Tiger Mom, Why Not Raise a Little Mensch?

My Alternative to Amy Chua's Tips for Success

Tiger Mom: Amy Chua offers some insights as to why some cultural groups, like Jews, succeed while others don’t.
Getty Images
Tiger Mom: Amy Chua offers some insights as to why some cultural groups, like Jews, succeed while others don’t.

By Elissa Strauss

Published February 11, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The success of Jews has long been framed as a riddle to solve. Was it all that studying? The centuries of involvement in the money-lending business? Or maybe, the most controversial theory of them all, it’s genetic? The Chinese, for one, think our recipe for money-making lies in the Talmud.

The latest attempt to crack our code comes from Amy Chua, you probably know her as the Tiger Mom, and her husband and fellow Yale law professor, Jed Rubenfeld. In their new book, “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,” they argue that Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban Exiles, Mormons and, yep, Jews do better at school and make more money because they all impart on their children feelings of superiority, insecurity and impulse control.

The sour, and potentially toxic, whiff of racial exceptionalism aside, there is something unsettling about this recipe. And kind of un-Jewish too. So I came up with an alternative.

On the pages of the New York Times Sunday Review, Chua and Rubenfeld warned of the potential pitfalls of their triple package. Too much impulse control can “undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquility and spontaneous joy,” too much insecurity and you always feel bad about yourself, and too much superiority, and you become a supremacist.

They also own up to the fact that even when the triple package performs, it can still be imprisoning, “precisely because of the kind of success it tends to promote.” It is achievement built of material rewards and prestige rather than fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

And then they quickly move on, going back to the importance of imparting upon our young ones the importance of perseverance and grit so that they can bring themselves, and America, prosperity and power. So much for the beauty and joy.

Chua and Rubenfeld’s call to arms is a departure from the much larger conversation going on over the past few years about work/life balance and how old notions of success have begun to ring hollow. Even the very successful, very ambitious media guru Arianna Huffington has jumped on board and started something called “The Third Metric” which aims to redefine success “beyond money and power, to include well-being, wisdom, wonder, compassion and giving.”

Inspired by Huffington I’d like to propose another measure, one that can serve as an alternative to the “Triple Package.” I’m calling it the Mensch Metric and it’s how I want to raise my kids and think you should raise yours. Because while it’s possible that Chua and Rubenfeld have discovered the formula that made certain groups reach great heights in the past, that doesn’t necessarily make it an ideal blueprint for your kids or mine.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.