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Bassi Gruen

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

As a teenager, my husband made the decision to be much more stringent with halachah than his more modern family. We don’t live near my in-laws but we have a nice long-distance relationship. The problem is when we go for Shabbos and Yom Tov, my husband doesn’t want me to bring the children to shul, because there is a lot of mingling of the genders in the lobby and outside of the shul and he doesn’t want the children to be exposed to that scene. At home, my children go to shul every week and it’s the highlight of their week. While I understand my husband’s ruchniyus considerations, I feel that two parties are the victims here: my children, who can’t go to shul, and my in-laws, who would so love to share their nachas with their friends. Any advice?

 Rabbi Ilan Feldman is the son of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, a sage of the American rabbinate and a well-published author, son in-law and talmid of Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg ztz”l and rav of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, Georgia. The families who are part of his vibrant, dynamic community regularly turn to Rav Feldman to receive his wise counsel on both halachic and interpersonal issues.

 Mrs. Batya Weinberg teaches at numerous seminaries in Yerushalyim, lectures widely, and has been involved in adult education for nearly twenty years.

 Rabbi Dovid Hochberg, LCSW-C, is the director of the Maryland Counseling Network and a sought-after psychotherapist. He has published and lectured extensively on mental health, marriage, parenting, and relationship issues and is the author of The Jewish Teen’s Survival Guide.


Rabbi Ilan Feldman

Your question is important because it highlights the role a rebbe or a rav can play in helping a person reach his goals in ruchniyus. It is the kind of question that should not be answered definitively or formulaically by someone unfamiliar with your situation and personalities.

You are going to have to negotiate between two holy values. In other words, you are going to have to use judgment, which is eminently more difficult than determining issur and heter. It’s also where real growth in avodas Hashem occurs. It is the difference between psak and hadrachah, halachic ruling and guidance, objective obligations and prohibitions and subjective give-and-take in personal circumstances. Too often in life, we try to turn dilemmas into questions of issur and heter, when they are questions of judgment. This is why a rebbe is so crucial. If your husband lacks such a relationship, it would be a tremendous gift to support him in forging one.

There are two values here which, in this case, dictate different approaches. On the one hand, your husband and you correctly pay close attention to the messages your children receive about gender relationships. Indeed, laxity in this area comes at a price, the price being the ability to see relationships as a reflection and expression of kedushah, as opposed to the pursuit of personal gratification, ego, or other superficial or external interests. These ultimately are the cause of all misery in relationships, so the stakes are high.

On the other hand, you properly want to consider your responsibilities as parents of your parents’ grandchildren. You want your children to see you respecting your parents and to properly fulfill your responsibility to honor your and your husband’s parents, even if they don’t entirely share your hashkafos. This is also no simple matter, and should be taken very seriously (By your account, your husband seems to have resolved this dilemma in favor of the modesty issue. I can only hope that it’s not because he takes this aspect of honoring parents too lightly). Thus we have a challenging sh’eilah.

A rav who knows your situation would be looking to determine the larger context that governs your situation. He would take into account: the age of your children; their general receptivity to your guidance; how well you and your husband are functioning as a team in raising them; to what degree your in-laws are respectful or understanding of the standards you and your husband have in child rearing; what the expectations will be when the children get older and are even more vulnerable to the negative message of casual gender mixing; and whether your husband has other challenges with his parents that might make it imprudent to challenge them in this area at this time.

I will make some general observations here, asking you and others not to take them as guides to resolve this issue without discussing the case with a competent rav.

Evidently your children are young, since we are dealing with the question of whether you should take them to shul. If so, there is room for compromise right now, whereas there won’t be much room later as they get older. Exposing them at a young age to a mixed-gender environment in a shul they visit occasionally is not going to direct them to casualness in this area per se. Children know the rules of the game, and since their “home shul” is not governed by these standards, they will naturally know the difference.

If there are other, larger, challenges your husband has to deal with regarding the different approach to Jewish life he has from his parents, avoiding drawing a line in the sand now, and providing his parents the pleasure of the grandchildren’s presence in shul will be an investment in his ability to meet those other challenges. The more one invests in personally respecting and honoring one’s parents, the easier it is to take a stand when one must.

Your husband may be concerned about the future, reasoning that if the children are allowed to come to shul now, they will be expected to come as adolescents, when the environment poses much more of an immediate challenge to them. This is a valid concern. If this is his thinking, encourage him to communicate to his parents that, as the kids get older, there will be a time when you will be discouraging them from coming to shul, and you will create other forums for their friends to get to see their grandchildren. Again, a rav who knows your situation can help your husband feel his way through this.

A note of caution: Since you are dealing with in-laws, not your own parents, do not “carry the ball” on this one for your husband. If he insists on keeping the children home form shul for good reasons, let him take responsibility for the decision, articulating it himself to them alone, or with you. Don’t do this alone.


Mrs. Batya Weinberg

 Whether or not your children should go to this shul is a complex question whose answer is very much dependent on one’s worldview and hashkafic beliefs.

When I was growing up, my father was the rav of shul where the people, while wonderful and sincere, were less knowledgeable religiously. My siblings and I found that the fact that we had to define ourselves vis-à-vis others strengthened us. Others choose to build walls, and that’s also a legitimate approach.

It sounds like your husband already chose his approach. And it seems, on the surface, that you can easily accommodate him. One of the core challenges facing frum parents today is maintaining the standards we want while ensuring that our children don’t feel deprived. You’ve no doubt faced this dilemma before and found ways to navigate the issue. You can compensate your children emotionally for the shul experience that they’re missing as you have compensated them in other situations.

You and your husband seem to be doing a great job of balancing having a warm, loving relationship with your relatives and keeping your own standards. There are many other ways you can give your in-laws nachas, and I’m sure, with some creativity, you’ll discover them.

The fact that solutions to your question seem fairly straightforward leads me to feel that the narrow issue of going to shul with your in-laws is not the real problem, and there’s a broader dynamic at play here. I wonder if you feel that your husband is not taking your needs, and perhaps human needs in general, into consideration. Is his religiosity expressing itself in a theoretical, black-and-white approach that doesn’t take emotion into account? Is this one of many examples of your husband taking a hard-line approach to an issue that is not necessarily entirely halachic?

If your husband would be empathetic to the difficulty of the children not going to shul and say something like, “I know having them home is disappointing for them and my parents, and hard for you. But we’ve discussed our chinuch beliefs and bringing them to such a shul wouldn’t be in line with what we want for them. Let’s brainstorm for ways we can make it up to them and to my parents,” would it still be hard for you to deal with?

It seems like you may be grappling with an overarching situation of personality clash and it needs to be addressed as such.

Your husband has high religious standards, and this no doubt attracted you to him when you were dating. You probably wanted a very frum bochur with a high caliber of Torah values. And you got that. However, your need for understanding and your husband’s tendency to focus on the conceptual rather than the emotional creates a clash of needs, and is painful to live with.

Like many deep-seated relationship clashes, this needs to be weathered rather than solved. If your husband is open to marital therapy, it can give the two of you tools to weather this more easily. Regardless of his willingness to go to marital therapy, you should seek individual therapy. Therapy can teach you how to nurture yourself and find support in other places. It can also help you focus on your husband’s positive points, of which there are clearly many.

Think of the two of you as speaking different languages. You’re responding to this issue (and probably others as well) emotionally, while your husband is responding theoretically. The more emotional you get, the less your husband will understand.

I strongly recommend you get a mentor or rebbetzin whom you can speak to regularly. She can help you understand the dynamics of your marriage and navigate issues as they arise. She can also help you learn how to couch what you want to say in less emotionally charged terms.

Another obvious solution is to bring a rav whom your husband trusts into the picture. However, finding a rav who can act as a facilitator can be tricky because, sometimes, the kind of person who focuses on the religious ideal will have perfectionist demands of any rabbinic figure. We don’t believe in infallible people, or infallible rabbis, but your husband may be unable to put human frailty into context. He may also be distrustful of any rabbi who is maneuvering difficult emotional territory and has what appears to him to be a compromising approach.

If there is a rav who is both a talmid chacham and a wise person whom your husband trusts, definitely involve him. Usually, it’s best to deal with this in a roundabout way rather than confrontationally. Encourage your husband to call the rav to discuss the issue. See if you can go together, or speak to the rav in advance so he hears your perspective.

The path before you is one that will require a lot of fortitude and wisdom but the payoff — an improved relationship with your husband and a better atmosphere in your home — is immeasurable. Hatzlachah rabbah.


Rabbi Dovid Hochberg

Your question opens the door to a profound truth that is often accompanied by a great deal of frustration. There is no way — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I don’t know of a way — for you and your husband to completely shield your children from the influences and hashkafos in life that are different from your own. Although you may come up with creative solutions for dealing with the issue of going to shul, it is only one of the many issues that you and your husband will face as you parent your children in a confusing world.

To complicate matters further, what do you do when your in-laws are the ones offering those different influences? What unspoken discomfort does that create in your relationship with your husband and in-laws?

If you examine your question closely, you will see that the real reason you feel frustrated is because you don’t like any of your available choices. You want to bring your children to shul so your in-laws can have nachas, but are hesitant to compromise your husband’s standards of ruchniyus. If you remain quiet, you may become increasingly upset with your husband for not being flexible and you don’t want that either.

The option you really would love is to give your in-laws nachas by bringing your children to shul and have your husband be pleased with this choice. Is there a way, you ask through your question, to create this fantasy choice in which everyone is happy? Perhaps. There may be a creative solution or the right words that will help you please everyone and I hope some of the other responses will point you in that direction.

But let us deepen this discussion: Are you prepared to look at the dynamic between you, your husband, and your in-laws?

For example, what would happen if your husband didn’t want the kids to eat ice cream (for health reasons) but your in-laws want the nachas of taking all the grandchildren to an ice cream store? Are there ways around this problem? Of course.

But how do you see your role? Do you stand by your husband’s side as he strives to maintain the boundaries he has set or do you get upset at your husband because you want everyone to be happy and his standards get in the way? Do you often find yourself in the middle between your husband and your in-laws — the “victim” you didn’t mention in your question — as you become increasingly frustrated trying to please both of them?

This scenario will present itself again and again in your relationship. You and your husband have a beautiful opportunity for a meaningful discussion about this dynamic. What is it like for you when you wish your husband would be more flexible so everyone would be happy? What is it like for your husband when he sees you trying to please your in-laws at his expense?

Be open with each other about what’s going on. You may find that the two of you are much closer after speaking about issues that have previously been left unspoken.

May Hashem give you and your husband tremendous siyata d’Shmaya in your relationship and may you always have much nachas from your children.

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