By Rabbi Benzion Kokis
There are many different levels of observance. Take kashrus for example.
The lowest level would be a Jew who eats pork, shellfish, and meat and milk cooked together, in his own home. Next would be someone who buys kosher meat, but isn’‘t choosy about other foods. A higher level would be buying only types of food that are kosher, but not necessarily with rabbinic supervision. Yet a higher level would be keeping everything separate, and buying only “supervised” foods. Even among the kosher foods, some people hold by “cholov Yisroel”, dairy products that are specially supervised.
As you can see, there are many different levels of kashrus observance. People are inherently different, and so are their standards.
Our biggest area of potential conflict is going to be food. (Think for a moment about the grief that so many kids give their parents nowadays. Drugs, alcohol, AIDS, trouble with the police, running away from home, pregnancies out of marriage, etc. It’s amusing that we, the Chosen People, should argue about food.)
I am now holding on a higher level of kashrus than you provide in the house. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, because I do. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will understand that I am not rejecting you, but merely want to keep a more demanding level. I am like the problem child who decided to become vegetarian.
(The ideas that have changed his life are presented in a subjective, not doctrinal, tone. They are meaningful to him, and this is what he wants his parents to appreciate.
If, on the other hand, he would write in a doctrinaire and confrontational manner- “these ideas are the absolute truth, and that’s why I’m committed”- his parents would be cornered! They would become defensive, to justify their own level of observance both to their son and to themselves. The purpose of this communication would be lost.)
I won’t be able to eat even fish or salad in a non-kosher restaurant. I will, regrettably, not be able to eat your food. I also will not be able to eat off of your crockery, or use your cutlery, pots, pans, etc. I can therefore not eat your wondrous culinary delights. You know how much I love your cooking, so you can therefore understand that I must be sincere and committed, if I am denying myself.
You essentially have four choices.
1. You can kick me out of the house;
2. You can fight me every step of the way, yell, scream, and cry until you realize that I won’t budge;
3. You can say “good luck” and let me keep my own stuff and eat my own food. If you did this I would be very content, and would even be able to sit down for the occasional Friday night dinner;
4. As you are 60% kosher already, you could go the extra 40% and kosher up. During the interim I would be very helpful and supportive, and would keep level 3 above.
Kashering a kitchen is a lot of work, and keeping it kosher is even harder. I don’t expect you to do it just for me. I will be perfectly happy with level 3.
(He has made it clear that he’s not being manipulative, by playing on their parental instincts to get his way, i.e. get the home kashered. Whatever they are comfortable with is their decision, and he will adjust accordingly.)
To finish this letter off, I would like to give you an idea as to what my lifestyle is going to be like. This is however difficult, as I am not entirely sure. I doubt that I will ever look like one of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
(Much of the anxiety a family feels is that their child has become totally alien to his upbringing. They need to be reassured that despite becoming religious, he still can acknowledge the parameters of what always seemed “normal” to his family.)
At the moment I would put my money on living in England. I hope to be married within the next few years. As regards a livelihood, I probably will start up some sort of business at the end of next year. I will give large sums of money to charity, but will certainly provide for my family.
I fervently hope, and actually expect, that you will be proud of your son and, G-d willing, your grandchildren.
Your loving son,
(It may interest the reader to know the impact which this letter had. When it arrived in England, his parents were so proud of their son’s open and mature approach that they showed it to the shames (sexton) of their synagogue. They then asked the shames to assist them in making their home suitable to the standards of their son. Soon the home was kashered, the dishes were toiveled (immersed in a mikve), and the homecoming, instead of beginning a pitched generational battle, initiated a process of growth for the entire family.)