Dear Jew in the City,
I did not grow up Orthodox, but became religious because of Jew in the City seeing how special the frum community and Torah observance is. My parents weren’t too happy, but I knew I was doing the right thing. Then I started going to a local class given by a rebbetzin who told us that according to Jewish law, we’re supposed to “distance ourselves from evil.” She explained that the included non-religious Jews – even family and friends. I suddenly realized that maybe my parents were right. Maybe becoming frum was a bad idea. I looked up what she said online and found that a big rabbi in Israel recently said the same thing. So is this Orthodox Judaism? If it is, I want no part of it.
Hi my name Rabbi Shurin. I have been educating Baalei Teshuva for 38 years. True, there are sources which say that one has to distance ones self from evil people, but that is only where these people will impact you negatively religiously or emotionally. That could even be the case with people who are Orthodox. So what you were told is incorrect: Orthodoxy does not discourage a child from maintaining their relationship with their secular or non-Orthodox parents, family, and friends if they are not a negative force in their lives! In fact I encourage my students, who for the most part come from secular homes, to keep a close relationship with their parents after they have become observant. I even encourage them to be home for Shabbos if their parents will be around and spend quality time talking together even though there will be a number of halachic challenges. The reason is obvious. In most cases children (even adults) continue to need their parents’ emotional support and guidance on many issues. Who is there for kids unconditionally 24/7, ONLY parents! To break this close, warm relationship can lead to a serious depression and even a breakdown on the part of the child. So to tell a child to break with parents when they become observant is absurd.
G-d is not interested in creating dysfunctional observant Jews. I even give my students when they leave our school points to remember when reconnecting with their parents (we’ve included some of them below). Parents need to know that you still love them as much and you are appreciative of what they have done for you all these years. They need to that you are still their child, the person they raised and not some non-thinking robot, and be reassured that you are not rejecting the education they have imparted into you, you are just enhancing it with the dimension of observance. In a case where parents are just worried about you because you have become observant, show them that you are not in a cult and you are still yourself and NORMAL! There is much you can learn from them about life outside of the realm of Torah, all of which they would be thrilled to share with you. The same is true of friends, colleagues, siblings and other relations – in all likelihood, they care about you and want to know that you’re well. If they are emotionally stable, keep the relationships by all means as they can help you to maintain a balance that is crucial.
My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l who was a foremost leader of ultra-orthodox Jewry in the US said, “You know if someone is a healthy Baal Teshuva if they maintain a warm relationship with their parents after they have become frum.” I remember that he told a Baal Teshuva to take off from his learning in the middle of the term to go home for Thanksgiving because it was important to his parents that he spend Thanksgiving with family. If Judaism resonates with you, don’t give it up. In terms of how to deal with the rabbi in Israel who made a similar statement to this rebbetzin: We ignore rabbis who say foolish things. Not everyone who knows Torah has seichel. Give up that rebbetzin and find one that knows what they are talking about. Be well and I wish you much success in all your endeavors.
All my best,
Rabbi Yitzchak Shurin, Rosh Midrasha, Midreshet Rachel v’ Chaya
Darchei Noam Guide to Dealing with Parents
When dealing with your parents in general the goal is to think first, and be as objective as possible. This is obviously difficult because you are dealing with your parents who are very close and dear to you. In this case emotions will inevitably get in the way.
STAY CLOSE WITH A GOOD RABBI OR REBBETZIN. They have experience with these situations and will be much more objective than you. There are vast differences between halacha, chumra, midas chassidus, and minhag. In extenuating circumstances, it is appropriate to forego many things that are not halacha.
YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO SAVE YOUR PARENTS’ SOULS. Your role is to worry about your spirituality and their well being, not vice versa. You do not need to delegitimize everything in their world. Talk about the positive aspects of western values and what your parents have given you. Parents view themselves as guides and educators. They do not want to be told by their children that they have been doing things incorrectly all along. Your parents are more set in their ways and ideas. Therefore change is much harder and slower. They need lots of time.
WHEN SPEAKING WITH PARENTS. Try to understand where they are coming from. Remember what your reaction to religious people was when you were secular. Every parent wants their children to follow in their path and it is difficult for them to accept that the child has rejected their lifestyle. Never use the terminologies “You/We”, when speaking to parents, i.e.: don’t make it religious vs. secular. You are one family. You don’t have to defend every attack on Judaism. Keeping quiet and letting them vent can be helpful. Don’t respond spontaneously with your feelings.
HANG IN THERE. Even if parents act angry towards you, realize that below the surface there is a strong and everlasting love. You must keep trying to tap into that love by being patient even at the hardest times. Try to spend as much time as possible with your parents even if it’s more difficult now because they tend to put you down often because of your new lifestyle or that since you’ve become observant, being around them means hearing a lot of loshon hora, etc. You must learn to maneuver in these situations.
To learn more about Darche Noam’s schools – Midreshet Rachel, the women’s school where Rabbi Shurin is the Rosh Midrasha and Shapell’s, the men’s school, visit DarcheNoam.org