Alternate Trajectories – Part 4

Written By C. Sapir,

You can read part 1 here.
You can read part 2 here.
You can read part 3 here.

One day, Ben mentioned that he had taken a client out to eat, and I innocently asked where they had eaten.

“Don’t ask questions that you don’t want to know the answers to,” he advised me in a friendly tone.

From then on, I didn’t ask him where or what he had eaten outside the house. It wasn’t my business. What was my business was my own kitchen, and I knew I could trust him not to do anything that would treif up my kitchen. Ours is an honest relationship, and even after Ben’s commitment to Yiddishkeit eroded to the core, his commitment to me and our marriage remained steadfast. Since Shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpachah were non-negotiable to me, Ben wouldn’t do anything to break my trust or sabotage my observance of those or any other mitzvos.

In recent years, I’ve been contacted by numerous women – both baalos teshuvah and frum-from-birth – who are heartbroken over their husbands’ spiritual deficiencies. Some are upset that their husbands aren’t going to minyan or aren’t learning three sedarim a day. While I wish, inwardly, that that would be all I have to deal with, I truly sympathize with their disappointment. Others are grappling with far more serious issues, like chillul Shabbos.

My advice to these women is usually to separate the marriage issues from the religious issues, and work on the marriage. When the relationship is loving and respectful, religious differences can usually be overcome. But when the relationship itself is troubled, then religious differences only exacerbate the existing chasm.

All the years, Ben and I had made a priority of spending quality time together and investing in our marriage. After we moved away from New York, our life took on a slower pace, and Ben and I had found time to play chess, cook fun things together, read the newspaper aloud to each other, and discuss politics, history, and current events. In doing so, we had strengthened our relationship to the point that it could withstand significant challenges, from the loss of a child to Ben’s gradual abandonment of frumkeit.

“How do you respect a husband who’s not frum?” a woman will occasionally ask me.

“You want to know how I do it?” I respond. “I look for the good in my husband. He’s a mentsch. He’s kind to me and to the children. He’s warm and caring to our friends and guests. He’s generous. He works hard to support the family. He works for clients and community members pro bono when they can’t afford to pay.”

“But what about bein adam l’Makom?” she’ll protest.

“Have you ever learned Tomer Devorah?” I tell her. “It’s a slim volume written by Rav Moshe Cordovero, the Ramak. He was a great kabbalist, and a disciple of Rav Yosef Karo, who wrote the Shulchan Aruch. Tomer Devorah explains Hashem’s 13 Middos Harachamim and describes how we humans, who are created in His image, can emulate these middos. For instance, Hashem is nosei avon – He carries us even in the midst of an aveirah – and we, too, can continue to ‘carry’ our loved ones even when they transgress.”

In keeping with the Tomer Devorah’s teachings, I’m not going to ruin my marriage by nagging Ben to work on his relationship with Hashem. Instead, I’m going to continue davening and try to be a shining example of someone who does have a relationship with Hashem.

Part of being that shining example is remembering that Hashem matched me with this husband, and trusting that He knows what He is doing. He could have matched me with any man on the planet, yet He chose this special person just for me. We may be on alternate spiritual trajectories, but each of us is exactly what the other needs.

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.

You can contact her at

Alternate Trajectories – Part 3

Written By C. Sapir,

You can read part 1 here.
You can read part 2 here.

Ben and I hosted numerous Shabbos guests, many of whom were just discovering Yiddishkeit, and we helped shepherd these not-yet-religious people toward greater observance, even as Ben himself flagged religiously. When guests had questions at our Shabbos table, he would say, “Ask my wife!”

Much as I tried to get the kids interested in learning and Yiddishkeit, they sensed Ben’s ambivalence. The girls were less affected by that ambivalence, and grew into frum Bais Yaakov girls, but the boys showed more interest in sports and science than in Gemara.

As the children grew older, I worried about the ever-increasing materialistic standards of our in-town community, and I wished that Ben could be a more involved father and husband. Thinking that we might do better in a different environment, I consulted daas Torah for guidance.

The rav I spoke to advised that we move away from New York and the East Coast. I discussed the possibility with Ben, who agreed that it was a good idea to move, even though he had just made partner in his law firm. Although moving would mean giving up the prestige and income he had worked so hard to attain, he realized that the work schedule he was keeping was burning him out and stealing his children’s childhood from him. Later he told me that I was his “Sarah,” and just as Hashem had told Avraham “Shma bekolah – listen to her voice,” he had chosen to listen to the wisdom of why I felt we should move.

We looked at the map and considered communities that were big enough to boast Jewish infrastructure and small enough that our presence would make a difference.

The community we ended up choosing had several Orthodox shuls, but only one was in walking distance of our house. It was more yeshivish than Ben would have preferred, but he did feel welcome in the shul.

Sometime after we moved, we went on a family trip to a place in the mountains that had alpine slides. We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain, but as everyone else was getting onto the slides, I realized that the hat I was wearing would be blown off if I went down the slide. I would have to ride the ski lift down the mountain while everyone else had fun sliding.

Standing there on top of the mountain, it occurred to me that I was doing this purely for Hashem’s sake. My husband had told me many times that he thought it was ridiculous
for me to cover my hair.

I thought of the rebbetzin I was so envious of, surrounded as she was by talmidei chachamim. “Please, Hashem,” I begged, “all I want is to have a husband who learns and sons who learn. Why can’t I have that?”

Right then and there, Hashem gave me the answer. It’s because someone has to set an example of a woman whose connection to Yiddishkeit and Torah is not through a man. I don’t have a father, or a husband, or a son, or a brother who learns Torah. My connection to Hashem is about me.

Looking out at the mountains, I thought of all the Jewish women who have no man in their lives: widows, divorcees, older singles, women in lonely marriages. Someone has to stand up for these women and show them that they can have a rich spiritual life even without a man in their life to act as their spiritual conduit.

That idea became my lifeline. Holding onto it helped me to stop wishing so much for what couldn’t be, and instead embrace what was and explore who I could become with, and not despite, my husband.

Twelve years after we moved, our family suffered three losses in a span of one year. First, our married daughter had a stillbirth. Less than six months later, our teenage daughter was tragically taken from us. Then, just four months later, Ben’s mother passed away suddenly.

Ben and I were both grief-stricken by the losses, but his faith was shaken, while mine remained intact. Having bolstered my emunah by davening and learning Torah all the years, I knew that whatever Hashem does is best for me, no matter how unpleasant and painful it may feel. I also knew that the body is only a temporary garment for the neshamah, and that death is merely a separation, not an end. We all come into this world to die and go to Olam Haba, except that some people’s journeys through this world are longer and some peoples are shorter. So while the death of a loved one hurts dreadfully, I didn’t see any of our losses as reason to doubt Hashem’s existence, His goodness, or His love for me.

Ben did. At first, he was angry at Hashem. Then he started to question whether Hashem even existed.

I felt sorry for Ben that he couldn’t feel Hashem’s love and access the consolation that comes with knowing that everything Hashem does is for the good. We were both suffering tremendous grief, but my grief was so much less painful than his, because my emunah gave me a context for the pain.

For decades, I davened fervently that Ben should return to full Torah observance. My real hope was that that after his parents reached 120 and he would have to say Kaddish for them, he would get back into the habit of davening. I knew that despite his theological issues, he would say Kaddish faithfully.

And indeed, when his mother died, Ben was scrupulous about saying Kaddish. For years, he hadn’t been much of a shul-goer, and he had long since ceased davening three times a day, but during the year of aveilus, he made a point of davening every single tefillah with a minyan.

Ben wasn’t the only one in his family who was scrupulous about saying Kaddish. His sister Candice, who lived in Manhattan, said Kaddish every day, too. In her Open Orthodox congregation, that was just dandy. But when she came to visit us, things got sticky.

Ben tried explaining to Candice that this wasn’t how things were done in our community, but she would not hear of missing Kaddish. Out of respect for our shul, she dressed for Shabbos in her most modest outfit, and then went with my husband to Minchah and Maariv Friday night. She was alone in the women’s section.

The rav and congregation did not take kindly to Candice’s recitation of Kaddish, even from behind the mechitzah. The rav tried to stop her from saying it, and when she refused, he asked her to at least say it quietly.

“If you were mourning your mother, would you want to do it quietly?” she asked pointedly. And the next time the congregation got up to Kaddish, she said it aloud again.

To the astonishment of both Ben and Candice, the rav stopped the Kaddish in middle and skipped to the next part of davening.

Ben was horrified. “I’m done with shul,” he told me. “And I’m done with the frum community as well.” That was the last time he said Kaddish.

With that, my hopes for Ben to develop a deeper, richer connection to Hashem through davening regularly and saying Kaddish were dashed. But I wasn’t the only one who was saddened by Ben’s closing the door on shul and the community. He was, too.

“Do you think it’s easy to lose your emunah?” he asked me. “Do you think it doesn’t hurt to lose faith in everything you’ve believed in and wanted to believe in?”

There was nothing I could do or say that would repair the damage. From then on, I went to shul alone on Shabbos morning.

to be continue

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.

You can contact her at

Alternate Trajectories – Part 2

Written By C. Sapir,

You can read part 1 here.

I had six children in seven-and-a-half years and cared for them almost singlehandedly, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to learn. I devoured Torah books and recordings, maintained regular study partners, and attended numerous shiurim. I was particularly drawn to the shiurim of a rebbetzin in a nearby community, who combined the feminine wisdom of the eishes chayil with solid Torah sources.

I viewed her as my role model, and envied her at the same time. Her father had been a famed rosh yeshiva, and after his passing, her husband – also an outstanding Torah scholar – had taken over as rosh yeshiva. Her brothers and sons, too, were talmidei chachamim. I allowed myself to envy this rebbetzin on the grounds that it was kinas sofrim.

I had a close relationship with the rebbetzin, and she coached me through many difficult moments as it became clearer and clearer that I would never achieve what I had hoped for, what I had dreamed about as a new kallah, and what I yearned for as I learned more. I was trying so hard to build a certain type of family, and while my husband allowed me to do most of what I wanted, he wasn’t the leader, and he often wasn’t even a partner in my endeavor. I felt like I was carrying so much and the load was so, so heavy.

One day, a gadol was visiting the rebbetzin’s home and she called me over to get a brachah. The gadol gave me a brachah, and then he told me to say the brachah of “Hanosein laya’eif koach” with extra kavanah. The rebbetzin then explained to me the deeper meaning of this brachah. “Ya’eif is different from ayeif,” she said. “Ayeif means sleepy, while ya’eif means weary. In this brachah, we are saying that Hashem gives special koach to those who are ya’eif in His service.” This gave me a different perspective on the load I was carrying, and as I said the brachah with more kavanah on a regular basis, my load became somewhat lighter.

I was consistently pulled in the direction of more Torah learning, more meticulous observance of halachah, more involvement in the frum community, and over the years I felt increasingly comfortable with women on the right of the Orthodox spectrum, the chareidi-yeshivish type. Ben, on the other hand, drifted in the opposite direction, feeling less and less comfortable in frum surroundings.

Rather than daven on Shabbos in our local Agudah-type shul, he began walking a mile and a half to a Sephardi shul that was more relaxed, and whose congregation included both frum and non-frum members. At some point, he began eating salads in non-kosher restaurants, and dropped his weekly chavrusa.

Yet even as this dynamic emerged, with me being the spiritual leader of the home while he was the breadwinner, we made a point of working on our marriage and maintaining a sense of full partnership on the relationship level. No matter how busy or tired we were, we went out together every Motzaei Shabbos. We’d get a babysitter and then go out of the house, even if it was just for a drive.

In the meantime, I kept learning and growing in my Yiddishkeit, while Ben kept lawyering. Eventually, my Torah knowledge, and my ability to express it, grew to the point that women in my community started asking me to give shiurim. I began to teach parshah, shemiras halashon, and Jewish philosophy to women from many different backgrounds.

to be continue

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.

You can contact her at

Alternate Trajectories – Part 1

Written By C. Sapir,

“Good Shabbos!”

“Oh, rabbi, what’s good about it?”

My chassan, Ben, fielded this question while we were in a hospital room visiting a patient with advanced cancer. During our year-long engagement – we waited until he finished law school before getting married – we would often meet on Shabbos and walk over to Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, where we were part of a rotation of volunteers who visited the Jewish patients.

At the time, Ben sported a full beard and a big black yarmulke. In his Shabbos suit, he looked like a rabbi, even though he was a fairly recent baal teshuva. The compassion he showed each patient warmed their hearts, as well as mine. How lucky I was to be engaged to such a warm and caring man!

But the pain he confronted on those visits took a toll on him. And when patients mistook him for a rabbi and looked to him for words of solace, he was often at a loss. How could he explain to parents why G-d was inflicting so much pain on their little girl? How was he to explain to a dying teenager that Hashem loved him?

To me, the existence of pain in the world was no contradiction to the existence of a loving, perfect G-d. Unlike Him, we humans are imperfect, and we therefore can’t comprehend everything about the way He runs the world.

I had discovered Yiddishkeit as a teenager, and the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to be part of it, even though I came from a completely nonreligious background.

Ben’s journey to frumkeit was very different. He hailed from a traditional American Jewish family that maintained some cultural Shabbos and kashrus observance, and he had become more religious in college, thanks to a campus kiruv organization.

When we first met some 30 years ago, we were on similar levels of observance. What I didn’t realize then is that although our religious trajectories intersected at that point, his was peaking at the time we met and would slowly decline from there, while mine would keep climbing.

I had attended seminary and loved learning Torah. Ben’s discovery of Yiddishkeit had been primarily experiential – campus Shabbos meals with gusty zemiros – but he never had the chance to study Torah in a serious way. By the time we got married, he had shaved off his beard.

Several months after our wedding, when Ben was about to begin his first job with a Manhattan law firm, he shared with me that he might not wear his yarmulke to work. “Stand up for what you believe in!” I encouraged him. “You’re either a yarmulke wearer or not. Why should you present yourself in two different ways, one at work and another at home?”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “I don’t think I’m a yarmulke wearer anymore. I’m going to stop right now, before I take that job. Thank you for helping me clarify that.” I was stunned.

When we were first married, he was davening three times a day with a minyan, but it wasn’t long before that turned into davening without a minyan, or skipping one or two of the daily prayers. Or not davening at all.

As a junior tax lawyer in Manhattan, Ben was under tremendous pressure to put in 2,000 billable hours a year at work. Most of his colleagues were working seven days a week, and many were double-billing or “padding” their hours (meaning that they would report the same hours twice if they did work for one client that they could reuse on behalf a second client). Ben did not work on Shabbos, and refused, on principle, to double-bill, which meant that during the week he had to work significantly longer than his colleagues. Most days he’d leave the house at six in the morning and return at ten pm, or even midnight. Friday afternoon, he’d slide into the house just before candle-lighting. On Shabbos, he’d go to shul and then catch up on his sleep for the week while I watched the kids.

Since he was out working all the time, I assumed the full responsibility of running the house and caring for the kids. I bought the kids’ clothing – and decided how to dress them. I got the kids out to school – and chose the schools they would attend. We agreed on no TV in the house – and I determined the flavor of the kids’ entertainment.

In the summer, I took the kids up to a yeshivish bungalow colony, while Ben stayed during the week with his parents, who looked askance at my religious fervor.

Ben’s schedule left him with little spare time, and since he had never studied in yeshiva, Torah learning was not a priority to him. It was a priority to me, however. Early on in our marriage, I would learn together with Ben: halachah, Jewish philosophy, Tanach. He went along with the learning, but it was always my initiative, my thing. Eventually, as he got tired of it, I found friends to learn with.

Orginally published in Mishpacha Magazine August 25, 2017

The narrator of this story has formed a support group for observant women (BT or FFB) married to men who are no longer observant.
You can contact her at

Of Odd Couples and Sleepwalking in the Ways of HaShem

What is the significance of HaShem making promises to an unconscious , sleeping Yaakov?
Why did HaShem allow Yitzchak to be duped by Rivkah and Yaakov to be deceived by Leah?
Why does our mystical tradition refer to Rachel as the “revealed world” and to Leah as “the hidden world?

Yitzchak summoned Yaakov, bestowed a blessing on him and commanded him “Do not marry a Canaanite girl”.

— Bereishis 28:1

Yaakov left Beersheba and headed toward Charan … taking some stones he placed them about his head and lay down to sleep there … Suddenly [he observed] HaShem Standing  over him … [HaShem said] I am with you. I will Safeguard you howsoever you go.

— Bereishis 28:10,11,13,15

HaShem Elokim said “it is not good for man to be alone. I will Make him a challenging helper.”

— Bereishis 12:18

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: “Forty days before the formation of an embryo, a Bas Kol-Echo of the Divine Voice; emanates and proclaims, The daughter of A is destined for B.’”

— Sotah 2A

House and riches are the legacy of fathers; but a sensible wife is from HaShem.

— Mishlei 19:14

We see from all segments of the tripartite Torah that the match between a woman and a man is from HaShem[‘s Divine Providence.]

— Moed Katan 18B

There are those who must go after their mates and others whose mates come to them. Yitzchak’s mate came to him, as it is written “(He raised his eyes) and beheld camels coming [transporting his bride Rivkah.] (Bereishis 24:63)” Yaakov went after his mate, as it is written “Yaakov left Beersheba … (Bereishis 28:10) “

— Bereishis Rabbah 68:3

Yaakov loved Rachel and said [to Lavan] “I will work for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” … In the evening he [Lavan] took his daughter Leah to Yaakov who consummated the marriage with her … In the morning discovering that she was Leah [not Rachel] he said to Lavan  “How could you do this to me? Didn’t I labor with you for Rachel[‘s hand in marriage]? Why did you cheat me?

— Bereishis 29: 18, 23,25

A reasonable argument can be made that THE greatest enigma in all of Jewish thought is the conundrum of Yediah u’bechirah-HaShem’s perfect infallible Foreknowledge vs. human free-will. But spinning off of this supreme enigma there are many sub-riddles and mysteries e.g. the particular Providential involvement that our sages ascribe to one’s destined marriage partner. Another example are narratives, both scriptural and personal, of “all’s well that ends well.” There are times when what we think, say or do seems to be thoughtless, ethically neutral or even contrary to the Divine Will. However when later chapters of these biographies are written by the Divine Author, with the passage of time and with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, we realize that, in truth, what we thought, said or did carried a positive ethical charge and was consistent with the Divine Will.

Our sages divide the Providential involvement in matching men with their destined marriage partners into two broad categories:  those who must go after their mates and those whose mates come to them.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that when the Divine Will ordained the creation of woman as a helper to man that, this help too, would manifest itself in two different ways: There are times when a man is proactive in the pursuit of a woman and chooses a mate based on what his rationale, and the rationale of his heart, dictate. He marries a woman in whom heperceives the qualities that will aid him in his life’s work and mission. Such men are among those “who must go after their mates.”

Then there are men whose mates are not at all in accordance with what would naturally be assumed or expected. They come to their husbands without the latter having invested any intellectual, spiritual or emotional capital in determining whether or not they would “make sense” as a married couple. HaShem sends this woman to this man in ways that are counterintuitive and that, at first, seem to thwart both the Divine Will and hinder or delay the achievement of the husband’s goals.

Read more Of Odd Couples and Sleepwalking in the Ways of HaShem

Overlooking the Challenges of Marriage

By Bob Garber

As someone constantly learning with Baalei Tshuva and potential BTs, my relationship always seems to end with the marriage of my students. Up until the wedding, I frequently see my students at Shabbatonim, visiting our home for Shabbos, or attending an interesting lecture or program. The wedding is usually an exciting, joyous party with many mutual friends, current and former students attending. The Sheva Berachos are filled with inspiring divrei Torah and dancing, usually in an intimate setting with friends and family.

However, once the festivities end, connections seem to begin to diminish. Of course, we invite the newlyweds for Shabbos, and they come a few times, but even this contact gradually diminishes as the couple begins their new lives together and get involved in their careers and their community. My wife and I have attended numerous such weddings in the past five years, and in almost all cases we have gradually lost contact with former students, rarely seeing them except for chance meetings. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing, as couples develop their own relationship and build their home and family.

Nevertheless, the following pattern has also become increasingly common. I start hearing rumors or innuendos that someone is separated, but of course no one can really speak about it because its lashon hora. Then I hear rumors about a get, and then still later I meet the person (sometimes with a baby) and find out that the couple is in fact divorced. Sometimes the BT also appears to be dressing inappropriately, and later is no longer Shomer Shabbos.

I am very saddened by this pattern. Marriage, instead of being a significant stepping stone to personal and spiritual growth, seems in many cases to have become the culmination of spiritual growth, and is unable to survive the ongoing pressures and challenges that observant couples inevitably face.

Part of the problem is that I don’t think the couple, family, friends and even rabbis and other spiritual guides focus much on life after marriage. The reality is that it’s not easy changing the focus of one’s life when you get married, and the older the chassan and kallah are, the more difficult that transition becomes. Moreover, it’s also not easy to learn to prioritize another person’s needs over one’s own needs, especially when that person is so different than oneself. After the excitement wears off, and the couple becomes entrenched in their routines, sometimes communication and expectations between the parties get out of sync. I also think especially BTs, who do not have observant parents as role models, may become confused as to their spiritual direction both individually, and in relation to their spouses.

The worst part is that I believe the downhill slide is totally preventable. Many couples just don’t know that Judaism has much to contribute to the ongoing relationship, and that learning about marriage and relationships, e.g. Shalom Bayis, may be just as satisfying and important as learning about Shabbos and Kashrus. The Torah has much to say even about the personal relationship skills that each partner in a marriage need to practice and perfect. In addition, there is no reason that inspirational Shabbos and learning experiences should end after marriage. I believe that Kiruv and regular Jewish institutions need to devote more efforts to reaching out specifically to BT married couples and provide them both with the spiritual resources such as classes and learning opportunities, as well as practical and personal resources for handling the stresses of living as a couple and later with children.

Opposites Attract…AND Repel

If I say to the girl “Tip your jug over and let me drink” and she responds, “Drink, and I will water your camels as well” she is the one whom You have verified [as the mate] for Your servant Yitzchak. [If I find such a girl] I will know that You have done lovingkindness to my master.

-Bereshis 24:14

She [Rivkah] is fitting for him [Yitzchak]for she will perform deeds of lovingkindness and is worthy of coming into the house of Avraham.

-Rashi Ibid

She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;

At first glance the litmus test for Rivkah’s compatibility with Yitzchak seems ill-advised.  While it’s true that Avraham Avinu is identified with Chesed-lovingkindness, Yitzchak Avinu is identified with Gevurah-might and self-control. So, while extending favors and lovingkindness might demonstrate that Rivkah was worthy of entering the house of Avraham, Eliezer had been dispatched to choose a bride for Yitzchak, not for Yitzchaks father. As such, perhaps Eliezer should have prayed for HaShem to arrange for circumstances that would test Rivkahs self-restraint, courage and strength rather than her lovingkindness.

HaShem said “It is not good for man to be alone.   I will make him a helpmate opposite him

-Bereshis 2:18

Rashi famously explains this Pasuk as an either / or proposition; “If one is worthy (his wife) will be his helpmate, if he is unworthy then she becomes his opponent to wage war”.  However, the Izhbitzer writes that a straightforward reading of the Pasuk tells us that Hashem’s Will is that one’s help arises from a challenging opponent rather than from an ostensibly sympathetic ally.

To illustrate this concept he cites the Gemara (Bava Metzia 84A) that relates that after the death of Reish Lakish, Rebee Yochonon became despondent. Rebee Yochonon had been the deceased’s adversary in numerous Halachic disputes, At first Rebee Elazar ben Pedas was sent to him as a new disciple to “replace” Reish Lakish. But Rebee Elazar turned out to be a “yes-man” ally, buttressing each of Rebee Yochonon’s Halachic opinions with corroborating braisos. Rather than drawing comfort from his new student Rebee Yochonon grew even more grief-stricken and cried out “You are nothing like the son of Lakish! When I offered an opinion the son of Lakish would pose twenty four questions and I’d supply twenty four answers. In this way the topic would be illuminated and clarified.”

Hashem’s stated goal in the creation of the first woman; adversarial assistance, was to become the template for all subsequent women. The antithetical natures of man and woman are reflected on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels. Human males and females perceive reality in distinctive masculine and feminine ways. They are two genders divided by a common language. A contemporary author aptly titled his bestselling book about relationships using a metaphor indicating that men and women come from different planets and are as extra-terrestrial aliens to one another.

Chazal tell us that since the time of Creation, HaShem is a Matchmaker who “sits and pairs up couples.” (Bereshis Rabbah 68:4). Based on how He designed the first human couple to function as a unit this means that besides the two genders being diametrically opposed to one another in the broadly generic sense the Divine “Maker of pairs” customizes opposing forces in every specific couple according to each partner’s unique make-up.

The Izhbitzers great disciple Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, carries the concept further:  The attraction and pairing of opposites is based on more than the dynamic tension of opposing forces strengthening and sharpening one another. It is also because each individual is incomplete unto themselves. To use the Talmudic imagery, a single person is merely half a body.  So when antithetical males and females are paired they complement one another and fill in that which their partner lacks.

This explains the prayer of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer. It is precisely because Yitzchak is defined by Gevurah that Eliezer sought a mate for him imbued with Chesed. To have paired Yitzchak with a woman of Gevurah would have been redundant, so to speak,  as Yitzchak would already have provided the marriage with that half of the equation. Such a match would work against the Divine template for matchmaking; “a helpmate…. opposite him” davkah.

There are two ways in which a Midah B’Kedusha-A characteristic rooted in holiness can be linked to another characteristic;  either by uniting with its opposing Midah B’Kedusha or by being conflated with its sympathetic, mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra-a characteristic rooted in evil.  When two antithetical Midos B’Kedusha join forces their relationship is symbiotic. They complement one another like nesting concave and convex figures with each Midah B’Kedusha rounding out the other to form the whole.  So, while a tension exists between them, sensing that it is their “adversary” that will make them complete, they are attracted to one another as well.

On the other hand when a Midah B’Kedusha connects to its mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra nothing beneficial accrues to the Midah B’Kedusha . It is stuck with and to the evil Midah B’Sitra Achra as part of the inescapable fallout of the cosmic mish-mash of good and evil resulting from the Original Sin *1. But there is no reason, hence no way, for a Midah B’Kedusha to unite with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra. When confronted with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra the Midah B’Kedusha senses all of the tension and the antagonism but none of the opportunity for fulfillment. In such instances, the Midah B’Kedusha is utterly repelled by the adversarial nature of the Midah B’Sitra Achra.

This helps us better understand the family dynamics of our earliest patriarchs and matriarchs. Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. His mate, Sara, complemented and completed Avraham through her opposing midah of Gevurah. In the next generation the roles of the male and female marriage partners were reversed. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his midah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint.   Informed by Hashems awe-inspiring Infinity, Gevurah is the trait of conquering, and impeding the expansion of, oneself.  His mate, Rivkah, complemented and completed Yitzchak through her opposing midah of Chesed.

The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism. The evil parallel midah of Gevurah is Shfichas Damim-homicide which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “forcefulness, conquering, and impeding expansion” but which seeks to dominate others rather than oneself and that is informed at its core by self-indulgence and paranoia rather than by self-abnegation and the awe of G-d.  Yishmael is the embodiment of Znus while Esav is the personification of Shfichas Damim [The arms are Esavs arms…You shall live by your sword].

Although Yishmels midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Chesed and so Avrahams Chesed allowed him to tolerate Yishamel.  But Sara, who possessed holy Gevurah, the trait intrinsically hostile to Chesed, was completely repulsed by Yishmaels unholy, evil “Chesed” and so she drove him away. In precisely this manner while Esavs midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Gevurah and so Yitzchaks Gevurah moved him to affection for Esav.  Yitzchak loved Esav (Bereshis 25:28).  But Rivkah who possessed holy Chesed, the trait intrinsically hostile to Gevurah, was completely revolted by Esav’s unholy, evil “Gevurah” and so she orchestrated events to disinherit him.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach Bereshis D”H E’Eseh Lo                                                                                                                                                      and Kometz HaMincha Inyan 50 (page 4647)

1* This fundamental concept received a fuller treatment in an earlier installment in this series.  To learn about it CLICK HERE

Don’t Just Choose Good. Sift the Evil Away From the Good

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 “But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

 “Avram came to her [Hagar], and she conceived; and when she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress with contempt. Sarai said unto Avram …Now that she sees herself pregnant she regards me with condescension.  Let Elokim judge between me and you.’”.

– Bereshis 16: 4, 5

Every other  בֶּינֶיך – between me and you, in Scripture is spelled lacking the second yud, but this one is spelled plene. As such it may also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine, as though Sarai is threatening Hagar rather than Avram), for Sarai cast an Ayin Hara-evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus. 

– Rashi Ibid

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. This is why comprehending the workings of the original sin is a prerequisite to better understanding the family dynamics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

In   Nefesh HaChaim the Magiha –author of the glosses, explains that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit Adams Yetzer HaRa-inclination to evil was clarified and external to his being (personified in the Nachash HaKadmoni-the primordial snake). The qualitative paradigm shift resulting from the first sin was that the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. He and Chava became what they ate, entities in which good and evil are joined together. This had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the original sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good, even in the soul of the most saintly, nor any unmitigated evil, even in the deeds of the wickedest.

The Pasuk (Koheles 7:14) “In the day of Good…in the day of Evil…; Elokim made one corresponding to the other,..” teaches that everything in Kedusha-holiness and good has its parallel in impurity and evil. After Adams original sin these parallel entities become linked and blended together.

Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, the trait of giving to, and pouring out upon, others. The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism.  As a patriarch of Klal Yisrael and a rectifier of Adam’s sin Avraham Avinu’s life’s-work was not merely to choose to actualize Chesed and avoid stinginess and callousness at every opportunity but to clarify and purify his Chesed, to thresh away its Znus dark underside.

Avraham Avinu’s progeny prior to Yitzchok were the incarnations of the dark underside of his midah. He needed to get them out of his system, as it were, before being able to reproduce a soul as free of evil admixtures as Yitzchaks.  Whereas Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed his son Yishmael would be defined by his midah of Znus. When HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak, shopped the Torah to other nations of the world our sages recount the following exchange:  “‘He shined forth from mount Paran’ (Devarim 33:2) HaShem asked the Ishmaelites ‘Would you like my Torah?’ they replied ‘What is written within it?’ HaShem said ‘You shall not commit adultery ‘‘If so’ they responded ‘we do not want it’.”  In a similar vein the Talmud (Kidushin 49B) tells us that “ten measures of infidelity/licentiousness descended to the world. Arabia took nine measures and the remaining measure was divided among the balance of the nations”.

Progressing from these principles Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers insight into the apparent “domestic squabbles” in Avrahams home.

During Hagar’s first pregnancy the refinement process of Avrahams Midah began. The embryo then being formed embodied a blend of good and evil that was being filtered out. Yet in the mix that was being filtered out there was still a greater relative amount of Chesed vs. Znus. Feeling the gravity of the good growing within her Hagar “lightly esteemed” i.e. grew self-important and became condescending towards her mistress. By the second pregnancy unadulterated Znus was distilled from Avrahams Chesed in the person of Yishmael.

Just as Chava, Adams mate, was the one who induced him to internalize evil and to comingle evil with good it would be Sara, Avraham Avinus wife, who would prompt him to extract and externalize his evil. Just as Chava began her work of ruination-through-adulteration with her eyes “The woman (Chava) saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Bereshis 3:6), Sara would begin her work of repairing- through-sifting-out with her eyes, casting an Ayin Hara-evil eye. Just as Chavas work of ruination-through-adulteration would conclude with the conflicted, ambivalent  humans, whose goodness had been contaminated with evil, being driven out of Eden (Bereshis 3:23,24), Sara would complete her work of repairing- through-sifting-out by banishing the unambiguous human, whose soul completely extracted and distilled the evil midah of Znus, from the house of Avraham. (Bereshis 21:10-14),

 Adapted from Kometz HaMincha Inyan 38 (pages 3940)

and Nefesh HaChaim chapter 5 Hagaha D”H v’zeh, v’hainyan (pages 22-25)  



Putting Hubby First

I didn’t grow up with a mother who gave me any kind of pre-marital chat about how to be a good wife. But I learned from watching her. In our household, she was fully dedicated to taking care of my father’s every need. I vividly remember their routine – he ran a business about a 25-minute ride from home. He would call when he was leaving work, and my mother would time the evening supper meal perfectly so that when we all heard the automatic garage door opener, and my father was pulling in the driveway, my mother was plating up his dinner. Perhaps that is why my husband comes home to a warm meal every night, timed with his train schedule. I grew up thinking this was entirely normal.

The longer you are married, the easier it is to get lax on this kind of commitment. My husband, Stephen, would most certainly be forgiving if on any given evening he came home to a flustered, busy wife, and she said, “Didn’t happen today, dear – make yourself a sandwich.” It’s never happened, not once, and truthfully, I fully enjoy the ritual of preparing my husband’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s what I love about being married to him all these years, not what I wish I could remove from my to-do list. Chas v’shalom.

And so it came to be just recently that my commitment to always putting my husband first was tested. A family simcha on my husband’s side meant that Stephen was going to go away to the Berkshire Mountains for a weekend, leaving the children and me here. (That’s a longer story, not for this column, but everyone who reads Beyond BT can relate to when you decide to send away one member of the family to the obligatory family simcha that takes place over shabbos amongst non observant relatives). I made him his own special Shabbos food, and we packed him up to leave Friday morning. Meanwhile, the idea of Shabbos in our home without him was too depressing, so I called two good friends and invited the children and me to them, one Friday night, and one Shabbos day.

We make plans, and G-d laughs. Friday morning, the only news anyone was talking about was the first weather “event” to hit our area – in the form of a major snowstorm for Saturday night and Sunday that promised to dump 2 feet of snow in the area. It would not be safe driving for my husband. And so, after a long pow wow, we decided that he would opt out of the simcha, and stay home for Shabbos. Fantastic news for us.

Here’s the rub. We NEVER go out on Friday night for a meal. It’s our family time, and my husband relishes Friday night dinner with just the family after a long workweek, and making up for the sleep he is deprived of all week long by his grueling schedule. When we learned that he’d be home, he requested of me that I cancel our attendance at my friend’s house, as he preferred to eat at home. I protested – “that’s not fair to her, as I’m sure she’s done all the cooking already”. And, truth be told, I wasn’t interested or ready to make a Shabbos meal. I am ready for Shabbos by chatzos every week, and this was two hours before chatzos.

My husband is an agreeable guy, and he shrugged and agreed. Decision made. But it nagged at me. I knew that I wasn’t putting him first. And, I knew that I could, if I wanted to. I called my friend to find out if she’d already cooked for us, and found out that she isn’t a chatzos family – she hadn’t even begun cooking yet. And that’s when I knew the right decision. I wouldn’t be putting her out by cancelling; in fact, it would relieve pressure on her. And I would make my husband very happy.

I got into gear, and without my husband’s knowledge (he had gone elsewhere for a few hours), I put together a meal and set the table for dinner – before chatzos. Stephen would never have demanded it, but as he sat at the table on Friday night, beaming at his children, enjoying his wife’s cooking, and admiring a beautiful table, I knew that I’d made the right decision.

I was looking forward to a night off – no cooking, no dishes to wash, someone else to serve me for once. I traded that freedom for something much better – a look of gratitude in my husband’s eyes.

Azriela Jaffe is the author of twenty books. Most recently she has been focusing her writing efforts on holocaust memoirs. She is hired privately by families to write the life story of their surviving holocaust matriarch or patriarch. After months of interviews, she produces a finished book for the family. Azriela’s new novella, entitled ,“Meant to Be” will be in Jewish bookstores the end of January. And most recently, she is known as the “chatzos lady” because she has organized an email support group that now includes 160 women from all over the world who want to learn how to be fully ready for Shabbos by mid-day on Friday. To join this group, email azriela at To inquire about her holocaust memoir writing, email

The Special Challenges of the Baal Teshuvah Marriage

The Orthodox Union has just released the findings of their Aleinu Marriage Satisfaction Survey conducted online from January 15-March 31, 2009. The full report can be read here and Ezzie has posted the video here.

Amongst the various findings is a section entitled Challenges to Baalei Teshuva. It states: “The survey made clear that baalei teshuva, with their new found religious fervor, face challenges in their marriages. Their stress factors, Dr. Schnall explained, include at-risk children; conflicts regarding education; lack of communication and intimacy; religious differences; finances; and lack of social network. He emphasized that ‘in large samples, even small differences can be statistically significant — in other words, while these findings likely did not occur by chance, the absolute differences between baalei teshuva and others regarding these stressors were not huge. The bottom line is that as rabbis and mental health professionals, or even simply as caring neighbors and friends, we need to show heightened sensitivity to these issues that might especially impact on baalei teshuva.’”

Does anyone find this surprising, enlightening, obvious, off-base, something else?

Rabbi Lazer Brody on Shalom Bayis – Mp3

Rabbi Lazer Brody inspired approximately 200 people on Sunday with a shiur sponsored by Chazaq at the Beth Gavriel Community Center on Shalom Bayis. As you might know, Rabbi Brody has translated Rabbi Shalom Arush’s book on Shalom Bayis called The Garden of Peace, a marital guide for men only. If is highly acclaimed and highly recommended.

Rabbi Brody’s first key to Shalom Bayis is that we should thank our spouse for all they do for us. Expressing thanks is the first key to Shalom Bayis.

The second major point is that a wife needs to know that she holds a central place in her husband’s list of priorities. This should be easy since the wife is the strength of a Jewish home, but we all need to make the effort to show our wife she is in first place in our eyes.

The third key is avoid criticizing your wife. Criticism and comments are very painful for a women and we should avoid them at all costs.

For women, Rabbi Brody noted that a shalom bayis book for women is on the way, and he suggested that women should encourage their husband and build their confidence..

Rabbi Yosef Nechama of was kind enough to allow us to share Rabbi Brody’s shiur. So please avail yourself of this opportunity to improve a most important aspect of our lives, our shalom bayis.

Rabbi Brody’s shiur on Shalom Bayis can be downloaded here.

What My Rabbi Told Me About Different Levels of Observance

(Disclaimer: This is what my Rabbi told me for my particular situation. It does not necessarily apply to others even in similar situations.)

When my husband and I got married, neither of us was observant. Since I was the one who grew in Judaism and he wasn’t, I changed but should not expect him to change, as long as he is not making me commit sins (which he is not, just he himself doesn’t want to participate).

Even though he remains non-observant, I should not look down on him. His frame of reference is not a Torah frame of reference, so he doesn’t know why it’s wrong to do certain things.

I can’t go to treif restaurants with him or break Shabbat for or with him, etc., but as long as he is treating me properly – which he does – then Shalom Bayit is paramount. I should focus on his good qualities and not compare him to others.

My rabbi said that I can consider all of the above to be his Halachic decisions on the way I should conduct my life and my marriage from now on.

So … it seems that now I have been given a new charge by the Al-mighty, one which focuses on mending my own attitudes. I am posting this rather intimate, personal article to ask for help in dealing with these challenges and tasks, and to ask for Chizuk, support, anything anyone can tell me to strengthen me. I am in deep pain right now and looking for comfort and healing.

BT Wife, Non-Observant Husband

When I sat down to write this – my first article for Beyond BT – I wanted to phrase it in the plural, as “we,” writing for other women as well as myself. But I don’t know any other women in my situation. Perhaps, as a result of this article, some will come forward.

There are some inspirational stories in Jewish literature about religious women whose husbands are not on as high a spiritual level, though such women are, seemingly, nowhere to be found in our present-day world. There’s a classic story from Beresheet Rabbah (17:7) about a pious man and woman who divorced because they were childless; each married a wicked mate. The pious man’s new wife made him wicked, while the pious woman made her new husband righteous. The moral of this story is that “everything depends on the woman.”

Or, there is the story of Devorah, the Judge of Israel. Her husband, according to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 9), was not learned. So Devorah would make wicks and send her husband to deliver them to the Temple, so he would be exposed to the holy surroundings and perhaps, by osmosis or by interacting with those present, be influenced. She is given the credit for assuring that her husband would thereby have a share in the World to Come.

Through a series of events which would be off-topic to detail, I married my husband 15 years ago. We are an older couple, so some things that would be serious issues for (hypothetical) younger observant/non-observant couples are not relevant to us. But there are still challenges aplenty.

Our kitchen is unique. My husband loves to cook and putter around in the kitchen; I’m probably one of the few women who wishes her husband would leave the kitchen entirely to her. But he has his area of the kitchen (non-kosher), and I have mine (kosher). I don’t know what I’d do without aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and the two self-cleaning ovens I’m fortunate enough to have. My husband likes to joke to people that “we have three sets of dishes: meat, milk, and mine,” or that with our three microwave ovens, anyone with a pacemaker would get zapped if they walked in. Seriously, though, we can’t have any of our observant friends over to eat because I would not want to put them in an awkward position of having to refuse due to doubts. We have been their guests many, many times, but we can’t reciprocate.

Shabbat is unique. I make a point of preparing an elaborate Friday night dinner for just the two of us, and my husband puts on a yarmulke and eats with me at the candlelit Shabbat table – but on his own dishes and with his own placemat. Lately he has even been washing for bread (my homemade challah). I guess for him that’s a giant step; I can’t realistically expect that he will ever sing Zemirot or even Eishet Chayil.

Our house is full of timers. Thank G-d for technology! But, he goes his merry way and puts on lights (and TV and computer and so on) for himself as he wishes. Saturday is his favorite shopping day – did I mention that he likes to shop as well as cook? Meanwhile, every Shabbat morning I am in shul, davening to Hashem. Many of the prayers have extra meaning for me: “Return us to You…” and so on.

It is because of my husband’s love for me that I even have a chance to be in shul at all. For many years, we lived far away from the Jewish community. As I came back to Yiddishkeit, I longed to be near an Orthodox shul. Finally, he moved us to the wonderful community where we now live – even though that meant he would be commuting to and from work a total of 100 miles a day. We are around the corner from my shul of choice, one of five Orthodox shuls within walking distance. To me, that is as great a miracle as Yetziat Mitzrayim, and I often think of my own personal Exodus during that part of the prayers.

But it is only rarely that my husband comes to shul. Most of the time, there is a “black hole” for me as I peer through the Mechitzah and see that he is not there. The husband of one of my dearest friends says a Mi Sheberach for my family whenever he gets an Aliyah; it is usually the only way I will have that blessing. As each of my friends sees her husband get an Aliyah, I embrace her and wish that she will have as much joy from her husband’s Aliyah as I would if it were my husband.

When my husband does come to shul, my prayers really come alive. The words seem like they are leaping off the page in flames of spirituality.

The community has welcomed us with open arms. My husband enjoys the company of many of the men when we are someone’s guests. But, so far, he has not adopted their lifestyle.

He is wonderful to me, thoughtful, considerate, loving and funny. He’s everything a woman would want, but he’s not observant. In fact, one of the “problems” I’ve had was how to stop him from buying me flowers on Shabbat!

Most of the stories on the standard Jewish Web sites have happy endings of how this or that person became a BT. We never hear about the ones who don’t. I constantly hope and pray that my husband will become observant – after all, doesn’t it all depend upon the woman? – but, only Hashem knows, and I have to have faith that this is all for the best.

The Niddah Difference

By Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

Since most of you probably aren’t familiar with Deaf culture, let me begin by explaining that the Deaf community is a very touchy (physically) community. I’ve heard various reasons for this. Part of it seems to be the loss of one sense, sound; so we make it up by using more of another sense, in this case touch. There are lots of hugs, pats, nudges, etc. Another reason for this is that we, of course, can’t hear. Say you need to get by John Doe, but he’s in your way. A simple “excuse me” won’t do much good, it’s noisy and his hearing aids are overwhelmed (or he can’t hear anything at all). How do you get by? Sometimes it only takes a light tap on the shoulder, sometimes it’s a little bit more of a moving of the other person’s body (giving a slight push to the side, or putting hands on the shoulder and moving them over a little). Now, all this isn’t to say that the Deaf are a community of people constantly groping at each other, not by a long shot. But I’ve seen that people who aren’t comfortable with touching are often unnerved when around a lot of Deaf people. For Deaf folks though, this is the norm.

Now let’s add in the Jewish concept of Niddah. Ah, now things become more complex! I see this often with one rabbi I know. He’s a Baal Teshuva, a hearing, religious son of deaf, non-religious parents. But he’s very active in the deaf community. I sometimes see that he makes a slight move, as if he is about to hug someone, then suddenly remembers and stops himself.

That’s the general picture. Now it’s on to my own experiences. Before we were married, my wife (modern orthodox her whole life, also deaf) and I really didn’t get into a deep discussion on Niddah issues; and after the wedding, sort of fumbled a bit to figure it all out. During the times of Niddah, we still touched to alert each other to things, plus a quick hug hello and good bye, and after a, shall we say, heated discussion, to signal that we are okay again.

But as I began to become more religious myself, we started re-evaluating things, and decided to try and completely keep from touching during this time period. There were some small challenges. For example, I could no longer just tap on her shoulder if I wanted her attention and she didn’t have her hearing aids on. Instead, I would now stomp on the floor (for the vibrations), or reach around and wave to her if I was close enough. Those were easily overcome.

No, the place where I noticed it took the most analyzing and adjusting, for me, was the “after heated discussion hug.” I came to realize that I was using this as a crutch to calm my wife (and myself) down. Maybe even unfairly. It seemed that if I hugged her tight enough, or long enough, the tears would soon dry up and she’d be feeling better. But now there were times I couldn’t give the hug. Now what to do??

I soon learned that when the occasional flare ups would occur (nothing MAJOR, just the usual issues here and there that all married couples with active kids face) that I would need to talk and discuss the issue completely in full length and depth until it was truly resolved for both of us, and we were both feeling better. While this approach takes much longer than the “hug-the-problem-away,” I think the solution we come up with is better and longer lasting, not another temporary patch. Now even when it’s not a period of Niddah, we do spend more time talking about the issues in detail until they really are resolved, and only then do we close things up with a hug. (After all, they are still nice!)

Divorce & BTs

In actuality, this article was started about twenty-five years ago.

I was a bachur in Ohr Somayach, Yerushalayim, at the time. Despite struggles with the realities of becoming observant, I still wore a nice pair of rose-colored glasses about the world I was entering. Yes, there were challenges and even real problems, but it was still a disinfected picture of life in the yeshiva lane I beheld.

Then, casually – it was during a walk in Meah Shearim on a bright, late summer Shabbos afternoon – someone in a group I was strolling about with remarked that he heard Rabbi Gottlieb say that the divorce rate of baalei teshuva was as high as those of the general, secular world.

First there was disbelief.

“Are you sure you heard that?” another person asked. Yes, he seemed to be sure. Furthermore, he said, he heard that in Rabbi Gottlieb’s opinion baalei teshuva should date for six months, not six weeks, before they get engaged.

Truth be told, I never had those claims confirmed: that the divorce rate of BTs was as high as in the secular world and that Rabbi Gottlieb had actually said it or that BT dating should last six months. Nevertheless, the conversation stuck with me.

Flash forward about a year later. I am now a fully committed BT learning full-time in yeshiva. I am at a weekend retreat with my fellow bachurim. The previous year, a slightly older peer – I’ll call him Michoel – had made Kiddush for us. I envied Michoel: he was intelligent, deeply committed, funny, personable, creative. And he had a wife who was as intelligent and spiritual as she was attractive. They were the picture of perfection in my mind.

Now, a year later, I sat at Michoel’s table, and he was making Kiddush again… but his wife was not there. They had since divorced. (They had been married long enough to have a child.)

This sent me for a loop. I never asked him what happened, but his divorce stuck in my gut. Michoel was someone I could relate to; someone who had achieved, externally at least (internally, too, it seemed), many of the things I dreamed of. Yet, his picture perfect life was shattered. And with it my own picture of perfection about becoming a baal teshuva. If one wasn’t careful, one could stumble and fall like Michoel, like his wife, like the 50% or more secular and/or non-Jewish Americans who divorce.

Anyway, to this day I still do not know if, in fact, the divorce rate of baalei teshuva is comparable to that in the secular world, but I have witnessed or heard of enough divorce, to say nothing of difficult marriages, among baalei teshuva to ask the following question: What are the pressures and circumstances that might put more strain on a marriage of baalei teshuva than others?

I suspect that the answer is: strains that are no different than those of becoming a BT in the first place.

For instance, if it can be said that a baal teshuva tends to have less familial support than an FFB, then the baal teshuva couple has more strain on them because they tend to not have parents to give them the same degree of physical, emotional and/or financial support one might typically get from FFB parents.

(Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. My own parents, baruch Hashem, took the hour-and-a-half ride to visit us three or four times a month for over a decade. This had an enormously positive impact on my children. Often, I thought to myself how the kids would have fared without them.)

There are greater financial stresses and requirements needed to live the observant life. In theory, and often in practice, they are offset by positive communal attitudes and a healthy Torah outlook. However, is that always enough? And what about baalei teshuva who do not have the deepest roots in a community or perhaps even the same depth of Torah wisdom to apply this knowledge?

The strains of raising and being mechanech children: It can put a strain on any marriage when children have difficulties in school. Many BT parents lack the learning skills to teach their children beyond the elementary school years. This is another extra strain.

I am sure there are other things, but I want to leave this article more open-ended. What are examples of other strains, in your opinion? What are the worst ones? What are your strains and what do you do and/or what can anyone do about them?

Do you even accept the premise of this article: that BT divorce rates are as high as (higher than?) secular divorce rates? Do you think they are higher than FFB divorce rates?

I look forward to the usual spirited and articulate responses.

Thoughts for Those With Non Observant Spouses

My marriage since becoming observant has been a very painful reality for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am married to a wonderful man. The painful part is that we don’t share a commitment to living a Torah life.

In the Jewish community, people often talk about the “intermarriage problem.” But marrying a Jew isn’t enough. The ideal situation is clearly to marry a Jew who shares your definition of “Jewish home,” “raising Jewish children,” and “observing Jewish law/rituals/practices” (or at least compatible, similar definition). The problem for BTs is that our definition of all those things has changed, which increases the odds that we are married to someone who isn’t frum and doesn’t want to be.

When I met my future husband, I was moving at a glacial speed towards observant Judaism (I intellectually knew Orthodox Judaism was the only sort of Judaism that rationally made sense to me, but I was living a largely secular life). My husband is Jewish, but never had much of any exposure to Judaism growing up, and our secular lifestyle suited him just fine. But after about two years of marriage, my Jewish glacier melted and became a fast moving torrent of new observances.

Of course, as you might imagine, I tried all sorts of methods to encourage my husband to take up my new found Judaism. I asked nicely, I sent web links, I bought him books, I begged, I bribed, I threatened. None of that worked, but it did bring our marriage dangerously close to divorce. Hopefully, if you find yourself in a similar situation, then you can do as I say and not as I did.

First, you should know that at least in the beginning, you are likely going to be the major (if not the only) source of Yiddishkeit in your home. Instead of bemoaning the fact that your spouse doesn’t act like a husband or wife in a traditional Jewish home, perhaps you can get to a point where you appreciate the opportunity to be such a bright light for your family.

Second, take the time to find out why your spouse isn’t interested in becoming more observant. It may be that there are things that you can do to make observing some mitzvot more comfortable for him or her. Perhaps lack of knowledge, feeling uncomfortable, or the magnitude of commitment a Torah lifestyle requires are stumbling blocks for your spouse. Look for opportunities to help your spouse participate (if he or she is willing). For example, transliterated blessings with instructions on how to light Hanukkah candles helped my husband light a menorah for the first time this past Hanukkah. He was able to do it without my help, so rather than feeling infantilized he felt empowered.

Third, you really do catch more flies with honey. You can’t force your spouse to be observant, but you can show him or her how beautiful and meaningful an observant life can be. I doubt there is a person on the planet who became frum because his or her spouse constantly criticized all the things he or she was doing that were “wrong.” But there are many among us who started becoming more observant because of someone else showing us kindness and compassion.

Fourth, it is helpful to find compromises instead of fights. If your spouse still wants to eat food from a non-kosher restaurant, then maybe you can agree that he won’t bring it into your home. Obviously you don’t want to compromise your own commitment to halacha (or that of your children, if you have them). But it’s important to your marriage that everything is not a fight.

Finally, I’ll end with what is probably my most controversial idea. If you are committed to staying married, then you will have to learn to respect the fact that your spouse may never observe Judaism the way you do. You can pray, encourage and lead by example, but you simply cannot force someone to be observant.

Rabbi Brody on the BT Blues – The Uncooperative Spouse

Rabbi Brody posts the following question and answer from a reader and thought it would be of interest to the Beyond BT audience.

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I’ve been a Baal Tshuva for almost a year and a half now. Before I made Tshuva, my relations with my wife were shaky at best, and tense most of the time. Now, they’re even worse. She doesn’t want to hear about Torah or tshuva. All she seems interested in is fun and games – DVDs, tennis, girlfriends. I see no hope in this marriage; when I’m in shul, she’s playing tennis with a girlfriend. We’ve tried marriage counseling, but it hasn’t done anything other than depleting my available cash. Luckily, our three-year old son is not in school yet, but that’s the next potential battle down the line – how to educate him. Both her parents and my parents are against me. I need some urgent advice. Waiting to hear from you as soon as possible, Dennis C., Southern USA.

Dear Dennis,

Your wife isn’t against Torah – she’s against you and anything you represent. If you started playing tennis, she’d probably start horseback riding. The first thing you have to do is to learn how to be a loving and considerate husband. For that, you need emuna.

Don’t despair, and don’t fall into a self-pity mode. Now’s that time to mobilize and take positive action. If you play your cards right, everything will fall into place. This is a classic test of faith. Stop wasting money on marriage counseling, for if the counselor doesn’t help you strengthen your emuna, then nothing will change.

With emuna and patience, you’ll have just the home you want. From this moment on, do the following with no excuses and no compromises:
Read more Rabbi Brody on the BT Blues – The Uncooperative Spouse