Why Are BTs Willing to Blow Up Familial Relationships?

Based on some recent posts and comments on BT Martyrdom, it seems that many BTs get tremendous spiritual pleasure from blowing up familial relationships.

What are the reasons for this willingness to cut oneself off from their families with these acts?

a) They feel it’s comparable to giving up your life, which when appropriate is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem.

b) Their Rebbeim tell them it’s the right course of action and they rarely enter a question and answer dialog with their Rebbeim to probe/understand the reasoning behind a ruling.

c) Many families explicitly or implicitly reject a BTs life choices causing pain, which sets the stage for the act of familial martyrdom.

d) Other reasons

45 comments on “Why Are BTs Willing to Blow Up Familial Relationships?

  1. It depends on the family. While it is definitely wrong to be antagonistic and deliberately alienate your close family, there are some families that operate by the “my way or the highway” principle and if the choice is between following halacha and giving in to someone who demands that you are oveir on an aveira, then the choice must be obvious to any Jew who has yirat shamayim.

    Many, many years ago my husband’s mother refused to allow him to either come late to his nephew’s bar mitzva [female chazanit, C temple, microphones, etc.] after davening in an O shul or to allow any other compromise that would allow my husband to both attend at least part of the bar mitzva while keeping within the bounds of halacha. She told him he must either show up on time for the entire thing or not to come at all. Well, he asked a shaila and was told not to come at all. It did not give him any sort of spiritual high, but it was necessary in order to prevent starting down a slippery slope in which he could be expected to do other aveirot as well with the threat that doing what his mother wanted comes first. It doesn’t, according to halacha. Being willing to compromise is vital, but there are some times when others are not willing to compromise and we must not do what we know is wrong.

    On the other hand, my family of origin became frum and my sibling and my mother now live in the same city I do and I think that the fact that they saw that Judaism has laws that are not to be compromised and principles that stand strong and I would not break these laws and would not compromise Torah principles was a positive factor in their becoming frum Jews.

  2. Mark mentioned the following three issues and/or scenarios:

    “a) They feel it’s comparable to giving up your life, which when appropriate is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem.

    b) Their Rebbeim tell them it’s the right course of action and they rarely enter a question and answer dialog with their Rebbeim to probe/understand the reasoning behind a ruling.

    c) Many families explicitly or implicitly reject a BTs life choices causing pain, which sets the stage for the act of familial martyrdom

    I would question IMO whether any of the above scenarious comport with the way that the greatest BTs, namely the Avos, Imahos and Moshe Rabbeinu, interacted with their families of origin.

    That comment aside, I would add to this discussion that if BTs and their families desire that a relationship contuinue, that there are many venues to make it possible, as long as boundaries are respected vis a vis when, where, how and what topics of discussion are deemed mutually amenable. Thanksgiving has IMO always strruck me an example where , assuming no problems with Kaasrus are present or can’t be overcome, that can be a great time to get together. Chol HaMoed Sukkos can be a great time for a get together at your home for a meal in a Sukkah. Chol HaMoed Pesach also can present a great time for relatives to visit, especially when your kids and grandchildren are around.

  3. Just to say to one of your posts, some non BT’s Are reading this and do have opinions which mean THEY will (usually in my nieve view) want to compromise. I find it highly revealing to read the attitudes which many of your ravs evidently have regarding giving non considerate and lacking in full consideration advise to BT’s who may not feel halechicly confident to use their own inner-tuition (intuition) as to what is right or wrong in their own family situation.

    My own son , a BT has recently married, and reading most of these posts saddens me. My innocent expectation of those of you who have made this lifestyle choice, would have been to enable you to connect more with Hashem. Whilst I’m happily not zealously religeous, I am openly spiritual and my G-d would be strongly encouraging his children (albeit of various generations)to love and work on building on the gift of life which he has bestowed on us – not destroy it, by ‘blowing up familial relationships’.

  4. Thanks Gary and Rabbi Weiman. There’s a lot of gold in them thar hills. Thanks for mining some.

    These 2 nuggets are among the best advice that can be given to a BT.

  5. Good advice from the pages of http://www.beyondbt.com , in the form of excerpts from

    https://beyondbt.com/2006/12/11/7-habits-of-highly-successful-bts/

    3. Your relationships with your family members are more important than whether or not they join your brand of observance. Don’t sever ties with your family. Don’t flaunt your stringencies to “teach” them. The people who have you over for shabbos won’t travel across the world if you’re in the hospital, your family will.

    6. When you ask a Sheila that may end up with a major family rift, make sure you inform the Rav (you ask) of the consequences of your following his psak. Don’t just ask, “Is it permissible to go to an intermarriage?” Explain how not going may mean your entire family will disown you and never speak to you again. Ask “Is there any type of compromise I can make for them?”

  6. The “rules” may differ even now for a family that’s non-Jewish, as opposed to Jewish but non-observant. Rumor has it that Terach had deeper problems than lack of frumkeit.

  7. Mr. Cohen, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you can learn that Avraham Avinu ‘blew up family relationships’ based on that midrash.

    Do you think that a BT who reads this website can or should learn from that to blow up family relationships? I don’t think so at all. Avraham Avinu was directed by God to leave his family unit, who were to ‘stay behind’ while Avraham struck out on his own path to God. While in some sense there is an analogy between Avraham and a BT, one has to be careful how far he takes it. After all, God didn’t want Avraham’s family coming with him on his journey, but God certainly does want a BT’s Jewish family to accompany him on his journey to a life of avodat hashem. The only question is whether because of the circumstances they will become interested (unfortunately they usually do not).

  8. Responding to Shmuel (message 36):

    The Midrash Rabah on Bereishit, chapter 38, paragraph 13 teaches that Avraham Avinu took a club and smashed all the idols his father was trying to sell. This was a direct attack on his father’s religion and his father’s business.

    I invite all Jews to join my web site for quick easy divrei Torah:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DerechEmet/

  9. To the degree that BTs feel they are supposed to blow up familial and friendship networks in favor of only networks restricted to their enclave is an indicator about how their specific sect operates like a New Religion, i.e., a cult.

  10. Nr, Cohen —

    Can you explain where you see in the Torah that Avraham Avinu blew up family relationships?

  11. There are lots of steps to be taken before “blowing up.” Kiruv Rabbis (and others) should stress communication between the BT and his or her family. What happens a lot is that the BT takes on one thing at a time and the family has no idea where he or she is holding so everything is new and shocking (what! you ate at our house for Pesach last year!!!) If at all possible keep them in the loop and give them advance warning, years if possible (we have told our nieces and siste-in-law years ago that if they get married to a non-Jew we cannot attend. Figure out the likely points of contention and discuss before you have to send back the invitation.

  12. The article that Rabbi Horowitz recommended above was very nice, and the comments posted were interesting. But to whom is it talking to? Is it just meant for chizik for us, or is it addressing other people? If it’s for nonBT people, then it it’ll go in one ear and out the other. If for us, then easier said than done.

  13. This is my understanding of the subject:

    When a person wants something with his intellect, like it makes logical sense to him, but yet his previous experiences lead him to have unconscious beliefs that safety, sanity, security, lie elsewhere, or where he came from, the person will feel very torn.

    He may make a decision, as many BT’s have, to become religious, or to do what seems to make sense, but all that other stuff, the opposing side within him doesn’t just obey and lie dormant. It often expresses itself in creating relationships, or developing relationships, in which the OTHER PERSON embodies all those deep opposing opinions you yourself have.

    It’s a way of externalizing the inner conflict. Sad, that relationships should take the brunt of our own inner conflict, but it happens for many people in all different scenarios, I’ve seen it many times. It’s also hopefully a way forwards, because since it’s now externalized, you can face your dragons and deal with them.

    It’s probably extremely common in the BT world where people used their Sechel to make the choice to become Frum, but it’s also common in all forms of Orthodox Judaism nowadays, and all over the world really, where people are having to think and challenge what’s always been done in their families, and sometimes do something different, leaving their heart behind, or their feeling of safety and security.

    Hopefully they will continue and make more choices that lead to resolution. How wonderful if the rift would never have to take place.

    I believe that coaching can make the biggest difference, helping people make those life changes, while working on their relationships at the same time.

  14. I’m just trying to understand on what basis the post author is making such definitive statements. Is there ANY validity to these options in the context in which they were presented? Is this based on some sort of survey or poll or real research or is this just a matter of unfortunate perception based on experience? Projection, perhaps?

    If the author wants to make such loaded statements, he should at the very least back him/herself up…

    More importantly, how about providing actual suggestion on how to solve the issue if such an issue exists, as opposed to merely lamenting the problem?

    Good luck!

  15. Apart from pressure to attend intermarriages and other “alternative” marriages, just to state the obvious, there is a very delicate matter of hashpa’a; we all try to some extent to control the influences in our childrens’ environment. It can be difficult to find a balance between giving children exposure to non-frum relatives, and making sure their lifestyle doesn’t become appealing to our kids.

  16. All my rabbis have been very emphatic that someone who comes to observance as an adult should NOT “blow up” family relationships. Kvod Av v’Eim applies even when the parents aren’t shomer Shabat.

  17. Belle, my sense is that most people start out with decent relationships, although this is hard to quantify.

    When people become observant it often rocks the previously decent relationships.

    Subsequent non-attendance at a simcha often creates a schism.

  18. The opposite side to this coin is, “Why are relatives of BTs willing to blow up familial relationships?” Sometimes the family cuts off the BT in spite of the BT’s best efforts to find harmony. I have seen this happen even in cases where the BT has sought knowledgable and compassionate rabbinic and professional guidance. The situation presents itself with the non-religious family saying things such as, “My (relative) has joined a cult,” or “My (relative) has gone nuts,” or, “My (relative) decided that his relationship with G-d is more important than his relationship with me.” The last case is possibly the most painful. Perhaps this is a topic for a different post.

  19. Mark:

    “my experience is that many BTs have irreparably damaged their familial relationships and I think it is an issue that needs to be discussed. Many have done it knowing quite well that it would blow-up the relationship.”

    Just to clarify: these are people who had an otherwise good and close relationship with their family?

    My feeling is that wife’s observations may be too true. Most people I know have had somewhat rocky relationships with their parents and other family members at the time they became frum in the first place. Mind you I don’t believe this is what caused them to become frum. I just think many, if not most people (at least in my generation), have rocky relationships with their families.

  20. Ross, perhaps I give non-frum Jews too much credit, but I don’t think any will read it the way you presented it. I do think the martyr metaphor is important for the BTs, who are the focus of this site. And from my experience some have wholeheartedly embraced the term. I think that is something to think about.

    As I’ve stated, my experience is that many BTs have irreparably damaged their familial relationships and I think it is an issue that needs to be discussed. Many have done it knowing quite well that it would blow-up the relationship. Even though that was clearly not their goal, it is often the clear effect of their actions.

    At the end of the day, many Rebbeim and BTs might determine that this is the price some BTs have to pay for observing Torah. On the other hand we know that there are some BTs and Rebbeim who have tried to avoid this consequence in whatever halachically permissible ways possible.

  21. There definitely IS a narcissistic element to many BT stories – a desire to be “special” or “different”, a desire to be close to power or at least certainty.

    As I’ve posted before – this is one of the reasons many BTs pass by middle-of-the-road mainstream Orthodoxy and gravitate to the Charedi world, with its exotic clothes and dropout, I-am-special-Hashem-will-support-me lifestyle.

    This leads BTs to easily latch on to the chumra culture – and then use it as an ego-bolstering crowbar on others, including their families.

  22. Many secular Jews are as militant about their secularism as are Baalei Teshuvah in their Judaism.

    Secular Jews consider Nivul Peh, Lashon HaRa, Chillul Shabbat and Achilat Treif to be their sacred inaliable rights that they must fight to preserve at all costs.

    I have appoached HASHEM in simcere prayer and begged Him that I should never again eat at the same table as: apikursim, malshinim, or reshaim, even if the food is 100% kosher.

  23. “The wording is provocative, but hopefully the thread will follow a path of looking deeply at these issues.”

    The wording doesn’t belong here at all! It really should be changed before you plant provocative ideas in the minds of nonfrum people who peek into this site. Really.

  24. Often Jews live far away from their parents before becoming BT’s. Who, then, is the local rabbinic advisor, the one living near the BT or the one living near the parents. Chances are high that no one rabbi would really know all parties.

  25. There was one commenter (sorry, I don’t remember her name) who mentioned on this blog about having gone through the horrible experience of having a (unusually insensitive) rebbetzin in her community actually wish her “Mazel Tov” when her nonreligious father died.

    That being said, I would agree with shmuel at #6 and #15 that it is vitally important to have a caring, competent local Orthodox rabbi to discuss family issues with, hopefully someone with far more sensitivity than the unnamed rebbetzin.

    I don’t know any BT or Gair/Giyores who gets spiritual highs from blowing up family relationships, unless there was a toxic component to that relationship from other factors having nothing to do with frumkeit and everything to do with confronting someone with an evil personality and poisonous tongue.

  26. I think that BTs –especially relatively recent BTs– have a tendency to think of conflicts with nonreligious family members as black and white –as “Torah vs. non-Torah.”

    The reality is more complex — it is a matter of balancing competing Torah-based obligations (e.g. although according to the Torah there shouldn’t be any intermarriage, at the same time according to the Torah one is supposed to relate sensitively to others, honor one’s parents, etc.)

    How to balance the Torah’s competing demands on us is very difficult and requires real consultation with a Rabbi who knows you well. Not asking “is it permissible to attend my brother’s wedding to a shiksa?” But rather explaining to the Rabbi (if he knows you well he may already know) all the background and details of the situation and the family relationships and the likely fallout in various scenarios. The Rabbi should also be able to help guide you in handling the situation sensitively whatever his actual psak may be.

  27. Bob, I also agree with Ross, that nobody specifically gets their jollies from breaking up families. But I do see time and again BTs expressing pride in making those difficult decisions.

    The wording is provocative, but hopefully the thread will follow a path of looking deeply at these issues.

    Mordechai, in these types of interpersonal relationship questions, I think it’s the questioner’s responsibility to highlight all the aspects involved and to try as much as possible to convey the pain and damage that might result from any action.

  28. I agree with Ross (March 23rd, 2011 09:40)

    I can’t recall ever meeting any BT who got his/her jollies specifically from causing breakups in the family. Quite the opposite; family disruptions, even when unavoidable, are painful to all concerned.

    There might be situations where the family relationships were lousy all along and breaking free was a type of liberation, but that’s not quite the same thing.

  29. This particular sacrifice is one of the most difficult that any BT gets to make and many BTs express pride and take pleasure in the fact that they made this type of sacrifice, despite the consequences.

    In my family of course we don’t regret following our Rabbis psak, but we regret the pain and isolation that follows in its wake and the negative impact it causes in Hashem’s world. Of course, we can’t condone intermarriage in any way, but perhaps there are better ways to deal with the situation.

  30. I think SOME (not all) BTs become BTs because they are looking for something that was missing in their own families. And their family relationships were not so strong, even before they became BTs.

    Thus, the initial question puts the cart before the horse. It isn’t that such BTs are “willing to blow up family relationships,” but rather, having crated new lives with strong ties in their new communities, they give up the pretense that they are close to their families.

    I think BTs who truly were close to their families before they became BTs are tortured when events pull them away from their families. No ‘spiritual pleasure’ for them.

  31. Mark, I first read this post thinking the focus was how hozrim beteshuvah mishandle their family relationships. Or maybe some, like BB, see it as self-sacrifice for an ideal. I still think that mishandling is sometimes the case, as I implied in my first comment. Even so, Disagree is right that some (maybe many?) of us receive good guidance. I always received guidance to be flexible with my family, respectful and considerate. But I was a hothead, and that was my fault alone.

    Now I see that what you are suggesting is that the responsibility doesn’t always lie with the individual’s attitude and choices; but that some people are not receiving good advice. Personally, I think that is sometimes *also* the case. Sometimes the answers to BB’s questions in #3 shouild be ‘yes’. Sometimes a rav needs to explain the range of possibilities, so that the questioner can make a good decision for their particular circumstance. That sort of answer is often not given.

    What remains true is that there is a great burden on the rabbanim and others giving advice. Even a mature and well-educated hozer beteshuvah is going to be vulnerable. Out of newly-found respect for Torah they are going to give more weight to the advice their rav gives them then they might in other areas of their lives. After all, ‘what do they know?’ Yet, not every rav should be giving this kind of guidance just because they know a lot of Torah. I’ll even dare to say that not every ‘adam gadol’ should be giving this advice. We need to seek out rabbanim who know something up close about the complexities of society in general, and our lives in particular. We need to get our guidance, including halachic guidance, from people who respect our paths.

    Mark, with regards to your comment in #7, I suggest we also think in the terms that Rav Yehudah Amital often thought. ‘What is most likely to lead to kiddush Hashem? What is likely to lead to hillul Hashem? Do I clearly know what those definitions are as they apply to the circumstances?’ We need to understand the simplistically thinking in terms of just ‘keeping the mitzvot’ or ‘keeping the halacha’ is sometimes too simple to address the nuances of such situations in our lives. The mitzvot and halacha also have balance and prioritization that varies with the situation, and we have to contend with that and seek the kind of advice that will teach us to recognize and contend with that.

  32. When we make tremendous sacrifices for Hashem and His Torah we should feel closer to Hashem – that is spiritual pleasure.

    This is not the same as saying “…many BTs get tremendous spiritual pleasure from blowing up familial relationships.” Ick.

  33. When we make tremendous sacrifices for Hashem and His Torah we should feel closer to Hashem – that is spiritual pleasure.

    The question we need to ask and discuss long and hard, is what exact action to take in these type of situation. Obviously our intent is not to hurt our family members, but unfortunately that is often one of the results.

    Like many BTs, I’ve received the ruling not to attend intermarriages at all. What I observed and learned over the years here at Beyond BT is that:
    – Most BTs have small families and support systems to begin with
    – Many have had to increase their isolation even further through non-attendance at intermarriages
    – A prominent Kiruv Rabbi permitted attendance to the reception of an intermarriage

    I went back to my Rav, with this information and told him of an email I received regarding this type of situation. He took a fresh look at the problem but he had a ruling from his Rebbe on this matter. He suggested the matter be taken to one of the Gedolim in America.

  34. “…it seems that many BTs get tremendous spiritual pleasure from blowing up familial relationships.”

    This is the most sickening line I have ever read on this website. Can you imagine someone searching for spirituality who is taken aside in private and told, “Psst…you want to experience REAL spiritual pleasure? I’ll tell you a secret…you know how your brother is marrying a shiksa…er, I mean, lovely non-Jewish lady? Well, don’t go to the wedding. Yeah, that’s right, turn your back on your family and make them real good and angry. Oh, man, the spiritual pleasure will be unlike anything you’ve ever felt. What? You don’t believe me? Go ahead, ask a big rav. He won’t use the same words, but he’ll tell you it’s the right thing to do. Don’t worry…It’ll be great!”

    Do I get immense spiritual pleasure from having a root canal?! It’s the right thing to do…even doing a mitzvah of taking care of your health!

    Outsiders read this site…don’t let anyone think we get spiritual pleasure from these type of things.

  35. I hope this doesn’t happen often, but to the extent it does, I would think it is a lack of perspective that causes it. In some cases, it is likely also a lack of Rabbinic guidance. I am not pointing fingers at others, I had the same issues and had to grow out of it (I probably am still growing out of it now).

    In other words, it is easy and tempting for a person without a lot of knowledge to view a situation as Torah values pitted against non-Torah values, when it is almost never that simple. There are often Torah values that are in favor of one doing the thing that is perceived by the newly religious as “less frum.” For example, treating one’s parents with respect and generally maintaining a positive relationship with them is something we are commanded to do by God.

    This flows into the second aspect –most laypeople, and certainly those who are newly religious and lack both knowledge and perspective, cannot make good decisions on these matters on their own and need to have a Rabbi with whom they consult for both psak and advice. There is sometimes a tendency for BTs to assume that something is proper behavior because they have seen it done or heard or learned about it and not to realize that matters may be more complex.

    I can say from experience that when I was newly religious and my sister married a non-Jew, I would have assumed that it was forbidden to attend. I consulted my Rabbi (assuming the answer in advance) and was embarrassed at my presumptuosness when he told me just the opposite –that I should attend.

    Every situation is going to be different and so one cannot extrapolate from one to another, but in my view the most important thing to do is to develop a relationship with a Rabbi and consult that Rabbi whenever such an issue arises. In my experience a truly wise Rabbi will be able to give you advice as to how to approach discussing the issue so as not to offend as well (and I don’t think this is a special BT-related skill –how to handle this type of situation is a middos issue and who wants a Rabbi who doesn’t help guide him in propoer middos).

    A previous commenter appears to be equating “blowing up familial relationships” with “being shomer mitzvos,” and I couldn’t disagree more. Certainly there are matters where there won’t be room for leeway, but being shomer mitzvos means to me consulting one’s Rabbi –bain l’kula bain l’chumra– and then following the Rabbi’s psak. And being shomer mitzvos also means dealing with a situation sensitively no matter what the psak is. It seems to me that the percentage of times that God wants us to fight with our parents or other family members is very low.

  36. Not so sure that I agree with the premise…I think that there are plenty of us out here who have outstanding relationships with our families, who have been careful to ask a posek who will value the continuation of those relationships our shailos, and who have reaped the benefit of those efforts. We’re just not likely to be posting about our success in the face of others’ pain!

  37. It’s important to get and understand advice from older and wiser people before doing anything drastic, even if it looks black-and-white.

  38. It’s not “martyrdom;” it’s being shomrei mitzvos. Should we attend intermarriages? Should we attend affairs that violate Shabbos? Should we atend affairs where kashrus is not taken into account (i.e., the caterer can’t/won’t provide an “airline” meal that is under acceptable hashgacha)?

  39. There is always spiritual pleasure when one does the right thing, and when it is hard, there is the perception that it was a test. BTs did not make up that concept.

    Whether it was the right thing to do for a BT to skip a family intermarriage wedding, for example, is another question. But people should be asking sheilas of those who are familiar with BT issues.

  40. Wow. This is stated in pretty harsh terms…and yet, I can’t help but think there’s some truth there.

    We’ll soon read parshat Parah. One of the things we see there is that something which can be a great opportunity for purity and holiness, can also be an opportunity for defilement. Maybe sometimes the holy fire that burns within us to do t’shuvah, is a risk of being a fire of dispute and contention. Our rebellion against ourselves and what we’ve been becomes, without proper direction and consideration, a rebellion against those who really shouldn’t be targets at all. But we may not see that until we’ve already hurt them. And then, there’s another opportunity for t’shuvah of a different sort.

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