Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

When the Secular Little Cousins become Teenage Cousins

Posted on | July 2, 2012 | By Azriela Jaffe | 95 Comments

Blast from the past originally published 9/17/2008.

Fresh from my annual time share vacation with the secular family, I want to write for the Beyond BT readers on a topic that I think needs some further exploration and discussion.

Logic says that the longer we are working things out with our secular family, the easier it gets. Everyone finally realizes that the orthodox family isn’t going to change its mind, and they didn’t really join a cult. They get used to the fact that there are some simchas we aren’t going attend, and they don’t make as much of a fuss ten years into it, as they do the first time you send back the R.S.V.P. with a “sorry, we cannot attend.” You’ve figured out how to eat in mom’s kitchen, or at least, everyone accepts the fact that you’ll bring your own food. Yes, it’s absolutely true that in many ways, on many occasions, it gets easier. So if you’re a new B.T., take heart – you won’t spend the rest of your life trying to convince your mom that you really do mean it when you say that you can’t eat her lasagna with meat sauce, even if she’s the best cook this side of the ocean.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, and here’s one: When the kids and the cousins start growing up and become pre-teen, or teenagers.

Every year we assemble the entire extended family for a week at a time-share in the mountains. It was accepted when we didn’t come for Shabbos and chose mid-week instead. They rolled their eyes a bit when we brought in a wheelbarrow of food because kosher food wasn’t available for purchase, and we didn’t want our kids to feel deprived all week long. They even eventually accepted our rule that sister and brother can no longer sleep in the same bed. In many ways, we’ve worked out a lot of issues, but. . . .

I wasn’t prepared for how DIFFICULT it becomes when the little cousins who once played with each other on the floor, and talked about barney and sesame street, now talk about “hot” boys, my space, and IPODS. When the kids were little, the differences between all of the cousins was not as pronounced, and other than making sure that the kosher kids only ate the kosher food, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Now – my girls aren’t supposed to do mixed swimming anymore, and I caught a conversation between my oldest daughter and her teenage cousin who couldn’t quite believe that my daughter has never had a boyfriend. Now the teenage cousins bring their computers and IPODS and videos to vacation, and none of it is Jewish. Now my 10-year old son’s eyes can easily be diverted by his teenage cousin’s non-tnius dress, or lack of dress.

In the beginning of the week, my kids think their cousins are weird. But after only a few days, they start looking fascinated, and that’s the biggest problem. I don’t think it has ever gotten to the point where they’d want to trade places, but one never knows what can happen when that thought is introduced for even a day or two. And, what really bothers me is that I want my kids to feel really privileged and lucky to be frum Jews. I worry when the “other side” starts looking attractive, and our way of life seems to be making them “miss out.” (Yes, of course we can give the speeches to our children about how the secular kids are really the ones missing out, but hey, kids are normal, and some freedoms in life look very delicious at times to them).

The most challenging aspect of this problem is that it’s not one my secular family would understand. I can say, “sorry, can’t come to the simcha on Shabbos, mid day, an hour’s drive away.” But how can I possibly say, “sorry, I don’t want to expose my children to their teenage cousins, your sons and daughters?” It will never happen. These words I wouldn’t say, other than in a forum like this. Their kids are fine people, just not harmonious in many ways with ours. Those who have taken the stand that they will not allow their teenage children to “be exposed”, if that works for you and your family, amazing. It would never work in our family. My parents, and brothers, and nieces and nephews would be so insulted, there would be permanent damage. All we can really do is talk to our children about it, prepare them, protect them as much as possible when we are there, and then talk about it in the car on the way home. And, like most of you, our get-to-gethers are infrequent.

I would suggest that there be some discussion about this issue on this forum. I’m not writing with a solution, but rather, with an acknowledgment that this is a source of trouble, and unlike many other issues that get resolved over time, I think that this issue gets much more problematic as the kids grow older, not less so. Especially for those of us that maintain a commitment to ongoing connection to extended family.

Best to you all –

Comments

95 Responses to “When the Secular Little Cousins become Teenage Cousins”

  1. M.D.
    September 17th, 2008 @ 11:29 am

    “These words I wouldn’t say, other than in a forum like this. Their kids are fine people, just not harmonious in many ways with ours. Those who have taken the stand that they will not allow their teenage children to “be exposed”, if that works for you and your family, amazing. It would never work in our family. My parents, and brothers, and nieces and nephews would be so insulted, there would be permanent damage.”

    Since this forum is an open website on the internet, you’ve effectively just told them, unless you’re using a pseudonym.

  2. yaakov
    September 17th, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

    This is an excellent post… I would just add that this type of issue is something everyone faces eventually. Even if one does not have secular relatives ones kids will eventually have non-religous or non-Jewish roomates in college, co-workers, next-door neighbors, etc. Of course, the issue is exacerbated when dealing with teenagers…

    My only suggestion is to prepare the kids in advance and remain calm and understanding when they want to know why they have/do the things their cousins have/do…

  3. Gil Student
    September 17th, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

    Wow. Powerful post. I have no idea how to help you but thank you for raising this issue.

  4. Ezzie
    September 17th, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

    Great post… a lot of food for thought.

    Good start to the next 1,000, BBT.

  5. Bob Miller
    September 17th, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

    Later, it gets worse yet if/when the secular cousins are dating, living with, or married to non-Jews. Difficulties for the Orthodox family members include being invited by relatives to an intermarriage ceremony, having to invite only the Jewish partner or spouse to one’s own events, etc.

  6. dy
    September 17th, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

    in my family we call this “the pupik issue”, because my nieces go in for showing theirs off and my yeshiva bochurim aren’t really into that…:)
    B”H our get togethers are LOTS less frequent because my family live in Eretz Yisrael and i don’t. it’s when my kids make it over there for yeshiva, on their own, that the issue comes up again and again.
    this is a hard thing to say, but, have you recently discussed the issue of the suitability of these get togethers with your Rav?…i’m not thinking you’ll get to outlawing all meetings entirely – but hanging around, without supervision, with NF kids to whom your kids have kinship, for a week of we-are-all-so-close – i think that what you are expressing points to this being a really good question, no?
    i know you’ve worked SO hard over the years to arrive at the peaceful co-existence as it is today. all relationships are in flux – and this sounds like it might need some more tinkering. hatzlacha!

  7. Josh
    September 17th, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

    Very thoughtful and well written. I can relate to the issues as our family also struggles to find the happy medium in secular family gatherings. The best advice I’ve received from my Rebbeim is to keep the visits short and preferably on our frum turf.

    There are positive benefits to maintaining relationships with secular family – they are family, Kiddush Hashem, maybe they’ll become frum, etc. But those benefits have to be weighed against the costs. There are some compromising relationships that I would put myself in as a BT. because I am no longer tempted and I KNOW that the secular world is sheker, it’s less of an issue for me. However, my children don’t yet know that the secular world is sheker and the costs for them could be much more severe.

    You say:
    Those who have taken the stand that they will not allow their teenage children to “be exposed”, if that works for you and your family, amazing. It would never work in our family. My parents, and brothers, and nieces and nephews would be so insulted, there would be permanent damage.

    Is the damage to your own children secondary to the damage to family relationships? If just being around your teenage cousins can cause that much damage to your children over a few days, you might want to rethink the purpose of your vacation.

    You are to be commended for raising children who are easily distinguishable from their secular brethren. However if this first exposure to secular teenagers was so alarming, it won’t get any better. I’d recommend you make an excuse and take your vacation elsewhere for yours and your children’s sake. Your family doesn’t need to know the reason. But your continued quality chinuch of your own children will show them what’s most important to you. Hatzlacha and may we all be zoche to see the fruits of our labor in our days!

  8. Steve Brizel
    September 17th, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

    IMO, days like Thanksgiving and family simchas can be worked out so that you can attend, feel comfortable and without coming off like the heavy. IIRC, I have posted here previously on both issues.

  9. ChanaLeah
    September 17th, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

    My (older) kids have just been invited to a cousin’s same-sex “marriage”; if this is shocking, believe me it didn’t start that way, and the exposure can lead to these things. Unfortunately, trying to keep my kids separated from their cousins created resentments on the part of my kids that they had no extended family. When they got old enough, they just strengthened the relationships with the cousins on their own. This question seems to put one between a rock and a hard place.

  10. Bas Yisroel
    September 17th, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    Even short visits are hard for me, my girls have a cousin who is not Jewish. Now that she is 18 she has a boyfriend and apparantly she and him are all over each other. I have always had the policy that if she is there I simply don’t come. Us BT’s bend over backwards, we bring our own food and make all these compromises. But the non frum relatives can sometimes be very stubborn and they don’t make enough compromises to make us feel comfortable. Well, too bad on them. I for one am building my own dynasty, bending myself out of shape to accomodate them has been a waste (with some relatives) and I have to focus on what is good for my own family.

  11. Steve Brizel
    September 17th, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

    Bas Yisroel-IMO, do you think that your POC presents Shomrei Torah UMitzvos in a positive or negative light? If you were asking me, I would say that you should just tune out the comments, remember that you might have simchas of your own that you might want some family members present which can serve as a great means of kiruv and simultaneously educate your own family that their way of dealing with the opposite gender is quite different than your relatives without appearing overly isolationist and triumphalist in the process. Since the time of Avraham Avinu, noone has ever said that it is easy for BTs to deal with their relatives, but OTOH, one can draw the line between seeing a relative who has a non-Jewish “significant other” and attending an intermarriage, a marriage of a Jew with a heterodox conversion or a same gender ceremony. One can argue that saying hello to someone with a non-Jewish “significant other” has no religious connotations even if the relationship has been ongoing for years whereas attending a ceremony means that you are extending a “mazel tov” of sorts.

  12. Bas Yisroel
    September 17th, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

    I was told by my Rabbi not to attempt to do kiruv with my family. You may have a different situation than I do with my family, Mr. Brizel.

    I am very glad that I never got my children together with their non Jewish “cousin”. I am sure she is a nice kid and all, but I do not consider her my relative, and I will not invite her to my simchas. The people in my family who intermarried made their choice and KNOWINGLY left their heritage. THEY are the ones who left me, I did not leave them. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. Now that this girl is older and is into boys, I see I made the correct decision the moment she was born. I have no chiyuv to be mekarv her.

    of course, everyone has a different situation, and some families are very respectful of the BT and their family, but some are not. I am just glad if I am left alone to be frum. this is what I need to do to survive and that is to avoid those relatives who are not respectful.

  13. I'mJewish
    September 17th, 2008 @ 11:08 pm

    Why is “cousin” in quotes? I’m assuming this is the child of a sibling of yours who intermarried? She would still be your children’s cousin, and the quotes are a bit snarky.

    From the non-O point of view, the idea that Uncle won’t invite an innocent little girl to his house or simchas because her mother isn’t Jewish pretty much means that all of them will just cement their opinions of O Jews as misguided and hate-filled. Is that the right thing to do?

    This little girl is a human being, you know.

  14. bec
    September 18th, 2008 @ 1:17 am

    i am a bt from a family of secular jews, some who have intermarried, and others who are the non-jewish (grown) children of such marriages. in my experience, i’ve actually found my catholic cousins to be more supportive of my decision to become odox and have been more accomodating and understanding than members of my family who are 100% jewish. i cannot speak for anyone else’s family situation, but i feel blessed to have these wonderful people in my family who are so good about our bt situation, while others of our own religion criticize relentlessly.
    i wish the author of the original post the best of luck. for us, our children are still small and it’s not an issue. however, our cousins seem to have a good grasp of morality and what is and isn’t appropriate. i don’t doubt that these qualities will be taught to their children.

  15. Bas Yisroel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 4:37 am

    Of course she is a human being but I have made it very clear that she is not my relative and my family knows this. Hey, how about when a relative intermarries, anyone have that? We did. EVERYONE went to the wedding except us. I was the one excluded. When someone intermarries and has non Jewish children, they are the ones who are doing something wrong, not me.

    I have absolutely no regrets on not including this child in my life or in the life of my family. Especially now that she is a teenager and has a boyfriend. It’s a bit too much to expose my kids to, and they don’t mind either. They think they are the ones that are misguided. It is hard enough to get together with the Jewish relatives who are totally not dressed modestly…

  16. yitz..
    September 18th, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    Having grown up modern orthodox w/ parents who were Ba’alei Teshuvah in their teens, i’d have to say, when you really look at it, growing up a ba’al teshuvah or in a mixed environment, while being risky, creates very strong yidden.

    We have a big family reunion every three years and all the problems mentioned arise (though I haven’t experienced this so much as a parent as my son is still too young for this to matter)

    Look at it this way: this is a very controlled environment to educate your children about dealing with all the draws of the secular world. If you give them the right answers and the right experiences, you are giving them the tools to deal with the much less controllable world at large. You can’t shelter them forever, but if you give them the survival tools, being exposed to challenging situations will strengthen rather than weaken them.

    For myself, I developed a lot more ahavat yisrael and a deeper relationship with HaShem in college with goyim (and secular Jews) than I did in modern orthodox yeshivah dayschool and highschool. (and i knew how to relate to everyone else because of secular family, friends, and neighbors, though i spent most of my life in orthodox settings)

  17. moshe
    September 18th, 2008 @ 8:42 am

    Rule #1 is that before we start thinking “kiruv” we have to simply DO THE RIGHT THING. And bringing young and sensitive kids to a place where they’re exposed to very non tzanua things, for a few days, is definitely not the right thing… Especially that the damage that can be done to a young boy from being exposed to something sexually enticing can scar him for life… Much more than seeing chilul Shabbos or non kosher.

    With that, I would strongly suggest that you do your best to provide your kids with the fullest education possible. I don’t mean academic. For your boys, encourage them to develop and get good in sports, martial arts, and out door skills, so that they should be the “coolest” of their cousins. That way they won’t have a reason to look and be jelous of the other side. They’ll be so much happier that they have all the joys of life in a balanced and Torah way. You won’t need to give them any speaches then.

  18. DK
    September 18th, 2008 @ 9:10 am

    Hey, how about when a relative intermarries, anyone have that? We did. EVERYONE went to the wedding except us. I was the one excluded.

    No. You excluded yourself. You excluded yourself because you did no accept your non-Jewish “cousin” as family.

    That is your loss, and your cousin’s loss, and not the responsibility of the rest of your family to worry about your “exclusion.”

  19. Mark Frankel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 9:32 am

    Actually many Rebbeim, including mine, rule that it is prohibited to go to a wedding involving an intermarriage. So the exclusion comes from halacha, which most non-observant relatives will not relate to.

  20. Bas Yisroel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 11:16 am

    DK…the one who intermarried called us before the engagement and asked how we would feel if they married, we told them that although we love them very much we cannot accept the marriage and will not attend. They married anyways, excluding themselves from me and the Jewish nation.

    One of my siblings did intermarry, my parents did not accept this person. So my other sister (not religious at all) did not intermarry because she saw what my parents reaction was.

    I think it is time that us BT stand up for who we are and what we believe in and not be afraid of our relatives reactions. Some people are lucky and have very respectful parents and relatives, some will never accept it and would show more respect if we converted to Hinduism!!! I don’t feel like I have lost anything by this at all, and my kids see what is important in my life, as hard as it may be, I will not go to an intermarriage wedding even though it is hard not to go.

  21. Charnie
    September 18th, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

    Getting back to the original purpose of this extremely vital post…

    Azriela, is it feasible to change your visit to maybe just a day trip instead of a week? That way you’re not turning your back on your family, but you’re minimizing your teenager’s contact with their cousins – keeping it to a point of “novelty” as opposed to their feeling overly comfortable with their cousins.

    This, in my mind, is the real purpose of BBT – dealing with the issues that will constantly affect us. That’s probably why I’m continually attracted to this type of post, as opposed to Divrei Torah on the site – because this is what I come here hoping to find assistance in navigating these two often conflicting worlds.

    If we took a secret poll, I think we’d find better then 75% of the people here have had to deal with intermarriages in their families. At least in our family, they’re getting “smarter”, and not even bothering to invite the frum cousins, which is just as well.

  22. R
    September 18th, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

    I think that by exposing them to “the outside world” at a younger age, you are STRENGTHENING their ties to the frum world. How? Because if you are raised to see that there is another way of living from the time you are little, when you get just a little freedom, you won’t feel the need to explore so heavily…

  23. Avigdor MBawlmawr
    September 18th, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    So many complicated issues! Thanks for bringing them up.

    As to intermarriage, though, who can attend an intermarriage? What’s to celebrate? The separation of a Jew from the Jewish people? Why not go to the kid’s baptism or christening?

    As to cousins, I can imagine the proper approach would vary a lot depending on those kids and your kids. My extended family, mostly gentile, reproduces way below replacement rate, so that kinda avoids most of those problems.

    I have a wonderful, kind cousin whose father is “half-Jewish” so why should he not marry a gentile himself? I’m sure it didn’t enter his mind. They have a lovely daughter and we see them on rare occasion.

    There is something to the “inoculation” model of exposure. Certainly, the secular world loses some of it’s mystique. Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

  24. shoshi
    September 18th, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

    Well what you say seems to show that it is preferable to be thrown out of the family right when you start being a BT, and that’s it.

    I do not think that the non-frum family should make many efforts to accomodate the BTs. It’s the BT who decided to change his way of life, and if you look at it honestly, it is orthodox judaism that is intolerant. So I think that it is dishonest to be intolerant yourself and to insist that others should be tolerant towards you…

  25. LC
    September 18th, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    All of this makes me happy that the non-frum cousins are mostly years younger than my kids.

    Yes, we still have issues with teenage cousins who eat things we don’t and wear things we don’t, but B”H those are the shomer shabbos ones.

    And somehow, aunts/uncles(just to not leave anyone out)/grandparents dressing in the mid-summer style-of-the-day aren’t provocative in quite the same way.

  26. Ed Greenberg
    September 18th, 2008 @ 4:07 pm

    When I was a boy, we visited my cousins, who did not keep Kosher. My mom and my aunt got together to prepare a kosher meal for us. One sticking point was parmesan cheese for the spaghetti and meatballs. My mom told my aunt that my sister and I knew not to use it, and that she could give it to her (non-kosher) kids.

    My cousin offered me the cheese. I declined. He asked why. I told him, “it’s against my religion.” He replied, “aren’t you Jewish?”

  27. David Linn
    September 18th, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    Ed, kinda funny and sad at the same time.

  28. yy
    September 18th, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    Wowwww. I hadn’t looked at this post til now. Should i dare to respond?? I see this whole interaction as a Chassidic nightmare!

    Azriela — you did a powerful job of describing a very real, family dillemma… but I’m surprised you are not more humbled by the obvious contradiction to basic Torah! What’s so different between those family scenes and allowing a Yom Kippur service with a lox and bagel party??

    Mark — you’re amazing in your ginger education abt the Halachic facts.

    Moshe, the counselor for “the ‘coolest’ of the cousins” — how are you going to get around the pitfalls of coolness as inherently against the SPIRIT of Yiddishkeit? You want to foster their gayva?? It’s just raising the stakes of the eventual crash.

    Mr. Brizel, advocator of following Avraham Avinu’s model — Wasn’t he the one who was Commanded to abandon the Mitzvah of Kibud Av once it became a threat to the purity of his own Avoida (and he didn’t even have kids yet!)?

    Ed — your humor is precious.

    And now for Bas Yisroel, the builder of her “own dynasty” & courageous “stand up for who we are and what we believe in” — You are undoubtedly the most honest of the lot. Your pain is also very real. But do you really think anything constructive is going to come out of figuring who started the exclusion!?

    It’s a terrible misery I know too well to feel you have no choice but to pry yourself away from loved ones because of their foolishness. But once again, shouldn’t Av. Avinu be our model? Ck out Rash”y over by the passuk abt G-d informing him of his eventual demise as a “gathering unto his fathers.” He pts out that we see from here that Terach (A.A’s father) did Teshuva.

    Amazing. He has to hear abt it that way! Apparently even an A.A. had to learn that the best Kiruv is often from a distance…

  29. Bas Yisroel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

    I became frum as a teenager, my family was very negative and my father used to force me to do things on shabbos. I was like a marano in my own home. I couldn’t even say a brocha out loud for fear I would get all their cruel comments. I was very happy to get out of there so I could practise in peace! I always tried very hard to be respectful and helpful, and I know they did the very best they could. It doesn’t matter who excluded who. The main thing is I JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE and not be made fun of. When I do get together with them they make sure to wear clothes that are tight and revealing, my husband just takes off his glasses so he doesn’t see, they know this makes us feel very uncomfortable. I am wondering if this made it easier for me to become a BT, I had such a miserable childhood that it made me look for something, and it wasn’t hard to become different than all of them. I try to be better with my kids, and we get together with those relatives who are more respectful and nice to us. It’s a two way street and both sides have to be nice and respectful.

  30. Steve Brizel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

    YY-I only cited Avraham Avinu as a primary example of how BTs have alaways had to deal with these issues.

    Bas Yisroel-I think that you misunderstood my post. I am by no means advocating that you attempt kiruv, extend a mazel tov or attend an intermarriage. OTOH, IMO, the halachos of Kiddush HaShem apply even more to a BT , even more so than a FFB, when it comes to dealing with non-observant relatives. Assuming that an intermarriage takes place, one can argue that any tochacha has occured by your non appearing at the same, and that by maintaining even a semblance of contact with your cousin, there is always a possibililty of teshuvah on the cousin’s part and that the intermarriage either would not occur or last. FWIW, one can argue that a Jewish male who “marries out” loses all possibility of a communal atonement whereas a Jewish woman who marries out also commits a grave transgression, but still has the opportunity of raising a Jewish child who could become a BT!IMO, one can argue very cogently that you should at least try to maintain a minimal connection with your cousin, as opposed to no connection at all.

  31. Bob Miller
    September 18th, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

    Let me chime in here, too, in defense of Bas Yisroel. Many people face many situations, all different. She has handled hers in the proper way.

  32. Bas Yisroel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

    Thank you Mr.Miller. Just because I am frum does not mean that my job is to do kiruv work with my family and always worry about making a kiddush Hashem which will mean I will be stepped and trodded upon. They respect me more when I stand up for my values and principals. Boruch Hashem it is almost 30 years I am shomer shabbos (Nov. 9th is my anniversary). I have learned not to be afraid of them anymore. I have learned to protect myself and my family without being concerned what they will do and say. I am not saying this is for everyone, but this is what has worked for me.

  33. ilana yehudis
    September 18th, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

    HELP!!!! I am a Bubbie to both frum and non frum grandchildren and I dread dread dread what Azriela has descried. Right now there is shalom, baruch HaShem in the family, siblings and cousins enjoy each other and have a grand time, like a dream come true….but how does one handle this??? On the one hand there are the clear cut issues of exposing a frum child to the secular world’s sheker, and then, there is the FAMILY…real people, with lifetime relationships ( the siblings)…how painful to me to hear that family events need to be minimized, even though I fully understand the chachma behind this. I say again, why aren’t the Rabbeim addressing this most painful issue?

  34. Bas Yisroel
    September 18th, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

    Ilana Yehudis…what exactly are you worried about? Enjoy that there is shalom now, and I’yh you and your frum family will handle issues together as they come up. It is interesting to me, us women sometimes feel so responsible for the peace and everyone getting along, but it is not our job alone. What issue do you want to Rabbonim to address exactly, I am sure if you spoke to your Rov he will advise you, every family has their own situation.

  35. David Linn
    September 18th, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    I think it needs to be re-emphasized that everybody’s situation is different. Somebody who is being antagonized needs to react and interact differently than someone who isn’t. My Rav says “You have to be a mentsch, you don’t have to be a shmata!”

    I also think that even when we have to make tough decisions, we shouldn’t belittle the feelings of others or treat familial relationships as if they are, by definition, unimportant.

  36. Michoel
    September 19th, 2008 @ 12:22 am

    I’ll take chance at being called a religious fanatic. (Actually that is a complement by me!). Just as going to an inter-marriage is really a “dry” halachic question, so to is exposing one’s sons to immodesty. Regardless of how accommodating or unaccommodating one feels they should be, how can one justify taking a boy at the beginning of adolescence to a get-together with teenage girls that are not dressed properly?

    We are responsible for the neshamos of our children. Inappropriate exposures can easily lead to spiritual disaster for developing boys, with recurring self-control issues.

    Lay down the law. “If you want me and my sons to attend, there has to be proper dress.” And respectfully but firmly explain what that means.

  37. yy
    September 19th, 2008 @ 2:44 am

    “why aren’t the Rabbeim addressing this most painful issue?”

    I. Y. – I understand your angst. If you have a particualr Rav, as B.Y. suggests, it’s naturally the best “solution” to trust him to decide for you. But either you don’t have a Rav or are NEVERTHELESS feeling the overall problem of WHY is H’ creating these impossible dilemmas for sensitive souls.

    I.e. even with a Rav’s decision, the pain remains. Sometimes goes even deeper. We’re forced to realize that serving H’ doesn’t necessarily mean (in the short term) fostering the best of bein-adom-l’chavero.

    It’s an issue of emuna that I.Y. is crying about. Hence the question to “THE Rabbeim”.

    B.Y. – you are definately “blessed” with having such a miserable family background. It’s hell for those of us who retain deep love and respect for our family who just don’t get the kdusha business…

  38. Bas Yisroel
    September 19th, 2008 @ 7:39 am

    Mr.Michoel..I did ask my relatives to dress more modestly. Boy did I get it. They did not want to be told what to wear. maybe this did work for your relatives, but for sure not mine.

    YY, I do love my family, that is why it always has been hard to be and feel so different. Well, I should be grateful for what I have.

  39. another girl
    September 19th, 2008 @ 7:45 am

    If people are secure about who they are, they won’t have a problem meeting with a non-Orthodox or secular part of their family for a short gathering.

    If you feel threatened by your non-frum family, it means you’re not really sure whether you should be frum or not.

    No need to have a long moralizing conversation with your kids. If you’re secure about your beliefs, they will follow you. If you’re insecure, they probably mistrust you and Orthodox Judaism already!

  40. another girl
    September 19th, 2008 @ 7:54 am

    As for intermarriage, regardless of halachic issues and of the pain caused by it, it is a fact that if you are frum and your extended family is intermarried and doing all sorts of crazy things, then you have little in common with them anyway…

    Does it really matter whether you attend a ceremony if you know that these people are not really going to be a part of your life afterwards?

    It’s painful but in a way it’s just a fact.

    (But I don’t think the same rationale can be used for a sibling, a child or a parent)

  41. ilana yehudis
    September 19th, 2008 @ 8:06 am

    YY, thank you for your sensitivity.

    To Azriela, the answers are not so simple as there is the halacha, and then there are the consequences of following the halacha on the family as a whole. I too understand the potential “dangers” of non frum family influences on children of frum family members.

    To Bas YIsroel, I am well aware of enjoying the brachos at this time when my young grandchildren are able to visit each other without halachic issues (for the most part), and I daven intently, repeatedly, that my non frum family members come to live a Torah life, be”H.

    Please do not minimize the chronic paradox some BT’s face, which is that even in their joy to live an observant life, some of us experience family losses which are quite painful (after all, isn’t that what Beyond BT addresses so often??) Halachic issues may be easy to spot, but in following them, as well we must, sometmes it is with real emotional pain. This should be obvious to any BT….

    Bas Y’Isroel —-I am not “worried,” All is in b”Yad HaShem, but as a Baalas teshuvah myself, who has experienced the loss of my own family of origin, my parents, siblings nieces, nephews, the pain, as YY noted is quite profound. And although I am committed to serving HaShem with all my heart, I still daven to Him for the Koach to endure my family situation.

    Perhaps it is because HaShem has blessed me with Shalom at this time, while my grandchildren are little, that I was touched by the original post of teen age cousins and their parents navigating family relationships.

    One thing is for sure, my avoda is to remain b’simcha and express appreciation for all that my children and spouse to do to accommodate each other. We really are quite good at this!! all things considered. We have great respect and ahavah for each other, and at least at this time, are trying to maximize the things we have in common and plan healthy and fun visits (hiking and museums, and kosher activities which everyone enjoys!!) ….may it continue, be”H.

  42. David Linn
    September 19th, 2008 @ 10:41 am

    We seem to be talking about two different things that often intersect but do need to be distinguished. There are halachic issues and hashkafic issues here. It is important for one to know which (if not both) of these are being addressed. This is especially important when dealing with parents since there are specific halachic issues that MAY override hashkafic concerns.

  43. azriela jaffe
    September 19th, 2008 @ 11:04 am

    To all who posted to my original post on secular cousins, thank you. I’m so glad that this was able to generate some moving discussion. My temptation was to respond to each one individually when someone said something to me that was misunderstanding the situation, or judging me in one way or the other for what was presumed as a feeling or a position I hold one way or the other. We all understand that these posts are limited in their ability to get across all of the complexities of this very difficult path, and the complexity of this path is and precisely why a forum of support and advice and wisdom like beyond BT.com is so valued to us all. I wish you all mazel and shalom and strength and courage and most of all, joy, on this derech!

  44. Martin Fleischer
    September 21st, 2008 @ 12:09 am

    That was a tough nut to crack, I am sure! I give you lots of credit for tackling the issue. When we go out to family, most of the time it is Frum (or at least 100% Kosher, if they are not so Frum). With some relatives (mostly from my Dad’s (a h) side, we ate out at a Kosher place around KGH.

    Marty

  45. David Linn
    September 21st, 2008 @ 7:40 am

    My wife showed me a relevant piece from this week’s Binah magazine called, IIRC, “A Visit from the Cousins”. It’s a worthwhile read.

  46. yy
    September 21st, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    “YY, I do love my family, that is why it always has been hard to be and feel so different.”

    B.Y. you seem to be going thru in a big way the kind of schizophrenia that many BT’s, by definition, are destined to. Earlier you spoke of the terrible, cruel aspects of the way this family you so love treated your nacent religiosity. If you’ll allow me… I’d like to suggest that this is the big Nisayon (trial) of our generation. We seek a purer Judaism by and large BECAUSE of the seeds of familial love that our family planted within us. Thus deep inside we hope that the better we get at doing the Judaism right, the more the REAL family connection will come out.

    Suprise-suprise. That kind of religiosity is called “taluya b’davar”, conditional. At some point we’ve got to face that H’ wants our loyalty far and above all other considerations.

    It’s a very painful “sacrifice” but seems to be the call of the hour. Like A. Avinu re. his father and Lot and in some ways Ishmael, the best we can do is keep davening for them while accepting when and how H’ tells us to keep a distance.

  47. Mark Frankel
    September 21st, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

    I had the good fortune to speak to a Rav well experienced in these matters over Shabbos. He felt that it was dangerous and probably prohibited to expose your children at their age to such influences.

    However, he said that you should talk to your own Rav to help you make the right decision for your situation. I find it striking how off-the-cuff advice is sometimes offered with such certitude while those who advise with years of Torah and experience behind them are more circumspect.

  48. Steve Brizel
    September 21st, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

    Having read through the original post again, I think that one can distinguish between getting together for Thanksgiving, attending a family simcha where no halachic issues are implicated ( i.e. no problems with Shabbos or Kashrus, and you don’t participate in mixed dancing) and spending a week together at a time share for a summer vacation. IMO, the issues re Kashrus, Shabbos, and especially Tznius, etc during the summer strike me as far more difficult to deal with than a Thanksgiving dinner where there is no issue re Kashrus. Have you thought about having your cousins etc for a Channukah party or for a Chol HaMoed dinner during Sukkos or Pesach?

    The bottom line IMO is that if your family is tolerant they will to try to maintain a connection, even if it is a minimal one as opposed to a family situation which either is intolerant or bills itself as tolerant but in reality isn’t all that tolerant of your way of life. One more point-as your kids become more and more integrated within the Torah community, they will see their close friends almost as family relatives who they see in school and on Shabbos and YT. They will realize that they are different and certainly seek halachic advice about the level of interaction, etc,

  49. Squarepeg613
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 6:03 am

    What is dangerous about exposing frum boys to non-Tzanua dress? Why is it different to expose them to cousins who dress immodestly than to teenagers they don’t know who happen to be on the street, on the bus, etc.? I can see that it might not be preferable, but what is the danger?

    I am asking in all seriousness. The oldest of my boys is only 11, so I don’t know that much about teenage boys yet.

  50. yy
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 7:23 am

    S. Peg – If I may offer a response, which is admittedly off-the-cuff and full of certitude (just keeping the spirits up, Mark), but by no means the last word:

    1)Frum teen boys, like all normal teen boys, are developing strong physiological desires for the opposite gender. If unchecked by higher pursuits as well as educated belief in the fact that your Creator wants those desires UPLIFTED, the average boy will act on them.

    Furthermore, whenEVER we expose these tender souls to non-tsnius situations, we are setting them up to stumble. ALL THE MOREOSO if we’ve been trying to educate them to the contrary. For then such exposure can snap them back into the jaws of nature even stronger.

    As per the proverb: “stolen waters are sweeter!”

    2)Exposure within public, relatively impersonal contexts, is usually much less toxic IF their education has been sound, because they can fairly rationalize that these lovely attractions are FORIEGN. It’s like going to a zoo and fantasizing about feeding the animals…

    3)While #2 is usually wise to discourage, if that exposure is necessary for basic functioning in society, the danger is much less. If the boys are “hanging out” in the public, however — taka, it can be VERY problematic.

    4) Intimate, family situations have a similar dichotomous tension. IF it’s all about doing Mitzvos, as Steve B. often admirably describes,it can even be a PLUS (kind of like giving an innoculation shot). But again, one must be very careful to be honest that you’re not CREATING a Mitzvah and thus playing games with the subconscious Yeitzer (don’t forget – we also have to worry for the boys’ sleep).

    On the other hand, if it’s more about hang-out time, where the kids are allowed to freely intermingle, then giant problems can result. For now these attractions are far from foreign and often can develop into emotional connections as well.

    Bottom line: We’ve got a religion that respects the male-female connection SO much that it wants it seriously limited to a well defined frame for kdusha. How one should dance around that while also maintaining menschichkeit, doing kiruv and or simply not becoming too much of a square peg in your society ;)… that indeed needs specific rabbinical guidance.

  51. Michoel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 8:29 am

    “I find it striking how off-the-cuff advice is sometimes offered with such certitude ”

    Mark, with all do great respect, if you don’t like off the cuff advice, you shouldn’t be in the blog business!

  52. Mark Frankel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 9:07 am

    Michoel, Actually, I do think that the majority of the advice given here is thought out and based on experience and often with caveats and acknowledgments that each situation is different.

    We consider Beyond BT a blog in format only. It’s more a place, perhaps a virtual community, where we can share problems, discuss possible solutions, discuss ways others have dealt with similiar situations and give chizuk to one another. I don’t see it as a TorahPundit type of blog, but your mileage may vary.

    Square Peg, you’re right that exposure is always an issue, but here I think the added factor is the cousins are talking, promoting and potentially influencing the children towards non-Torah lifestyles.

  53. Albany Jew
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    Very important post!!!

    I’m a little late in the game here (its been a tough Summer) but I will chime in with something terse:

    The physical and spiritual well being of my children is at the top of my list of prioities and if it is COMPLTELY UNAVOIDABLE that some feelings may be hurt to protect that (maybe even to the extent of alienating some extended family), so be it. We have made many tough decisions for the Torah life, this would be one of those.

  54. Charnie
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 9:37 am

    And to everyone here who has young children, let me again drive home the point, as a parent of very solid Yeshiva boys, that they are boys. Live boys. With all the hormonal growth that accompanies their ages. Even shopping malls can make these young guys very uncomfortable in the summer, especially as year after year, styles of clothing and outright behaviors become less and less modest.

    Our children are very precious to us, even more so then their cousins. Why subject them to such discomfort? Which is why I still hold from my original “solution”, which Steve also suggested – don’t spend a week, especially in the summer with these cousins – instead, keep the summer visit shorter, and strive to create get togethers on more neutral turf.

    The expression “boys will be boys” is applicable to even the frummest kid out there.

  55. Michoel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    “The expression “boys will be boys” is applicable to even the frummest kid out there.”

    The frummer they are, the MORE exposure effects them.

  56. Rishona
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    Just a couple thoughts here…

    I do not have children (yet, IY”H); but I would think it would be infinitely easier to have non-frum family on your turf; whenever it had to happen. Not only to you maintain more control, but you impart a different perspective on the entire situation.

    I am a little troubled by this fear of the non-Jewish/non-frum world that seems to be resonating throughout. I admit, I am in the MO community where rabbeim don’t advocate separation that much (sometimes, it would help though!). Children are impressionable; no doubt. But the strongest influence in a child’s life should be their parents and their home. I was raised by Pentecostal Grandparents that were pretty strict from a religious standpoint. My father, who I would visit several times a month, was a Rastafarian with many Rastafarian friends. My Grandparents never tried to deny me contact with my father, and my father was open to any questions I had. Nevertheless, I probably had much more exposure to Rastafarianism then these children will have to non-frum relatives; yet I never, not once desired to go that route (even when I knew I wanted to leave Xtianity).

    Although on the surface, it may seem like my Grandparents failed in imparting their faith, this actually is not the case. I grew up in a home of non-Jews, but the concepts of modesty, good middot, and kindness were there. I just rejected the vessel it came in and replaced the the framework with Torah observant Judaism; which resonated emes much more. Do not underestimate the ability that children have to discern (with proper guidance) those things which are truly meaningful in life!

  57. yy
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

    “I don’t see it as a TorahPundit type of blog,”

    I want to understand you, Mark. Could you give real examples of where you see people crossing the line between virtual communitying and Torahpunditting?

    What I pick up is that you figure there shouldn’t be any uniform truths in such a format, since it might overlook the wide variety of people who visit. If so, isn’t there a danger of misleading those who are davka interested in tasting / deepening / scrutinizing the timelessness of Torah?

    Personally, that’s what I think is so special about such a blog. We can discuss and debate and even criticize and cry over the CHALLENGE of bringing the timelessness of Torah into our lives… with those who are not afraid to be spontaneous about the truth.

    Hopefully they’re also educated and honest to boot — which of course could be a problem no matter how deliberate one presents his thoughts.

  58. Mark Frankel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

    I want to understand you, Mark. Could you give real examples of where you see people crossing the line between virtual communitying and Torahpunditting?

    Of course I won’t give you examples!

    In general I think there is a big difference between those who are constantly striving for truth and those who think that they define it. My preference is for the people who are constantly striving and thankfully I find most Beyond BT writers and commentators fall into that category.

  59. yy
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

    ouch.

    I think that’s called passive-aggressive.

    It’s very easy to cast aspersions and much harder to own it.

    Striving for truth is accomplished in many ways. Definitions can be one of them. Generalizations can sometimes be escapes.

    Especially during a time like Elul, one must be very careful of the tendency to otherize those who strive differently. Especially when you feel you’re in the majority!

  60. Mark Frankel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

    Sorry you took it that way. I didn’t think you necessarily saw yourself as a definer rather than a striver.

  61. Miriam P
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

    I agree that a week long summer visit is trouble. Didn’t you know clothes (for the non-frum) are optional in the summer?

    My kids have a non-frum cousin, but she’s only 2. We’ve already had discussions about her wearing pants and short sleeves, and I short circuited it by pointing out that our 2 year old also wears pants and short sleeves! But her father isn’t even Jewish, and she’s not going to start dressing tznius at any given point. So I’ll have to explain that she isn’t being raised Orthodox, because her parents aren’t Orthodox and/or Jewish, all said in a way that shows that we’re a little bit sorry for them, but that it was their choice and we don’t get to choose for them.

    However, her mother (my sister) was raised as I was, with a certain healthy sense of what’s appropriate in public, and the little one probably won’t be wearing any belly baring styles before she’s old enough to shop for herself, and she certainly won’t be wearing them around us. My sister usually wears shorts and a T-shirt, but she makes sure they aren’t short shorts (that’s her concession) and she’s actually more likely to be in jeans than shorts in cooler weather.

    I shared a story I heard from Rabbi Mechanic (http://projectchazon.com/) with my 11 year old son recently, which my son was quite impressed by. It boils down to “If we’re wrong, and Chas V’Shalom there is no G-d, so we lived a meaningful life, made the world hopefully a little better, and missed out on eating ham and cheese and going mixed swimming. But if we’re right, and the non-believers are wrong… uh-oh for them! They’ll have wasted their entire lives chasing after fleeting pleasures!”

  62. Steve Brizel
    September 22nd, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

    Let me suggest one other factor that IMO is very worth considering in terms of this discussion. When your kids reach a certain age, their educational experience will be quite different than their cousins, simply by virtue of their attending a yeshiva, BY or day school. Their summers will segue from Orthodox day camps to separate gender sleep away camps or summer learning camps as you and your family meet new friends via your shul, schools, etc. Once that occurs, IMO, maintaining a connection, even a minimal one, is IMO important, but you and your children will simply have long realized that your family and your cousins are simply on very different tracks in terms of how you view Jewish continuity-Orthodox or a low maintenance committment without a lot of demands. When you make simchas, don’t be surprised if your relatives tell you how much they enjoyed them . I still remember when one of our relatives mentioned to her father that she wanted a down to earth Bas Mitzvah like her Orthodox cousin’s affair.

  63. Michoel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 11:55 am

    A few thought on certitude and circumspection…

    1. If virtual communities are anything like regular communities, I suppose we should expect some folks that are more pundit orientated and some folks that are more circumspect. That is the nature of communities, no?

    2. Perhaps there should be a big, bold disclaimer at the top of the blog saying that each circumstance is different and that people should read all posts as suggestive while consulting with their own mentors. To me, this is abundantly obvious but perhaps it is not to others.

    3. Some Rabbanim with years of Torah experience are more circumspect and some are kannoim. And we need both types.

  64. Mark Frankel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

    Michoel, You seem to be presenting certitude and circumspection as equal paths – is that your perspective?

    The Mesillas Yesharim clearly says that we should be circumspect, do you have sources for the path of certitude. Of course we’re not talking about working on increasing our certitude of the ikkarim.

    I think the vast vast minority of sought after Rebbeim with years of actual counseling experience are definitely not kannoim. I would be surprised if a handful actually exist and I think there is a reason for that.

  65. Michoel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

    Mark, (a bit disorderly…)
    I guess my main point is that certitude and circumspection are clearly relative concepts. The mussar sefarim themselves are full of statements of great certitude and praise of strong commitment. There is such a thing as circumspection and there is such a thing as wishy washy. There is such a thing as certitude and there is such a thing as stubborn-mindedness.

    Please tell me the exact location in the Mesilas Yesharim so I can see it inside and perhaps comment intelligently.

    If you want to see some statements of kannoim by people with tons of experience counseling and lots of Torah knowledge, I would direct you to the letters of the Steipler, the letters of Rav Shach and others, and the tapes of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. I think you would be hard pressed to find individuals that were more sought after. Of course, when they would counsel one on one, they would treat issues with greater subtlety. You may be of the opinion that those counselor are not for our generation or not for the US or not for BTs, but clearly very many people (myself included) do feel they speak to us, so their voice should also be heard. (THEIR voice, not MY voice :-) )

    The model that you are describing is more that of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky who was probably the most sought after of all the recent gedolim for his incredible counseling ability. He did not publish his halachic t’shuvos for the very reason that they were intended for the individuals that asked and didn’t want others to learn mistaken conclusions from them. But there were many others that were not like Reb Yaakov.

    I do not see circumspection and certitude as paths, equal or otherwise. I see them as character tools that we all need to use in the right balance at different times. And individuals will clearly vary as to the “how much and when”, both in their own avodah and in their interactions with others. People also vary in how they are inspired and how they are challenged. When I encounter a fellow poster or off-line person, and they are of the more certitude type but do not see things my way (usually to philosophical left of me), I LOVE IT! What intellectual stimulation!

  66. Mark Frankel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

    Michoel, we were talking about certitude in the context of advice in a given situation. I would be surprised if Rabbi Wachsman isnt’t deliberate in that context. In fact any gadol has to be circumspect and deliberate when he gives a pasek on any complex matter.

    By the way, I’m in the middle of listening to an 8 part Teshuva series by Rabbi Wachsman he’s one of my favorites, but I’m pretty sure he thinks long and hard about what he wants to say. But when he decides it is the proper thing to say he delivers it with power.

    I’m sorry kannoi was introduced into this discussion because I think it further blurs the discussion, especially in today’s climate.

    And as I mentioned previously, we do have to work on increasing our certitude when it comes to issues like the 13 principals and other hashkafahs.

  67. Mark Frankel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

    Michoel, I again want to caution on the use of the word kannoi. Although you see it as a positive trait, many people and Rebbeim see it as a negative one in today’s Jewish World.

    Therefore labeling a great Rabbi a kannoi could be Avak Loshon Hora (or worse) against a gadol which of course in not your intention, but could be the result.

  68. Mark Frankel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

    In regard to the Mesillas Yesharim the whole theme of the sefer, starting from the beginning to the end is think about what you are doing before, during and after your actions. This is being circumspect.

    Here’s a quote from later in the sefer:

    We see, then, that one should not decide upon the saintliness of a deed on the basis of surface appearances, but should view it from every angle that human intelligence can be brought to bear upon it, until he can truthfully determine the better course – performance or abandonment.

    But read the whole thing – again and again – and you’ll clearly see that the Ramchal advises us to be continually circumspect.

  69. Michoel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    OK, your comment in 68 is well taken. Can you please trash my post 67 and the last paragraph in 66?

    Thank you

  70. Michoel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

    Mark,
    I think we really agree. I am certainly not against being circumspect, especially when it comes to advising others.

    This is your website so I will certainly try to honor what you feel it is supposed to accomplish.

  71. Steve Brizel
    September 23rd, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

    Michoel-You mentioned the letters of Rav Schach ZTL, the Steipler ZTL and R Avigdor Miller ZTL as well as the views of R E Wachsman. Like it or not, there are many on this blog and elsewhere who would prefer to ask such questions and many others of a Gadol and Baal Mesorah whose views of Halacha and Hashkafa are decidedly different than the above mentioned Gdolim.

  72. Michoel
    September 24th, 2008 @ 9:30 am

    Steve,
    Of course I agree with you. Chas v’shalom that I said otherwise.

  73. Michoel
    September 24th, 2008 @ 9:36 am

    On Being Circumspect Etc.

    As I mentioned, the author of Bilvavi spoke recently in Baltimore. He is known as a deep baal mussar and clearly is a person that is in touch with subtleties and complexities of personality. He got up in front of 100 people of various flavors of Orthodoxy and told then that before we begin to speak about t’shuvah, we first need to talk about the basics. The basics means that we should move to Eretz Yisrael, stop speaking a gentile language, and grow beards and peyos. I am not exaggerating and the lecture is recorded.

    I approached him afterward to ask him a personal question and he told me again directly that I should move to Eretz Yisrael. My question was about another aspect of the drasha but his point was that if I made aliyah, the question would be resolved on its own.

    This Rav had never met me before, didn’t know about my family, parnassa, etc., spoke to me in Hebrew which I don’t speak that well. Yet he was confident to give me a very major life eitzah in a one minute conversation between a lecture and getting into a car.

    The Gemarra says that a person should get married at 18. How can Chazal make a general rule about such a thing? What if he wants to learn more? What if he wants to build up his career? So in truth, the common understanding these days is that Chazal meant that if one has the emotional maturity, they should get married at 18. But they still said a general rule. And for most Chasidim, they stick to the simple meaning and get married at 18. And for Litvaks also, this statement does not leave a lot of room for what “I” want and feel.

    If I wanted to grow a long beard and peyos, that would certainly be something that I would want to discuss with a wise, circumspect rav that could help me understand how the decision was likely to affect my self-perception etc. But the Torah says that one should not “destroy their peyos” and the Zohar says that one should not even trim their beard, so Chasidim all go with a long beard and peyos. And they don’t seem to be bothered by how it affects their self perception. “We are Yidden. This is how we do things. Period.”

    I once had a discussion with someone that was saying that his mother could never be Israeli charedi because she was an accomplished scientist and had to study for years. His larger point was to criticize a society that was too black and white about topics that need subtlety. He had a point. But I pointed out to him that for nearly all of Jewish History, there were no female scientists and exceedingly few male scientists of any sort. People did what they needed to do to live. They were born, got married, struggled and went to next world. Has the Human psyche changed fundamentally since 100 years ago in Poland? I don’t believe it has. So why do we feel that we “need” to be doctors or graphic artists when our predecessors lived deep spiritual lives without any of these options?

    We have grown complicated. So one approach is to go into the depths of a person and try to help them. The other approach (for Rabbanim) is the Lighthouse approach. To live like a person worthy of emulating and to say clearly what the Torah says (according to their daas), and let the people come up to it, to grow out of their complications and over-analysis and strive for something big.

    I happen to think that sometimes we (baalei t’shuvah) kvetch too much.

  74. Yisrael Yitzchak Epstyein
    September 25th, 2008 @ 9:56 am

    The Rav who wrote the seforim Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh is a true eved Hashem- really lives EVERYTHING in his seforim. Rosh Hashannah is the beginning of the year and as the Rav said- if we want to really change, then we will have Rosh Hashannah. If we just play the same ole game, then we will not have Rosh Hashannah. If this eved Hashem urged you to move to Eretz Yisrael and you do it, then you will see that really “There is a Master of the Universe and I am your servant.” If not- then you can putz around Baltimore, or Boro Park or Toronto for the rest of your life and- well you know deep inside of you what to do- DO IT!

  75. Dixie Yid
    September 25th, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    Yisrael Yitzchak Epstyein, I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion of your comment.

    Michoel, if you would like to discuss your experience with the meeting from the driver who took Rav Shwartz from NY to Baltimore & back, to discuss the issue, please call Benyomin Wolf at 516-668-6397.

    -Dixie Yid

  76. Michoel
    September 25th, 2008 @ 11:47 am

    Rab Yisrael Yitzchak and Dixie Yid,
    Meah Achuz! Maybe I will go to Eretz Yisrael this year.

    In NO WAY did I intend my words to be a criticism, chalila v’chalila of Rav Shcwartz. Chas v’shalom. I loved the drasha and felt very drawn to him personally. I was only trying to present another view of the idea that the circumspect approach is always the one used by big people.

    There are family issues etc. that I am sure Rav Schwartz, given the time, would advise me to consider carefully.

  77. Bob Miller
    September 25th, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

    Michoel said,

    “I approached him afterward to ask him a personal question…This Rav had never met me before, didn’t know about my family, parnassa, etc., spoke to me in Hebrew which I don’t speak that well. Yet he was confident to give me a very major life eitzah in a one minute conversation.”

    Michoel asked his personal question sincerely, and the Rav answered him sincerely. Nevertheless, it would have been more productive in this case for Michoel to have asked a different Rav who already knew him and his overall situation. All else being equal, advice works best when the parties understand each other on a personal level. Hardly anyone has the level of ruach hakodesh to intuit the needs of someone he just met.

  78. Michoel
    September 25th, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

    Yeah, Bob, but a Rav always has the option of saying “Please ask someone that knows you better”. And this tzadik (I don’t use the term casually) didn’t do that! So we see, apparently, that there is a place for such an approach in guiding people.

  79. Mark Frankel
    September 26th, 2008 @ 9:37 am

    Michoel, I don’t think we can or should learn any general principles from this isolated possibly misunderstood situation.

    I think Rav Swartz had his cheshbon of why he answered you as such. Sometimes in public shiurim (and I would consider your impromptu follow up as public) a Rav does not want to dilute his point, so he makes a Lo Plug (he doesn’t differentiate between situations). That is very possible what was happening here.

    I still maintain the rush to judgment, “I am right” approach is not in the arsenal of good/great Rabbanim.

  80. Michoel
    September 26th, 2008 @ 10:56 am

    Mark,
    I am open to what you are saying. I have to think about it more.

  81. Dave Weinstein
    September 28th, 2008 @ 3:43 am

    Miriam:

    The argument you just gave is more commonly known as Pascal’s Wager, and occurs often in Christian apologetics.

    In both cases, it is inherently flawed, because it assumes that there is only one theology to consider.

  82. Michoel
    September 29th, 2008 @ 8:23 am

    Hi Dave,
    Why is one not entitled to make that assumption? One could feel that they are not certain the Torah is true but that if there is a Creator, then only the Torah could be true.

  83. YM
    September 29th, 2008 @ 10:49 am

    A person has to study, be able to distinguish between Halacha, Minhag and cultural practices, and figue out a way to discuss ones issues with one or more Rabbi’s to clairify the issues, and then to owns ones own decisions. Judaism is not a cult; in the end, a person has to make decisions for himself or herself.

  84. Dave Weinstein
    September 29th, 2008 @ 11:50 am

    Michoel:

    That would defeat the structure of the argument. Pascal’s Wager is a pragmatic answer that has the subject deciding between two beliefs based on the consequences of being wrong.

    But there are more than two beliefs with a consequence for being wrong.

    What if the Christians are right? What if the Muslims are right? Personally, if I’m wrong, I’m hoping the Mormons are right, because you get the chance to change your mind after death.

  85. Steve Brizel
    December 4th, 2008 @ 11:48 pm

    For those interested, RMF was asked by a giyores about visiting her natural parents with her family in ShuT Igros Moshe YD:2:130. RMF emphasizes that a giyores ( and presumably a BT as well) should maintain a relationship with one’s parents for a variety of reasons.

  86. Judy Resnick
    November 15th, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    I just wanted to applaud Bas Yisroel for her courage in saying, “Leave me alone and let me be frum,” to her non-observant relatives. She is saying that this is the only approach that has worked, and will work, for HER and HER FAMILY, never mind whether other approaches have worked for other people.

    I also loved David Linn’s comment, “You have to be a mentsch but you don’t have to be a shmata.” Perfect.

  87. Ron Coleman
    July 7th, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    A painful experience, and one that we wouldn’t typically anticipate until we were in it, so this post is very helpful.

  88. David
    July 8th, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    I have sometimes found that it is easier to deal with relatives that are completely removed from Judaism than it is to deal with ones that are marginally affiliated.
    Someone who is someone affiliated might often argue, “what do you mean my food is not kosher?”
    Or, “Of course we can drive on Shabbos, my rabbi said so.”
    Someone totally secular knows they are eating treif and breaking Shabbos, they just don’t care. I find this attitude easier to explain to kids

  89. Eleonora
    July 10th, 2011 @ 3:44 am

    So, in fact, you postulate that “protecting” a frum identity is only possible by lying about the rest of the world…

    I do not think that this is a solution.

  90. Ellen
    July 10th, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    I lived in a different town than my not-so-frum family. My dad would come home from work on a Saturday while we were visiting and try to park a distance from the house. I basically told him it wasn’t necessary, they were who they were and I had come to a different take on how I’d observe my Judaism. My kids had this awareness from early on and though not overtly challenged, they knew that there lurked in their ancestral past the possibilities of other ways to observe Judaism. They are all adults now and have gone on their paths, some “frummer” than others. Is it because of their early exposure? Hard to tell. But this has been their and my reality and I’ve learned across this long journey that there is a HKBH who guides us all, and my kids will continue to follow their quests as I continue to follow mine.

  91. Judy Resnick
    July 12th, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

    To Ellen #90: Ditto to your comment. My kids also, being adults 21 to 34, have found their own paths just like yours. Just like yours, some are “frummer” than others.

  92. Beryl
    October 16th, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

    “You will have to tear yourself away from your loved ones due to their foolishness”

    I find your tone extremely intolerant esp if you are a BT… what you are calling foolishness is nothing but completely normal behavior according to the general culture and this is exactly how you used to consider it… completely normal… I think you neeed to remember where you came from and think of a more appropriate terminology to refer to the prevelantt norms of our surrounding culture.

  93. Beryl
    October 16th, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    Miriam / Pascal’s wager:

    You seem to be brushing off all the sacrafices needed to live a frum life as “ham sandwiches and mixed swimming”… first of all even these 2 flippant examples are very big deals… keeping kosher means for the rest of my life I cannot travel without extreme limitations (i.e. tell me how I would vacation in Thailand for 2 weeks). “No mixed swimming” means essentialy “no swimming”, except in extremely limited settings. (i.e. tell me where I can swim in the ocean without leaving the North American continent). Plus those 2 examples don’t begin to address many other issues such as the overwhelming tuition obligations, “marrying off children”, and on and on….

    My point is not that it’s not worth it… it’s just that waving all these issues dismissively is not honest and is even disrespectful of the accomplishment of BTs in making all these sacrafices.

  94. Judy Resnick
    October 16th, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

    Beryl #93: I went back and re-read Miriam’s post at #61 to get a better understanding of the original “Pascal’s Wager” comment.

    First of all, note that Rabbi Mechanic was talking to an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy. He was not talking to an adult, or to a non-religious Jewish individual. So he tailored his remark into a “sound byte” that would best be appreciated by his young listener.

    Second of all, Rabbi Mechanic was discussing in a very superficial manner the idea of missing out on certain fun pleasures, not the whole concept of undergoing painful sacrifices or of taking on difficult limitations. Due to the youthful innocence of his listener (see above) he couldn’t get into describing some really strong taavahs (females, drugs, you name it).

    Third, please note this was a throwaway remark, not a column or a written Teshuva to a shailah, not a letter, not an essay. This wasn’t a detailed comparison of all the benefits and burdens of a frum lifestyle as opposed to an “ordinary” “normal” common-era 2011 contemporary lifestyle.

    Fourth, as my husband always tells me, “Don’t ask kushiyos on a mayseh.” [Don't ask questions about a story]. If you could corner Rabbi Mechanic in person, or email him, I am sure you would get a far better and more comprehensive, more detailed, more adult discussion of the Pascal’s Wager involved in living a frum lifestyle, balancing out all of our positive gains against the negative burdens.

  95. Judy Resnick
    October 16th, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

    Beryl #92: We could use the Yiddish term “narishkeit” instead of the English word “foolishness” if you prefer. It’s less judgmental.

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