Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

From a Torah viewpoint, contemporary secular society often adheres to immoral values and mores. Some common scenarios for today’s BT’s are the following:

A BT’s sibling gets engaged to a non-Jew. The entire family expects the BT to be happy for their sibling. The BT can either go along while their family members are rejoicing while keeping their disapproval silent, or run the risk of creating alienation and conflict with family members by stating their real feelings about intermarriage. Some of the non-observant relatives may accuse the BT of being intolerant or racist for being against intermarriage. They may even argue that the BT is standing in the way of their sibling’s happiness.

Another common scenario in today’s immoral world is the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. A BT’s cousin, for instance, comes out as a gay. The entire family is bending over backwards to be open minded and happily welcomes the gay couple into the family as if they are as ‘normal’ as the straights are. If the BT expresses their Torah viewpoint, they could automatically be branded as ‘homophobic’ by family members who will say it is the BT, and not the gay couple, who has the problem.

Social gatherings can become extremely problematic, especially after the BT has their own frum children. Not only do the genders mix, but there can be much kissing and hugging among relatives and old friends. The BT has to distance themselves from the people who have known them since they were babies without hurting their feelings or making them angry. This can often take more tact and diplomacy than the average BT can muster up.

Secular society, is unfortunately, without boundaries when it comes to tznius. Off colour stories or jokes, subtle sexual innuendos and flirting, and the ubiquitous flashing of flesh are commonplace, both in the workplace and at social functions. The BT must learn to put up a protective shield against all this to keep them from being negatively influenced, and also must often accept becoming socially isolated from people they care for.

A BT might be called a hypocrite by those who knew them the longest, from those who remember the BT from way back then, before he or she became a ‘religious fanatic’. Snide remarks, sympathetic nods, and condescending platitudes about the quaint but narrow frum lifestyle can catch a BT off guard and leave them feeling rejected.

FFB’s do not usually face these kinds of challenges and could find it difficult to relate to what it is like to undergo a dramatic change without the support or understanding of those closest to them.

22 comments on “Living A Moral Life in an Immoral World

  1. Erin,
    On sensitive issues like this, it is sometimes best to explain your case utilizing analogies. (Like the story of Nathan hitting King David with the truth, but in the form of a parable.)
    One suggestion is to tell a story of a Jewish friend who wants you to attend the grand opening of his new restaurant: “Larry’s Crab Shack” or something like that. If they can agree with the premise of your parable, it will be easier for them to accept your position on the /real/ issue.

  2. Elin
    Hello. I would not wait until you get an invitation to address the issue. Tell him now that while you have valued his freindship, if he should decide to “marry”, you will not be able to attend his wedding. Also, you should prepare you yourself emotionally now for the end of your freindship, should that happen. And resolve to remain strong knowing that you are doing the right thing.

    An honest, fair outside perspective on this site would probably be welcomed by everyone.

    Take care,


  3. Hi – I have been visiting this site for a while and I really love it. I hope you don’t mind me commenting, because I am not a BT, in fact, I am not even Jewish, but actually a Christian seminary student. However, I have frum Jewish friends and I find myself learning so much from them and now also from this site. There are so many areas in which we have similar, or perhaps I should say parallel concerns. For instance I was brought up religious but my husband was not, and I struggle with spending holidays with my inlaws. At least we don’t have to worry about kashrus, but I hate spending a religious holiday in an environment where NOTHING is about the religious meaning of the holiday. We don’t have kids yet but G-d willing, we will soon and I think a lot of the advice I have read here will prove helpful then too.

    I have a similar situation to what is described in this post: my best friend from schooldays is gay. It was years & years before he “came out” and a while after that that he found a “partner”. The “partner” was not only formerly married with two kids but was formerly a pastor in the same denomination as I was brought up in.(Like Orthodox Judaism, this denomination sees homosexuality as a sin.) My friend and I have been close for almost 20 years and he was in the wedding party when my husband and I got married (he also gave a huge wedding gift), shortly before he “came out”. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, I keep worrying that my friend will want to marry his partner and want us to be involved in their wedding, as he had been in ours. He knows we believe homosexuality is a sin – we have talked about it – but I know my husband and I would have to refuse to attend a gay wedding. I just hope it never comes to that, because I think it would be the end of our friendship. It is really hard to love the sinner and hate the sin when the options seem to be “approve of the sin” or be branded a “homophobic religious nut.” Any suggestions welcome!

    Thanks from
    a respectful (and impressed!) Xian observer


  4. the scenario about one sib marrying out happened to my husband, who is a BT. i, on the other hand, am someone whose whole family ended up converting orthodox, because my father married out 30 odd years ago.

    when people are falling over themselves to ‘welcome’ an intermarriage, they are doing many people an enormous disservice. they are letting themselves down – how are you going to teach your children that being genuinely observant means making hard choices, even when they aren’t ‘nice’ ‘sensible’ and don’t end in a ‘happy ever after’?

    then, there are the ‘happy’ couple themselves – that really can’t know how much strife and trouble they are letting themselves in for. both my parents were nominally secular when they got married. butl ooking back, my dad’s deeply supressed guilt complex made our life hell. as a couple, they had no friends they both felt comfortable with. no family they both felt really comfortable with (although lots of ‘tolerance’) and very little in common.

    it’s only because my mother is a true tzaddikess that it worked out in the end – she’d been wanting to convert for ages, but my dad was initially against all the ‘frum’ stuff he’d be ‘forced’ to do.

    and then there are the kids of the happy couple. who grow up feeling a profound sense of isolation that is almost impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.

    maybe it’s different for born jews, whose mums’ are of the faith. i don’t know. what i can tell you is me and my sibs, until we all converted had the worst of both worlds.

    jews didn’t want to know us – who could blame them? we were only halfies and not the real deal.

    on the other side, no-one else wanted us because we were too different – and had jewish connections. so i had anti-semitic comments at school, and not even any comfort from belonging to a community and knowing what it’s all about and for.

    we were all growing up sad, lonely and very confused about our own identities. the only time things improved is when my family made the leap to orthodox judaism.

    then, we started to belong. then we started to feel that we had a place and a purpose. there’s many years between me and my younger siblings adn i can see what a difference it’s made to ‘belong’ from an early age.

    so when we didn’t go to my sister in laws wedding, (which btw, would have been against halacha in any case) it’s because it was entirely the right thing to do. yes, she was hurt. and i’m sorry for that. but the problems that have been caused within my husband’s family are symptomatic of marrying out – when you marry out, you invite problems into your home.
    you create barriers both within yourself and between you and your family.
    and you bury the true essence of what you really are – and it can take the next generation a lifetime to dig themselves out from under that stinking mound.

  5. RE: the question about Rachel’s identity.

    May I suggest that maybe we ought not to put someone that much on the spot here? I think it might discourage some folks from participating in the blog.

    Just my $.02.

  6. Dear Rachel Adler,
    Are you the same Rachel Adler mentioned in this week’s Atlanta Journal, in the Faith section? It dealt with a subject that you’re talking about at this link, so I thought it might be. I was wondering if you wanted to clear up anything you found inaccurate about you, if you felt there was. (I suspect there might be because I felt that the rest of the article had serious problems.)

  7. I used to say that there are two types of BT’s: those that always went out on Friday night, and those that didn’t. I was in the first camp and I often confront the issues that Shoshanna mentions. My recommendations:
    1. Learn the halachos, including the pshat, and what are the chumros (stringencies) and kulos (leniencies). Review the scenarios with a rav, but have your mishna breura with you – discuss within the context of halacha. The goal is to understand exactly what the halacha says, including the available kulas.
    2. Remember that to embarrass someone is a major averah (transgression) in its own right.
    3. When giving tochacha (rebuke), remember that only tochacha that comes from love for the person you are giving it to has the chance to be successful. Check yourself to make sure that your motivation is correct.

    Good luck in working these issues out. Whatever you decide to do, remember to act like a mensch.

  8. RachelR,
    You deserve a lot of credit for sticking with your principles and those of yiddishkeit.You are courageous and Hashem should keep giving you the strength to grow higher and higher.
    We are all faced with challenges in life. Try to find similiar friends that share your ideals. It helps to have support from the outside. Finding a Rebbetzin or Rav to talk too is also a good thing when needed.
    Most of all, keep on the path of the righteous.
    You are the future of Am Yisrael and we are proud of you.

  9. DK,
    You are correct in impliying that unconditional love is a neccesity in our world. Love the sinner, hate the sin.
    With that said, unconditional love doesn’t mean helping someone commit suicide. We would never want to be apart of it. In fact we would do everything to prevent their actions. Going to an intermarriage is giving approval to someone’s actions.
    *Everyone should consult there Rav on how to handle the situation. *

  10. You are correct that sexual mores of general society differ from those of frum society. And, they even differ by frum community.

    But, I was commenting on your general assertions in another thread as well as this thread. This is not about PR.

    Now, back to the regular programming.

  11. Once again for those of you who don’t get it—- I am not making generalizations about BT’s, but I am simply making a statment that is the following: the sexual mores and accepted norms of secular society are immoral from a Torah point of view. Can any of you argue that this is not the case? No, because it is an obvious fact that this is a true statement of fact.

    And the scenarios I mentioned above are commonplace, although they do not neccessarily apply to all BT’s. I thought this was obvious but, I see I have to spell this out for those who are extra sensitive about the BT’s PR image.

    That is the last time I will clarify these simple points. Now, please, let us move on to substantive issues.

  12. Shoshana,
    I read your article and you bring up very real and substanitive issues. My comments have nothing to do with the issues you brought up in your article and everything to do with the fact that you paint too broad a brush, as Rachel Adler pointed out.

    I have worked very hard on shidduchim and the fact is that these generalizations hurt BT’s. I have no interest in being defensive. I have an interest in humanizing people from different backgrounds and not placing them all into the same box, since they clearly do not belong there.

  13. Also Sephardi Lady,
    You seem to be overly concerned with what people think about BT’s, about their image. I don’t see this blog as an excercise in improving the PR image of BT’s but rather, I see this blog as a venue through which we can raise and discuss real life issues and experiences with honesty, and without being judgmental and making things personal.
    Stick to the issues and keep personalities out of it.

  14. Sephardi Lady,
    I think everything I wrote went right over your head. This has nothing to do with the BT’s I have known or the circles I have travelled in. Don’t make this personal In fact, your comments not only evade the issues I raised, but they are also veiled put downs. Please re-read my articles and my posts because you simply do not get the points.

  15. When you love someone, you stand by them even if they are sinning, particularly when their sin affects them first and foremost.

    I don’t see how it is helpful to not go to a wedding where someone close to you is getting intermarried. I do see how it would cause acrimony.

    Better to go.

  16. Shoshana, We obviously know completely different sets of BT’s. Most of the BT’s I am good friends with never did drugs and were Cohen eligible. Sure, there are plenty of BT’s that had colorful pasts, but there is just as good of a chance (if not a better chance) that the BT sitting next to you was (and hopefully still is) a very accomplished person.

    For crying out loud, don’t tar BT’s as a whole as coming from a completely frie background. If more people understood that BT’s were not from a completely different planet it would help with shidduchim and ahavat yisrael.

    Many BT’s became BT’s because their home represented the values of Yiddishkeit and becoming Shomer Shabbat was a logical step.

    Me thinks that you have not met too many BT’s outside of certain circles. I don’t mean to demean you, but if you step into other circles you will probably see a different type of BT.

  17. Rachel,
    I find your comment slightly defensive.
    It is perfectly legitimate to state that today’s secular society has sexual mores and accepts norms that would be considered to be immoral from a Torah point of view. There is no logical way to deduce that this legitimate observation implies that there are no secular people who are moral. Of course we all know that there are, and there is no need to state the obvious.

    However, the secenarios I described above are commonplace, and most BT’s have to deal with at least one or more of them over the course of their lives.

    I also find the comments about how not all BT’s were crazed druggies or sex fiends to be a bit overly defensive too. No one is implying that they are, but most BT’s had some dating experiences in the frie world, and it is safe to say that many experimented with some kind of alternative lifestyle or even with drugs. This is again, stating the obvious facts of the real world, and in no way is it a bad reflection on the BT’s.

    Let’s be honest about all this. BT’s do not have to apologize for where they come from, and we do not have to pretend that we all came from such pure places when we all know many of us did not.

  18. I think it’s problematic to generalize and call the whole secular world “immoral.” There are a lot of good people in the secular world, who do good things like feeding the poor, healing the sick, etc. X-ian missionaries do that for the destitute people they proselytize to. Not that I support X-ian beliefs or poselytizing, but to say that the secular world is immoral is an unfail generalization.

    Also, there’s a difference between homosexual desires and homosexual actions. Someone who comes out as gay should be accepted. They aren’t breaking anything in the Torah by having gay desires, and [at least in my opinion] it’s not something that they can choose. Why would anyone choose to be gay, if it means that you’d be ostracized, treated cruelly, have a harder time getting a job, etc.?

  19. Being a high school student, I am faced with this daily. Although my school is a reigious one, it is a bit more modern. It is co-ed, and outside of school almost all the girls dress in pants. Whenever I go out with them I always am shocked, as if I thought they wouldn’t be wearing pants this time. Or when we went to a fair, and my friends all got pickles but I didn’t. It’s not like they weren’t kosher, but it’s not like they were either, and the vender didn’t even know what the word kosher meant! These little things make it hard for me, who is a “Bais Yaakov girl” in thier eyes. This school makes my family comfortable, which is why I am there. It’s almost like not only am I too frum for my family, but I’m too frum for my friends. People do not seem to realize that when they say “just go to Bais Yaakov already” or “wait a minute how can you say anything? YOU used to wear pants. And we have never eaten trief but you have” that it’s not where you were but where you are going. To those types of comments I have learned to make a joke, or (if no guys are around) break out into the refrain of Blue Fringe’s “Flippin’ Out”. Things like that make people laugh, and although the comments persist, it’s more to hear “Flippin Out” more than anything else.

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