How Would You Navigate this Family Kiruv Situation

Hi guys,

I was wondering if any BBT readers have advice about what I should do regarding my 13 year old cousin. She has made quite a few steps towards becoming frum, and now her mother (my aunt) is sabotaging her.

The other day, my aunt forced her to try on and purchase a pair of jean pants, and told my cousin that she has to wear them to a school dance (with both boys and girls in attendance). This is after pulling my cousin out of a Orthodox day school because she was concerned that my cousin was becoming “too extreme.”

I’d like to support her, but at the same time, I don’t want to over step and make her home life more stressful than it is.

What do you think I should do in this situation?


Fear of Being a Phony

The other day my mom and I were talking about what personal failures we were most afraid of committing. I told her the thing that worried me the most was that I would turn out to be a fake. That at the end of my life, many people would think I was an observant Jew, a good person, a good wife and mother, intelligent, etc, etc. But that I would know that I was none of those things. Of course my mom being my mom was incredulous that I could think I was anything less than fantastic.

I think this fear of being a phony might be common among BTs. I imagine that people who are frum from birth perform mitzvot as if they were born knowing how. But for me, I always feel I should tell people, “I’m not learning to become an observant Jew, I just pretend to be one on the internet.” Every time I say a bracha or pick out kosher food at the market I feel as if I will soon find out that I have been doing some aspect of these mitzvot incorrectly. In part this is because of my own insecurity in my “status” (somewhere between secular and observant) and incomplete knowledge, and in part because I am disappointed that I have not progressed as far in my observance as I had hoped.

Of course, my mom being my mom, had a wonderful bit of wisdom to share with me. She said, “You’re only fake if your intentions are insincere. If someone assumes you are Orthodox because, for example, you don’t wear pants and you dress modestly, then that’s not your fault so long as you dress modestly for sincere reasons. The fact that you can’t yet completely kosher your kitchen doesn’t mean that you’ve misled that person, it means that you haven’t progressed to that step yet.”

Then I came across this quote from Rabbi Shalom Arush that confirmed that my mom was exactly right:

We must all know one thing: Every setback in life – even a setback that results from our own mistake – comes from above!

Therefore, one should never torture oneself. There’s no room to blame oneself or anybody else for troubles in life, and certainly not to fall into despair and depression. The important thing is desire; falling means nothing, as long as a person maintains a desire to do better. Never abandon your desires, for Hashem looks first and foremost at our desires. The best way to counter a fall or failure is to declare a new beginning and get back up on our feet as fast as possible. We desire to do better! The fall means nothing if we get back on our feet swiftly and with new resolve.

I’m not a fake Orthodox Jew. I am someone who is working towards a goal that I have not yet fully achieved. I haven’t completed all the steps I need to complete, in part because of poor decisions I have made, and in part because of things outside of my control. But I can declare a new beginning because I desire to do better.

Teshuva After Marriage

If you were already married when you made teshuva, did you decide to have another wedding that complied with halacha (i.e. an Orthodox wedding)?

Also, did you or your wife wait until having an Orthodox wedding to observe taharas hamishpacha and cover your hair?

The Jerry Seinfeld Method Of Spiritual Growth

Over and over again we hear that the best way to make longterm spiritual improvements is through slow and steady work towards our goal. How many times have any of us been told that the surefire way to a BT backslide is to take on too much too fast.

Recently, on a personal productivity blog, I learned of the Jerry Seinfeld method of self improvement and thought it was very well suited to spiritual improvement and Torah learning. Granted, it is not an earth-shattering, ground-breaking method. But nine times out of ten the best way to do things is so obvious it is overlooked.

Basically, the way Jerry Seinfeld became a successful comedian was through self-discipline and a visual method of encouraging himself to keep up the good work. He purchased a large wall calendar (the kind where you can see the entire year on one page) and challenged himself to write one new joke a day. Every day that he wrote a new joke, he got to draw an ‘X’ through that day on the calendar. Once he had a few days in a row with X’s through them, he had a chain and was motivated to “not break the chain.”

Again, this method sounds very simplistic, but I can tell you it is very satisfying to see a wall calendar with weeks worth of red X’s. And this method is particularly well-suited to Jewish learning as so many of our most important texts have already been broken down into segments suitable for daily learning.

I personally have moved my Seinfeld-style chain to a website called ToDoist ( It’s a website that allows you to set up all sorts of “to do” lists and manage large projects. The site’s creator has created a tool within the site meant specifically for the Seinfeld method of self improvement. I’d be happy to explain how to use ToDoist in the comments if anyone is interested.

So why not challenge yourself to learn a little Torah each day and pat yourself on the back with a a visual record of your accomplishment? If you are still growing in your mitzvah observance, this could also be a great way to progressively take on new mitzvot. For example, you could use this method to start saying the bedtime Shema each night, or laying teffilin, or saying the Birkat Hamazon. Seasoned BTs might want to challenge themselves to eliminate loshon hara from their lives; they could mark their calendar every day they filled with only positive speech. The possibilities are endless.

How to Find a Shabbos Friendly Employer?

Thanks for all the good advice on moving to Philadelphia. I have another related question.

I’ll be looking for a new job. I could use advice about finding a “Shabbat friendly” employer. When in the interview process do I bring up the topic of not working during Shabbat? Are there any other tips thats would be helpful. Up until now I’ve been working at jobs where this wasn’t an issue.

How Do You Choose a New Community?

My husband and I are very seriously considering moving to the Philadelphia area. I’m a little concerned about choosing a community in an area where I don’t know anyone. How does one go about doing that? When moving do people “interview” Rabbis about their shuls/community? If so, what should I ask?

I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to “denomination,” I’m mostly concerned
about finding a community that would be welcoming of both me (still learning/growing in my observance) and my husband (who is not presently observant).

Ripples on a Pond

I was so excited to see the topics for this week’s Beyond BT, because I am just bursting with pride to share something on point.

When I started making little changes to live a Torah life, my then 16-year old brother noticed and asked me about what I was up to. He attends a Jewish day school so he has a decent basis in Jewish learning. We had some good conversations. When I wanted to look for a shul that fit me, he agreed to go to a different Shabbat service with me each week until I found the “right” shul. I never told him that he should change anything about what he was doing, but I was upfront about where I was with my own spirituality and answered his questions or helped him find the answer when I didn’t know the answer.

Slowly I started noticing him making his own changes. First he gave up bacon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza, which I know was difficult for him, because they were things he really loved eating. He also started wearing his kippa all the time. After a bunch of smaller changes (by smaller I don’t mean less important, but just ones that were easier for my brother to make) things started picking up and he asked a local Orthodox rabbi about getting his own pair of teffilin.

Tomorrow my brother leaves for a school trip to Poland and Israel. Last week I took him to get a coffee so that I could spend a little bit of time with him before he left. While we were drinking our coffees, he remarked that next time we should go to a different chain of coffee houses because they have kosher certified cakes and cookies. Then, he told me that he wanted to get a tallit katan while he was in Israel. I was so proud that he wanted to take on this mitzvah and so honored to have played my small part in his taking on these mitzvot.

It’s amazing how much differently things go when you aren’t pushy. I think the best thing we can do to help bring our friends and family members closer to Hashem is to be a good role model and to have honest, non-judgmental conversations about Judaism.

Thoughts for Those With Non Observant Spouses

My marriage since becoming observant has been a very painful reality for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am married to a wonderful man. The painful part is that we don’t share a commitment to living a Torah life.

In the Jewish community, people often talk about the “intermarriage problem.” But marrying a Jew isn’t enough. The ideal situation is clearly to marry a Jew who shares your definition of “Jewish home,” “raising Jewish children,” and “observing Jewish law/rituals/practices” (or at least compatible, similar definition). The problem for BTs is that our definition of all those things has changed, which increases the odds that we are married to someone who isn’t frum and doesn’t want to be.

When I met my future husband, I was moving at a glacial speed towards observant Judaism (I intellectually knew Orthodox Judaism was the only sort of Judaism that rationally made sense to me, but I was living a largely secular life). My husband is Jewish, but never had much of any exposure to Judaism growing up, and our secular lifestyle suited him just fine. But after about two years of marriage, my Jewish glacier melted and became a fast moving torrent of new observances.

Of course, as you might imagine, I tried all sorts of methods to encourage my husband to take up my new found Judaism. I asked nicely, I sent web links, I bought him books, I begged, I bribed, I threatened. None of that worked, but it did bring our marriage dangerously close to divorce. Hopefully, if you find yourself in a similar situation, then you can do as I say and not as I did.

First, you should know that at least in the beginning, you are likely going to be the major (if not the only) source of Yiddishkeit in your home. Instead of bemoaning the fact that your spouse doesn’t act like a husband or wife in a traditional Jewish home, perhaps you can get to a point where you appreciate the opportunity to be such a bright light for your family.

Second, take the time to find out why your spouse isn’t interested in becoming more observant. It may be that there are things that you can do to make observing some mitzvot more comfortable for him or her. Perhaps lack of knowledge, feeling uncomfortable, or the magnitude of commitment a Torah lifestyle requires are stumbling blocks for your spouse. Look for opportunities to help your spouse participate (if he or she is willing). For example, transliterated blessings with instructions on how to light Hanukkah candles helped my husband light a menorah for the first time this past Hanukkah. He was able to do it without my help, so rather than feeling infantilized he felt empowered.

Third, you really do catch more flies with honey. You can’t force your spouse to be observant, but you can show him or her how beautiful and meaningful an observant life can be. I doubt there is a person on the planet who became frum because his or her spouse constantly criticized all the things he or she was doing that were “wrong.” But there are many among us who started becoming more observant because of someone else showing us kindness and compassion.

Fourth, it is helpful to find compromises instead of fights. If your spouse still wants to eat food from a non-kosher restaurant, then maybe you can agree that he won’t bring it into your home. Obviously you don’t want to compromise your own commitment to halacha (or that of your children, if you have them). But it’s important to your marriage that everything is not a fight.

Finally, I’ll end with what is probably my most controversial idea. If you are committed to staying married, then you will have to learn to respect the fact that your spouse may never observe Judaism the way you do. You can pray, encourage and lead by example, but you simply cannot force someone to be observant.