Oy Vey! They Became Religious!

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By Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie

The women was crying. Her daughter became a Baalas Teshuva some years ago, and lives in Bnai Brak. The daughter has done everything possible to inhibit the parents from having an active relationship with the grandkids. Only on the daughters turf, and only with many conditions. The crying mother is involved in teaching at a Conservative temple in the US and had come to the National Jewish Retreat , a Chabad five day learning program in Colorado last week. She had attended a session that I coordinated, “Oy Vey, they became religious”. It was about the tensions in families where one member becomes Frum.

What struck me was the story that I have sadly heard more than once. Baalie Teshuva who fear too much interaction between their children and their grandparents. They are afraid that a grandparent who is not so Frum may have a negative influence over the kids. We are not talking about cases where the non Frum relative is intentionally out to harm. Most grandparents just want a real relationship with their grandchildren. Some baali Teshuva are afraid that the kids will have a strong connection with a grandparent who is not so observant how do they explain the fact that Bubbe is not keeping Shabbos, or the Uncle does not eat kosher. Some also fear that if the community finds out who their relatives are it might lower their status and inhibit good Shidduchim. It seems that some of these baali tehsuva are being encouraged to follow this policy of insularity by their Rabbonim.

Are we so afraid of what we teach our kids that they can’t know that their grandparents are not Frum. In my mind it is an act of insecurity that some try to limit the relationships between family members, except in a case that there is intent for malicious harm. Is our Yiddiskiet so weak that we need fear interaction with families members will harm our children’s Yiddiskiet.

I have much personal experience with this. My in-laws where the classically traditional Jews. Growing up in the thirties and forties they had parents that where Shomer Shabbos, but they received no Yeshiva education. They ate kosher in and Chinese out. However my children, and now their children have had, and will continue to have a strong personal connection to their grandparents. They know they are not Shomer Shabbos, but they also are aware that the Mitzvah of Kibub Av Vem does not stop because their parents are not Frum. I think my children, four of them who are now married, have been greatly enriched by the relationship with their grandparents. In fact as I told my mother in law some time ago (my father in law has passed away) when she suggested I get a real job. “why are you complaining about, you have nachas from 9 great-grandchildren” . Daily my daughter in law visits my mother in law so she can see her great grandson. (who she spoils terribly.) She knows the rule, only give them Cholov Yisroel etc.

I think that those who try to sever that relationship to much, and only allow interaction on a limited basis are doing a great disservice to both their kids and their parents. They are also causing their parents great Agmas Nefesh.

There was a women I know who left Yiddiskiet, moving from Williamsburg to LA years ago abandoning the Frumkiet of her family. ( she even has an email address that begins with “Xchassid”) For fifteen years she did not speak to her father. He kids never met their Zaide. Her brothers told her not to come to family Simchas –they are both Dayanim in Chassideshe communities, one in London and the other in Yerushalayim- because as they put it “someone might find out that they have a sister who is off the derech and it will hurt shidduchim, status etc,”. Explaining to me “that’s the world I live in “.

Finally after much effort I was able to bring about a reconciliation of sorts between father and daughter a few months before he passed away. For a long time the father would not even see me. Finally he agreed and I went to see the father in Williamsburg, who asked me “does she bencth lich?” Not knowing otherwise I said yes, thinking of Aaron Hachoken legendary efforts for Shalom Bayis. The visit prompted an open door and the daughter flew out to Brooklyn to see her father after of years of separation. She promised her father she benches licht. A few months ago she was on vacation in Hawaii, shopping in a mall. it was Friday and the sun was setting. Together with her daughter, of Bat Mitzvah age she searched for a candle store and just before Skia lit candles on some tables in an outside picnic area. One wonders whose Mitzvah causes a greater Nachas Lemaalah.

I post this here with the hope that it will provoke a bit of conversation and more importantly introspection on how parts of the Frum community is dealing with this important issue.

Dovid Eliezrie is a Chabad Schliach in Yorba Linda California, president of the Vaad Harbonim of Orange County and active in national Jewish affairs. www.ocjewish.com

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31 Responses

  1. Chaim Wolfson says:

    I’ll never figure out blogs and bloggers. How does a discussion about baalei teshuvah interacting with their non-frum relatives turn into a debate about yichus?

    Although, as an FFB who has no non-frum relatives, I am really not qualified to opine about the trials and tribulations baalei teshuvah face, the post is such an interesting one and raises such fundemental points that I can’t help but offer my two cents.

    I agree with Yirmeyahu that there are many serious halachic issues that can arise when baalei teshuvah interact with their non-frum relatives, and especially with their parents (for example, inviting them for a Shabbos meal when you know they don’t live within walking distance and you know they will come by car). Chinuch issues are also a concern. And while R’ Eliezrie may be right that it is an act of insecurity for a baal teshuvah to try to limit interaction with non-frum relatives, isn’t such insecurity understandable? Not having had the benefit of being raised in a frum environment, he/she is constantly learning on the job. It would be unreasonable to expect a baal teshuvah to have the same confidence in himself as an FFB.

    That said, I also agree with those who commented that a baal teshuvah can’t just ignore his non-frum relatives. First and foremost is the halachic imperative. Becoming a baal teshuvah is much more than a lifestyle change; it’s a commitment to observe the mitzvos, all of them. [The Gerer Rebbe, the “Beis Yisrael”, often expressed his dissapointment that only the non-frum become baalei teshuvah, but FFBs don’t.] “Kibbud Av v’Eim” is no less a mitzvah any other. Second, basic “mentchlichkeit” and “hakaras hatov” dictate that we not ignore the parents who gave so much of themselves to raise us (and who, as Toby Katz points out, very often ingrained in their children the values which led to them becoming baalei teshuvah in the first place). How can we deny them the pleasure of our and their grandchildren’s company? In addition, what type of message about being frum does that send to the parents? Not to mention that it is a built-in opportunity for kiruv. And Menachem Lipkin makes a very salient point about how interacting with non-frum grandparents can lead to an increased commitment to Torah and mitzvos along with increased tolerance for all people. [I recently had an experience that enables me to identify well with his point. I spent Shabbos Chazon in a Manhatten hospital with my mother a”h. Thanks to all the modern conveniences in the hospital (almost everything was motion-activated — doors, lights, and even faucets and paper towel dispensers), and all the questions that arise when dealing with “pikuach nefesh” issues, almost every move I made required forethought in order to avoid inadvertent “chillul Shabbos”. Shabbos came alive for me in a way it never has when I’m in the comfortable confines of my own home, where sometimes the only time the Shabbos restrictions make themselves felt is when one of the children accidently turn off the Shabbos clock.] I don’t know how advisable it is to go out of one’s way to expose one’s children to irreligious influences to enhance their commitment to Torah, but in the unique situation baalei teshuvah find themselves in, if they take advantange of the opportunity more power to them.

    I also think that consulting “daas Torah” is critical, and the bigger the gadol the better. I don’t believe that Gedolim are only for issuing general spiritual guidelines for Klal Yisrael. A true gadol can relate to individuals just like he relates to the “klal”; in fact, he doesn’t view the “klal” as some momolithic mass but as a conglomerate of individuals. I know, for example, that many baalei teshuvah would come to Rav Shach for advice concerning their various issues, and he dealt with each individually, on a case-by-case basis, and with warmth and understanding. [As anyone who had dealings with Rav Shach on a personal basis will tell you, he was a very warm person, and also much more broadminded than many people realize. Regarding the specific question of how to deal with their parents, he would usually tell baalei teshuvah to be very careful to keep up a relationship. He would say that the parents have a claim on their children (within the parameters of what is halachically acceptable) because they were their parents before the children became baalei teshuvah.]

    Without question, dealing with non-frum relatives poses challanges to baalei teshuvah. But isn’t being a baal teshuvah all about dealing with challenges? They wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have the ability to overcome challenges. They’ve overcome all the other challenges, and they can overcome this one as well.

  2. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Maybe Daas Torah from a Rav of your choosing can improve your batting average.”

    First, for the purpose of clarification, can a “Centrist” talmid chacham qualify as having “Daas Torah” ?

    I was picking the worst-case scenario, and believe that the percentage should be closer to 90%, otherwise I wouldn’t write. Of course, in terms of batting averages, even a much lower percentage would be acceptable. :)

    More seriously, the Daas Torah issue works both ways, and in the end, it would really be hard to work with asking sheilos/daas Torah for the participants of blog discussions. I would love to quote an “anonymous, prominent Charedi Rav, who has advised many people”, and who took a surprisingly, tolerant position in private conversation on one particular aspect of an issue, but I am not sure of the point of disseminating an anonymous, private discussion on a blog, or anyhow, how to go about quoting such a discussion.

    But while not a prerequisite , a blog commentator can certainly benefit from discussing issues with a Rav(as far as blog operators, which is not the subject of the discussion, I admit that blogs which do not have a Rabbinic adviser, can have problematic aspects, and are not for everyone).

    Also, the more Right Wing commentators who presumably aim for what they think is true Charedi Daas Torah do not mention that they have asked Daas Torah of a Rav familiar with blogs, which after all, is also part of Daas Torah(i.e., how to present a subject for a wider audience). Even if they have, there can always be more than a single Daas Torah, especially if you want to attract people from either sides of the Centrist-Charedi divide.

    If so, blog comments should simply be judged based on the cogency of the textual and logical support that a person brings to his position, and/or on publicly quoted positions of Rabbonim. The Yated “Readers Write” works the same way, except that the purview of issues discussed and views acceptable is a narrower one, and therefore attracts a narrower range of participants.

    “I have heard many stories about individual rabbonim who “privately” held views or expressed views which deviated from the “party line.”

    Just to clarify, my own experience is very limited, and was also not with Rabbonim who directly make decisions for the tzibbur on the top level. Also, in any society, to an extent, there will be leaders, who in private, dissent from a public consensus.

    “and imho and experience the Rabbonim (at least in many circles) discourage emphasis upon yichus (family lineage) far more often than not”

    I think that’s correct. A respected rav, was emphatic to a relative of mine that FFB and BT should be able to do shidduchim with each other, and noted that there are today Roshie Yeshiva who came from a secular background. I think that the only issue, as I wrote above, is if the individuals in question can deal with the situation(as an analogy: American /Israeli, Chassidic/Litvish or Askenazic/Sephardic shidduchim would not be for everyone).

  3. Loberstein says:

    “The right thing for the Rabbeim to do is to issue a psak din against excessive use of yichus”
    This statement encapsulates the problem of daas torah. Almost everyone, with very few exceptions, selectively ask questions of the poskim. The authority of the godol is commesurate with how much in line with what the questioner thinks is appropriate in the first place. I heard directly from Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal when he visited Camp Agudah that people do not ask him shaalos about how to distribute tzedakah and how to educate their children. For these matters, he said “everyone is their own posek”.
    Because of the shortage of “good” boys, there is much less of a yichus problem with males than with females. I also think yichus is much more of an issue amoung chassidim and among Israeli chareidim than in the regular American yeshiva world. Here learning ability often trumps who your great-grandfather was.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    FFB,

    That is an unnecessary and inaccurate swipe. I am a BT who grew up Conservative, married to an FFB, and imho and experience the Rabbonim (at least in many circles) discourage emphasis upon yichus (family lineage) far more often than not, and in any event are no more likely to look to yichus than others. The Rebbeim are the ones more interested in the boy their daughter is meeting, than the boy’s parents.

    Recently a Rav from England was speaking, and he described touring Buckingham Palace. He mentioned that you first notice “a chandelier as big as this room.” At this point, the Rav sitting next to me leaned over and said, “I didn’t know the Queen was Hungarian!” This was a reference to those in Boro Park who seem compelled to exhibit their affluence, a trait that seems — for whatever reason — to find its way into Hungarian bloodlines more often than others. [I’ll stipulate that there are any number of Boro Park and Hungarian families that don’t fall into this trend, and no Loshon Hora is implied, intended, or should be accepted.]

    The point being that it is various families, not Rabbeim, who keep certain unfortunate trends alive. The same can be said of the over-emphasis upon yichus.

  5. ffb says:

    The whole yichus thing always bothered me. How dare the Rabbeim allow people to judge someone based on who their parents, grandparents, or other ancestors are, rather than primarily judging them based on their own actions and accomplishments? This is particularly bad in the Charedi world where sometimes yichus overtakes even bad personal behavior and low accomplishment!

    The right thing for the Rabbeim to do is to issue a psak din against excessive use of yichus. But they will never do it as it is their own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that benefit most from the current state of affairs. This is very unfortunate.

    I am FFB, and married to a woman who grew up Conservative.

  6. steven Pudell says:

    “I often push for more tolerance in the Charedi world, and for expanding(to borrow a term) the “Limits of Charedi Ideology”. Although in my limited experience, I have found some individual rabbonim more open and nuanced in private than in public communul postures taken, my comments are my own and I don’t ask anyone about them.”

    I have heard many stories about individual rabbonim who “privately” held views or expressed views which deviated from the “party line.” I mean more from a “hashkafic” point of view than a “halachic” view. Rabbonim do not seem to mind to hold “unique” halachic positions. Nonetheless, I do not find it surprising that rabbonim would have differing or unique perspectives on different issues. Unlike “ArtScroll” or “CIS” would have us believe it is impossible that the leading Rabbonim/Roshei Yeshiva do not have unique and nuanced points of view. It is unthinkable that they could be anything but.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Baruch Horowitz said, “I can, for example, accept that I’m wrong 90% of the time, but if I’m correct on 10%, that 10% translates into many valid points that require thoughtful and to- the-point responses.”
    Comment by Baruch Horowitz — August 19, 2007 @ 4:11 pm

    Maybe Daas Torah from a Rav of your choosing can improve your batting average.

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “I am concerned as usual when reading the blog that only one person asked what daas torah is… feel free to ignore or talk about pluralism or chareidi narrow-mindedness, but just don’t think you have a torah answer.”

    A recent article in the Jewish Observer made the point that there can be more than a single “Daas Torah”, or a single “Torah answer”, as gedolim can disagree and situations can be complex.

    As far as the general point of commenters asking gedolim for opinions before writing, it’s a good question, and has even has been brought up on the Yated regarding their “Readers Write” section. The challenge is how to do that without limiting free conversation.

    I often push for more tolerance in the Charedi world, and for expanding(to borrow a term) the “Limits of Charedi Ideology”. Although in my limited experience, I have found some individual rabbonim more open and nuanced in private than in public communul postures taken, my comments are my own and I don’t ask anyone about them.

    I sometimes wonder about the opposite– if those to the Right of me, who usually in their comments automatically defend the Charedi world, would ask rabbonim who have experience with the broader Jewish world about their comments, whether they would always agree with their ideas, methods, and language. I can, for example, accept that I’m wrong 90% of the time, but if I’m correct on 10%, that 10% translates into many valid points that require thoughtful and to- the-point responses.

  9. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    As for the issue of Daas Torah on all of this, it is important to remember that the Gedolei Hador were never meant to replace your local rav or teacher, nor was even your local rav meant to answer your every little question of every five minutes. Remember what Yisro said to Moshe Rabbeinu: If you try to answer everybody’s questions, you will not make it and neither will they. The rav is for the issues that you can’t find out in the Mishna Brura or figure out by normal reasoning. The Godol Hador is the backup for the rav on the issues which are not clear for him, or for general spiritual policy guidelines for Am Yisrael. It is true that R. Moshe zt”l was famous for his patience with all sorts of people, but the Gedolim should be conserved for when they are really necessary.

  10. old bt says:

    I am concerned as usual when reading the blog that only one person asked what daas torah is. Our children are a sacred trust. True, if a parent allows children access to tv and movies, the non-shomer shabbos grandparents are a minor issue. What about an intermarried sibling? What about a grandma married to a non-jew who? feel free to ignore or talk about pluralism or chareidi narrow-mindedness, but just don’t think you have a torah answer. You have an answer that makes you comfortable. As a bt I have found real religious growth comes only with that pinch that makes a little squirm.

  11. Toby Katz says:

    A BT should always speak to his parents using the tone of voice that he would like his children to use with him. In most cases, people unconsciously internalize their parents’ way of relating to other people.

    Don’t think about the fact that a cranky five-year-old may be defiant or a petulant teenager may be rude to her parents. Think about how you want your children to talk to you when they are 40 years old.

    If you speak to your parents courteously and respectfully — even when you profoundly disagree with them — in most cases, your adult children, in later years, will likewise speak to you courteously and respectfully.

    If you cut off all ties with your parents, you are at grave risk that your children will do the same to you some day. Cutting all ties is only justified in the case of extreme parental abuse. Keeping grandparents away from grandchildren may also be justified in the highly unusual case that grandparents actively and openly try to turn the grandchildren against their Orthodox parents.

    The mere fact that your parents are not religious is not a justifiable reason to cut ties with them. They must have done SOMETHING right — or how did you get your innate sense of morality and spiritual striving? If you focus on what they did right and thank them for all the positive things they did for you, you will have good results with your own children.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Dr. E: and part of it is the unwillingness/inability to empower one’s children (who don’t quite fit the mold) towards an alternative non-Chareidi path.

    Ori: As long as the children know that their parents rebelled, which they would unless everybody lies to them, they’ll be able to use that as justification for their own rebellion. Having the grandparents available might be useful in two ways:

    1. Show them that disagreeing with their parents’ ways doesn’t require a total break.

    2. Give them some kind of structure even if they reject Orthodoxy.

  13. Dr. E says:

    There is some anecdotal evidence among mental health professionals to suggest that the same way that BT parents rebelled against their non-Orthodox upbringing, their children (i.e., the grandchildren) may rationalize a similar rebellion during their adolescence against their parents values (i.e., Orthodoxy or more commonly Chareidi). This threat is especially acute among adolescents who don’t quite fit into the Chareidi educational system. So, the BT parents are especially concerned that exposure of these “at risk” kids to non-frum grandparents may exacerbate the threat. So, part of this is due to a desire to totally divorce oneself and family from the past; part of this is due to insecurity about where one is holding; and part of it is the unwillingness/inability to empower one’s children (who don’t quite fit the mold) towards an alternative non-Chareidi path. In any case, the ramifications for the gradparents may be similar.

  14. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “May I suggest pronouncements from prominent places stating that a persons individual level of mental health, maturity and Yiras Shomayim should be the priority when choosing relationships and that all else can be worked out?”

    It’s a good point, especially in today’s shidduch scene where externals such as yichus and materialism are given too much importance, hence the jokes about mother in laws inquiring about plastic table cloths.

    Nevertheless, there can be room for personality differences and individual choice, as some people for example, may not be cut out to handle complications with non-frum in laws. I will add that I was greatly impressed with the Cross Current writer who “put his money where his mouth was”, and did a Shidduch with a BT individual.

  15. Yirmeyahu says:

    “As for Yirmeyahu’s objection, we are not giving the grandparents a hechsher for the public”

    Your responsibility to your children is greater than the public.
    There are very real halachic considerations. Like I said there may be circumstances which make it acceptable, I never said you shouldn’t do your best to make it work out.

    What I said is don’t presume that other people, who frankly know their parents better than you do, are hesitant for no good reason and it only reflects their insecurity.

  16. Dovid Eliezrie says:

    In the original post I hesitated to include this story, since some would say “oh a Lubavitcher with a Rebbe story”. Still it was the basis of my approach to this issue and I feel it important to share.
    Some thirty years ago my wife and myself wanted to get engaged. She had become frum through Chabad in LA and was attending Machon Gold, I Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. As Chassidim did we wrote to the Rebbe for a Brocho for the Shidduch including the caveat that her parents did not approve of her marrying a Lubavitcher . The Rebbe responded saying we should get engaged and added a condition: “if her parents agree, and if not we should wait, if needed to the end of the school year and speak to them again and seek their approval”. This was followed by some shuttle diplomacy by some family friends and finally their approval. Then we got engaged. This was for me a powerful message in Kibub Av Em. Then somewhat later we were to go on Schlichus in Miami and in the private meeting with the Rebbe we informed him that her parents had shifted from the Conservative Beth Am in LA to Orthodox Beth Jacob. We asked what we should do to influence them more. The Rebbe responded that “it is against the nature and psychology of parents that children should tell them how to live. We should ask someone else, and outsider to influence them”
    In each of these instances the Rebbe seared into my consciousness the centrality of treating them with respect. This principle has stood at the core of relationship that endures till today with my mother in law who BH is constantly visited by her daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
    Still being a Rabbi for a long time has brought to my attention some other tragic stories where Yiddiskiet has been used for division and created family tensions. There are times when the family issues predated the process of becoming frum and there are those unsure on how to balance their lives based on Torah and their families whose values are different. Still I feel greatly privileged to have had some direction in this matter that has helped me create a positive relationship in my family.
    Lately, as I indicated in the original post I have come in contact with some families where it seems clear that Yiddiskiet is being used as a barrier and I have seen the great pain and anguish caused the non frum parents.
    Dovid Eliezrie

  17. Yael says:

    B”H

    My rabbi has been very supportive of my kids being with their non-religious grandparents. He instructed the children about how to deal with kashrut, Shabbat, etc. with my parents, and my parents are so appreciative of a supportive rabbi that they even call him for advice about what to do with the children when they are coming or when they are there. My oldest child cooks the food for the younger ones with grandma’s supervision, and they have had a great time cooking with grandma!

    The kids are happy, and they know that my parents are good people who don’t know the laws.

    After all, isn’t this true of a lot of Jews? They are good people who don’t know the laws. We can still love them!

  18. HILLEL says:

    TYPICAL CONFLICT BETWEEN THE HEART AND THE MIND:

    On the one hand, the heart goes out to parents who are in pain at being deprived of the love of their children and grandchildren.–On the other hand, the BT has an obligation to himseld and his children to maintain his momentum in Torah and Yiddishkeit.

    It is all too easy for a BT to fall back into the “old groove” when inthe presence of his secular parents–it’s so much easier to live that way, lower standards , less obligations, more freedon to do as you please.

    There is no cut-and-dry answer to this dilemma. Each case must be judged on its own, hopefully with the guidance of a Halachic expert who is familiar with the issues.

    One huge problem that comes to mind is Chilul Shabbos. A Jew who does not observe Shabbos loses his standing as a Jew, according to Halacha. His wine is YaYin Nesech.

    However, American Jews have been characterized by many GeDolim as “TiNok SheNishba.”–lost innocent souls. This implies a different approach than we would take towards a Hassidic Jew who knowingly casts off the yoke of Torah and Halacha.

    Obviously, these are issues that have to be worked-through, one-by-one, with someone who is experienced in these matters.–No do-it-yourself here!

  19. Danny Rubin says:

    I “third” the comment about “nice post” and would like to open discussion about the following observations of Jewish society:

    • Jewish bookstores are filled with inspirational stories of peoples return to Judaism
    • Prominent Jewish speakers and authors continually point to “kiruv statistics” (to the degree such a category can be quantified) as a source of strength and pride.
    • Anyone with a meaningful relationship to people who are not frum must “explain away” this “inadequacy” when they or their children are seeking a shidduch.
    • There are non-profit collectors who have a way of being incredibly non-judgemental and are willing to accept funds from income made before someone became a Baal Teshuva, yet would never consider them as mates for their offspring .

    How can we expect people to deal maturely with these situations with these mixed messages?

    May I suggest pronouncements from prominent places stating that a persons individual level of mental health, maturity and Yiras Shomayim should be the priority when choosing relationships and that all else can be worked out?

  20. Chaya says:

    I second the comment about “nice post”.

    You always have to deal with behaviors which you do not wish your children to pursue, whether performed by relatives or by others in the world. My mother and father-in-law both smoked, I never have, and our daughter knows we consider it one of the dumbest things in the world, right up there with not wearing seatbelts (which was something else her paternal grandparents did). Sorry, no matter who it is, they will do something that you don’t want your children to emulate, and it may or not be a matter of frum or non-frum behavior.

    There are other behaviors she has seen demonstrated by relatives, some related to shalom bayis when we have visited them, that later occasioned one of those classic statements from parents to children, on the order of “Just because the other kids are jumping off the roof, are you going to?” – and an admonishment concerning what would happen if the behavior continued.

    Yes, you may have to set some conditions and monitor, but the commandment to honor one’s parents does not say “only if they are as frum as you are”, and extends across generations. True destructiveness and obstructionism are another matter entirely, and it is without doubt that your role as a parent requires that you act in your child’s best interest.

  21. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Nice article.

    As a BT who has, so far, raised to adulthood and married off two daughters I can strongly agree that, given relatively “normal” relationships, that my children’s lives, “have been greatly enriched by the relationship with their grandparents.” and our other non-“frum” friends and relatives.

    I admit that when my oldest was born we experienced the insecurity that Rabbi Eliezrie mentions. However, we quickly learned that kids have an incredible ability to “chap” what’s going on and easily learn to differentiate between our lives as frum Jews and those of our parents. We spent many Shabbatot and Yomim Tovim in our parents homes and I can confidently say that both our kids and parents benefited greatly from those visits.

    We learned that our kids will not think they can dress differently because our mothers didn’t dress tzniously, they’ll not for a moment think they can be mechalel Shabbbos or eat treif. On the other hand what our children did learn was that they can have wonderful, warm, and loving relationships with people who are not as “frum” as they are.

    I seen in my children a high level of commitment to Torah and Mitzvos combined with a wonderful tolerance for all Jews and,yes, all people. In my opinion, this is a unique benefit that kids of BTs can realize that is not so readily available to others.

  22. EZH says:

    This is a terrific article, and one which I hope people will take to heart. I am the daughter of 2 Baalei Teshuva with very few extended family, and even less religious extended family. The close ties that my family had with my irreligious grandparents were an extremely important part of my life. It not only taught me tolerance, but I developed very close ties with my grandparents and great-aunts.

    In response to Yirmeyahu- you can’t just ignore the fact that you have relatives that are irrelgious, you can’t shelter your children from everything. Granted, when you have little kids there are outside influences that have no reason to be in their life. However, I truly believe that if you are being mechanech your children properly, there is very little risk of them wanting to be “like Grandma and not keep shabbos”. If you simply explain to them, as was explained to me, that Grandma and Grandpa never learned about the Torah and therefore don’t do everything that we do, kids will accept that and go on their way. This is especially true if this was explained to them from the time they were young. I remember when I was a little girl I thought that everyone had non religious grandparents, and that all my friends’ parents were also BT’s.

    Basically, there is no question that the benefits of having a relationship with your relatives, and allowing your children to be close with grandparents, etc far outweighs the risks that the child will not understand why they dont live their lives the way you do.

  23. joel rich says:

    Since this is a common situation, I would assume there is a daas torah general position on the issue. Perhaps a post by one of the C-C regulars with contacts in the highest echelons would be helpful in clarifying the particulars.

    KT

  24. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Part of this problem of BT behavior is a result of lack of maturity and lack of growth in Torah. It can very well improve over the years. That has been my experience. The other side is that when the frum community with its spiritual leaders fails to reassure the BT that a “normalization” is possible, the situation perpetuates itself. This would be the case not only in the frum world with BTs and their children, but also with MO Jews who join the yeshivish/chareidi/chassidish world. Intelligent and warm rabbis, friends and mentors can help to mitigate this problem. Paranoia is not the answer.
    As for Yirmeyahu’s objection, we are not giving the grandparents a hechsher for the public. We are dealing with private behavior. If you have a good relationship with your parents and can tell them what the rules are, then you know, rather than making blanket presuppositions about what CAN happen. Let us all peel ourselves off the ceiling.

  25. Yirmeyahu says:

    “Are we so afraid of what we teach our kids that they can’t know that their grandparents are not Frum. In my mind it is an act of insecurity that some try to limit the relationships between family members, except in a case that there is intent for malicious harm. Is our Yiddiskiet so weak that we need fear interaction with families members will harm our children’s Yiddiskiet.”

    This is absolutely inappropriate caricature. As parents we are obligated in the chinuk of our children. Obviously, otherwise strained relationships aside, we all want to maximize our interactions with our non frum families. But those non-frum families, al pi halachah, cannot be relied upon to have the same concern about what goes into our children’s mouths…much less eyes and ears…as those who share our values. Perhaps there are, or one can find, heterim and reasonable safeguards that can be put into place but to act like the only issue is insecurity is absurd.

  26. rejewvenator says:

    >Are we so afraid of what we teach our kids that they can’t know that their grandparents are not Frum. In my mind it is an act of insecurity that some try to limit the relationships between family members, except in a case that there is intent for malicious harm. Is our Yiddiskiet so weak that we need fear interaction with families members will harm our children’s Yiddiskiet.

    The answer is yes. We are terrified. Some might even say for good reason – the Haskalah swept something like 90% of the Jewish people out of observance. Our reaction was to reject, to build our walls high, to fear and to conserve that which was left, the she’erit ha’pleyta. We are afraid still, afraid that if Judaism – faithful, traditional Yiddishkeit – had to compete openly in the marketplace of ideas, it would lose.

  27. Neil Harris says:

    Nice post. There is, I have noticed (as a BT myself)a movement as you put it towards “policy of insularity”. There are plenty of shul within communities where Baalei Teshvua only enter act with others like them (with the exception of schooling their kids) and aspects of becoming part of the ‘greater’ community are not promoted.

  28. SM says:

    Brilliant post. My wife’s family have had this problem in spades and it has caused endless heartache. We have had pretty well exactly the problem set out above – do we invite the grandparents for Shabbat knowing they would arrive by car after Shabbat began? We decided to do it, because the alternative would have been that my kids never saw these grandparents on Shabbat and the grandparents never had any sort of Shabbat.

    Last year they asked if the could come for the whole of Rosh Hashannah. They went to shul (both days, noch). They lit candles, made kiddush and bensched. They didn’t watch TV. On the afternoon of the 2nd day my Mother-in-Law disappeared with the car. When she came back and the kids asked where she had been she told them she had been to visit friends and then she said, ‘but I shouldn’t have gone’. The 9 year old replied ‘well next year maybe you won’t go’ (we will know in about 5 weeks).

    Because we don’t compel or lecture them, they ensure that they tell our kids the truth and that what they do is not something they should do. And in our house they behave entirely appropriately. The message seems to me to be a wholly positive one.

  29. Loberstein says:

    Chabad believes in Kiruv so one who is a BT is not ostracized. How does this compare to a story I heard on Shabbos from a 17 year old boy. His family went on aliyah, he had attended a yeshiva high school in the USA and his father felt the appropriate school for him in Israel is Maarava, which has a similar curriculum to the finest frum yeshivos in the US, which includes secular studies. The rabbi who interviewed him told the father, “do you realize that if your son attends Maarava, you may not be able to find a shiduch for your older daughter and your younger daughter will not be allowed into any chareidi high school. This is not a guzma- exageration. The father sent his son any way and later got a letter from his rav in Har Nof that he sent his son to Maarava because of his special circumstances – aliya at age 15- and not because of poor hashkafot. So the girl got into a school called Bnos Elisheva.
    So, if you choose to live among these people, of course, you hide your parents and are afraid someone will find out you are a Baal Teshuva. Your daugher won’t find a shiduch and your younger daughter won’t go to a “good” high school.

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    Let me add one other comment-I am a husband and father but not a rav or mental health professional. However, Farrack Margolese’s book “Off The Derech” is must reading for anyone interested in these issues. Ms. Margolese posits that the keys to this issue are dysfunctional families, schools and educators and communities. OTOH, in the case of BTS, the absence of a Mesorah sometimes is a huge factor in dealing with integenerational issues. I strongly believe that a BT can maintain relationships with his or her family of origin and negotiate halachic and hashkafic issues without the need to renounce all ties. However, one cannot generalize and in all cases, the dynamics of the relationship in the family of origin will dictate the relationship or the absence of the same.

  31. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie: I think that those who try to sever that relationship to much, and only allow interaction on a limited basis are doing a great disservice to both their kids and their parents.

    Ori: If that’s not enough, they are also hurting the cause of kiruv in general. If they distance themselves from their families, then those families and their friends will teach their children that becoming Baaley Teshuva is bad. People don’t want their children to reject them.

    I expect that even parents who were originally opposed to their children’s choices and fought them tooth and nail would mellow out once there are grandchildren involved. Once you have children your parents are a lot more likely to treat you as a grownup. To be blunt about it, the power equation changes.