Chapter 11:  Parents And Family: Am I In Or Out?


          The Torah clearly admonishes one to honor parents.  To promote peace and good feelings between all family members is a fundamental principle in the Talmud.  Even with regard to friends, indeed even strangers, we are told that one should greet before being greeted and show great respect to all persons.  How much more so are we required to honor and respect our parents.

          The particular problems you may run into with your parents and family when becoming religious, greatly depend on your conduct and personality (as well as theirs).  If you are not sensitive to their feelings then you are probably going to meet opposition.  Just remember all they have done for you and the important values they have instilled in you.

          There are tens of thousands of Jews who have become observant in the last two decades - learn from their experience!

Let's not be naive.

          Your exploration may, and probably will, cause consternation, confusion, guilt and hostility amongst your parents and family.

          Let us assure you that statistically 99% of Jewish parents who manifest the aforementioned reactions come to sympathize, support, and even, in some cases, join with their child or sibling in adopting an observant Jewish lifestyle.

          On the other hand, let us mention: until you reach that acceptance, you may go through some gut wrenching experiences.  This chapter is written to help you anticipate and respond to these likely reactions.  If you adopt our do's and don'ts and follow our general suggestions it should make life a lot easier and more comfortable for all concerned.

          Bear in mind if you follow our prescription and you're not getting anywhere at all, even over time and with your best efforts - your parents, may be the unique 1% who are just not going to accept you.  In such a case the Torah directs us clearly.  You are obligated to respect your parents but not when this involves violating a Torah commandment.  Their opposition cannot affect your observance.

          Bottom line: There is almost no way out of small battle skirmishes, but if you persevere things will work out in the long run.

          To your parents and family, your newfound Jewish awareness represents an implicit rejection of their Jewish lifestyle.  By involvement in observant Judaism you are sending them signals.  Decoded, those signal add up to:

          * The Jewish education they provided, if any, was inadequate.

          * Their own commitment is similarly inadequate

          * Fundamentally, you are striking at the very essence of their entire life's values and meaning, saying they are deficient.

          This is how your parents will most likely react to your observance.  In a small percentage of cases your parents will encourage and aide you from the very start but don't count on it.

          Ignorance is your greatest enemy.  The more you learn about Judaism and can relay to your parents the less they will feel threatened and the less will be their guilt, hostility and opposition.




The Don'ts:

·       Don't impose on family by announcing that the oven has to be blowtorched; you don't own your parent's kitchen!  Try to be as unobtrusive as possible.  Remember, the more you impose, the greater resistance you’ll meet.                                                                     

·        Don't suddenly start to wear a four cornered fringed garment on the outside of your shirt or radically change the way you dress.  Let's get one thing clear.  Right now, your Jewish knowledge may still be lacking.  Your parents may recognize just how little you know and become frightened and think you have become a member of a cult or gone off the deep end.  Your parents will think you have been brainwashed and they have lost the son or daughter they know and love. 

·       Don't preach or make yourself out to be knowledgeable before you are. 


          If you are guilty of any of the above, you are not showing proper sensitivity.


The Do's:

          Let us now take an actual example directly affecting your relationship with your family and see how to handle it step by step.


Making your home kosher - some recommendations:

          Begin by explaining to your parents that you are exploring Judaism and it would mean a great deal to you if they could please allow you to eat kosher food on kosher dishes or paper plates, which don't create an imposition.

          Involve your parents by discussing the topic of kashrus with them so that they can become fellow travelers on the road to Torah knowledge.  They will learn a great deal, as will you, and you will have shown respect and sensitivity toward their feelings.  They may like keeping kosher as much or perhaps more than you.

          It's important to be realistic and practical - if your parents continue to resist your efforts to allow you to be kosher in their home,  (e.g. they pack your bags, they change the locks to the front door or still worse they threaten you with "Why are you doing this to us after all we have done for you?") then you are faced with a dilemma.

You have to make your parents realize you are serious in your convictions to be kashrus observant. Let your parents know you are committed to keeping kosher.  Let your parents settle into the situation; give them time to reconcile themselves with your decision.  Bear in mind how long it took you to accept some of these new ideas.  Give them the same amount of time, or more.   They will eventually accept you and respect you for your courage and determination.


          If you want to begin any Torah observance we recommend the following:

          Learn about the mitzva from the sources in the Bible, Talmud and Code of Jewish Law with your Rebbe.  Then go through your newfound knowledge with your parents.  It's going to give your actions greater credibility.

          Be discreet.  Don't give them reason to say, "You're freaking out".  You can wear your wonderful new Talis Katan (fringed garment) neatly under your shirt.  Don't hurt your own growth in Judaism by giving others, obvious barbs to throw at you.

          Certain conflicts are inevitable because of specific implications of your new lifestyle.  A Torah Jew is respectful and sensitive to others but remains steadfast in belief and practice.

          When a spouse, parent or sibling develops a commitment to Judaism a different set of psychological and practical difficulties may present themselves.  As a rule however, most family’ relations problems are unrelated to the members’ level of observance, although it often becomes a convenient, substitute target for other problem issues already present.  Suffice it to say, if the problems persist or worsen, it is important to get counseling from a Rebbe, an outreach professional and/or a family therapist.


Last updated on: 06/16/2019
Join our email list