BT Martyrdom: There’s Really A Name For It!

My personal life calendar operates around the great upheaval through my discovery of Yiddishkeit. If that is “year 1”, then 10BC (Before Change) was my Bar Mitzvah, and 5AD (After Discovery) was when I got married. This being the case, there were other notable events which had far reaching consequences as well. And, like they say, timing is everything.

In 2BC, my father was remarried, this time to a non-Jewish woman. I secretly would have preferred that he marry the Jewish woman he had been dating a few years back, but, alas, he decided this wasn’t to be. (She was quite upset, I happen to know.) Nevertheless, he’s my dad, so I celebrated with him in the Hall on the lake, and I wondered what was going through my grandmother’s mind as her siblings paraded around her. Perhaps it made no difference, since her husband, my grandfather, had done the same thing.

In 1BC, my brother, faithful to the ways of his avos, became engaged to a non-Jewish woman as well. A very nice lady, she was, and I congratulated him on his choice and wished him the best. However, as he was making his plans, my life went on, and the wedding wouldn’t be until 2AD.

In 1AD, my brother announced he was to be wed in a church (they liked the stained-glass windows, they said). Already I had a bad feeling about this, since in 8BC, I attended a cousin’s wedding in a church, and felt quite nauseous while sitting in there. (Perhaps it was that statue on the wall accusingly staring at me.) But now, more than ever, I was quite troubled. When I asked our local posuk about going into a church, he answered that he would think that if an Arab is chasing me with a knife it might be permissible, but probably not. The strong language was so I would get the picture.

In 2AD, life was so confusing. Despite knowing the direction I wanted to go, I still had so much to sort out. Did I really care if my brother married someone not Jewish? Really really? None of the terutzim regarding intermarriage sat well with me at that early stage, but I had to chose a derech…and stick with it. I understood what the rabbis say, and felt they were right, but what about my family?

I told my brother I wasn’t going. He thought I was joking…I wouldn’t be best man at his wedding?? I’ll skip the blood and gore…it was awful. Devastation doesn’t even come close. My father’s blood pressure became a steady 400/200. It was actually a relief when he stopped talking to me (although perhaps five years was overdoing it a bit.) My mother did understand to some extent, but cried anyway. And now, in 20AD, my brother still hasn’t said a word to me, despite numerous attempts to reach out.

My extended family was horrified. I could not help but think that this was some sort of chillul H-Shem, despite the rabbis telling me it was the opposite. But how could that be? What does my family think about orthodox Jews now? They’re not exactly running to their local kiruv center. How could I have answered my father’s main objection: “You danced at my wedding, didn’t you?! What happened since then?” See? Timing is everything.

I was alone. I just threw my family over a bridge. Goodbye family. And did the rabbis understand? I wondered. So there I was at 2AD, thousands of miles away and nothing to say. Looking back, I know that not going was the right thing. I bet, though, that it could’ve and should’ve been handled much differently, but that’s in the past. But what I didn’t know is that my whole experience had a name!

23 comments on “BT Martyrdom: There’s Really A Name For It!

  1. I don’t understand why this is so acceptable to people. The problem with BTs is that they’re very into their principles, but I always ask “are principles more important than people?” I don’t think so. It’s important to stretch for family. How far depends on timing (as Ross mentioned). I would ask “Did you keep all other mitzvot when you made this decision?”. There’s no point being stringent with family in 1 area when so much still needs to develop on a you-to-you or you-to-Hashem level. Build yourself before you can start showing to others where your boundaries are. It’s part of being tzniut (internal focus priority to external).

    It’s very different to pasken for a baal teshuva who is still finding their feet and “choosing” what they take on next, compared with someone who has been keeping most (can never be all) mitzvot for years.

  2. Its also permissible to attend a Catholic university bearing crosses.

    This one is obvious!! If not, how could all those nice bachurim with BTLs and no college get law degrees from Fordham??

  3. Mr. Cohen, I don’t recall the source. The permissibility of voting in a church got filed in my halachic fund of knowledge without a footnote. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe Feinstein might be one source, but I won’t take a shvua on it. I recall Aguda sending out annual notices, just before Election Day, about the important of voting, mentioning just this point. But, maybe, my recollection is wrong. Perhaps our rabbinic supervisors can help us out here. Its also permissible to be treated in a Catholic hospital adorned with crosses. Some frum patients will cover the cross in their room, some don’t, so as not to offend the staff. Its also permissible to attend a Catholic university bearing crosses. I don’t have footnotes for these statements either.

  4. It’s a heavy responsibility. What’s confusing is during the “crises” how one knows if your actions are really a Kiddish or Chillul. At the beginning stages when your mind is still working out the more basic issues, suddenly this comes crashing down. At that point, it’s not so easy to understand that if I follow a Rav, it’s a Kiddish H-Shem. I just see the rest of my intermarried family is pounding me with enraged “How DARE you”s, and everytime I open my mouth, it’s throwing kerosene on the fire.
    It’s too much for one to handle, but it does come with territory.

  5. FWIW, RYBS once pointed out that Avraham Avinu’s last test was seeing his cousins’ large family in the immediate aftermath of the Akeidah and not resenting the same. Like it or not, what we call BT Martyrdom comes with the territory, and how we manage it can either be a Kiddush or Chillul HaShem.

  6. Sometimes people are looking for a trigger/excuse – although that may have been more true in previous generations when the guilt was heavier.

    Nowadays the ignorance is so deep – and the drift from basic moral thinking so far – that much of authentic Judaism is simply incomprehensible.

    Both BTs and secular family members can misuse religious issues as emotional leverage, and to settle old scores.

  7. I find it strange that non-Orthodox Jews think that it is OK to eat treif, break Shabbos, intermarry, support homosexuality, etc, but then when a BT won’t come to their relative’s intermarriage etc, the non-frum relatives scream “that’s not what a good Jew would do!”
    I upset my family greatly by not going to my brother’s Reform wedding which was on the second day of yontif. They kept telling me “ask your rabbi, I’m sure he’ll say it’s OK.” Oddly enough, my brother got over it very quickly, but other family members bore a grudge much longer.

  8. Mr. Cohen, your points are well taken, but they actually serve as a good demonstration why each person should have a Rabbi with whom they consult on halachic issues and should consult with them bain l’kula bain l’chumra. In other words, we need poskim to tell us on a case by case basis as they arise both when we are are being to lenient and when we are being too strict (as the original poster stated that he did).

    There exist great Rabbis who have permitted entering a Church in various circumstances. Listing them won’t do any good as it is not a list of sources against a list of sources, it is an issue that needs to be decided for people such as me (and I think most who read this list) by a competent Rabbi on a case by case basis.

  9. Elliot Pasik (message 11) said:
    “You can go into a church to vote.”

    Elliot Pasik, I challenge you to prove that by providing a precisely sourced and easily verifiable quote from a widely accepted halachic authority.

    Christian missionaries who target Jews for conversion have converted hundreds of thousands of Jews. They would have much less success if only Jews would ** STAY AWAY ** from churches and missionaries.

    Unfortunately, many American Jews do not STAY AWAY from churches and missionaries, and the result is thousands of Jews converting to Christianity every year.

  10. Ok, well, I’ll try to address some of the comments here.

    Judy #4: “Those who really practice the ideals of love, respect and tolerance will make an effort to understand us.”

    I can say that in the small amount of time between when I became frum and when I informed them of my decision that my family, to some degree, was making an effort to understand what I was doing. But this was crossing way over the line, and much too suddenly. That’s why I said timing is everything. I see where they’re coming from.

    Eliot #5: “Who would think that human emotions would reach such a pitch that one brother would stop talking to another?”

    Well, actually I’m more surprised he didn’t beat the living daylights out of me. He has no connection to any idea of religion, and he was quite devestated.

    Belle #6: “I believe that people like Ross save us from other great suffering and are a zechus for our people.”

    I can’t imagine this is really true, but wow, did you make my week! Whenever I feel the need to smile, I’ll read this.

    Meir #7: “Mr. Kryger is leaving out something pretty important.”

    You can still call me Ross even though you think it’s my fault ;) Um, well, I have to really think if I did ask him to relocate. It’s possibe he brought it up, I’ll try to meditate on it. Now this is a whole question in itself, but even though I left this point out, it’s not so clear that this means I’m at fault. I hear your point though,…it’s a little touchy.

    To Elliot #11, I wanted to go to a local Family Search library, the ones which have information from the LDS people in Salt Lake City to do genealogy work. These libraries are disbursed in cities, but they are in buildings connected to their churches. There are no religious symbols in these buildings and they don’t try to convert you, etc. I still won’t go. I wouldn’t vote in a church either.

  11. There has to be schar for this in shamayim…..

    ChanaLeah, there is reward for it even in THIS world: in the joy of being part of a faith community, in the joy of having principles that you believe in, in the joy of a Shabbos or a Yom Tov meal, in the joy of dancing with friends at your children’s weddings. Even FFBs with large families have heartache, though their heartache may not be the same heartache as your heartache. (Many BTs can’t imagine that FFBs have anything other than an idyllic life, which is obviously untrue).

    We should try our best not to want what others have that Hashem hasn’t given us. The same goes for FFBs, obviously.

  12. The loss of family is a great struggle for our own children as well, when they go to yeshiva and find that their friends have large families that get together frequently for simchas and yom tovim. So we do our best to replace family with friends, with varying degrees of success. There has to be schar for this in shamayim…..

  13. May I remind everyone that Torah law prohibits Jews from entering churches:

    {1A} Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabat, page 149A, 7th line from bottom of page:

    It is forbidden to look at idols.

    {1B} Sefer Charedim, Chapter 22, Paragraph 3, page 106 of menukad edition:

    It is forbidden to look at images associated with idol worship…

    {2} Babylonian Talmud, tractate Megillah, page 15B, first of thickest lines on page:

    Rabbi Levi taught: When she [Queen Esther] arrived at the House of Idols, the Divine Presence [Shechinah] departed from her.

    {3} Minor Tractates of the Talmud, Avot DeRabbi Natan, Chapter 8, Paragraph 8:

    The camels of Abraham would not enter a house that contained idol worship.

    {4} Rashi on Shemot / Exodus, chapter 23, verse 13:

    It is forbidden to say to another:
    Wait for me next to such-and-such an idol.

    {5} Rashi on Devarim / Deuteronomy, Parshat Shoftim, chapter 18, verse 9:

    …teach your children: Do not do this, because it is the custom of Gentiles.

    EXPLANATION: Praying in a church is a custom of Gentiles.

    {6} First Tosefot on tractate Avodah Zarah, page 17B:

    A Jew must distance himself from a house of idol worship as much as possible.

    {7} Shulchan Aruch, Chelek Yoreh Deah, Siman 142, Sif 10:

    It is forbidden to stand in the shade of a house of idol worship.

    NOTE 1: Since even standing in the shade of a house of idol worship is forbidden, how could entering inside permitted?

    NOTE 2: Also see Shulchan Aruch, Chelek Yoreh Deah, Siman 149, Sif 1.

    {8} Kav HaYashar, Chapter 53:

    We must not study words of Torah in houses of idol worship.

    {9} Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 167, Paragraph 7:

    It is forbidden to look at an idol or its decorations, as it says (in the Bible):
    DO NOT TURN TO IDOLS. And it is necessary to stay at least six feet away from a church [literally, house], and how much more so from the idol itself, and NOT go there.
    אסור להסתכל באליל ובנוי שלו, שנא’ אל תפנו אל האלילים.
    וצריכין להתרחק מן הבית ומכ”ש מן האליל עצמו ארבע אמות שלא לעבור שם

    NOTE: In the previous paragraph the Kitzur Shulchan hints that Christianity is idolatry.

    {10A} Rabbi Rafael Abraham HaCohen Soae:

    One is NOT allowed to enter a Christian church because of the presence of crosses which are actually bowed down to. It is forbidden to refer to a church during a tour or as a meeting point.

    SOURCE: Page 38 of Travel in Halacha, 2002, Israel, The Aharon HaKohen Institute.

    {10B} Rabbi Rafael Abraham HaCohen Soae:

    One is NOT allowed to enter any site in which a non-Jewish religious or mystical activity of any nature takes place.

    SOURCE: Page 42 of Travel in Halacha, 2002, Israel, The Aharon HaKohen Institute.

    {11} “2 days ago the Chief Israeli Rabbis traveled to Italy to meet with the Pope at his summer residence. The reason they could not meet him in the Vatican is because they are not allowed to enter a church. Judaism forbids that.”

    SOURCE:, 09-16-2005

    {12A} Rabbi Jonathan Blass:

    It is forbidden to enter a church even for purposes that are not religious in nature. The prohibition is an expression of Judaism’s total opposition to anything that preserves elements of idolatry (Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishna Avoda Zara I 4; Shach Yoreh Deah 149 1; Tzutz Eliezer 14 91).

    {12B} Rabbi Jonathan Blass:

    A Jew, American or otherwise, SHOULD have a halachic problem entering a church. It is prohibited by Maimonides (Peirush HaMishnayot, tractate Avodah Zarah) and by all later halachic authorities (Shach Yoreh Deah 149,1; Tzitz Eliezer 14, 91 who cites numerous sources; Iggrot Moshe Yoreh Deah III 129,6).
    The problem is not one of melting. A Jew should find morally offensive the elements of idolatry that remain preserved in Christianity and certain other religions (Hinduism etc.). Abraham, our first forefather began his career by destroying his father’s idols. We, his children, who have seen all the evil that idolatry and those who have inherited its traditions have brought the world, should not be tolerant of it.

    SOURCE:, 3 Adar II 5763 and 28 Iyar 5763.

    {13} Rabbinical Council of America (the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical association):

    The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited.

    SOURCE: Article by Jacob Berkman, The Jewish Herald, 2009 January 23, page 21.

  14. Questions:

    Something MUST have been left out in this story. It says “In 1AD, my brother announced he was to be wed in a church (they liked the stained-glass windows, they said)”

    IF the reason they were getting married in a church was that they thought it was pretty, then there was not an issue of his brother’s bride-to-be being a religious Christian and wanting a church for that reason.

    And yet this says nothing about you ASKING your brother to, please, for his sake, consider another location. It just says that you simply said that he wouldn’t go.

    Anyway, we’re left with three possibilities: either

    A) Mr. Kryger is leaving out something pretty important.

    B) you DID ask his brother to change venues for his sake, and his brother/sister-in-law-to-be were such insensitive people as to ruin your relationship over “stained glass windows”; in this case absolutely a kiddush hashem and your brother/sister-in-law have serious issues.

    C) You for whatever reason did not ask your brother to move it. In this case it is YOU who is at fault for ruining your relationship.

    So what is it?

  15. Ross wrote a very powerful post. It is very believable and very sad. I do think though that on some level what Ross went through is true martyrdom, not of his physical life, but of a good part of his emotional life. Although others might not recognize it as such, the sacrifices that BTs make for their principles are great and would test the greatest among us. I believe that people like Ross save us from other great suffering and are a zechus for our people.

  16. Thank you for sharing, Ross. I once was faced with a dilemma, although not nearly as serious as yours. I was invited to a relative’s wedding, to be held during the nine days. Both bride and groom are Jewish, and the officiating rabbi was conservative. My nonappearance would have greatly hurt some immediate family members, and probably ruin some relationships forever. My rabbi, a serious name in modern/centrist circles, and respected by the yeshivish as well, said, Go. I’m not sure what he would have said in your situation, although I’m guessing he probably have agreed with your rav. Nevertheless, your personal story should give every rabbi great pause. The question you posed to the rav seemed so easy to answer. Not only was he marrying out of the faith, but in a church no less. Who would think that human emotions would reach such a pitch that one brother would stop talking to another? Yet, that’s what happened. Although the story is upsetting, at the end of the day, we still need to comply with rabbinic rulings.

  17. Let’s face it. Many of our nonreligious relatives are running around with minds that are so open that their brains fall out. It is really difficult to explain what we do to people who are hostile to the whole idea of self-sacrifice for faith. Those who really practice the ideals of love, respect and tolerance will make an effort to understand us. Those who don’t will eventually wind up anyway cutting us off for some perceived slight. It’s unfortunate, but it’s usually not the BT’s fault, it’s the other relative’s.

  18. BT Martyrdom–how true.

    It’s always best to present yourself in a loving way (as I’m sure Ross did), but sometimes even that doesn’t help. The relatives usually take it personally, even though it’s rarely meant that way.

    Most of my relatives know that when I draw a line in the sand, it’s non-negotiable. I have told my own brother (whose son married a non-Jew), that when it comes to family, I push the envelope as far as I can without compromising my principles. They may never appreciate it, but hopefully will understand one day (IY”H).

    The one I get from my mother a lot is “why can’t you watch tv/go to movies, etc.?”. I tell her there’s nothing that interests me, the bad stuff far outweighs the good & I’d rather not expose myself or my family. She is so desensitized she only sees the “good” in these forms of entertainment. I’ve actually pointed out things when the tv is on & she definitely sees it (but quickly forgets). I tell her that I’m not saying SHE can’t watch, so why does she care if I don’t? It’s an individual choice & this is my choice.

    The bottom line is that holding by Torah principles makes people VERY uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it’s guilt, inexperience or just that it makes people look into themselves & what they believe. It’s a big threat; to what, I have no clue. I try to be sensitive. As Torah Jews, we are used to working on ourselves in a way that’s uncommon in the secular world.

  19. Some people deny that they or anyone else can change in a fundamental way. So if you, before your consciousness was raised, did something like going to a relative’s wedding in church, they expect you to repeat that behavior whenever the opportunity arises. Since they don’t believe in personal change, they’re the last people you’d expect to change in their attitude toward you. But stranger things have happened; something down the line may influence them positively. Responding properly to invitations to forbidden events or to other provocations can require good advice from a trusted Rav who really knows you and your family situation, not just any Rav.

  20. We actually coined the term BT Martyrdom here.

    It reflects our observations that BTs are often told to take one for the team. And BTs are often quite willing to make that self-sacrifice.

    I think there’s a third way where we don’t compromise our Torah principals, but at the same time we make extreme efforts to avoid blowing up relationships and exposing ourselves to the long-lasting aftershocks of such actions.

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