutan (m.) and mehutenet (f.), meaning related by marriage.

Most often we use these Yiddish terms after the kids have gotten married, though they may have originally been meant to delineate intention once the couple was engaged.

As if this were not enough, we may use the plural, mekhutonim (מחותנים), to refer not only to the other side of the family’s kid’s parents, but also to the extended family on that opposite side.  “She comes from a huge family, he will have a zillion mekhutonim after the wedding.”

And the delight of all of this is that the word affords a direct definition of the relationship between the sets of parents of the two spouses.  Say the young couple is planning a Shabbat dinner.  While inviting each set of parents they expect to hear, “Will the mekhutonim be there, too?”

There are not many languages that afford this clarity.  Spanish colloquially gives us consuegros, “co-in-laws.”  Additionally, a few articles have mentioned the Greek word sympatheroi (συμπαθεροι) meaning  the same.

I guess Moses’ mekhutonim never got to talk with any of his parents (certainly not Pharaoh’s daughter).  And we don’t hear much about Moses’ mother-in-law, though we might surmise she was much like her daughter Zipporah:  knowledgeable, practical, and caring.  Still, reading the portion named for him, we can guess that Yitro would have found a way to get along with each of his mekhutonim.