Ba’alei Teshuva Parents – FFB Kids (Part II)

Last week (click here), we left off discussing the distinctions between a mitzvah, minhag, chumrah, and something that is none of those three categories, but rather a cultural practice.

We gave some examples:

* Putting on tefilin every day is a daily mitzvah (a mandated commandment) incumbent upon all Jewish males above the age of thirteen.
* Wearing long(er) peyos is a minhag (custom).
* Not using an eiruv that has been approved by the vast majority of your city’s rabbonim is a chumrah (stringency) that many accept upon themselves.
* Wearing a black fedora is a cultural practice prevalent in some communities.

It is of utmost importance that you fully understand the difference between these categories of Jewish practice – in your personal life and especially as you guide your children. It may be helpful to think of these categories as spiritual “needs and wants.” Mitzvos are mandatory practices. Chumros need not be observed, especially when one is first beginning Torah observance.

If any of you needed convincing that the lines between mitzvah, minhag, and chumrah often get blurred, kindly read the first post to the previous column (click here), where a reader took me to task for misrepresenting a mitzvah as a chumrah. (As with so many other issues, these are not “ba’al teshuva issues,” these are issues we all face – that are compounded by the fact that many ba’alei teshuva find them all the more challenging.)

As we noted last week, the complexity of these issues only underscores the need to find and maintain contact with a Rov who understands you well and can guide your family with wisdom. (Click here for an article about seeking rabbinic advice.)

Maintain Ties With Your Family

I think it is very important for the stability of your family life and your level of personal menuchas hanefesh (tranquility) to maintain ties with your non-observant parents and in-laws. I am well aware that there are those who advise ba’alei teshuvah parents to sever their ties with non-observant family members for fear of confusing your children with the non-observance of extended family members. However, I think that this thinking is fundamentally flawed in theory and practice.

In theory, what kind of message does it send when you walk away from your parents and siblings once you begin Torah observance? Shouldn’t the Torah teach you an enhanced level of respect for your family members?

In practice, as it relates to your children, I think that severing relationships with your family robs your children unnecessarily of the unconditional love that grandparents have to offer. It will be difficult enough for them to watch their FFB-family friends celebrate their simchos with large extended family members. Why compound the pain by having them feel that they are rootless?

I would like to mention a final point on this subject – one that may not be evident at first glance. When you exhibit tolerance for family members, you are making a profound statement – that family bonds run deep and they override any differences that you may have with each other. Over the years, this unspoken lesson will serve your children well and enhance the respect that they will have for you. For you never know how things will turn out with your children. What if one of them decides to take a different path in life than the one you charted for him or her? If you send clear and consistent messages over the years that ‘family matters,’ that child will, in all likelihood, remain close to your family members. However, if you decided that spiritual matters are grounds for severing ties with parents and siblings, how do you know that this logic will not be used against you in a different context one or two decades down the road?

To be sure, there are many challenges that you will face regarding kashrus (kosher food requirements), tzniyus (modesty), and other matters. But they are very manageable provided that an atmosphere of mutual respect is created and nurtured. Over the years, I have attended hundreds of lifecycle events of ba’alei teshuvah where their non-observant family members were active and respected participants.

Find a Community and Schools for Your Children that are Tolerant and Understanding

It is of utmost importance that you find a community that will accept you with welcoming arms. That means one where you will not cringe with what-will-the-neighbors-think when your non-observant brother comes to visit. If you do feel that way in your community, you may not be in the right one.

As far as selecting schools is concerned, there too, see to it that the school’s educational philosophy is in general sync with yours. Often, I get calls from parents who are put off by certain policies (dress codes, media exposure regulations, etc) that their children’s schools maintain or the culture of the institution (What will the rebbi say about Thanksgiving, and does it match what you feel regarding that subject). And equally often, these guidelines were in place when the parents enrolled their children in the first place. One cannot blame a school for enforcing their stated policies.

Generally speaking, I think that ba’alei teshuvah parents should not enroll their children in Yiddish-teaching yeshivos. I am aware of the cultural reasons that people are inclined to do so, but in the case of ba’a’lei teshuvah, I think that this is simply bad practice – unless you are fluent in Yiddish yourself. It will be difficult enough to do Judaic studies homework with your children as they grow older without compounding matters by adding language barriers that will virtually guarantee that you will not understand what your child is learning, let alone be in a position to help him or her.

To sum up, when raising your FFB children, as with all other areas of life, follow the timeless advice of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and stay on ‘the golden path’ of moderation.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

21 comments on “Ba’alei Teshuva Parents – FFB Kids (Part II)

  1. It is very much enjoyable to read posts of Rabbi Horowitz. A lot of very good advices for people which many of them are my closest friends, namely Baaley Teshuva.

    One thing I disagree however with rabbi Horowitz and I hope since he is saying in many cases “I think” I may express my opinion.
    I do not see it necessarily for every Ball Teshuva to send their children to Yiddish speaking schools but I do not see any reason to advice not to.

    Concerns of Rabbi Horowitz are very understandable but it is individual issue and there is no general way for everybody.
    I know many BT whose children are learning in such yeshivas and it works well. In fact my own children learning in Chasidic yeshivas and not always they are the best in the class but my genius :) daughter for example speaks even few Yiddish accents.
    I speak only accent and my wife not even this:).

    I will not say that it happened without certain sacrifices but again there are gains and losses like everything in life.

  2. In resonse to the cooment by “I’m Jewish”. I suggest you start learning Hassidus. It was not until I started was I able to see the “full picture” instead of just the stringincies. The Yeshivish world consantrates too much on the stringencies and looking down on “watching T.V.” and the non-religious relative visiting that most of them miss the big picture and live in a world full of negativity unless you are a top Rabbi of a Kollel or Chinuch instition and receiving non-stop “brachas” and inclusion

  3. Michoel,

    No offense intended here either, and I agree with everything you said in your last post, I was just questioning why (in my own bad way) looking for a supportive community would be equated with being a crybaby. I don’t usually care about what others think, but (for example) if someone says something derogatory about my non-observant parents in front of my child I will quickly begin to care…….

  4. While, of course, it is important for FFB Jews to change their ways if they are offended by a non-frum Jew entering their neighbor’s home…Should a BT really stick it out in a horrible community just because they’re not the one with the problem? Come on, that seems silly!

    I’ve changed apartments because my neighbors were too loud. Should I have gone over there every day, pounded on their door and demanded that they turn their music down? Sometimes its just not worth it to sit around and wait for those around you to change.

    Not every community, Rabbi or Shul is ideal for a new BT, and to be honest, it seems kind of silly for BTs to demand or expect otherwise. That isn’t the way life works in any other aspect of living, so why should it be that way when it comes to religious matters?

  5. My point in that segment of the column was that the reality is that some communities have more shades of gray than others.
    some are more accepting than others.

    that is a fact of life.

    and it should be an important factor in deciding where to live.

  6. Albany,
    Maybe you made the common mistake of attributing to someone an entire life philosophy based on 1 line in a blog. I believe that regarding the Torah and the historic observant communit in high esteem helps kiruv. It gives people something to aspire to and value. I also believe that it is important for BTs to find a warm, friendly community. I am not a kiruv pro but I have done kiruv and with some very good results. I don’t know of anyone that I have turned off to Yiddishkeit and I know of a good number that I have positively influenced. No offence was intended.

  7. Michoel, I was just asking for a clarification. I agree with you that the frum community, that I have experienced, is Beyond Gevaldig. But at the same time there are areas that can stand improvement.

    I would sum up my attitude as evaluate the whole community by focusing on the positive, while at the same time trying to correct the negatives to whatever degrees possible.

    And as BTs, I believe we have a special vantage point of being able to help in the process of correcting the negatives.

  8. Hello Mark “Turn the discussion is a Positive direction” Frankel, :-}
    Yes, I agree with Rabbi Horowitz.

  9. Michoel

    Are you agreeing with Rabbi Horowitz that finding an accepting community is important? Or do you feel that it is not an issue and you should not factor that in when choosing a community?

  10. I particularly despise this “The frum world is so terrible, boo hoo hoo I am a poor BT” attitude. The frum world is GEVALDIG and it is a great honor and privilage to be part of it!

  11. Yes, Rabbi Horowitz has a point re communities, but it is also imperitive that BTs develope some backbone and learn to not care so much what others think. And in fact to not assume that they thinking so negatively. It is a normal (if not possitive) human reaction to be curious about others. I have a very frum neighbor who has stellar yichus even by FFB standards. When cousins of his came for a visit, I caught myself staring at this clearly not frum family.

  12. In our own shul experiences around the country (Long Island, Allentown, Metro Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis), we and our visiting family members were all received warmly.

  13. What difference does it really make to Hashem if you keep all the mitzvot and are frummer than frum, but point, whisper and stare at the non-observant sibling come to visit? It’s a classic not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees. Our goal is to please Hashem in how we treat other human beings. The current state of Orthodox Jewry appears more focused on stringency after stringency and overlooking the bigger picture.

  14. I’m with “I’m Jewish” on this one. And I think the number of large welcoming and accepting communities is dwindling.

    Hopefully Rabbi Horowitz will work on making his and all communities a welcoming and accepting place for all Jews with some committment to Torah.

    Integration into a community is one of the biggest problems facing BTs and many frum people (especially teenagers) as well.

    Although it is easy to place the onus on those having special issues with the integration, I think that the communities and their leaders have a great obligation to love, welcome and certainly not judge and reject their fellow Jews.

    In certain large communities, BTs feel a strong pressure to hide their past. Recommending that BTs not live in those communities instead of addressing the wrongful judgementalism prevalent in those communities seems a bit off the mark.

  15. This is a wonderful and long overdue series. Perhaps, R Y Horowitz should publish them all in a book form.

  16. A terrific post. I was particularly struck by: “It is of utmost importance that you find a community that will accept you with welcoming arms. That means one where you will not cringe with what-will-the-neighbors-think when your non-observant brother comes to visit. If you do feel that way in your community, you may not be in the right one.”

    I agree with Rabbi Horowitz’ point, but it also makes me wonder what kind of a society is Orthodox Jewry creating if indeed, the neighbors are going to point, stare and whisper when the non-observant brother comes to visit. I would submit the neighbors are the one with the problem, not the BT with the non-frum sibling.

  17. Thank you Rabbi Horowitz, for this series. I don’t even have children yet and I’m already worried that I won’t be able to adequately teach them everything they need to learn at home. Your guidelines have helped allay my worries.

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