Tensions in Dealing With Non Observant Friends and Relatives

In every mitzvah, there are inherent tensions that make the mitzvah difficult. Slogans like “Just Don’t Speak Loshon Hora” , “Just Have Emunah”, “Always Treat Your Spouse with Honor and Respect” don’t work because there are factions that make Loshon Hora, Emunah and Shalom Bayis difficult. The key is to identify the tensions so that you can deal with them.

Here are some of the tensions in dealing with non-observant friends and relatives:

– You think they’re missing out by not performing Mitzvos
– They think you’re a fanatic in your fulfillment of Mitzvos.

– You’re giving up some physical pleasures for spiritual pleasure.
– They think you are missing out on so much fun in life.

– You think it’s important to keep distance between the sexes and to watch your language.
– They think you’re a puritan.

– You would love them to perform an occasional mitzvah here and there.
– They think you are out to convert them to Orthodoxy.

– You’re happy that you have found a Torah observant way of life.
– They think that you think that you’re better than them.

What are some of the other tensions?

What are some ways to deal with these tensions.?

15 comments on “Tensions in Dealing With Non Observant Friends and Relatives

  1. To Albany Jew #3
    You forgot the 3rd category; those who ask questions just to ask, are not truly interested but want to come for Shabbat or YT to “see how it’s done” and observe your family like some kind of exhibit in a museum.
    It’s downright insulting.
    In the spirit of dan lekaf zechut, I’ve fallen for this but don’t subject my family to it any more. There are so many frum singles & divorced moms & dads who need a Shabbat or YT meal, so we have started to focus more on them.

  2. Nobody changed us into baalei teshuvah, we changed ourselves. Similarly, nobody can change a hardcore foulmouth (and there are Shomrei Shabbat among them) but the speaker of profanity CAN change himself or herself. Such people have the same potential to change as a person with any other negative trait.

    The important question is: WILL that person change? If that doesn’t happen,then, as Nathan (#7) and Judy (#14) suggest, it would be time to distance ourselves from the foulmouth.

    Those who wish to refine their speech and learn effective ways to deal with other people’s improper speech may wish to join:

    You’ll receive a daily e-mail with helpful items from Ora K in Israel.

  3. Nathan, I agree with you 100%. Some relationships are so toxic that it’s best to stay far, far away. It’s like the difference between a lapdog and a skunk. The lapdog makes a valuable companion. The skunk is just going to spray you with atrociously smelly stuff if you come close. A person whose mouth spouts poisonous words is worse than a skunk spraying stink scent. You can’t change a skunk and you can’t reform a hardcore foulmouth.

  4. Kudos to Ben Moshe. Although exaggerated, that type of interaction is very typical.

    As a BT of 30 years, I have always downplayed any issues that divide us from our not yet frum relatives. I feel that if a family has mutual respect for each other, a lot of the uncomfortable feelings are diminished. We have taught our kids to set a good example with good middos and make a kiddush Hash-m with the relatives. People generally are impressed by the carefulness of our speech, kibud av v’em and other mitzvos that involve interpersonal relations.

    My (traditional) mother used to complain when we were strict about kashrus, mixed swimming etc. She did not understand why it was so important. After nursing her through a difficult illness, and seeing how helpful, respectful and unjaded our children are, she is now singing the praises of our lifestyle. Ironically, she herself has started to think about life more deeply and has started to learn some Torah herself!

  5. Look at this way. Every year from Thanksgiving on in the US is euphemistically referred to as the ‘holiday season” and one sees articles about the associated stresses of preparing meals, hostng an otherwise atomized family that rarely is together , etc. Yet, every Shabbos and YT, we do it on a weekly basis .

  6. Lisa Aiken, PhD has written a superb book entitled “The Baal Teshuvah Survival Guide” which offers approaches to these and other issues facing the BT as well as FFBs in their understanding of BTs. I think that it is must reading on this and similar issues.

  7. What about relatives who speak crude, disgusting, obscene words at least 200 times a day every day, and can not speak for more than 30 seconds without nivul peh? This is in addition to very frequent: screaming, insults, onaas devarim, lashon hara, kefira, insulting Torah scholars, etc, etc?

    Some relationships are not worth maintaining. Sometimes the only way is to stay far away, forever.

  8. The BT is leading a DIFFERENT life than the non-observant friend or relative.

    The BT is leading a BETTER life than the BT formerly led.

  9. I am very grateful that most of our (me and my wife) families and friends have fallen into category 1 (This includes all the Grandparents B”H) Some 2s have moved into category 1, and some 1s have taken on mitzvahs!!! I don’t really deal with the rigid 2s so much except for large family events (rare) and some friends have faded from view (sad, but it probably would have happened anyway with our move 8 years ago)

  10. AJ, in your experience, do you find the majority of people falling into 1) or 2) or evenly divided?

  11. One thing I notice about the observant vs non-observant conversation are that there are AT LEAST two types:

    1) The not-so-interested for themselves but genuinely curious – although they feel things like Shabbos, Kashurus, etc seem restictive, you can really have a constructive conversation with them and they are open to considering your viewpoint. (it is pretty good when friends and family fall here)

    2) The anti-observant – these conversations are often tinged with anger and resentment (they often have blogs as well) with the person just waiting to shoot your point down and most conversations here are a waste of time. It usually becomes clear which type you are talking to pretty fast and disengagement is a good strategy.

  12. Remember that to the BT’s family, the BT is the one who has changed. The BT doesn’t have to justify his or her lifestyle, but it’s natural for the relatives to be surprised by the changes, and to make some tactless comments.

    And it’s often difficult for recent BTs to moderate their responses.

    You would love them to perform an occasional mitzvah here and there.
    – They think you are out to convert them to Orthodoxy.

    Well, at some level, isn’t it true that the BT would like to convert them to Orthodoxy?

    – You’re happy that you have found a Torah observant way of life.
    – They think that you think that you’re better than them.

    In many cases, isn’t this true as well? Doesn’t the BT feel that he or she is living a better life than the non-frum relative? And is every frum Jew on the level not to feel superior to the non-frum?

  13. Picture a conversation between two non-observant friends or relatives. I will call them A and B.

    A: “I adhere to a very strict diet: low fat, low carbs, low sugar.”
    B: “Wow. You have incredible will-power.”

    A: “Every Saturday morning the guys and I play football in the park, and then we go out for beers.”
    B: “You must really enjoy the cameraderie.”

    A: “I get up every morning 2 hours before work to jog and to exercise at the gym.”
    B: “I admire your discipline.”

    Now picture a conversation between a frum Jew and a non-frum friend or relative:

    A: “I adhere to a strictly Kosher diet.”
    B: “What do you mean, you can’t eat my cooking??!!”

    A: “Every Saturday I pray with my community in the synagogue. Then we go to each other’s homes for a delicious meal with family and friends.”
    B: “How can you give up your weekends that way???!!!”

    A: “I get up every morning 2 hours before work to study and pray.”
    B: “You are a religious fanatic.”

    Of course, I am exaggerating, and I don’t mean to imply that all interactions with non-observant friends and relatives are this black-and-white or this adversarial, G-d forbid. However, I am amazed at how often the values of diversity, tolerance, multiculturalism, coexistence, etc. that so many non-frum Jews advocate seem to go out the window when dealing with frum friends and family.

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