What are the Major Issues Regarding “I’m Frum, My Family Isn’t”

As the Rabbi of a wonderfully diverse shul, Lincoln Square Synagogue, with a large number of people who have family members who aren’t observant, I am starting a new class entitled “I’m Frum, My Family Isn’t: Halachic solutions to religious differences between family members”

This blog continues to be an excellent resource for Baalei Teshuvah, and I would like to hear suggestions from any readers as to what the most pressing halachic issues that you find yourself discussing with your Rov are.

-For some it is exposing children to non-religious relatives, or questions within kashrus and Shabbat.

-When observant children assume responsibility for their elderly parents care, all sorts of halachic issues arise.

-Attending simchas of relatives in non- Orthodox temples, or non-kosher venues presents their own sets of difficulties.

These are just a few examples of the questions we’re scheduled to cover, and I would love to hear additional suggestions.

With best wishes,
Rabbi Shaul Robinson

PS: for those interested in attending – the class will meet at Lincoln Square Synagogue at 7:30 pm on Wednesdays!

31 comments on “What are the Major Issues Regarding “I’m Frum, My Family Isn’t”

  1. “How to deal with the fact that Bubbe/Memaw/granny isn’t Jewish. It’s a huge issues for us post-70′s baal teshuvim.”

    From my experience this is a bigger issue if the relative who is not Jewish thinks they are.

  2. How to deal with the fact that Bubbe/Memaw/granny isn’t Jewish. It’s a huge issues for us post-70’s baal teshuvim.

  3. I really want to thank everyone for their suggestions – there are enough topics to last a year here. At the first class I asked the participants what they were hoping to get out of these classes, Many similar ideas were raised, and some different. Issues of family tensions, at both times of celebration and G-d forbid, end of life were most frequently mentioned.

    This class will run for about 6 weeks, and will be followed by two or three sessions run by a prominent therapist in our community who will discuss the emotional issues / family dynamics of the course.

    about 20 people attended the first session, including, gratifyingly, somebody who is contemplating taking on more observance and wanted to think through how it would affect relationships within his family!

    many thanks to Mark and all at beyond bt and a frelichin chanukah!

  4. Financial and lifestyle disparities with those who may not live in the more expensive frum areas, pay private school tuition and maaser their income. We feel there are relatives that make a lot less but live better. I constantly must mechazek myself to remember that these sacrifices are worth it and to never complain about these expenses and differences in front of the children but rather explain them with strength and positivity to myself, my kids, and my relatives. I know its totally gashmius but hey, it still evokes a lot of feelings when dealing with relatives.

  5. Bas Yisroel –what do you worry is the problem with inviting them? would it require your sister being mechaleles shabbos to get there?

  6. would love to know if I can invite my sister and her Non Jewish husband to my simchas, G-d willing. An issue that really worries me!

  7. Judy Resnick: that’s a mishnah and gemara in Shabbat. But it stipulates that one is held responsible ‘when he is able’; in other words, when he has the requisite influence so that his words will make a difference.

    The mishnah (Shabbat 54b) says that Rabi Elazar ben Azaryah’s cow would go out on Shabbat with a ribbon between its horns, against the will of the sages. The gemara (bottom of same page) says it wasn’t even his cow. It was his neighbor’s; but since he didn’t protest when she allowed this, the liability is associated with him. The gemara then goes on to say that we learn that “someone who is able” and doesn’t rebuke wrongdoers, is “caught up” in their behavior. The operative notion there is that one must be “able”. That has several applications; and I think we all know that we often don’t wield such influence over others. In fact, we might actually do more harm – but that is a different discussion.

    Since Judy brought up the question of ‘how far do we have to go?”, and mentioned the example of our non-observant co-workers, I would like to recommend that you all listen to Rav Broyde’s presentation on being Orthodox in the modern workplace. There he briefly discusses such a thing as ‘do I hand my non-observant coworker the ham sandwich he asked for a the working lunch?’

    David Linn: Yes! Being compared to other observant people (but Gladys’ son eats there) can be very tough to answer and contend with! That just came up here the other day.

  8. I need a rav to tell me that in this situation, there’s nothing you can do, and as painful as it is, just stay out of it.

    Sounds reasonable that you would ask a Rav; you could then feel confident in whether to intervene or not. And I did not mean to imply you need therapy any more than any other commenter, including myself ;)

  9. I wasn’t joking, sorry for the graphics, and whether I need therapy or not is a separate issue not for this blog ;)

    I don’t see what’s so obsessive…maybe we are responsible on some level to at least try, within reason, to prevent our relatives do certain things. The first example I gave was unfortunately real. Maybe I was supposed to try to do something, at least talk to them. Who says I’m absolved in Heaven from trying?

    I need a rav to tell me that in this situation, there’s nothing you can do, and as painful as it is, just stay out of it. Maybe other things aren’t that way.

  10. Judy – as far as tank tops go, you can buy all the tznius shirts for others you want, but you can’t make them wear them. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    It’s an interesting juxtaposition that we talked about taking money from the non-frum just a few threads ago. Sounds like the optimal course of action is to take the money, then turn around and use it to buy the same givers kosher food, tznius tops, a house within the eruv :), etc.

    But then, there would be less $$$ left over for our own religious expenditures. It’s a real problem.

  11. To Tesyaa #12: I don’t think Ross #10 was joking.

    There is a famous Aggadita in the Gemara (I don’t know the source, but I am sure some of the others on this blog know it) where Rabbi XYZ was blamed by Chazal because his cow went out on Shabbat with a band between her horns. So another commentator writes, “Which cow? Rabbi XYZ had 120,000 cows!” The response was that it was not his cow, but the only cow of a poor widow who lived nearby. So then the discussion asks why Rabbi XYZ is held responsible for this transgression if it was not even his cow, but someone else’s cow. The answer was that Rabbi XYZ should have known about it and prevented it from happening, by teaching the poor widow and his other neighbors about Hilchos Shabbos, so he is blamed for this occurrence.

    On a more contemporary level, we might ask whether President Clinton will be held liable for the massacre of 800,000 people in the 1994 tribal war in Rwanda: could the U.S.A. have prevented genocide if we had sent in troops?

    Back in 1982, Ariel Sharon, then a general in the IDF, was blamed for not preventing the killings of Christians in the Shatila camp in Lebanon. Even though Israel did not shed blood, it was found guilty in the court of world opinion for not stopping the murders.

    It is a very big question: how far do we have to go to keep another person from sinning? How far does our “achrayus” extend? Are we required to buy Glatt Kosher lunches for our frei co-workers to stop them from eating ham sandwiches? That could get to be very expensive. What about buying Tznius clothes for a sister who wears tank tops? Again, that is a very large expenditure. Does a wealthy individual have more of a responsibility to act in this regard?

    I would guess that we need Daas Torah from a trusted, knowledgeable Rav in order to guide us to the best answer for these troubling questions.

  12. Many of the issues mentioned will be included in my comment:

    Being compared to other “religious people” i.e. Gladys’ son is religious and he eats there.

    Explaining how/why your viewpoint toward an issue has changed ( more lenient/more strict).

  13. I will clarify my 13:54 comment since I don’t want to appear flippant. What makes you think Heaven would punish you for being unable to control the actions of other people? I’m sure you are a good, sincere Jew doing as much as you can to observe the mitzvos and help others. Why would you be singled out for the barbeque? (hate the imagery, but you used it first).

    If you really feel like this on a regular basis, therapy might be in order… seriously.

  14. This is something that BTs worry about…those dreadful words upon arrival in Heaven: You didn’t do enough! You could’ve stopped that or you should’ve done this! To the B-B-Q with you!!

    I really hope you are joking here.

  15. I think there is an overall perspective issue, which I bet Rav Robinson will deal with directly or indirectly:

    How does one generally relate to non-observant Jews? Is it different for relatives? Why is it more emotionally charged regarding relatives? Do we tell our small children something different than the truth because we fear the effect the truth may have on them?

    An example was with a neighbor of mine in Jerusalem years ago. We lived not far from the road to Ramot. In those days, there was only the largely mixed section of Ramot Alef, and the beginnings of the haredi section in Ramot Polin. Traffic on the road on Shabbat was pretty busy, as many non-observant Jews lived in Ramot Alef. My neighbor told his young daughter that they weren’t Jews, because he couldn’t deal with telling her that not all Jews are observant.

    Do we set an example of kindness and dignity for our children with our non-observant (and not Jewish) relatives? Do we show by example how to cope with the complexities of real life? Do we ourselves have an easier time with non-observant neighbors or colleagues than we do with relatives? Do all our explicit and implicit obligations regarding family go out the window, even though we better tolerate the comments and behaviors of non-family members?

    (An extension of this is how we relate to family members whose observance is merely different than ours, whether more ‘right’ or ‘left’, while still being generally observant and committed to Torah.)

    Mark raises a very good practical area of stress, and Ross raised good psychological concerns.

  16. One issue is “How much am I responsible for in the Olam HaEmes?”

    For example, I see that grandpa is about to be cremated. What limits do I go to in order to stop it?

    Should I be sending my mother Shabbos candles every week if maybe once she’ll light them?

    This is something that BTs worry about…those dreadful words upon arrival in Heaven: You didn’t do enough! You could’ve stopped that or you should’ve done this! To the B-B-Q with you!!

  17. Just a personal situation that also ties into some of the financial discussion a couple of threads back…

    I am in the middle of re-tileing my basement. I am doing it myself with our oldest son to save money and for the opportunity for some father son time doing a good job together. The only time I can do it is over several Sundays. Parents and in-laws want to visit Sunday. I would like them to come and enjoy seeing their grandchildren and also to understand that I need to be busy while they are at our house. There can be a sense of their feeling slighted. It is enough that our boys have to go to school on Sunday for half the visit, but to now use some of the remaining time for something else is really pushing things. But I don’t see another choice because I am not bringing in a contractor do do work I can do myself for free.

  18. Simply the availability of time being vastly different.

    An issue that comes up for us all the time is family’s desire to get together on Sunday and not realizing that we need at least part of Sunday for practical house-running concerns. Shopping, we have some frum doctors open on Sunday, and just recreation. The time for us to casually visit with family is Shabbos. They usually don’t want to come for Shabbos but they have this anticipation that our Sunday should be no different than their “Saturday and Sunday”. Also, given our larger family sizes and intensively busy week days, an entire Sunday is a very valuable commodity.

  19. Good, Mark, as usual. Funerals, shiva — all aspects of mourning, which are so emotionally charged and where the halachos are so little known outside the frum world.

    I imagine that divorce and remarriage, or today’s “alternative” living arrangements following a divorce, could be very sticky where a get has not been properly arranged.

  20. Handling the religious aspects of funerals.

    Dealing with living wills and end of life issues.

    Keeping cool when relatives ridicule observant beliefs and practices.

    Understanding the nuances of judging people and their actions, so that relatives don’t think you’re judging them.

    Dealing with the frustrating thought that although you know Torah Observance enriches people’s lives and after lives, it is very likely that your relatives will keep their Torah Observance to a minimum.

  21. re: #3
    “Interdating and intermarried relatives, relatives of partial Jewish descent who self-identify as Jews but aren’t halakhically Jewish”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s the one issue that can never be resolved–it’s lose/lose.
    The non-frum relatives just say, “but she’s such a nice person” & “they’re so happy”.
    They don’t get it, they don’t want to get it & they view anything we say about it as hostile.

    Then there’s the issue of the Jew who marries another Jew (Baruch Hashem!) but has a wedding that is far enough removed from halacha/tznius, etc. that I really don’t want to expose my (younger) kids, but if I leave them home, it’s WW3. The “kosher” food not under any type of supervision adds another layer of difficulty.

    They just don’t get that it’s not US distancing ourselves from the family, it’s THE FAMILY distancing themselves from their Jewish heritage.

    After dealing with this for over 30 years, it just gets worse as time goes on.


  22. We’ve known a helpful rabbi for 20+ years who has been very good at guiding us through these kinds of issues with relatives. Looking back at what I might have said or done without his input, it’s scary!

  23. Interdating and intermarried relatives, relatives of partial Jewish descent who self-identify as Jews but aren’t halakhically Jewish.

  24. Thanks! This is definitely a very pressing issue.

    How do you deal with Shabbat? When it’s important to one family to be home and have Shabbat dinner cooked before Shabbat starts, but not important to another? Or, when the family is on vacation for Shabbat?

  25. Wonderful idea, wonderful class.

    May I suggest: Men and Women in the Workplace.

    The halachic issues that arise in a typical mixed gender, heterogeneous, ethnically and religiously diverse workplace. Shaking hands? Use of first names? Parties at work? Buying a gift or a snack for a co-worker? Extending a small loan to a co-worker? Questions about G-d, the Torah and the halacha from co-workers? Explaining becoming more frum to co-workers? Making up time lost from early winter Fridays without causing resentment for the “special treatment”?

    Although this technically is a little bit off topic (dealing with co-workers, not family members) it might be important for the “newly frum” to hear practical solutions for some of these issues.

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