How Would You Navigate this Family Kiruv Situation

Hi guys,

I was wondering if any BBT readers have advice about what I should do regarding my 13 year old cousin. She has made quite a few steps towards becoming frum, and now her mother (my aunt) is sabotaging her.

The other day, my aunt forced her to try on and purchase a pair of jean pants, and told my cousin that she has to wear them to a school dance (with both boys and girls in attendance). This is after pulling my cousin out of a Orthodox day school because she was concerned that my cousin was becoming “too extreme.”

I’d like to support her, but at the same time, I don’t want to over step and make her home life more stressful than it is.

What do you think I should do in this situation?


37 comments on “How Would You Navigate this Family Kiruv Situation

  1. Bowing to the parents’ anti-halachic wishes in the early teenage years can lead the child so off the path as to make return take years, if it ever happens. The only question is what strategy of resistance is most halachically acceptable and also practical.

  2. I think you should go for the long term.

    Tell the girl that she should not insist too much now, and that she can do whatever she wants once she is 18 and financially independent.

  3. Tal,
    Jeans is not part of any hardcore halachic process.Compare the most provocative Jeans to the skin tight leaf outfit, the first outfit known to mankind.its important to keep in mind that it was manufactured by Gd,(the registered owner of the originál halacha trademark ),for Eve in the Garden

    I definitely agree with your “within the guidelines we understand” point. But I think the way halacha is generally taught and flaunted, in many different settings/venues is inherently flawed to the core.
    Feverishly  flawed in fact.
    In order to fix this, the whole concept of “understanding halacha” needs an extra extra extreme makeover.
    Starting with the messy mixings of hashkafah and halachah ,two  concepts that can be the ruin of each other when mixed in the wrong way.
    As for the poseik concept, I guess the first question is what exactly is a “poseik” and what needs to be done in order to qualify as a “Poseik”.
    Learned Poseiks should have life savvy Para-Poseiks, so that important legal decisions that are not intentionally “filed under seal”, are published or filed in some public database.This would ensure better press treatment on a global level.
    And halacha lovers all around the world will benefit from this too in a nuanced way.There is nothing like good case law to make someones day or argument.
    Bais Dins should also hire Para-Dayan-ettes to assist with the documenting of the cases/issues/angles argued/ rulings being argued so that everyone has actual facts and current case law to argue halachah with and compare to ancient case law.
    It’s fascinating how ancient case law gets misconstrued, misread and misquoted.
    So if one works long enough as a Para-Poseik can one take the “Poseik” exam without going to yeshiva school. How about a Para-Dayanette, can they judge the facts and the judges  a little too ? (How awesome and fun would that be, judging the Judges)
    These should be really fun new for the sake of G-d weekend and Holiday religious activities.

    Certain states accept law firm work experience ie: Paralegal/Legal assistant and do not require actual law school attendance in order to take the bar exams.
    So given that as a female, I cannot become an orthodox rabbi, nor can I afford to take a year long sabbatical and relocate to far away lands to learn,  maybe if I work long enough as a Para-Poseik or Para Dayan-ette I will qualify to take the Poseik or Dayan exam.

    What does “much better counsel” have to do with a poseik?
    Social Workers/Psychologists and Poskim are two distinctly different career paths.
    In order to be a really nuanced astute and sharp self poseik one needs to differentiate between feelings/the spiritual logic they’ve grown up or down on/common sense/ and the logic that governs halacha.
    Halacha doès not always feel good and is hardly the averáge mister nice guy from Ohio or Chicago Its not the same logic and reasoning. Heartfelt feelings are often not part of the halachic reasoning process.

    My main Point is Hashkafá and halacha just ruin each òther sòmetimes.

  4. Of course I know you weren’t trying to be precise. Still, I figured that the use of such terminology for distinguishing between valid and sloppy halachic counsel should be nipped in the bud.

    Now why ask abt TWO adjectives?

    As for identifying non-poskim, I really think we should steer clear of labels. A Poseik is a unique gift from Above and all others should be appreciated for their relative knowledge, each according to the context. Some non-scholarly lay-Yidden give much better counsel than the biggest Chachomim.

    It’s all abt Yiras shomaym and tmimus in contrast to to the common association with “professionalism.”

  5. I only used the term professional to contrast it with Ron’s use of the word amateur.

    But now that you mention it, what two adjectives would one use to contrast the psak of a lay person and a posek?

  6. Professional Poskim is also an interesting term! It goes together with the Armchair and Amateur adjectives. There simply aint no creature.

    The truth of psak is that it emerges out of a very non-calculating reality. It’s more like a supremely educated, intuitive estimation which one is forced to offer when others can’t do so for themselves… which we say, in retrospect, once it’s become accepted by the Klal, is divinely ordained.

    A certain Rebbe once told me, after insisting that I turn to one of his Chossidim for a Psak and not him, that he once spent weeks in search of a Psak for himself and at the end was sure it wouldn’t be relevant to others!

    So yes, Mark, I would say that we must “pasken” plenty of questions for ourselves as well as clarify general “psakish” guidelines for others in similar situations. But NEVER make it a profession!

  7. Amateur poskim is an interesting term, when in fact we have to pasken questions for ourselves on a regular basis.

    Does anybody know of any good professional posek who has the time to pasken how to proceed in every conversation or every situation we will face?

    Would Hashem expect us to ask every question of a posek if he was in fact available? Or are there certain questions which should be asked and others that we need to pasken within the guidelines we understand?

  8. Well, my point was that this is exactly the type of discussion that needs to be had when we amateur poskim weigh in on a delicate question such as this one. The comment I was referring to made it seem as if this were a much simpler matter.

  9. Tal — thanx for the direct address. Now let’s get things clear.

    First, I believe we’d all agree that if this young maideleh could easily turn to a Poseik, our author would not be turning to us.

    Secondly, halavai that every time a BT would find himself in the gray zone there’d be Poskim to bail us out! It’s not just for this quiet little 13 yr old. There are MANY BT’s in situations that simply don’t allow for finding refuge by counseling with a particualr Poseik or adopting a particular derekh.

    This is not to say that she shouldn’t be encouraged to do so. But it’s quite likely that even if one would be available, it could traumatize, as not every Poseik or derkh is willing / capable of putting themselves in the emotional shoes of the BT.

    Furthermore, I assume that more of such gray-zone dillemmas are awaiting our young teen over the next few years. So why not begin to enlighten her with a few klalim?

    As per the example you bring from Rav Ovadia. it’s quite known that as much as it’s a problem to wear levush normally associated with the other gender, it’s a MUCH bigger problem to wear that which inherently provokes. There’s a similar issue of course with head coverings, tho it’s more complex.

    Bottom line: Let’s make it clear to this stuggling young BT and many more like her who might be reading these threads that there are some general guidelines that are wise to begin with.

    ONE — kibbud horim,as much as possible, until outright, full aveiros are involved, chv”sh.

    TWO — the main thing with women’s levush is not to be provocative.

    THREE — build up a gradual, respectful self education on Halacha (until the point that you can rely on a Poseik or derekh) in which ideally you include your parents. Explain that you are simply seeking to be a RESPONSIBLE Jew.

  10. yy — your first post did not concern me. Clearly, no matter what the girl does, she has to maintain a respectful attitude towards her parents, in this case her mother.

    Your second post does. “My pt was that if this young seeker of Ratzon H’ could contain her tension with her Mom to a concession to wear Jeans (tho of course not the provocative type), then she’d undoubtedly be gaining more zechuyos than losing.” I am sorry, but this is not how halakhic decisions are made.

    It is not up to the girl to make a “concession” on one halakha, so that she can gain “zechuyos” on a different mitzvah.

    When there is a tension between different halakhos, that is when you need a poseik to weigh the different aspects of the shayloh, and the person’s situation to arrive at a decision.

    Menachem — “you have to know that in this situation there is an INCREDIBLE amount of halachic flexibility when it comes to kibud av v’em and shalom bayis.”

    This is of course true. I did not suggest that there is a simple, “by the book” answer. But I do disagree with the assertions that (1) there is barely anything ossur about a woman wearing jeans and (2) that there is an aspect of zizul horim u’morim for the girl not to listen to her mother in this situation.

    In the end, all of the considerations have to be weighed by a competent poseik. He might well conclude that, in this situation, the girl should give in temporarily to appease her mother. But the question needs to be asked.

    (I am reminded of a teshuva of R. Ovadiah Yosef about a girl’s school principal, this was some time ago, who asked whether it was better for the girls to wear pants or mini-skirts. First, R. Ovadya answered, the question is not which is better but which is worse. He then answered that if the school had no choice, it should prefer pants over mini-skirts.)

  11. Do you guys who are trying to pasken this “by the book” understand what it’s like to move toward frumkeit as a child?

    Having been through it, with B”H very accommodating parents, you have to know that in this situation there is an INCREDIBLE amount of halachic flexibility when it comes to kibud av v’em and shalom bayis. (All the more so with not-so-accommodating parents.)

    Steve’s advice is really the best. Get her in touch with NCSY as they are really best equipped to properly guide her and to know if she’s truly ready.

  12. Tal – I hope you’re not putting me in that arm chair! I find it a sad drawback of such threads when someone throws out a critique of the comments of others without allowing for a straightfoward discussion. Whomever you meant, please be more specific.

    As for the issue, could it be that on this one Ben-David and I have an opportunity for working together?? My pt was that if this young seeker of Ratzon H’ could contain her tension with her Mom to a concession to wear Jeans (tho of course not the provocative type), then she’d undoubtedly be gaining more zechuyos than losing.

    This is far from Tal’s concern abt following an Apikorus-parent “in every life decision” or violating clear-cut Halacha.

    And this is coming from someone who knows a bit about the Halachas of levush.

  13. I’m a newcomer here and just wondering… If the opposite was the case, i.e. mom forcing her daghter to wear modest dresses to a girls-only melavah malkah, would y’all “arm-chair poskim” here be as laiseze faire, or rather up in arms?…

  14. My mother gifted me with “sexy” dresses well into my 20s. I don’t know that it’s all that unusual. She wanted me to “fit in” and, when I was older, to attract someone to marry. Attending a “normal” social function like a dance could be seen in the same light.

    This mother isn’t crazy; she’s just trying to give her daughter the kind of life she thinks is right. Maybe it would be easier for the daughter if someone helped her look at this as an attempt, however misguided, to help her child have a “normal” life.

    If you can manage to defuse the anger this situation is creating, it will only strengthen your relationship with both mother and child. Demonstrating that you understand where she is coming from, even though you see things differently, shows that you are not a “brainwashed” person and might help her develop a more favorable opinion of orthodox Judaism. She might just lighten up if she can see that, with you as an example, she doesn’t have to worry about her daughter becoming brainwashed!

  15. As far as the non-halakhic dimensions of the question, someone, preferably a neutral grown-up, should take the mother aside and talk to her. They could share the following story I recently heard from a friend of mine:

    My fried is a long-time BT. His mother is not. Although there originally was some tension about his adopting Orthodoxy, they now have a close relationship. (Helped, no doubt, by the fact that he married and gave her four grandchildren.)

    Anyway, he told me that once she was helping out with her baby granddaugter and changing her diaper. The grandmother — who is not herself Orthodox — leaned over her baby granddaughter, kissed her, and said, “I love so much that you are Orthodox! No man will ever touch your body unless he puts a ring on your finger first!”

  16. I must join Ron’s sentiments. I am dismayed at the number of arm-chair poskim who have taken it on themselves to pasken the halakhic ramifications of this question.

    Here is a newsflash. Kibbud Av Ve Em does NOT mean that one has to listen to one’s parent in every life decision. The Shulkhan Arukh expressly says that one may ignore one’s parent’s wishes in deciding, for example, whom to marry or where to learn.

    That applies doubly so when the parent requests the child to violate a halakha — there is no obligation to listen to the parent. And that is the case whether we are talking about a deoraysa, a derabbanan or a minhag yisroel. It is simply not “zilzul horim u’ morim” for the child to ignore the parent’s wishes in this situation. (Of course, one must still speak respectfully to the parent, that’s a different issue.)

    AFAIK, the universal custom among Orthodox women in this country is not to wear pants. That gives it a status of Das Yehudis, at least. (I assume we are not talking about shorts.) The girl’s mother is asking that she violate Das Yehudis. I don’t see any obligation that she has to listen to her mother’s request.

  17. Why should this girl be counseled to do an aveira (zilzul horim u-morim) when there is no clear-cut mitzvah involved in not wearing pants?

    And the aveirah of zilzul horim u-morim in this situation is “clear cut”?

    I guess the clearness of a cut depends on the bias in the lumber.

  18. Yes, I know mixed dances for 13-year-olds have been around for a long time. They certainly were in my day. Thank G-d my mother was wise enough and tolerant enough to let me hang out in the woods catching crayfish and not to think there was anything wrong or backward about that.

    Again, frumkeit aside, a lot has been written in the past 20 years of the harm done by pushing children into premature sexual maturity.

  19. Sorry for just now responding to all the great advice. I had a very busy day at work…

    Does it sound weird and extreme to anybody else here that a mother would be REQUIRING her 13-year-old daughter to attend a mixed dance? I mean, halachic issues aside, this is more than a little pushy.

    Uh…yeah! I think my aunt is going off the deep end. She actually nixed a dress my cousin wanted to wear to her bat mitzvah as “too modest” and “frumpy.” What kind of crazy parent gets mad when their kid does NOT want to show too much skin!? Most parents would be thrilled that their beautiful 13 year old doesn’t want to wear mini skirts. Honestly, outside of the anti-Orthodox issue going on, I think my aunt wants to compete with my cousin a bit. It drives my aunt nuts that my cousin has basically said, “sorry, I’m not interested in attracting men/boy’s attention.”

    Fern – any chance that you could get the mother to let up on the ‘must go’ ‘must wear’ etc.? Are you in a position to help her see that forcing a teenager to do anything in particular could deteriorate their relationship?

    At this point, I am sticking with the line, “if you argue with her (my cousin) about this, you’ll just make her dig in. Just count your blessings that you’re not fighting with her over bad grades or drugs.” I feel as if I blatantly side with my cousin, my aunt will feel more defensive. I’m trying to point out that this isn’t that big of a deal, but I don’t know how successful I am being.

    My aunt thinks that if my cousin becomes Orthodox, she’ll give up on her plans to go to college and get married when she is 18 and have 20 kids before she is 30. I’ve been telling her about plenty of people I know of that are Orthodox and have college educations (I even told her about Rabbi Twersky, who is a doctor in addition to being a Rabbi). Heck, she even knows of Orthodox Jews that are college educated. Many of the Rebbeim at my cousin’s former day school had college degrees and the dean had a PhD from a local, highly regarded secular university. But I don’t think my aunt is thinking rationally.

    There is an issue of honoring her parents and she will have to sort out what she is willing to do to honor her parents and which mitzvot she will follow against their will. IMHO, her mother is making a terrible mistake forcing her to wear jeans or go to a dance- pushing people like this makes them stronger in their own resolve.

    I have reminded my cousin that she has to honor her parents, and that it is in her best interest not to make the next five years of her life miserable by fighting with her mother constantly. That she needs to find ways to grow and learn without being disrespectful. And I have also pointed out to my aunt that she is just making my cousin dig in by constantly fighting with her about skirts, etc. Mostly, I do stay out of it though. I work in my family’s business, with my aunt (and mother, uncle and grandfather), so I hear about what is going on between my aunt and cousin quite often. Mostly because my aunt tells me directly about her latest attempts to reverse my cousin’s “brainwashing.”

    Just make a kiddush Hashem. Show the girl and her mom the Torah is Deracheha Darchei Noam (that the way of Torah is pleasant). If you butt heads with her mom over this it will just make Yiddishkeit (via you) look bad in her eyes.

    This seems to be the general tone of the advice I’ve gotten here and off line. I think you guys are right. As I’ve mentioned above, I work with my aunt, and she talks to me about this issue a lot. I try to be funny and say, stuff like, “you should be thankful that all you have to fight about is whether her skirt is too long.” What do you think I should say when directly confronted by my aunt? Is what I have been saying the right thing to do, or is there a better way to handle it?

  20. From the perspective of a 13 year old, it’s the end of the world to be forced to wear jeans, go to dances, not being able to open the fridge on Shabbos b/c her mother replaced the bulb/pulled off the tape, having to use the bathroom in the dark on Shabbos afternoons b/c her mother refused to even leave a night light on, being told if she goes out on Shabbos to not expect to be able to get back in if she won’t take a key (I’m pulling from my own experiences here, except I was 16, and we lived outside the eruv so the key was a real issue if my parents went out Saturday night) but it’s temporary. And yes, my mother actually did force me to wear jeans too, but at a younger age. By 13 and especially by 16 she had kind of given up on choosing my clothes for me.

    But anyway, you do what you can, you try not to rock the boat at home too much, and then eventually you go away to college or move out and get a job, and they can’t force their ideas down your throat anymore, and you can begin to rebuild your relationship.

    My father was always very supportive, but I think my mother took everything personally. She really felt that if I insisted on doing things differently, I must be judging her and confining her to an eternal hell in the afterlife (like I make that decision!) We get on pretty well now.

  21. now people — is this really the time to reveal the nitty gritty of our first dates? I mean, imageries of “Leave it to Beaver” might just blow this blog’s kashrus license!

    ; }

    But in all seriousness,surely there is an explosive issue here of mom-daughter power plays. I hope I understood BD well enough to think he agrees that THE Mitzvah of the hr is Kibud Em, which takes precedence over jean-chumras. Yet if she’s seriously interested in ratzon H’, she’ll need to learn out the parameters of basic Halachas which she’ll have to eventually stand up for. And of course — the art of davening can be perfected during many quiet pockets in her schedule.

    To help her straddle these fine lines, Fern, is true, mature Kiruv

  22. As someone who became frum as a young teenager, I can very much relate to this post and it brings back painful memories of my father forcing me to desecrate Shabbos. I like alot of the suggestions above. Fern, you should be supportive of your young cousin and available. At the same time, encourage her to be very respectful of her parents and show her how a striving to be frum daughter acts. For example, if you see dishes in the sink, surprise her and wash them up. The garbage overflowing, take out the trash! Clean up your room, fold the laundry, walk the dog, etc. etc….
    Once the mother will see that religion has brought her closer to her mother instead of distancing her, maybe the mother won’t be so alarmed that her kid is becoming a religious fanatic.
    This is what my Rov told me to do and it worked!
    Also, daven for your cousin that she should have the strength to pursue her hearts true desire, yiddishkiet.

  23. My first public school “mixed dance” was in 7th grade (1982-83). Although my parents made me take dance lessons a year earlier. This was the “in thing” for all the Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids in my traditional congregation.

    If she’s not yet involved, I’d suggest NCSY if that’s an option. This way you’re yotzai the “3rd party”. Just being involved with the girl (calling or emailing erev Shabbos)you can have an influence on her.

  24. Just make a kiddush Hashem. Show the girl and her mom the Torah is Deracheha Darchei Noam (that the way of Torah is pleasant). If you butt heads with her mom over this it will just make Yiddishkeit (via you) look bad in her eyes.

    You guys really think 13 is too young for a school dance? They were doing it when I was that age and judging by reruns of Leave it to Beaver, they were doing a long before that.

    Besides, didn’t any of you play spin the bottle at Bar Mitzvah parties?

  25. I think most of the suggestions are great. Fern, you wrote that your cousin has taken “a few steps towards becoming frum”.
    It’s probably best (w/o know exactly what mitzvos/outward aspects of Torah observance) to just let her stick to what she is doing. Switching out of an Orthodox day school into a school where her religious view alone is a social barrier is difficult enough, aside from being the “new kid” at school.
    Just being there for her and listening to her will be a big source of chizuk. The odds are that in the end her mother will turn to you for advice.

  26. I would not interfere too much at this age either, except to let her know that she can call you if she needs support or wants to talk torah. She can always pack a skirt in her purse :), go with girlfriends, and hang out with them on the far fringes. (And yes, I find it very strange that her mother is insisting on attending this dance, of all things!!!) Just daven that she keeps her avodas hashem and finds her way.

  27. Leave it alone. Support the girl and her growth, but this is not your place. There is an issue of honoring her parents and she will have to sort out what she is willing to do to honor her parents and which mitzvot she will follow against their will. IMHO, her mother is making a terrible mistake forcing her to wear jeans or go to a dance- pushing people like this makes them stronger in their own resolve. And you don’t want to risk your relationship with your aunt. You’ll need to figure out a way to help your cousin’s growth while respecting her mother’s (and your aunt’s) wishes.

  28. like so many other situations, i can’t help but think this is more about control than it is about judaism. the same dynamic could be manifesting itself in other things – mom wants control, wants dear daughter to put out a certain image, tow the family line etc…and a 13 year old with a mother who is in this mode is conflicted by her need to “be a good girl” by accepting mom’s “guidance” and, on the other hand, her need to assert herself and her own feelings/values etc.

    i think that in this power struggle, the only thing you really can do aside from ilana yehudis’ suggestion that you hook her up with an outside mentor, is just drop small, reassuring suggestions to your cousin acknowledging the fact that she is her own person, with her own judgment, and that she will eventually figure out how to do what she needs to do while making some sort of peace with mom.


  29. I’m with Shunamit – 13? Although I would tend to guess there’s a lot of random mixing and socializing and not much dancing.

    And as much as I’m horrified at the mother’s insistence, I can see where a ‘threatened’ and therefore not-quite-sane parent (think of a trapped animal) would go overboard and think they are in the right. For all that there are halachic questions about pants, they aren’t the primary issue here.

    Fern – any chance that you could get the mother to let up on the ‘must go’ ‘must wear’ etc.? Are you in a position to help her see that forcing a teenager to do anything in particular could deteriorate their relationship? Skirts and Shabbos were not very much in my conscious awareness at 13, but I would have been completely freaked out if my parents had ‘made’ me go to a school dance. No boys in that school I was interested in, for starters. And I was SO not ready to date, even in the secular sense.

    If you aren’t in a position to reason with your aunt, maybe see how your cousin feels about it? Suggest that if she’s going anyway, she may want to try to get a group of girl friends to go with? Remind her that she doesn’t *need* to dance – ladies room, drink in hand, etc. are good excuses, as well as mingling with whoever else just isn’t dancing.

    I’d say help her think through the issues and navigate, but if you get between her and her mom directly re: the observance issue, you’re liable to end up as everyone’s “bad guy”.

  30. How I wish the Rabbeim/kiruv organizations would answer this!

    Almost every BT knows what it means to walk that fine line between “saying nothing” or “doing something!” especially when dealing with relatives, whom we love. I have found that parents who are so opposed to their children’s growth lack information, information about what their children are so excited about and what their children are drawn to when becoming frum. ( Not to mention how threatened parents are etc… cf. pushing her daughter to wear jeans to a mixed party…ouch!)

    Here are 2 suggestions which you are probably doing already:
    1) try to find a neutral person who could “enlighten” the Mom about the joys of Torah, a person with whom the Mom can discuss her fears,
    2) and at the same time and I think this is critical, find an advocate/ally for your cousin. ( Not you!!) Someone to whom she can turn for support and aitzah, someone with daas Torah who can help her through what some of us know can be a very rocky and tumultuous journey.

    Yesher koach to this young woman…and may HaShem give her extra special siyatata d’shamaya to grow in simcha and shalom.

  31. Does it sound weird and extreme to anybody else here that a mother would be REQUIRING her 13-year-old daughter to attend a mixed dance? I mean, halachic issues aside, this is more than a little pushy.

  32. Why should this girl be counseled to do an aveira (zilzul horim u-morim) when there is no clear-cut mitzvah involved in not wearing pants?

    If your cousin is becoming more observant, she will eventually have to stand her ground/explain herself at parties and other venues. Last week I had to make an appearance at my company’s annual “pool party”. Comes with the territory.

    Use this as an opportunity to discuss those angles.

  33. Tell her the joke about the chromosone. How do you tell its gender? Look at the jeans….

    ‘ }

    Besides that, you’ve got a giant issue of kibud em here, besides the family politics. Perhaps find some subtle opportunities to praise her for her kibud em, noting that despite the tremendous nisayon this exposes her to (it’s not exactly an aveira), she’s still doing that crucial Mitzvah.


Comments are closed.