Rabbi Brody on the BT Blues – The Uncooperative Spouse

Rabbi Brody posts the following question and answer from a reader and thought it would be of interest to the Beyond BT audience.

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I’ve been a Baal Tshuva for almost a year and a half now. Before I made Tshuva, my relations with my wife were shaky at best, and tense most of the time. Now, they’re even worse. She doesn’t want to hear about Torah or tshuva. All she seems interested in is fun and games – DVDs, tennis, girlfriends. I see no hope in this marriage; when I’m in shul, she’s playing tennis with a girlfriend. We’ve tried marriage counseling, but it hasn’t done anything other than depleting my available cash. Luckily, our three-year old son is not in school yet, but that’s the next potential battle down the line – how to educate him. Both her parents and my parents are against me. I need some urgent advice. Waiting to hear from you as soon as possible, Dennis C., Southern USA.

Dear Dennis,

Your wife isn’t against Torah – she’s against you and anything you represent. If you started playing tennis, she’d probably start horseback riding. The first thing you have to do is to learn how to be a loving and considerate husband. For that, you need emuna.

Don’t despair, and don’t fall into a self-pity mode. Now’s that time to mobilize and take positive action. If you play your cards right, everything will fall into place. This is a classic test of faith. Stop wasting money on marriage counseling, for if the counselor doesn’t help you strengthen your emuna, then nothing will change.

With emuna and patience, you’ll have just the home you want. From this moment on, do the following with no excuses and no compromises:

1) Don’t criticize your wife in any way, even if she eats shrimp in front of your nose.

2) Show her unconditional love – let her feel safe, not threatened.

3) Let her know that you won’t leave her for all the tea in China.

4) Don’t be stingy with her – give her whatever she wants, and trust that Hashem will provide.

5) You will save your own life if you listen to my CDs – they’re cheap, and they’ll save you thousands in other areas.

6) Let her see how Torah makes you a model husband – bring her surprise gifts, and do little considerate things around the house, such as preparing her favorite dinner.

7) Talk to Hashem for an hour a day, pouring your heart out and asking for help.

8) Always show her a happy, smiling face.

9) Call your father-in-law at least once a week.

10) Realize that if your wife is unsatisfied with you, Hashem is too. Once you strengthen emuna and your relationship with Hashem, your wife will do a 180.

Your entire future depends on your adopting all of the above 10 points. With real tshuva, there shouldn’t be tension in the home. Hashem wants us all to throw away our arrogance, for with arrogance, you can’t have emuna or shalom bayis, peace in the home. Keep me posted and may Hashem bless you with understanding, patience, and success. Yours always, LB

58 comments on “Rabbi Brody on the BT Blues – The Uncooperative Spouse

  1. With all due respect to the Torah of rebbeim, this advice is quite flawed. I speak from experience. The farther away from Torah is a person, the more the Yaitzer Hara takes over, so much so that, although G-d can certainly do anything, there simply are times when some people do not merit His help, no matter how many suggestions are followed. Hate is avodah zara and this woman is demonstrating just that by her contrariness. Cut your losses. Not everyone merits salvation…or even wants it. Look at the 80% who stayed in Mitzrayim.

  2. Jeff, #7, please do NOT post links to Messianic websites here, as that entire movement is complete avodah zora. Thank you.

  3. Shalom Tziyon smiled through it all and stuck to her husband who was quite evil. There is precedents in historia for what the Rabbi said. Moreover, there is a couple I know who worked it out – he is frum and she is not. She told me she would never leave him because he is the best husband imaginable. Together, they raised two frum sons who married into rabbinical families. Many people become frum and trample on those around them, forgetting that becoming frum is not just Shabbos and Kashrus but also Tikkun HaMiddos and Bein Adam L’Chaveiro. There was a Tannah who had a very nasty wife whom he kept giving and giving and giving to… when questioned why he said, “she is the mother of my children and for that alone I must give and be grateful to her.” This man who called out for help did not ask all you moronic commentators advice. He asked the rabbi’s. And smart man that he did.

  4. Yaakov Astor ,your “is it meant to be now and tomorrow ” focus factor question falls under the same black large for heavy rainy days umbrella of ” was it meant to be”.The now and the tomorrow is the third step in the Was/ Now /Tomorrow sequential thought processing track.If it “wasnt” meant to be then I dont have to be working on it “today” for “tomorrow”.So the validity of the “was” would be the deciding factor on how you plan on spending your “today” and “tomorrow”.

    Ora, I wasnt referencing you or your post when pointing out that the flip side of the liberally applying of the “its meant to be approach” could lead to Pollyana perspectives.My point on your post was that divorce is always tragic and that “meant to be togethor is A) not always applicable in my jaded opinion (IMJO). and B) mixed marriages with other religions (IMJO) can also be ones destiny .

  5. I ascribe to the philosophy that all relationships are “meant to be.” Even the ones that end in divorce.

    The question, therefore, isn’t: Was it meant to be? The question is everything but that: Do I still want to be here? Do I still need to be here? What can I gain by staying? Is it a question of gaining? Am I being tested? Is the test the stick it out? Is the test to get unstuck and get out? Will I be hurting others? Will I be hurting myself? Am I thinking too much? Am I not thinking enough?

    “Was it meant to be?” is moot, IMO. It definitely was meant to be. The question is: Is it meant to be now and tomorrow?

    Of course, the wrench in my thinking is a relationship the Torah forbids. Was that meant to be? It’s too much for my brain to handle right now?

  6. Jaded Topaz: I think you’re reading a lot more into my two-line response on the difference between a Jewish marriage and an intermarriage than what I was aiming for. The idea that Jewish souls are brought together by Hashem, whether or not they recognize the process, and whether or not the marriage lasts, is not my original “fickle truism,” it is an ideal expressed by Chazal. I don’t know how you extrapolate from that that I am naive and Pollyana-ish and believe that all marriages can and should last forever. Obviously divorce can be necessary, that’s why it exists. But there is a big difference, on a spiritual level, between a marriage between Jews like the one under discussion, and an intermarriage. That difference is all that I was attempting to express.

  7. Yaakov Astor , regarding your comment:
    “Perhaps at the end of this soul searching both parties will agree that they were not meant for each other and the best thing is a divorce. And this has nothing to do with weakness or the price of tea in China. It’s just a reality”

    Profound point, the only question that still remains is- given the fact that the broken incorrigible /threadbare on the rocks and may no longer be existing relationship does not have anything to do with “the price of tea in china” or the opportunity to acquire “all of the existing tea in china” is the fact that aside from the ambiguous dresscode of reality, one can never know for sure when to apply the meant or not meant to be fickle truism.Liberally applying the “meant to be ” approach is naive and reminiscent of Optimistic Opal or Pollyana. On the flip side though liberally applying the “it was not meant to be” would give the jaded outlook a tarnished copper reputation with underlying negative connotations and subtexts.So I guess its relatively safe to assume that in life -one can never really know whats meant or not meant to be.Which is great with the life purpose cultivating and direction pointing and focus and knowing what to place a concerted effort on .

  8. Ora i was just taking your “meant to be togethor” fickle truism and unapplying it from any given local marriage and applying the concept to the global blissful happily never after marriage thing.Technically speaking that nebulous fluffy hazy concept of destiny could include marriages from all across the general available religions spectrum .No-one knows their destiny but everyone is given plenty of chances to screw it up with errors and erroneous assumptions .Many times people that are classified as not jewish dont know that they are and subsequent predestined marriage to jewish individual is what facilitates in the discovering .Reasonings on the unknown jewish factor could stem from many historical situations and stuff.I’m not familiar with any Tanach but i am familiar with human emotions and divorce is one sad “tragic” concept sometimes classified as a mistake sometimes breaking hearts and sometimes breaking minds .The “tragic” facet of divorce is not religion specific .

  9. Jaded Topaz: I completely disagree that the divorce of a Jew and non-Jew is tragic (unless that’s not what you were trying to say? What did you mean by “religions spectrum”?). There is no halachic concept of marriage between a Jew and non-Jew, and for them to break their relationship (if the non-Jewish partner is not willing to convert) is a mitzva (see the Tanach, where Jewish men were commanded by the prophets to leave their non-Jewish wives, or the Torah itself, where there’s a direct command not to marry a non-Jew). I have plenty of non-Jewish family whom I love, but that doesn’t change what the Torah says.

    Steplma: I’m not sure that the wife has any way to know right now if she’d be interested in compromising on religion. Right now, she’s probably feeling very angry about the whole idea of religion. It’s possible that if her husband learns to relate to her in a genuinely accepting and loving manner, she’ll feel differently. Asking her to decide now if she’ll ever be open to change might be counterproductive, it could be that if he really starts treating her better and not trying to make her frum, the situation will diffuse enough to allow for a better atmosphere for discussion. In this case, I think that there could be a lot of value in waiting a while to make any major decisions.

  10. Sorry for chiming in late but there is something that bothers me with Rabbi Brody’s advice. Specifically these points:

    3) Let her know that you won’t leave her for all the tea in China.

    6) Let her see how Torah makes you a model husband – bring her surprise gifts, and do little considerate things around the house, such as preparing her favorite dinner.

    8) Always show her a happy, smiling face.

    Not all marriages are meant to be saved. If that were true, the Torah would have no vehicle for divorce.

    While it’s important to apply behavioral approaches to Shalom Bayis, especially when it is hurting, I have a hard time with “smile all the time though your heart is aching” advice. A relationship needs a lot of that.

    But it also needs authenticity.

    Not every marriage is made in heaven. People have free will to make mistakes. (Even if you hold that heaven decreed you will make a mistake in marriage it’s also true heaven could have decreed you will divorce after a certain time. In other words, people who use the “every marriage is made in heaven” card to imply that divorce is never an option miss the boat, IMO.)

    It sounds to me that the person in the letter has a relationship issue that predates his becoming interested in observance. That issue may be rooted in his own faults. But he has an issue. And it’s possible he married someone with issues, someone before he was ready to marry and/or someone who was simply just not right for him.

    Before continuing, let me add that it’s possible he can make his marriage work using, among other things, good advice like many of the points Rabbi Brody made. However, it’s also possible this is a relationship both of them are better off ending sooner rather than later.

    I don’t know. I don’t claim to know. They have an arduous road ahead of them whatever the case.

    All I’m saying is that mixed in with smiling as much as possible, doing for the other as much as possible, and improving oneself as much as possible there needs to be honesty. Authenticity. Soul Searching.

    Perhaps at the end of this soul searching both parties will agree that they were not meant for each other and the best thing is a divorce. And this has nothing to do with weakness or the price of tea in China. It’s just a reality.

    If so, a divorce at that time will at the very least have served the purpose of helping each individual learn a lot about themselves and hopefully moving on to the next stage in life.

    The bottom line is that the guy has to grow. Spiritually and otherwise. He has to find out who he really is. The wife has to grow. She has to find out who she is. They have to communicate — honestly, openly and authentically — and come to a conclusion. I would not, personally, feel comfortable advising them to just stick it out ad infinitum or promising them that if they increase their emunah they will discover they are a happy couple.

  11. Here’s a key that was shared with me by Rabbi Y. Shusterman [a Rav & posek in LA] to maintaining, enhancing and developing a loving marriage:

    Define the word “love” – i.e. ask anyone [including yourself] what does “love” mean?

    [The following is from Rabbi Ezriel Tauber. of Shalheves:]
    You’ll get many different answers. One common theme you’ll find is “I love my wife” while at the same time people will say “I love my car, I love my job, I love my dog” etc etc and usually about the same time people trade-in their cars – they usually “trade-in” their wives as well! .

    To underscore this point – a guy was once in a restaurant chowing away on some platter of fish. The guy sitting next to him couldn’t help but notice this guys “enthusiastic” eating of the fish and asked “Why are you eating this fish with such a gusto?”.

    The diner replied “Because I LOVE fish!”

    “Really?!” the observer retorted “You ‘love’ fish, eh? If you ‘love’ fish so much – why do you catch it, rip it apart & devour it?! If you ‘love’ fish – why don’t you let it swim in the ocean freely & unharmed?!”

    Most people’s definition of love is this type of “I love fish” version of love i.e. its self-gratifying. As soon the relationship or marriage stops being a source of gratification – the relationship/marriage stops, ends etc….

    Other, more refined people will define ‘love’ as a willingness to give [of oneself].

    While that’s nice – its also problematic – you can ‘give’ to a stranger…….

    [Rabbi Shusterman’s insight:]
    An insight into the definition of ‘love’ means ‘to become one with whom you love’ i.e. like the way you treat your own body:

    Could you imagine working OT, saving and preparing a whole year to go on a ski trip & then 2 days before the trip – you stumble and break your leg?! The trip you’ve sacrificed for and anticipated the whole year is ruined! Could you then imagine cursing out, being angry with or smacking your foot/leg and “Saying – you stupid leg/foot – it’s all your fault! My whole trip is ruined because of you!!”?

    If anyone did – they’d probably be spending some time in a nice white room w/ padded walls…..

    Why wouldn’t anyone in their right mind take that approach? Obviously because the foot/leg is part of them – they are one in the same entity…..

    That is the definition of love and the goal of marriage – view each other and to work towards becoming one [btw – this concept also has its application to parenting….]

  12. Step Ima, I’ve read the article a few times and it seems clear that Rabbi Brody’s advice is that Dennis should focus on working on himself and not on changing his wife.

    He does imply that if Dennis changes, his wife will change in her relationship to him, but if Dennis develops true love and treats his wife with true respect, I think that’s a logical conclusion, at least according to the Torah.

    I think to make an evaluation at this point of whether she’ll change, before he has had a chance to become a better person and a better husband would be foolish.

    Although ruling out therapy as an options seems extreme, I think we would agree that if Dennis himself is not willing to change all the therapy in the world will not make him happy or improve the marriage and that is why Rabbi Brody is suggesting Dennis start with the positive changes outlined.

  13. I had a non-frum therapist suggest my husband and I ignite a spark in our marriage by ‘sneaking into each other’s beds’ during the nidda period. Obviously we didn’t follow this advice, but it’s a dramatic example of the pointlessness of taking guidance from someone not based in Torah. And this was a sensitive, competant, Jewishly active therapist.

  14. Oops –

    I left off the other middle ground, which Rabbi Brody didn’t address, and which maybe could be reached in therapy, if they talked enough: Could Dennis find a way to be happy with his wife if she never changed? Does he love her enough that that would be an option, that he could work toward that as a goal? That if she agreed to raise frum children, he could learn to look the other way, so they could be together?

    Because love is important, too. And that’s not Hollywood. That’s wanting to be with someone for the rest of your life, and respecting them enough to let them make their own choices because you want to be with them, not your ideal image of them.

    If he can’t see himself in 5 years without her by his side, then finding a way to live without a frum wife is also something that he could learn to strive for, with the right guidance, if he knew for a fact that she felt she might be truly immovable. It wouldn’t mean she wouldn’t change. It would only mean that he would be able to make that compromise if push came to shove, and he could be at peace.

  15. Whether the therapist is/was frum or not (and I’m guessing he/she wasn’t), I think one of Retired Rabbi’s points is really important: if Dennis only went there hoping it would make his wife see how important it was to him that she embrace religion, of course it was doomed to failure.

    And seeing as how that was what his email to Rabbi Brody was all about, it wouldn’t surprise me (although this only is my conjecture) if that was also the brunt of his approach to counseling: Why won’t she hear his side? What can he do to get her to be more understanding of his needs? Nothing about why things were shaky. Nothing about what other things were wrong. Only: How can I go on when she isn’t frum? And then, the even more divisive: how will he be able to fight the same fight when it comes to getting his way in their child’s education?

    Not the question he should be asking: how can he make his marriage work with a woman who might never want to change. How can he make his marriage work with the woman he married in the first place?

    Yes, it would be nice if she wanted to become frum. It would be wonderful. A true mitzvah. And of course divorce is not the automatic answer here… especially with a young child. But the middle ground is right in front of them, and he is not asking about it, and Rabbi Brody is not addressing it, and a frum therapist might not address it either, though he might be more aware of the issues involved because he/she would at least be versed in the halachas. And that’s to find out how Dennis’s wife feels about Judaism – not frumkeit, but Judaism, and see if he can hit a level of observance where she won’t feel like a stranger in her house. Even if it means going backwards temporarily. Not breaking shabbos – but going to shul less often and davening at home, if it keeps him home. Or going out with her friends even – let them pick a place which doesn’t require driving, and an activity he can do. Small things. And slowing down. Not striving to do more mitzvot, but to let her see he’s okay where he is for a while, that he won’t be springing new surprises on her. If he started from zero before he became BT, then presumably he has parents who don’t keep anything too – he should be able to find a way to treat her with the same understanding and compromises that he does when he visits them, if by that way she could step up in observances herself down the road. I’m not a rabbi, and he would need to consult with his own to see where that balance could be reached and what compromises would be okay in the name of shalom bayit – in the same way that you do in your parents’ home. If she has no antipathy toward the idea and would appreciate it. But without knowing whether she would ever want to be observant, even that would be asking too much — from HER, not from him.

    So if I can drag the discussion screaming back to my point, without listening to his wife and where she’s coming from, all of this is moot. She might never want to change… and Dennis, and Rabbi Brody, and some of the commenters here, don’t seem to want to take that into account. And so long as that isn’t factored in as a possibility, then it’s not a real-marriage debate. It’s a theoretical debate. If he loves an actual living, breathing woman, he would care about her and her feelings and her thoughts and what she wants. Because she’s the one in the house when he comes home from work and in the bed at night. And if he doesn’t want to be with her in 5 years unless she’s frum, THAT’s an issue. Because he’s not interested in her as a person, he’s interested in “saving the marriage.”

    That’s why you go to therapy. To listen to each other. To force yourselves to talk to one another instead of past one another. And that’s exactly what Rabbi Brody told him not to do.

    Being considerate, and saying “darling” when you pass the salt, and promising to always be there for each other may save the marriage. But it won’t necessarily lead to the desired result on his part. Or on hers, if she’s also decided to “ride it out” in hopes of him eventually “snapping out of it.” But it will turn them into two people who are locked together pleasantly for their own sake, who wake up one day and realize they don’t even know each other anymore. In a saved, empty marriage. Fighting over the education of their who-knows-how-many children.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, if you believe that marriage is worth saving for its own sake, and all divorce is a tragedy. But if he believes that he can’t live a happy life without a frum wife, then don’t you think he should be finding out if she has zero desire to be one sooner rather than later…?

    Re-read his letter. There are two meanings he could be asking…
    1) What everyone seems to be focusing on: It’s a cry for help in making her more frum, so the marriage can be saved.
    2) It’s a cry for help that he wants to be in a frum marriage which he has realized deep down that his wife doesn’t want, and he is asking for “permission” to leave.

    Where does he see himself in 5 years? In 10? In 2?

    If he’s miserable now, and if she is, and the reason is because he’s frum and she’s not, maybe those are the questions that they should be actually asking each other, not having him acting the role of the ideal husband and hoping she’ll change down the road.

    I suspect that all of you (including Rabbi Brody) who are arguing in favor of his working toward doing all that he can to save his marriage for its own sake, are happily (or moderately happily) married yourself. Not fairy-tale, but with normal ups and downs. Or still single and looking for that one special someone. But two people having different religions – when they actively believe and practice (and actively rejecting religion counts as a practice) – can be bone against bone. If he genuinely wants out if she won’t change, and she genuinely won’t change, 5 more years is a lifetime. They should be talking now, not letting him wait and see, and testing what will be with primroses and candy.

    I agree with everyone who says that marriages should be saved whever possible. I agree with everyone who says that divorce is a tragedy.

    I disagree with anyone who says that it’s better to be married than to live a happy and fulfilled life. The Torah would not allow for divorce if that wasn’t the case.

  16. In other situations, when one person needs counseling or therapy, choosing the right counselor or therapist is more straightforward, although still not easy.

    With a couple at war over principles, this choice gets dicy. This discussion points to the difficulty of finding ANY one advisor to gain the confidence of two people with radically different religious outlooks and agendas, when religious practice itself is at issue.

    Moreover, how does any mere human resolve such deep differences when both spouses are adamant but only one spouse’s position (the position the advisor may not hold!) is actually correct?

    Despite the above, nothing is hopeless, but navigating through this situation takes Divine guidance, which is where the emunah and prayer of the frum spouse come in.

  17. I commented earlier: But I stress that, in ~~ my~~ opinion, the use of a non-frum therapist by a frum individual ~~can~~ be extremely detrimental.

    What I mean to emphasize is that this is my personal opinion and that this is not always the case.

    From personal familial experience and those of friends, I have seen situations where the use of a non-frum therapist has been detrimental. The therapists themselves have often been qualified and competent. However, depending on the particular situation, the lack of knowledge, understanding, and/or appreciation of a set of rules/ standards/morals/mores that often sharply clash with those of non-frum society may lead the therapist to offer counseling that is ineffective or detrimental to the frum “client”.

    I think this is more often the case in marriage counseling where the frum concept of marriage differs in many ways from the non-frum concept. (In varying degrees, depending on one’s hashkafa, this includes differences in gender roles, parenting roles, general lifestyle, upbringing and, of course, $exuality including taharas hamishpacha, and views toward child bearing.)

    A well meaning and competent non-frum therapist may advise a laxity or stringency in an area that s/he believes will address the clients needs without realizing that it is compromising the client’s religious outlook or practice. Surely, there are situations where the client will be aware of this and will advise the therapist. But this will not always be the case.

    This is not to say that those that are benefiting from a non-frum therapist should sever that relationship. In my opinion, however, when there is a choice between a competent frum therapist and a competent non-frum therapist, it seems to be more sensible to seek counsel from the frum therapist.

  18. Retired Rabbi–

    >>About a prior post about going to a paramedic. I doubt that such training existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the Alter of Kelm lived.

    The source I quoted from used the word “chovesh,” in quotation marks, perhaps it was a male nurse?

    >>The story sounds apochryphal to me. It also flies in the face of the gmaros that doctors were given specific permission from HaShem to heal. How can we not take advantage of that option?

    Telalei Oros also quotes the Chazon Ish: “For myself I consider the natural efforts regarding health to be a mitzvah and an obligation, as one of the obligations for the completion of a person’s form that the Creator, blessed be He, cast in the mold of the world. We find Amoraim that went to gentile doctors and heretics to be healed (see Avodah Zora 27). Many of the plants, living creatures, and minerals were created for the sake of medicine, and gates of wisdom as well were given for everyone to think, understand, and know.

    “However, there is a path in the way of G-d, blessed be He, to skip over nature, and so much the more so, to skip over exerting many efforts in natural means. In any case this necessitates much balance, because straying from the line of truth in either direction is not straight—whether to trust more than the level of trust in G-d that I have truly achieved, or whether to believe in the efforts too much” (Kovetz Iggros).

    In Emunah U’Bitachon the Chazon Ish brings the Ramban: “The Ramban wrote in Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:11) that the zealous and holy remnant in Hashem’s service do not use doctors, however, this is the status of those on an elevated level, such a Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and his colleagues.”

    See the Ramban there, his language is very strong: “However, when Hashem approves of a man’s way he should have no dealings with doctors” (and he was a doctor, according to what I’ve heard!).

    Given these points, I don’t find the story about R. Simcha Zissel so far fetched. He knew his level of bitachon.

    Clearly, in our generation we are nowhere near the level of “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his colleagues,” and we have to go to doctors and mental health professionals. All the gedolim in our generation go to doctors and follow their instructions much more faithfully than anyone else.

    For example, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky used to eat two bars of chocolate a day for something like 50 years, and when the doctor told him it was bad for his health he stopped, immediately, cold turkey. Who among us would have the will power to do so?

  19. I agree with Retired Rabbi. A therapist doesn’t have to be frum in order to understand a frum patient and give helpful effective therapy. In general what makes therapy more effective is if the patient and therapist have a good connection. [Apparently they no longer call people “patients” but instead call them “clients” which is more politically correct…]

    I’ve never been to a frum therapist. I’ve never had that opportunity. But I have had an amazing non-Jewish therapist who was excited to learn about Judaism, and now an awesome Jewish but not frum therapist who has never said anything negative about my religious practices or beliefs [which do come up a lot considering that Judaism is the entirety of my life and I attribute a lot of things that happen in my life, good or bad, to G-d’s influence…] and is supportive of me being observant.

    A good therapist will be objective, and won’t let personal beliefs hinder their ability to offer advice and support.

  20. Insisting on only going to a frum therapist would probably make the whole idea of therapy a non-starter for Dennis and his wife because what are the chances that she’d give the therapist a fair shake. Besides, just because a therapist is frum does not mean that he or she will automatically help a person reach the correct destination. Some times a person might need less observance. I can think of many charedim who totally left the derech because they saw no distinction between no observance at all and an Orthodoxy that was more modern than what they were used to. Had someone taken the time to open their minds to the idea that there is totally observant Judaism that isn’t charedi these people might still be connected to the Jewish community.

    So a frum therapist does not guarantee success necessarily.

    And a non-frum, or even not Jewish, therapist does not mean failure and a guarantee of leaving Judaism in the dust. A good therapist will be sympathetic and understanding of the background of the patient. And when necessary familiarize him or herself with the ins and outs of the religion of the patient. As others have stated, not all therapists see religion as evil. In fact most see a person’s faith community as extremely important for the support it lends, especially to someone in crisis.

    None of this sheds any light on why Dennis’s therapy did not work out. Did he go in expecting the therapist to lead his wife to observance? Did he go in fearing that the therapist would tell him to drop observance altogether? We have no way of knowing. But to ssume it failed because the therapist was not frum (which we don’t know either) and to say that a therapist has to be frum or else the therapy is doomed to failure is illogical. Finding the right therapist is its own kind of shidduch, with its own attendant difficulties.

    About a prior post about going to a paramedic. I doubt that such training existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the Alter of Kelm lived. The story sounds apochryphal to me. It also flies in the face of the gmaros that doctors were given specific permission from HaShem to heal. How can we not take advantage of that option? Especially when we are told elsewhere that we will have to answer for issues such as not enjoying the physical world that HaShem created for us, so much moreso for not seeking to extend our lives as much as possible?

  21. Since someone asked for an administrator to chime in, I’ll bite.(But keep in mind that these are my personal opinions, not those of Beyond Teshuvah)

    I personally feel that qualified frum therapists (be they child therapists, marriage therapists or general therapists) serve an important role in frum society. There are issues, events and crises that will demand the advice and guidance of a therapist. My personal rabbonim will not hesitate to recommend or advise someone to seek counseling when they feel that person will benefit. The Queens community is blessed with a number of excellent frum therapists and organizations that provide access to them.

    But I stress that, in my opinion, the use of a non-frum therapist by a frum individual can be extremely detrimental.

    On the particular advice given by Rabbi Brody:

    I think that Rabbi Brody’s advice was geared toward Dennis who, it must be remembered reached out to Rabbi Brody for chizuk and a shot of emunah.(I’m assuming that he was familiar with Rabbi Brody’s site). I echo the comments of those that pointed out that giving long distance advice is very different from face to face personal guidance. Those that felt that Rabbi Brody’s advice made Dennis’ wife out to be an obstacle as oppossed to a person probably don’t know Rabbi Brody very well. You would be hard pressed to find an individual with a greater palpable love of every Jew, religious or not. Also, though I can see where people were taken aback by R. Brody’s mention of his CDs, I don’t think he was simply trying to drum up business, that’s not his style. When R. Brody spoke for us at the Beyond Teshuva melava malka, I wanted to put out his books for sale, he hadn’t even brought them along.(He also never asked us to pay him for speaking and agreed to speak in a heartbeat despite his busy schedule)

    I read Rabbi Brody’s advice on how Dennis should treat his wife as examples of how to be a good husband (helping his wife, trying not to get angry with her, showing his love, etc). To quote R. Brody “The first thing you have to do is to learn how to be a loving and considerate husband.”R. Brody was telling him that these things don’t change simply because of his decision to become frum. In fact, that obligation increases.

    My personal approach is clearly more hishtadlus based but I think that even that approach requires a tremendous amount of emunah. The trick is finding that proper balance.

  22. Any thought that a marital therapist should be an agent for kiruv is unprofessional. Of course, having a rabbi provide marriage therapy is also unprofessional.

    Giving R. Brody the benefit of the doubt, in a troubled marriage acting in an unconditionally loving way with faith that it will work out might effect some positive responses from a spouse, not so much in terms of religious commitment as in the marriage as a whole.

    OTOH, I tend to agree with those who say his advice is a band-aid that ignores real concerns by the wife.

  23. Ora, just as an FYA regarding your “meant to be together” point on the featured and hyper-analyzed marriage on the rocks -not every existing marriage is cast in stone and “meant to be together” is not a universal truth that could be applied to any given existing marriage.Mistakes and Free Will and Choice do get in the way of the multifaceted and complicated path of Destiny. On the flip-side though destiny is not religion specifc and “meant to be” could be applied to either marriages of the same religious leanings or marriages of opposite ends of the general available religions spectrum .And divorce would be equally as tragic .

  24. I would absolutely LOVE to see one of the BeyondBT advisors add their thoughts to this forum.

    I would like to hear their opinions on appropriate counseling, an appropriate approach to “balancing” Torah and marriage with a spouse that is not frum or interested (I know that there are extreme kulot that other Rabbis have employed for BTs living in their parents home that allow them to live in peace without rocking the boat), and all other relevant posts. I would also like to know what they would say to a potential BT whose wife is not (currently) interested on how to continue learnin while maintaining the marriage.


    I want to add a personal story to the discussion. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I developed a large interest in kashrut. I had studied the kashrut section in nearly every book in my parents home on how to keep a kosher household and was ready to convert out kitchen. Now our home was not seriously, seriously trief. We never ate cheeseburgers, pork products, or shellfish. But, I wanted a more kosher home kitchen with separate dishes, pots and pans, and ovens. And, I wanted to shop for foods with heksherim. I believe my father has always wanted to take on more and more observance, but is confinded to an extent.

    I bothered my father about my idea, which he would have enjoyed doing himself, and he told me two things that have left an impression on me ever since:

    1. When you are 18, you are welcome to set up your own kitchen as kosher (and I would love to see that).

    2. When Mommy and I got married, we decided to keep certain standards of kashrut, etc. Because Mommy is not interested in keeping a different standard [inside the home], I can’t go about changing our agreement without her consent.


    The reason that I bring this personal story (something I rarely do) is to demonstrate an important point. One of the challenges of being a Jewish parent is passing on Torah to the next generation. One has to ask (in a be’dievad situation) what approach he/she should take to pass on what Torah they can to the next generation if complete observance of the entire family is not currently on the table.

    Do you want to create a situation where Torah Judaism is viewed positively (the situation my father created) and hope that the children pick up the positive vibes and are even given situations to learn and grow? Or, do you want to make Torah observance the center of your problems with Shalom Bayit and possibly pull apart a marriage through fights over observance and leave your children (in Dennis’s case, a 3 years old son) with a bitter taste to Torah observance?

    I do NOT have the answers and would like to hear from our advisors Rebbeim and others (thank you Retired Rabbi for your insights). However, I am personally glad that my father encouraged my interest (and his interest) in Torah Judaism from a very, very young age, and did not allow fights over observance to mare the peace in the house. Fortunately, my father did plenty of learning with me.

    In the end, he has frum grandchildren who will, G-d willing, continue observing Torah for generations to come (which is in his merit). I’d like to think there is something to my father’s approach and want to hear more.

    (Note, my mother is not anti-Orthodox, just unwilling to take on more than she agreed upon).

  25. To put my two cents in to this interesting debate: I am a registered social worker and have some familiarity with the situation described. Speaking from the wife’s point of view, she might find her husband’s increasing observance/spirituality distancing him from her and making him less human, responsive to her needs in the marriage. That would risk her becoming turned off from more observance. I thought it a worthwhile suggestion by Rabbi Lazer Brody to the husband that he start responding to her immediate or ‘material’ needs, perhaps to make him a little more accessible to her and maintain a sense of humility while he takes on more religious observance.

  26. Sephardilady: I saw your point with the examples, but there is one big difference: Dennis can’t realistically give up Torah. He can try to explain himself to his wife and share with her, and from his letter it sounds like he’s done that. But it’s not like a job, where both sides can give input and in the end they can compromise. In the end, his ability to compromise is very limited. He can’t give up Shabbat, Kashrut, or any of the other things that bother her, without doing himself real damage and probably causing life-long resentment. The other main difference is that his decision isn’t a selfish one, while your examples both were. Your examples are probably accurate as regards the wife’s feelings (that he’s the one who’s changed, that he’s expecting her to give in while being unwilling to compromise, etc), but they weren’t very fair to Dennis.

    Ahuva, I agree with you somewhat as well, but ask yourself: what would you have done if your parents were in no way ready to accept your decision to live by Torah, even after respectful discussions? Would you have given up your own desires in order to please them? Sometimes people are just not going to be happy with your choices, no matter how nice you try to be about it.

    The difference between this and marriage to a non-Jew, for those who asked, is that the marriage of two Jews, no matter how secular or religious, is a connection of souls set up by Hashem himself. Dennis and his wife are meant to be together, and their divorce would be a tragedy.

  27. Steve – I dont think we’re going to agree on the level of hishtadlus/ bitochon in this case. I’m not familiar with the sources and I’m not against therapy either.

    Look here’s an idea – let’s all daven for Dennis and his wife. And not tell Him how to do it and iy’H with the zechus of our tefillos and theirs, they both can come back and tell us how things worked out. Maybe they happen to live in Florida and maybe they’ll get a loan for the costs and maybe the wife will take a liking to the therapist – but come on we’ve seen a few films, there must be some other happy endings possible.

  28. Fair point – I think Rabbi Brody clearly laid out the need to be extra considerate and not to be judgmental.

    I would add one further point I’ve omitted and may help – (I’m afraid I dont know the source for this) – We can ask and beg Hashem for help in ruchniyus, in our relationships, in Torah and in health and whatever else but the more specific we get in the method of help, the harder it will be to get answered. Because it amounts to suggesting to Hashem the best way to do it. Yet even if we’ve got some ground breaking ideas we can never do His job for Him.

    Of course we have to make ourselves a Rav and how much better is it if we have a gadol who lives in our town. But if we havent let’s not be afraid to go straight to the Chairman of the Board Himself, in our own time (not davka at the end of 30 minute rushed shachris) and ask Him ourselves by unburdening our basic emotions that we dont know what to do and desperately need His help. Back to fairy land as my wife says :)

  29. Thank you Ahuva. Yaakov, please read my comments again. I am dealing with unilateral decisions by one spouse as opposed to changes in a couple’s relationship that have come through mutual decision or growth and discussion. I think my examples are perfectly valid. (Note: The second scenario is real. It happened to a frum friend of mine who is in a rather rocky marriage).

  30. Yaakov-We are not on the madregah of either Moshe Rabbeinu or David HaMelech. Take a look at the Ramban in Parshas Mishpatim on the folly of seeking solely a spiritually based remedy for physical problems and the Rambam in Shemoneh Prakim on the dubious efficay of one a “one remedy fits all” for mental health issues. IMO, those who simplistically view all therapists as Freudian clones trained to destroy one’es emunah, dismiss the possibility of available therapists or doubt that such frum therapists exist are causing this couple much damage in their Shalom Bayis and mental health. Refraining from TV,DVDs, etc and Tefilah are obvious steps but are not a therapuetic course for a couple that appear to be in need of heavy duty counseling. Moreover, why do you assume that a frum therapist with appropriate credentials would look like a rabbi? I know of no such halachic, hashkafic or professional requirement other than this stereotype that was raised in your response. Let’s assume that Dennis lives in So Florida-Nefesh definitely has frum therapists that could be of assistance. From what has been posted so far, I have seen “advice” that basically is masking a dislike and contempt for therapy-despite the fact that our communities have the resources to help this couple.

  31. Yakkov commented “the average secular couple are unlikely to discuss during the dating how they would deal with the possibility that one spouse may see the light some time into the marriage.”

    This is true, but I think the essence of SephardiLady’s scenarios is the lack of discussion. I don’t yet have a spouse, but I’ve talked to my parents at length how my becoming orthodox will and won’t affect my relationship with them. If you want to preserve a relationship (any relationship) you have to listen to the people around you and show them that their concerns matter to you. It’s important to recognize that we have changed the rules on them and that they have a right to be upset that we just pulled the rug out from under their feet. In my case, that diffused a lot of the tension so we could start discussing how I could make this change easier for them to deal with. My mother still isn’t thrilled, but I think the way has made it much easier with us than it was to preserve her relationship with her brother (who took the “my way or the highway” approach when he became a BT).

    Prayer is important, but it’s not a replacement for acting within this world and communicating with the other people involved.

  32. Bob – you could be right generally but in this case Dennis obviously read and liked enough of what he saw on Rabbi Brody’s website Lazer Beams to ask for some etza. He was free to ask any other Rabbi that may have given solutions involving more hishtadlus and less emuna/ bitochon. (ie he could have asked is there somewhere you can get cheap Torah based therapy)

    At the very least the answer gives over the incredibly important message that is so much easier to deny – that the best help we can get is that what we ask Him for from the bottom of our hearts and that we dont get given tests we cant cope with.

    Look, even if this miraculous Nefesh counsellor has cheaper prices than the last one they couldnt afford, lives locally to them, can hide his Jewish looks mannerisms and language well enough not to scare Dennis’ wife off and in then say 2 years or so can manage to break down most of the wife’s barriers to Judasim and bring her to the beginning of Teshuva, I would still venture to say that all of his efforts (and this therapist woudl have to be a lamed vavnik) are still miniscule compared to the power of Dennis’ tefillos.

    The comments so far seem to be imagining that it’s not as Dennis as sees it, but really despite the DVDs and chilul Shabbos the wife is itching to go to a frum therapist to do teshuva with Dennis. Am I reading in between the lines incorrectly?

    And let’s say Dennis and his wife cant find this lamed vavnik down the road, who knows – maybe Dennis tefillos will be rewarded with short term and long term solutions that even the therapist wouldnt have thought of?

  33. Until someone clarifies this, we don’t know:

    1. If the original, apparently unsuccessful, counselor was frum

    2. If Dennis has any access to a frum counselor either inside or outside the Nefesh network

    3. If Dennis has access to any counselor better than the one he tried already

    In any case, we should not dismiss Steve’s main point that frum counseling is desirable, or Rabbi Brody’s main point that emunah is essential.

    However, both we and advisors should also understand the inherent limitations of any advice from a distance, especially when the advisor has incomplete information about the situation and people involved.

    Some advice (such as believe in HaShem, talk/pray to HaShem, treat one’s spouse with love and respect) is safe and beneficial to give even when information is incomplete.

    Other advice (such as to give up on a specific counselor or on counseling altogether) only works, if ever, under very specific conditions, which the advisor cannot know from only (for example) a brief email from one party.

  34. Re Post #21 and #22

    First, I think David succinctly gave one reason why Rabbi Brody didnt suggest a therapist : “The question is – what do you do with the long distance cry for help? If you say: Here’s a list, call someone on the list within a 100 mile radius of your house, what’s the likely outcome? Dennis may feel: Rats, therapy, I tried that. Now I’m really stuck. No hope. I’m sunk.”

    Just out of curiosity I had a look on the Nefesh website and I couldnt see any Southern states offered (but then again I’m from London and my knowledge of US geography is not great) But as I tries to say in #17 how likely is it that Dennis’ wife will want to see somebody who looks or sounds like a Rabbi??

    Second, the reverse scenarios presented in #21 IMO are not fair – the average secular couple are unlikely to discuss during the dating how they would deal with the possibility that one spouse may see the light some time into the marriage and the difficulties that could ensue ie you cant compare the surprise involved of one spouse becoming a BT with an unplanned job relocation! One is helping to bring his Neshomo and Olam Hazeh to its ultimate tikkun, the other is helping to pay the bills.

    And as for quackery – well put like this Moshe Rabbenu, the Avos and Dovid Hamelech to name but a few wouldnt have got where they were waiting for G-d to speak to them. As I tried to say in #6, we’re often put into situations in order that we start the dialogue with Him.

    And just in case Dennis is reading this and has got this far without going mad (!), there’s a brilliant book by Lisa Aiken on marriage which has a whole chapter on religion problems, fleshing out several of Rabbi Brody’s points:


    As for TV and DVDs and chinuch there’s a brilliant book by Lawrence Keleman:


    May all of our tefillos answered bimheru b’yamenu quack quack

  35. David-Thanks for the story re R Simcha Zissel of Kelm as well as your cautionary note. The facts are that although in an ideal world, we would be able to rely on bitachon and not doctors, we have never been in such a state . I think that one cannot compare the advice offered by a well meaning layperson as opposed to that of a mental health professional who is frum and sensitive to halachic and hashkafic concerns.I may be repititious but Nefesh has an excellent membership list of such persons.IMO, it is tragic that advice that is slightly above that of quackery is deemed a substitute for the soundest possible advice for both sides of this marriage and that therapy is viewed as a waste of money.

  36. I too was bothered by the method of advice as well as the advice. I was bothered that advice regarding an obviously severe situation was offered without having heard both sides of the story, even if in brief. I was bothered that Rabbi Brody never seemed to acknowledge what Retired Rabbi noted, which was that Dennis changed the “rules of the marriage.” And, I was bothered that the advice was completely dismissive of mediation or therapy as a whole.

    Yaakov (#12) points out that marriage is about giving, but we all enter a marriage expecting a certain foundation and we expect to give to each other within that foundation. Unilateral changes to the foundation of a marriage, as opposed to changes made as a team through growth and evaluation, are jarring to the foundation.

    And, it seems to me that Dennis introduced an unagreed upon changes of frumkeit into their household and is looking to introduce even more changes into their life as he gears up for the next battle, how to educate their son.

    Let’s take religion and frumkeit out of things together to bring a different level of understanding to changing the rules of marriage. Let’s imagine that your spouse decided, without consulting you, to move from a job with minimal travel to a job that puts him/her on the road 75% of the time. I imagine that without having reached this change in a joint way, a normal person would be rightfully miffed, even if the spouse sent chocolates and roses everyday from the road.

    Or, let’s imagine (real situation) that a husband decided to walk out of his professional, well paying job without consulting his wife, to pursue something a dream and has spent the last 10 years unemployed and underemployed while expecting his wife to hold up the fort.

    G-d willing the advice regarding giving gifts to the wife and doing nice things around the house will have a positive effect. But, dismissing working with a frum counselor and a competent and understanding Rav, is quite horrendous IMO.

  37. Steve Brizel:

    >>First of all, there is zero evidence out there that suggests that a Breslov trained ” professionally trained counselor” … would be preferable or desirable to a frum therapist who has professional training and consults with a rav.

    Correct. Zero evidence. Unless one found that Rabbi Brody is more successful in his practice in Ashdod than other therapists available. (And I don’t know how to measure that in such an ambiguous field.).

    The question is – what do you do with the long distance cry for help? If you say: Here’s a list, call someone on the list within a 100 mile radius of your house, what’s the likely outcome? Dennis may feel: Rats, therapy, I tried that. Now I’m really stuck. No hope. I’m sunk.

    So he sent a message of hope and strengthening his emunah.

    >>In fact, many , if not all Poskim, would recommend and urge that one seek the best therapist and doctor for any malady

    I would have thought all recommend that, but I came across this fascinating anecdote:

    “When Rabbi Simcha Zisel of Kelm was sick, he sought assistance from a paramedic and not a doctor. This was because he felt that to rely on bitachon alone, meaning that Hashem would help him without the means of a doctor’s services, was not proper, for perhaps he did not have complete bitachon, and Heaven would not send him the healing. On the other hand, he did not want to assisted by a doctor, lest he put his trust in the doctor and not HaKodesh Boruch Hu.

    “Therefore, he found the solution: a paramedic. On one hand, he was doing the hishtadlus, effort, so the healing did not come in a miraculous fashion, because even a paramedic could provide the appropriate medical services. On the other hand, people know that one cannot rely on the medical ability of a paramedic, and they know that one must pray that the paramedic will be successful in his work and will find the proper remedy” (Lev Eliyahu, Zichron Tzvi, quoted in Telalei Oros).

    This was his own personal practice, and I don’t know if he recommended it to his students. I rather think not. In any case, it provides a different perspective. In the end, emunah is more important than the doctor, because Hashem is the Healer, not man.

  38. Yaakov and David-First of all, there is zero evidence out there that suggests that a Breslov trained ” professionally trained counsellor” with nothing on a website pre his IDF training or subequent thereto would be preferable or desirable to a frum therapist who has professional training and consults with a rav. Perhaps, we should remember that Rambam in Shemoneh Prakim states that mental illness requires a different “cure” than a bodily afflication. Although he is not seeing patients or new referrals presently, Dr D Pelovitz certainly comes to my mind as someone who either could be of help or available to suggest a therapist with expertise in these issues.

    In fact, many , if not all Poskim, would recommend and urge that one seek the best therapist and doctor for any malady, as opposed to an undocumented and untested type that is offered as therapy in the guise of either Mussar, Chasidus etc. RA Z Weiss, in a related context, views unproven therapies of all kinds as quackery that do not permit Chillul Shabbos because of their all but totally unproven nature ( Minchas Asher Parshas Behar).

  39. I think it’s important to remember that Rabbi Brody is a professionally trained counselor as well as a Rabbi, and to keep this perspective in mind when reading his advice.

    Dennis is asking for long range advice, and Rabbi Brody gave him the advice that can help him now in his situation. Hopefully, if he follows the advice, this will break the impasse and he and his wife can move forward together, with communication and therapy, if need be.

  40. Steve,

    I’m not against counselling per se. What am I dubious about is whether a counsellor exists nearby who has the ability to help Dennis and his wife through this. As Rabbi Brody says “if the counselor doesn’t help you strengthen your emuna, then nothing will change”

    Let’s face it – Dennis wants to m’karev her. And it doesnt sound like the last therapist they used helped (was the therapist even Jewish let alone how to develop someone’s emuna?) The chances of Dennis finding someone that’s good for him and wont scare his wife off must be remote. Another thing – marriage counselling only works if the 2 parties are willing to change. At the moment she clearly isnt – at least in ruchniyus.

    Surely point no.7 therefore is the best advice in the mean time – the time tested etza recommended by many gedolim – hisbodedus. Yep, it’s pretty hard if we havent tried this for years and years but that’s why we get put into these situations. You dont even need to be a Bresever to do it!

    It may not neccesarily be easier than seeking human advice (whether a therapist or Rabbi) but it’s certainly quicker and cheaper. Who knows, maybe the ultimate Healer and Therapist -will find them the ideal counsellor for them that just happens to live around the corner, but then again He may have several other answers. As Dovid Hamelech says “Karov Hashem l’chol koreiav, l’chol asher ikrauhu b’emess”. We can only get close to the right answers if we turn to Him understanding that everything He does is for the very best. But enough of me, here’s an expert on the subject, Rabbi Shalom Arush:


  41. Bob-Take a look at the Nefesh website. Its members are frum psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who consult with and are consulted by Gdolim and Poskim. It is simply one of the best resources in the frum world on these and all of the mental health issues that afflict our community. FWIW, I once heard a prominent rav state at a Nefesh conference that every frum mental health professional needs to consult with a rav and every rav needs to consult with a mental health professional. The notion that they can work in tandem while being ignorant of each other’s concerns should be buried once and for all.

    A Gadol and Rebbe of mine stresses that a rav’s job in dealing with shalom bayis issues is first to let both sides discuss the issue and evaluate their positions. If the rav views the case as beyond that of psak and a mental health issue, this Gadol and rebbe of mine mentioned that a rav then should seek the expertise of a capable psychiatrist, psychologist and or social worker who is either frum or sensitive to the concerns of a Torah lifestyle. I am not sure where Dennis lives, but IIRC, Nesfesh’s USA directory includes many such professionals of both genders in major frum areas, and elsewhere in EY and North America (including Florida). and other locales

  42. Steve,

    I think frum counseling and the Rabbi’s proposed approach can work synergistically, if the people are sincere and the counselor has the attributes you describe.

    Note, though, that there are probably places where Jews live but the right kind of counselor is not available in person.

  43. FWIW, I detected an old anti-counselling attitude in both the letter and some of the responses that counseling is a waste of money, is anti Torah, etc. Those assertions might have had some validity when the Freudian outlook was the primary outlook and method of most therapists. Nefesh has a wonderful list of frum counsellors of both genders who are frum , well trained and sensitive to religious and therapeutic issues, who consult with Gdolim and Poskim and whose advice is sought on issues of this nature by Gdolim and Poskim. IMO, the advice that was offered by RLB was well intended but bordered on the simplistic.

  44. Positive steps are first needed to calm the emotions of both spouses as much as possible before they can have rational, productive discussion. Bitterness is an obstacle, too.

    Rabbi Brody’s advice is a way to clear the air so that discussion will become more positive, and not as a way to avoid discussion—between the spouses or between them and qualified spiritual advisors.

    I don’t see the downside in trying something new when things are falling apart and the old stuff already didn’t work.

  45. Re Post #11

    You said “The entire piece of advice is grounded in the idea that if he follows all this advice, she is going to want to change. But what if he follows all of it, and she still doesn’t?”

    What happens if she does? That’s the aim of the advice instead of capitulating to some more bad advice and giving up.

    It’s not clear what your’re advocating instead of Rabbi Brody’s plan. Presumably that they go back to counselling? The issue is not the money nor the fact that by the sound of it, I doubt if she wants to.

    Rather its something that you seem to be missing the counsellor they went to is probably missing (and most others who have never gone through Mesillas Yesharim or Chovos Halevavos).

    The Western world we live in is a society of takers. A world where people worry only about their rights not their obligations. Rav Dessler explains in Strive for Truth (Michtav M’Eliyahu) that one reason the Torah was given is to help us develop our selfish nature as children into a nation of pure givers.

    Question is how do we become givers? Not overnight for sure. Oddly enough we do it by giving. Even if we have selfish motives in the beginning – as long as we know where we should be heading. This is why, Rav Dessler says, a Mother loves her child more than the child loves her. This is the basis of steps 3,4,7 and 8 of Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s 10 steps to greatness:


    We dont live in Hollywood. If we fall in love and dont know what real love is (ie giving) we will likely fall out of love. We dont get married in love – hopefully we will pass on to the next world ‘in love’.

    The bit I think that confused you is seeing somebody close to you as a test. Admittedly it wont help if a person is mixes up who he should be speaking to ie instead of leaving his hashkofo for his hour with Hashem he says to his spouse “hey! you’re making this a really difficult test for me”.

    Finally, dont think this is a chauvinist answer. There are plenty of reverse scenarios where the wife is growing in Yiddishkeit with the husband seemingly a long way behind. However it’s my guess that you’d probably find that since the average woman has the gift of “bino yeseiro” (extra intuitive emuna) that she is already tuned in to several of these points men need to be be put back into touch with.

  46. Actually,

    I would say that the first words of the first paragraph after “Dear Dennis” were what bugged me the most, if it weren’t for the worse part about telling a ba’al teshuva that he needs to make his marriage work or he’s letting Hashem down, and the completely inappropriate sales pitch (if the CD’s are so helpful, send him one for free – don’t try to sell one when he’s in a crisis). The writer hasn’t met the letter-writer’s wife, hasn’t heard her side of the story, and doesn’t even acknowledge that she might have a side… and without knowing a thing about her situation or what hurts her in her marriage, he labels her “the uncooperative spouse” and says that she is against the man she married and everything he represents. Or as you called her, his opponent. This woman could be starting every sentence at home with “I love you, but…” and meaning it. She could be truly trying to reach him too. There’s no way for any of us to know. But the post writer doesn’t care, and feels no reason to ask. Because he has already taken sides. He’s already made up his mind exactly who she is and what her motivations are. One spouse is on Hashem’s side, so clearly the other one is there as a Holy Test of Faith.

    Not a person.

    And he has a list of generic make-your-wife-happy niceties that you can get from any Chicken Soup For The Soul book which he is calling living the way the Torah asks us to. But ALL guys should smile and be cheerful to their wives, and show how much they love them every day, and help with the housework. That’s absolutely a recipe for shalom bayit in the same way that you need flour and eggs and sugar to make a cake. But if there’s salt in the mix, you have a disaster waiting, and the solution isn’t to keep adding more flour and eggs and sugar and pretend it isn’t there. It’s to find out where the problem is. But he’s not saying to talk to her. He’s saying to talk to G-d. And lie to her. Pretend everything’s okay. (and to the commenter who said that he tried listening to her in counseling, and that it didn’t work, so he doesn’t have to anymore… wow. Even if you dislike therapy, don’t deny a wife her voice.)

    There’s no such thing as “unconditional love” when it comes to your spouse. Anyone who goes into a marriage saying I will give without taking and love you no matter what, is setting themselves up to be taken advantage of and live a tortured existence. Marriage means both partners giving. And both partners loving on the condition that they are treated with decency and respect from the other. It’s a small condition, but it’s an important one – you don’t give up yourself when you take on a spouse — you gain a second half. He says himself that the writer’s wife has to feel safe in the home. That’s what that means. To feel safe to be yourself and still be loved, without feeling like you’re being judged. But she IS being judged. He’s not telling the letter writer to accept her for who she is – he’s telling him to fake it and smile. You can’t promise someone unconditional love with your fingers crossed behind your back for them to change who they are. Especially when you want a 180-degree change. Either she’ll figure it out and the ruse won’t work– or it will work, and if she truly is comfortable in a non-frum lifestyle she’ll be content with the new noncomplaining doormat who lets her do what she wants and goes off to shul in silence with a smile, and he’ll be living in hell.

    The entire piece of advice is grounded in the idea that if he follows all this advice, she is going to want to change. But what if he follows all of it, and she still doesn’t?

    Would the advice still be to stay with her no matter what? Is that the advice the writer would want to hear?

    I don’t know.

    I know the letter writer doesn’t say he loves her.

    For me, unless there’s spousal abuse or substance abuse (or other addictions) involved, any marriage advice that doesn’t start with asking to hear the other partner’s side of the story is worthless. Anyone can go to a rabbi with a cry for help, and get the identical advice this person was given. It’s generic. But no marriages are generic. For advice to actually work when two people are really broken, it has to be specific, to meet the needs of both people who are hurting.

    Treating the wife as an obstacle put on earth by Hashem to test this man’s faith is not only insulting to her and dismissive of her needs, it’s setting him up for a real crisis of faith if that “obstacle” ever hears this advice and decides she’s had enough and walks out. And that would be horrible.

    I didn’t write this before in my last comment and I’m sorry I didn’t: I hope that whatever happens, that the letter writer and his wife are able to find happiness.

  47. Chana,

    The dismissive point that StepIma was refering to was the notion that Dennis doesn’t have to actually talk to his wife to see what her issues are. All he has to do is drown her with affection and she’ll magically change to his way of life.

    That ignores the huge reality that Dennis changed the rules of their marriage, not his wife. And that making her dinner and buying her gifts is all that is needed to make the marriage work. A marriage that was already rocky before religion became an issue.

    Where is the honest, sincere intellectual engagement? Where is the self-assessment of “Why is my wife intentionally doing things she knows will upset me?” The post by the rabbi read simply that women don’t have real emotional needs other than to be bribed by gifts. And that if you do that successfully then your wife will do anything you want. Because after all what woman would want to stop the flow of gifts? Isn’t that more important than intellectual and emotional honesty?

    The one saving grace of the entire post by the rabbi was that at least he did not suggest having another child in order to promote shalom bayis.

  48. Stepima: May I suggest that you reread the 1st paragraph of Rabbi’s response after “Dear Dennis”? The 1st line uses the terminology of “she is against you” which alludes to the idea that a wife is neged, opposite or against her husband. I have heard this explained that a wife will be loving and doting as long as her husband acts appropriately, but if not, she will be his opponent. Already Rabbi Brody is suggesting that the wife’s opposition was instigated. Further, in the 3rd line he advises Dennis to “learn how to be a loving and considerate husband”. It was a subtle acknowledgement that husband has some work to do if he wants sholom bayis.
    Far from being condescending, I see the suggestions as enabling Dennis to overcome pride and work on tuning in to his wife, and at the same time giving him chizuk regarding emunah that he can survive and even emerge stronger from his customized nisayonot.

  49. In response to Post #4

    The Mesillas Yesharim tells us that everything that happens to us is a test of faith. How can you say this isnt a test of faith – surely Dennis is facing one of the hardest nisyonos anyone could face – one which if he passes successfully iy’H will help not just him but the whole of Klal Yisroel too.

    It’s a hard pill to swallow but sometimes we have to understand that what we are going through is not just a random mess through some ill thought choices but a test of faith perfectly tailor made for our neshomos at the right time and right place. Therefore we are never going to deal effectively with any difficulties we are facing by leaving Him out the picture. The very least we have to do is seek His help. That’s what Rabbi Brody’s CDs
    help us do. Sounds like you havent heard them yet or read The Trail to Tranquility – check out the right hand column of his website:


    The point about listening to his wife’s side of the story is already answered by Dennis. They’ve tried counselling! Which is probably detrimental from a Torah point of view.

    It seems pretty clear to me that Rabbi Brody’s advice is not just the best option but the ONLY option for Dennis if he is upto making it work. Things are only as complicated as we make them especially when we fail to recognise Who gave us them in the first place (to ultimately benefit us in the long term) and therefore Who the solution lies with.

    May be merit to recognise our tests of faith every day so that Moshiach will be able to greet us with pride bba.

  50. We throw away many life opportunities because our subjective, pessimistic appraisals of the players and situations hold us back from trying.

    While, of course, there are cases where general advice just doesn’t click, people should not assume in advance that their case is one of these.

    Also, look at the advisor’s track record. He/she just may have more insight than you.

    Rabbi Brody’s CD’s are indeed cheap, as claimed, and very inspirational.

  51. Dear Rabbi X,

    I love my husband dearly, but our marriage was on the rocks. Then in the last year and a half it got worse. Out of the blue, he suddenly became very religious. He stopped doing the things we loved to do together (watching movies, playing sports, hanging out with friends), and when I went to do them on my own – and I never said a word when he pursued his own new activities, even when they totally overturned my life – he just insulted me, calling everything I do trivial. We haven’t talked about it, but I know he wants our son to be raised in the same ultra-religious way he’s been acting – wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, even though it stands out in our neighborhood, going to religious schools even though it will cause him to turn his back on his own grandparents’ food the same way my husband already does. This is not what we talked about when I married him. This is not who he was when I married him. We’ve been to months of marriage counseling and he won’t listen. My parents have talked to him and so have his – he won’t listen. He just sits there with the same smug look on his face and even tries to tell them that I’m the problem. What should I do?

    Dear wife,

    Your problem is easy to fix: Sure, you and I know that you’re right and he’s wrong. Just don’t tell him that. Smile at him when he continues his silly religion thing. After all, if you started going to synagogue with him, he’d probably take up hare krishna. The problem is that your marriage is broken and you need a relationship band-aid to gloss things over so he won’t notice the fault lines. Tell him how much you love him and help him fix the car. When he goes off to do his shul thing and put on his tefillin and all that, just smile and let him know you’ll always be there for him. And keep talking to your therapist when it hurts. He’s bound to come around when he feels safe. Oh, and buy buy buy my CDs.

    Sorry to be so harsh. But it does NOT work that way. My analogy doesn’t even work properly, because the wife in the original poster’s situation isn’t hoping for her husband to change to a completely new way of thinking and way of life, but simply for him to change back to the man she married in the first place. The writer mentions that his marriage was shaky before he became a ba’al teshuva, and you don’t even delve into why that is. You automatically assume that it’s her fault. And that “she’s against you and everything you represent.” Why they were on the rocks in the first place is a mystery and one that marriage counseling possibly could have helped in the first place; clearly it’s too late now. Possibly instead of counseling he went to a rabbi for help who turned him on to Torah, and that’s what caused him to become a BT in the first place.

    I am NOT against Orthodoxy or ba’alei teshuva. Far from it. But this, to me, is not the picture of a marriage that can be healed if only the wife can be brought around to loving Torah… and that if he shows her enough love, that change will come about. To me, this is a story — both in the question, and in the answer — of two people who are defiantly ignoring the wife. This is a marriage of two people who loved each other for who they were, and one of those people inexorably changed. And now the other partner is left with someone who not only is unwilling to listen to her needs, but is also trivializing those needs. Bringing her flowers, smiling and helping with the dishes, while still disgusted with her time spent playing tennis with her friends on shabbos – time she always spent playing tennis with her friends on shabbos – is still treating her like half a person. She knows. Because either she still loves him too much not to know, or she’s stopped loving him and is going on purpose, and all the smiling and doing the dishes in the world won’t stop her. In which case, if his heart isn’t breaking because he can’t get her back — if all he cares about is bringing her off the tennis court and into shul — the marriage is empty.

    But I’m not sure he’s asking for that. And I think a sentence like With real teshuva, there shouldn’t be tension in the home” is incredibly irresponsible. You are implying that the failure of his marriage – and it could be truly failing, because if he continues by following your advice, she could very well walk out – would mean that he has let Hashem down. That he wasn’t able to show proper emuna. Or hadn’t bought enough of your CDs, chas v’shalom. This is a test of his marriage, not of his faith. Maybe he changed too much, too fast for her. Certainly he took on more than she bargained for when he became a BT. Did he ever discuss his faith with her? Not his actions, but his beliefs? Did he ever say he would slow down, even step backwards, if it made her so uncomfortable? Did he ever realize that being with someone who changed who he was might make him the one who damaged the marriage? That if everyone – her, both sets of parents, possibly the marriage counselor – pointed the blame toward him, then maybe he’s the one who’s standing in the way of the marriage succeeding, and that turning to the rabbi for help is pouring oil on the fire?

    If what he wants is spiritual help to get him through his divorce, you may be the perfect choice. But I don’t see anything you said as being helpful for marriage counseling. There’s another person in this equation, and you haven’t actually listened to a word she said.

  52. Thank you for some very sound advice. I wish more Rabbeim would understand that when people ask for help with Shalom Bayis problems they often are looking for spiritual help that cannot be obtained in the therapy office.

  53. LB, the tone of your advice is overly optimistic, almost pollyannish. Simply having emunah does not solve all marital disputes. Women of abused husbands are often given similar advice by Rabbonim–go home, they are told, be a good Yiddishe wife, and your husband will become kinder. Sometimes divorce is a healthy solution. Not all marriages should be saved at all costs. A committed BT cannot always mekarev their spouse, and these two seem to be mixing as well as oil and vinegar. #4 on your list is risky advice. The spouse could wind up bankrupting the household, and then what? More tzuris!

Comments are closed.