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Oct 27, 2008

a family break-up

There is a sad, and even tragic, story, happening in Modiin. It is one of those stories in which a family is torn apart. I think it is more common for these types of family fights to happen when a child from a religious family goes off on his own and chooses to not be religious, and this case is exactly the opposite. A family is fighting because a child chose to become religious.

The brief story as reported goes that one of the children, 16.5 years old, started going to shul and to classes. Slowly he became more and more connected and eventually began putting on tefillin and wearing tzitzis and a kipa.

The article does not describe how he got attracted to religion. Was he drawn in by "religious missionaries"? It does not say. Was he simply turned on by a friend who was religious? Perhaps it was something innocuous like assistance that was offered in a time of need by someone religious that turned him on? It does not say.

How did the parents react? They say that at first they played along thinking it would blow over quickly. he had dreams of being a pilot, after all! As he continued taking on more aspects of religion - even "studying from morning to night", "he became a child we did not recognize, his whole life having been erased".

So what did they do? They forced him to come back home, they locked him in the house, they argued with him and with the rabbi. Nothing worked - eventually he ran away and disappeared. Now they have no idea where he is, and he is probably hiding out in some yeshiva learning, to their chagrin.

I did not see the article in print, but Michael did and quoted other aspects from it - they called the rabbi and argued about how important the mitzva on honoring one's parents is and how could he allow their son to transgress that.

The rabbi's response was that they should be considerate of the child's wishes. The child says he wants to learn in yeshiva. So what's the big deal?

I am not impressed with the rabbi's response. If it went the other way, would he same the same thing? If a child from a religious family became not religious, would the rabbi say "so what? all he wants to do is go study science and history. is that so bad?"? Somehow I do not think so.

First of all, it is truly a tragic story. It is always sad to see families torn apart simply because different individuals in the family choose different paths. From firsthand experience I can say that accepting each other and their choices is just as easy. I have siblings and we each have chosen different paths with a very extreme range. if we would fight about it and hate each other and be insulted by the other's choices, we would be torn apart. Instead we each respect the other, we are close each with the other, even if not agreeing with all the other siblings choices.

The parents, understandably, feel rejected. Their way of life has been rejected. They are insulted and hurt. But if they would look at their son as not just someone who has to do what they say, but someone intelligent enough to make choices, then perhaps they can respect his choice, even if they disagree with it, to become religious. Then perhaps the son would come back and renew his relationship with his parents and family.

Is religion so bad that it is worth breaking up the family over? The kid became religious and studied all day long! What a bad child! What would they have preferred he be doing all day long? Playing video games? trading drugs in school?

And where do the parents come off talking as if they are so religious demanding that he keep the mitzva of honoring one's parents? They are not religious but demand certain mitzvas of him? That is an important mitzva, but there are nine others in the Ten Commandments. There are 612 others in the Torah. You can't just pick and choose.

(HatTip: Michael Sedley)

8 comments:

  1. B"H

    I agree that the rabbi's response was far from sufficient.

    Each family is different, and may require an individualized response. But completely hiding the fact that the Torah is the truth does not help matters. What kind of integrity is he demonstrating to the parents?

    Why couldn't he at least mention some of the countless misswoth which take precedence over kibbud av we'em...in compassionate way, of course?

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  2. Sixteen is an age when parents and children struggle to find the balance between independence and rebellion. Whatever view you take of this young man's return to Judaism you (and he) must factor in that emotional maturity includes being able to accept changes in your own outlook and those of others close to you. It means that you develop your religious outlook and behaviour and find the way to do it without burning bridges.
    In the end if you reduce it to an 'all or nothing' answer you are most likely to end up with nothing.

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  3. "I am not impressed with the rabbi's response. If it went the other way, would he same the same thing? If a child from a religious family became not religious, would the rabbi say "so what? all he wants to do is go study science and history. is that so bad?"? Somehow I do not think so."
    Excellent point.

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  4. Not sure why the rabbi's getting the brunt of the remarks here. Obviously the rift comes initially from the parents, just as your own parents get credit for providing an environment in your family that keeps everyone together.

    If the parents are intractable, then it seems quite predictable for an average rabbi to respond as this one does.

    Perhaps a more pointed complaint is what a shame it is that there are so few Rabbis who can gracefully navigate such a situation, to help both sides learn the maturity they are lacking.

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  5. I come from a community where the mothers honestly believe that a kid 'turning meshugy frum' is worse than marrying out. At least if a kid marries out, they keep in touch with their parents and bring the grandchildren when they come to visit.
    To them, the biggest insult is when a child refuses to eat in his parents' home.... those same parents who gave up so much of their time and energy to raise their child.

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  6. rw - I understand that. though the article does not say he refused to eat in their home. It sounds, from the article (and this impression might be totally inaccurate), that all the hostility came from the parents side.

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  7. I am writing as a frum (ultra-orthodox) mom who has two kids who have gone "off the track".
    While no Rabbi said it was "nothing", the gist of rabinnical guidence to us is that the child has a right to choose his own way, and you have to be a mench to him, and consider him as part of your family. When they were this age, they stayed at home, but I was flexible in that I let them listen to radio, etc. And I didn't run after them to check if they were mechalel shabbas in their rooms, although they understood themselves that somethings are best hidden. We worked together to find a school they could stand. My kids thank G-d, come to visit often (along with their laundry), and keep in contact. Obviously there are things that THEY have to do to help make this work: they walk over on shabbas, not driving, refrain from "prostilizing " their younger brother.

    In this case, at this age, the child should be at home. He has to respect his parents as much as possible. But they have to not lock him up, and if after a day of high school, he wants to go study, that's his right.

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  8. ricki - I think that is a very sensible approach

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