Embarrassment and Truth

A few nights ago, I visited the local Whole Foods grocery store with my 9 year old son. The store is new in our neighborhood, it’s pretty, well organized, mostly oriented around organic products, a high percentage of which are kosher. The employees also make a point of being friendly. We browsed through the produce, amazed at the variety of fresh hot peppers and mushrooms. I’d love to say that we were picking out great organic produce, but actually we were there because I’d found they have the widest selection of soy ice cream (brands and flavors) and fruit pops I’d ever seen, most of which are kosher.

We’re passing by the well lit well layed out fish department and I’m pointing out to my son what the various creatures are. See, here’s this fish and that fish, and here’s shimp, treif, crab, treif, squid, treif and yuck, tentacles, scallops, treif. We stopped at the clams, oysters, mussles, and cockles, because they were open access and some of the clams were busy trying to crawl away (and I thought that would be really interesting for a 9 year old boy, and it was.) The friendly fish guy comes over and demonstrates how the clams will close if you touch them, picks out a dead one and opens it up so my son can see the inside, and is discussing his product.

So my son tells him, in a loud voice of course, “well, we don’t eat these because they’re not kosher, not because they don’t taste good, because my father ate them before he became religious and told us that some of them do, but because Hashem says we don’t in the Torah.” Well, I was so proud of him while I was simultaneously trying to crawl away inside myself. Hey, see this guy here with the beard, big black yamulka and long white strings, HE ATE CLAMS.

Proud, because a message that apparently only a BT can testify to had reached my children. They’d come home from yeshiva and were discussing the various kosher versus non-kosher sea creatures, discussing the signs of kosher. As they were discussing non-kosher commonly eaten sea creatures, they were busy saying yuck, disgusting, and so forth. I’d stopped them and said, “You know it says in the Gemora that we don’t eat non-kosher because Hashem said so, not because it doesn’t taste good. Because let me tell you, it does.” And I’d gone on to tell them that many of the non-kosher foods they were yucking were very tasty, some wonderful, and indeed some not-so-wonderful (at least to my taste). So if they go off believing that every non-kosher food is yuck and, G-d forbid, one day get a taste otherwise, they might believe that kosher doesn’t apply. So I told them, loud and clear, “We don’t eat non-kosher because G-d said so, not because it’s not healthy or not tasty, only because Hashem said it’s not kosher.”

My past, at least this one little facet of it, has become a positive message for my children. But OMG, how embarrassing!

29 comments on “Embarrassment and Truth

  1. To be honest, I’m currently having this dilemma with myself. I’m 19 ..but I’m to say the least “embarassed” with my “past life.” In my mind i’m like, do I want to tell my children of my past life, will it gives them ideas? Then again its me…why should I hide myself? I’ve had bad BT experiences with FFBS, but whatever….anyway good blog …like all of the blogs on this site, I’m addicted :)

  2. David S wrote

    “G-d gave us free will…it says so somewhere…it is not proper to suppress the gift, but to explain to our children how to apply it properly.”

    Point taken but does that have to translate into parents taking a l’chatchila (a priori) or proactive approach into revealing so many facets about one’s life prior to t’shuva?

    I personally don’t see the benefits to that approach for whatever the intention such as teaching free will. Also, considering your example can you explain how an FFB would teach this subject?

    Furthermore, could it be that if a parent takes the approach of proactively revealing a non-kosher (not just food) past does that teach the child that it’s normal for a BT to do such and that other BTs who don’t follow this pattern are not being normal?

  3. One of the many reasons Rav Dovid Gottleib has enjoyed such extraordinary success in kiruv (including having been mekarev yours truly) is because of the open and unembarressed way he discusses his past. How powerful for the prospective ba’al tshuva to hear this rabbi, bedecked in the full regalia of a Bostoner Chassid, remark wistfully, “Imagine eating a cheeseburger…”

  4. While, I’m sure, we all regret not having had the opportunity to perform more mitzvahs from the time we were younger, and in my case, to have had the Bais Yaakov education that my daughter has – we must live with the fact that everything happens from Shamayim in its right time. Which is to say, that if a person was an FFB instead of a BT, who, aside from HKBU could say whether that would have been right for that person. What if they’d gone off the derech because they didn’t appreciate what they had? We BT’s became who we are because we came to appreciate who we are as a part of the Jewish people, and what that entails. Yasher Koach to us all!

  5. Albany Jew, that’s what I meant, not that I was sad at the time, (why would I have been?) but that we can be sad about it now, that I missed all those chances to do mitzvos, and that I didn’t understand or appreciate the beauty of Shabbos as a child.

    Shabbos and Kashrus are what brought me to Orthodoxy. In a nutshell, coming from a (mostly) Kosher home sent me looking for the Kosher kitchen at college (and I fell in with the Orthodox crowd as a result) and experiencing a real Shabbos through my Conservative Youth Group (yes, really) during High School made switching to a shomer Shabbos lifestyle only a matter of time… I had to get out of my parents house first to really make it work.

  6. Miriam,

    That is a helpful perspective, but not really true (I didn’t even really know what Shabbos was) Although, looking back, I am sad that I didn’t have it when I was kid so I guess it would work with that viewpoint. Yasher Koach on influencing your parents, it is not easy, even if you don’t do it on purpose (it does really happen a lot of times though, my parents are getting Parsha books for my daughter for Chanukah!)

  7. Absolutely agreed. This concept-of not claiming that food is “disgusting” but merely forbidden, is something I have always believed in/ agreed with. I believe the Rambam brings it down specifically.

  8. I’m Jewish–If you’re generally interested about how Reform parents deal with more observant children, there have been some really great posts on that sort of subject here on Beyond BT that are worth digging through the archives to find.

    If you’re interested in my experience personally, well my parents have been pretty supportive but occasionally they roll their eyes. I don’t know if the way I have done things is right for everyone, but for the most part I keep my opinions about my family’s observance to myself and I still participate in all of my family’s get togethers. I think those two things have made it relatively easy for my family to accept my decision to be more observant.

  9. Conversations with my children about my pre-frum past tend to revolve around how sad it was that I didn’t know how to really keep Shabbos as a kid, etc. (Keep that in mind, Albany Jew, for a perspective that seems to work.) Not too many details (and I haven’t a clue how clams taste, being raised mostly Kosher) but my kids also see that my parents are obviously not frum, although they’re more observant now than when I was a kid (partly my influence, not purposely though!)

    I have to remember, you have no secrets when you have kids! They tell everything, and have no concept of appropriate. But I loved the story, especially this concept: “So if they go off believing that every non-kosher food is yuck and, G-d forbid, one day get a taste otherwise, they might believe that kosher doesn’t apply.” I second this, teaching the kids the right reasons behind doing mitzvos, instead of reasons that can be logically circumvented. (The story of King Solomon and his too many wives comes to mind here, where he thought he understood the reasoning behind the prohibition and also thought the reasoning didn’t apply to him, so he did marry too many wives and that turned out to be a big mistake.)

  10. Wow! If it had been me as the dad, I would have turned beet-red at first (and told my kid to sha!) but then I think I would have gained my composure and been so proud of my kid. Some things you can’t share with your children, but I admire you & your son for being strong on this….It’s also kinda funny, the way the story was told!


  11. I don’t think children are harmed by knowing that their parents have done some things that the children are forbidden from doing. My parents (who are Reform) went to college during the 70s and did some things that they didn’t want me doing. I got quite a few “don’t do that, I know from personal experience that it’s a bad idea” talks when I was growing up. I wasn’t harmed by them, and didn’t do the forbidden things. Often I was able to counsel my friends against doing those things by using my parents experience as an example.

  12. This is a complex multi level story. I think you were absolutely right to tell your child your history. At the end of the day, each person makes his or her own choices and explaining to a child that you chose this life becuase you found it to be more meaningful to you than others will probably help him later in life.

    If he wasnt 9, it might be a different story, but at this point he is well on the way to developing an independent view. God gave us free will…it says so somewhere…it is not proper to suppress the gift, but to explain to our children how to apply it properly.

  13. Well, I did use “hiding” & “lying” in two consecutive sentences:-).
    To elaborate on my insane thought process, even if one wants to sugarcoat one’s past to their children, it’s much better to whitewash it slightly than to lie about not ever doing such things, especially in regards to food & not keeping Shabbos. Other behaviors shouldn’t be discussed whatsoever!


  14. Jeff, you said above “Children respect truth & can see through lies immediately.”

    I’m sorry if I inferred the wrong thing.

  15. Hi Bob,

    I never said “lying”. I said “hiding”.

    Of course there are some aspects of our pasts we would never share with our children (Baruch Hashem).
    Whenever we are hungry and drive or walk past a McDonald’s, Burger King or yes, even a Taco Bell, I comment on how wonderful the food smells, and that it tastes almost as good.
    That always turns into a tiny lesson about kashrus.
    Now, when they are invited to b-day parties of non-frum friends (OMG, yes we still associate with these people), they are much stronger in their beliefs & understanding about why they aren’t eating the seemingly identical pizza pie everyone else is having.


  16. I certainly don’t advocate telling the children everything I did before we became observant (oy vey!) but my 5 year old is already very aware that her grandparents are not observant and has already put together that since they are my mommy and tatty they raised me in their home. These conversations are bound to happen and I think being open and sometimes proactive about the past is usually the way to go (keep in mind I said USUALLY).

    Just my 2 cents, probably about what its worth.

  17. Living in Jerusalem, I don’t think that my children have ever been in a store that sells non-Kosher food. Although they have asked me, “Abba did you ever eat…?”

  18. “Even then, if there is any chance that the child could broadcast this information where it doesn’t belong, the child should be (nicely! with explanation!) cautioned against this in advance. ”

    Oh, was there a problem with the friendly clerk at Whole Foods knew that the customer standing in front of him ate clams years ago?

    And if there is indeed a community of people who would look down on a BT because it came out that said BT ate clams years ago, then the problem is with that community’s morals and values, not the formerly-eating-clams-BT or that BT’s son who spilled the beans (clams?).

  19. My vote is that absolutely you are teaching your son the right lesson – in fact, I remember years ago my daughter coming home from Bais Yaakov and telling me virtually the identical message about not saying treif isn’t eaten because it doesn’t taste good, but rather, because we are commanded not to. Think about it, if all treif foods tasted awful, would it really be an accomplishment not to eat them anymore? Like who’d regret giving up brussels sprouts, if they had to? This was a wonderful chinuch moment.

    Many years ago I heard a Rav speak (and how I wish I remembered who it was) about the “danger” BT’s have in childrearing. That sometimes they’re so eager to show how they’re now 100% kosher that they overdue the chinuch on their children, with everything from “that” world be usser and awful. The Rav’s point was that life is a delicate balancing act, and a child who feels stifled is more likely to rebel as they hit their teens. I’m really paraphrasing here, but maybe someday will try to formulate this better for a post.

  20. I think it’s important to note that most Baalei Teshuva today are actually Tinokot Shenishbu so the above Rambams may apply differently or not at all. Rabbi Welcher gave a Shabbos HaGodol drasha on this Rambam and it’s obviously much more complex than a simple reading would indicate.

    What a parent should tell his child of course is dependent on the parent, the child and the particular situation. Clearly Akiva was not making a general statement, but just relating how in this circumstance, revealing that part of his past was beneficial to the chinuch of his child.

  21. Yasher Koach on an awesome Kiddush Hashem, to show your son that Torah trumps our material desires.

    You are a great dad, and may your son grow up to be a well-rounded non-judgmental Torah follower who’ll be able to reach out, speak & relate to all the Jews out there who are still in the dark about Hashem & mitzvos.

    I totally disagree with the above posts about hiding our pasts. Children respect truth & can see through lies immediately. Creating that bond with one’s children is irreplaceable and will result in untold spiritual riches in the future.

    Keep doing what you’re doing!

  22. Avakesh is onto something here. Inevitably, if only through family relationships, everyday conversation, or whatever, a child will come to know if a parent is a BT. It’s necessary in some cases to talk this over, but only up to a point. There is no need to regale the child with war stories from our past, unless a necessary moral lesson can be drawn. Even then, if there is any chance that the child could broadcast this information where it doesn’t belong, the child should be (nicely! with explanation!) cautioned against this in advance.

  23. This may not please some readers but it is better for children to know less of their parents BT history, and certainly that their father ate and enjoyed clams. I don’t advocate supressing this fact but every interaction with cildren is a “chinuch” moment. At this age, the forbidden must be impossible. When you tell children that the most important person in their life used to eat clams you impact on their sense of self as religious Jews who will never, ever eat trief.

    Certainly, this is so if you want to incalculate an abhorrence of treif that would accompany them through the trials of life and not legitimize it as a matter of choice.

    Besides, we do not tell a BT: “Remember your original actions” (Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah 7:8). This statement is not qualified. That applies to any BT, even oneself.

    That does not, again, mean that you supress. It means that you do not express pride in being SO far and coming so far.

    In Hilkhot Teshuvah (2:8, based on Yoma 86a), the Rambam rules that even after one repents for sins, and is forgiven for them, one should do Teshuvah for these same transgressions every Yom Kippur. This means you must remind yourself every year, over and over again, of your old sins. It is verbalizing them and touting them as a badge of honor that I think is incorrect.

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