Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Question I'd Like to Hear Orthodox Bloggers Discuss

Your son, a sweet, well-behaved boy, comes to you at age 16 and tells you he does not believe in Orthodox Judaism. He says that while of course he will not violate the laws of shabbat or kashrut in your home, he no longer wants to attend religious schools or participate in davening. He'd like to attend a secular school and start hanging out with non-religious and non-Jewish teens. He doesn't want to wear a kippah any more, either. You can tell that he is speaking from a place of integrity and genuine soul-searching, and you can also tell that his mind is made up.

Do you force him to stick it out in the Orthodox school? Coerce him into continuing to daven as long as he's living in your house? Make him promise to keep kosher and shabbos even outside the house? Forbid him from taking his kippah off at least while any of your friends, family, or neighbors might see? Or do you accept his wishes and support his choices, much as they pain you?

I've never seen an honest discussion about what to do when your kids go off the derech other than discussions about how to get them to stay or utter denial that it's even possible in your family.

It would be great if this became a meme that went through the Orthodox blogging community. I'll start by tagging Ezzie, Chana, DovBear, Orthoprax, and BrooklynWolf. Please tag some others in your replies.

Jewish Philosopher: Don't bother. We know you'd chain your kid to the radiator and try to beat the devil out of him.


jewish philosopher said...
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jewish philosopher said...

No, no, no - I can't resist this one. Chaining to the radiator - are you kidding, how about "hanged, drawn and quartered"!


Now that's awesome and totally wicked!

Seriously, what I would probably do is this:

Tell him that I no longer consider him to be my son and I am forbidding his siblings from having any further contact with him.

Enroll him in this school.


Give him a suitcase and a one way plane ticket.

Forget about him and sever all contact other than paying his tuition and board until age 18, which I believe is required by law.

Abandoning Eden said...

my parents forced me to stay in religious school even though for years I begged them to let me go to public school, or even a less religious religious school. I told them I was no longer religious at the beginning of 11th grade. They were determined that I get a good jewish education, becuase that's the only way to make sure I will grow up to live a torah true jewish life. We can all see how well that turned out.

The Hedyot said...

> I've never seen an honest discussion about what to do when your kids go off the derech other than discussions about how to get them to stay...

Because that's the answer according to them! What do you do when someone wants to leave? You get them not to leave!

Also, the reason there hasn't been a real discussion of it is because there already is a de facto course of action which they take. It goes something along these lines:

1) Try convincing the person that what he is doing is wrong. Use guilt, fear, and whatever passes for logic in your circles.

2) When that fails, send him/her to rabbis to do the same, but with more impressive arguments.

3) When that fails, impose threats or incentives to get him/her to cooperate (e.g. Withholding allowance, or not letting them stay in home, etc.)

4) When that fails, enroll him/her in a big brother/kiruv program that doesn't pressure them at all, but which is still run by frum people.

This is pretty much what I've seen people doing countless times.

Orthoprax said...

At 16 I'd say he doesn't have the requisite life experience or core knowledge to make that kind of decision. I don't believe that coercion generally leads to much good when it comes to life choices but I'd keep him in yeshiva until he finishes high school. A person can always leave Jewish life but it's hard to acquire core Jewish knowledge outside of the formal classroom environment. I'd make my reasoning plain and I suspect any son of mine would be reasonable and agree. ;-)

Where I went to high school, going to minyan was a matter of strict attendance. You didn't have to daven but you did have to show up. Of course, I went to a modern place that was also designed for college prep alongside a Judaic studies curriculum and I knew several atheists/agnostics in my class who simply tolerated the religious stuff. I find it difficult to imagine any reasonable teen asking to switch out merely because he wanted to make different friends.

jewish philosopher said...

The situation which JA is describing is in my humble opinion very improbable. There would generally have been many years of rebellion, problems at home, failure at school, etc during which competent parents could do a great deal to intervene and prevent this outcome.

It's sort of like asking "Your son, a sweet, well-behaved boy, comes to you at age 16 and tells you he is using heroin and does not want to stop." Not so realistic.

However within this hypothetical scenario, my inspiration would be from Genesis 21:10

'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.'


Joshua said...

JP, I'm continually amazed at how close you are to a self-parody. If one of your kids came to you with a drug problem, you'd really throw them out? And not even try to do something? That's really amazing.

Now, trying to add something substantive to this discussion (other than requisite note of being appalled by JP), I have to say that as a not-frum person, I have to agree somewhat with what Orthoprax said about 16 year olds not necessarily having the requisite experience to make this sort of decision. Unfortunately, the only effective way for them to get the experience is be out in the world and live it, as they want.

jewish philosopher said...

We're not talking about drugs. That something else entirely. I'm just saying that for atheism to come full blown out of the blue is as unrealistic as heroin addiction coming full blown out of the blue.

Off the Derech said...

More or less what Hedyot said.

Yeshivish Atheist said...
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Avi Bitterman said...

Well, what happened with me was that my parents made me go to Kiruv Seminars so I could argue it out with the kiruv Rabbis and they could convince me. After seeing how counterproductive that was, and after a substantial amount of drama, they gave up.

Anonymous said...

What's left to say after Hedyot's comment?

Moshe said...

For one thing, talk to him about what he believes and doesn't believe. Perhaps his problem is with what he is being taught at school, rather than with Judaism, as it should be properly taught.

jewish philosopher said...

I actually wrote a post about this topic some time ago.


Off the Derech said...

I'm not going to say who Moshe is.

shoshi said...

Coercion might be a sure means to turn him completely off, but at least you will be able to tell yourself you tried everything.

I would answer: my son, you are Bar Mitzwah, it's all up to you now.
Perhaps I would have to close the kitchen when he is around, but those practical problems can be settled.

By the way, the universal declaration of human rights sets the age of religious maturity at 16, so theoretically, no one can force him after this age. (Israeli courts upheld this right of ex-frummes against their frum parents.)

jewish philosopher said...

It's probably illegal at any age in the United States to physically abuse a child in order to make him keep mitzvos.

By the way, I just want to mention that I am asking all Jewish skeptics to please abstain from prostitutes and cocaine during the month of Elul. I call this the "No Hos and No Blow Ellul Initiative 5769".

Money saved should be given to charity or used to purchase Jewish religious books.

Thank you.

Holy Hyrax said...

Well...this WOULD have been a good conversation before it was hijacked.

jewish philosopher said...

I am last one to hijack anything. I am not a blog hijacker!!

But seriously, is anyone else who is actually Orthodox and a parent going to comment?

Holy Hyrax said...

I would have, but I wasn't meme'd


Anonymous said...

As a child I was exceptionally devout and all my parents' friends and relatives repeatedly proclaimed that I would eventually become a rabbi. However, as I got older, my parents were worried that I appeared to be showing signs of turning off of Orthodox Judaism so they sent me to a yeshiva boarding school with exceptionally strict rules. What is funny is that I don't remember ever feeling that way until I started attending this school.

It was the oppressive environment and unwavering closed-mindedness that led me to first resent, then question and ultimately disregard Orthodox Judaism. Raising questions and disbelief in that environment earned me the label of troublemaker and a “bad” kid, even though I was an A student, went to all my classes and attended prayer services 3 times a day.

I feel that it is a disservice to a child to force them to attend an educational program that teaches them that anyone who questions Orthodox Judaism or is less observant is a lesser human being. Even if the person is charitable, has a good heart, and treats others with respect, they are still labeled as "bad" or even evil. However, it is OK to be a racist, sexist, and treat Non-Jews or less observant Jews as subhuman as long as you practice Orthodox Judaism

I feel that as far as religion is concerned, it is better to maintain open dialogs with your child, allow them to come to their own conclusions, and support them once they have made them.

Geonite said...

I'll tell you what my parents would have said.

"This is my house and while you're in my house you follow my rules."

End of discussion.

BTW, they still say that to us. I haven't spoken to them in over two years because of crap like that.

DrJ said...

One of my 4 kids became completely non-religious, and another is kind of unenthusiastic about it but not rebelling. When the oldest asked to be transferred out of the religious school, after much discussion, and debate, we complied, but agreed to ground rules in the house. Her OTD was a gradual process so we weren't too surprised. When she was 8 years old she said she didn't believe in god. There were no drugs involved. Keeping her in the religious school what have made her hate religion even more. Both me and my wife (who is not a skeptic) have made peace with it and have a great relationship with all of our kids.

Blood is thicker than water--in our morality family is more important than religious belief, (certainly our children are more important than god) therefore we have maintained our family. The medieval approach of cutting people off is no longer an incentive and just doesn't work. This is in contrast to JP's claimed approach (let's see if he'd actually do this, but who knows, given what he did to his parents). The streets in Israel are filled with OTD ex-Hererdis who were thrown out of their families.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

This is an interesting question but the set up leads to a predetermined conclusion.

The child comes home and announces he wants to leave the religion. Do the parents get to ask why?

I'm not Moshe, but his point is important: where did this decision come from? Some idiot rebbe with simplistic answers in cheder? Watching the news and seeing frum Jews getting arrested week after week? A lack of comprehension of the bigger picture? A lack of interest? Or a genuine soul search that lead to this conclusion?

Thus while interesting I don't think the question was fair. It takes as given that the kid had a good reason for his decision - he's only 16 for crying out loud, and he already understands the world and knows more than his parents?

I think the best way to handle this is to sit down and discuss his concerns. If he's truly interested in the process, then a real discussion can be had and maybe the parents can show him the good reasons to believe and remain within.

If his mind is closed to that option, then it's not really an intelligent decision, is it. He's first decided what he wants, marshalled only those arguments that support his position and is refusing to hear the other side. Well, you can't discuss in such a case so the parents would have to set ground rules:

In this house you cover your head, you have only kosher food, you respect the Shabbos and no shiksas. In the outside world, do what you want but not here.

If he has a problem with that, then his decision is based on immaturity. He wants to be non-frum and shove it in the face of whomever he wants in the name of his "rights". Who would respect that?

jewish philosopher said...

"I feel that as far as religion is concerned, it is better to maintain open dialogs with your child, allow them to come to their own conclusions, and support them once they have made them."

Even if the conclusion is he wants to go to Afghanistan and join the jihad?

Check this out:

The point is I think anyone, no matter how tolerant or indifferent, would draw a line somewhere.

Once someone says "I've learned Torah but don't believe in it" he has rejected God, Judaism, membership in the Jewish people and membership in my family. That's his choice and he'll have to live with all the consequences.

I personally heard from a son of Rabbi Shimon Schwab that Rabbi Schwab told his children that if they deviated from Orthodox Judaism in any way they would be disowned by him. And Rabbi Schwab was not really a fanatic.


Chana said...

Obviously, first I'd want to talk it out with him. He is my son, and I would like to hear his reasons for his beliefs. But assuming I talk it out with him, see that he is sincere and he wishes to lead his life differently than I do, we'd have to set some rules.

Within the house, due to the way I choose to raise my other children, he must do certain things in order to be respectful (not break the laws of kashrut, violate Shabbat in front of his siblings, etc.) However, he can attend the school he wishes to attend and thrive.

No matter what he does, he is still my son and I love him. That is the message I would wish to impart; that's the way I see it. I might disagree with him, but the worst thing possible would be to force him to do that which he does not wish to do. Also, I believe in honesty, so assuming the other siblings/ children can understand, we would sit down and explain to them about his choices (same with neighbors.) I don't think he should pretend for the sake of the community. But I do think it is appropriate to request certain modicums of respect within the house.

Anonymous said...

The tougher question is what happens when your 16 year old son comes home one day from public school after years of being taught nothing but secularism and says "Mom, Dad, I've done a lot of soul searching and I want to go to a religious private school."

I've never seen an honest discussion about what to do when your kids want to go on the derech other than discussions about how to not pay for the expensive school, and how dangerous letting them visit Israel is, or utter denial that a person would ever want to do such a thing without being brainwashed.

Geonite said...

Why is visiting Israel dangerous? Most Israelis are secular and about 25% do not believe in god. That's a lot better than the fanatical US.

Holy Hyrax said...

>That's a lot better than the fanatical US.

So belief in God is now synonymous with fanaticism? Sheesh.

And I don't know where you got your 25%, seems a bit high from what I saw. But lets just say it is, so what? Even secular Jews respect the religion and practice certain parts of the tradition. Its the coercion that they have a problem with

Geonite said...

HH, I lived in Israel for 31 years. How long were you there?

Geonite said...

And I agree with the viewpoint of secular Israelis.

Anonymous said...

Jewish Philosopher: "By the way, I just want to mention that I am asking all Jewish skeptics to please abstain from prostitutes and cocaine during the month of Elul. I call this the "No Hos and No Blow Ellul Initiative 5769".

Money saved should be given to charity"

Your snarky comment aside, that sounds like a great idea, albeit modified for the fact that I don't go to hookers or use coke. I've decided not to pay for (cough) indulgences (cough) high holy day tickets this year. I'll skip services, go backpacking that weekend, and give the money I saved to charity.

jewish philosopher said...

"modified for the fact that I don't go to hookers or use coke"

Never believe anonymous bloggers.


SeekingJustice said...

And what is so wrong anyways with going off the derech? I know many good Jews (and I mean, good Jews, not Taliban Jews) that went off the derech for a while and them found their way to balance between secular and religious world. What you really need to explain to the child is the difference between basics and humros. In a nutshell, Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas Mishpaha, Zdaka - these are the basics. Blue or white shirt, OCD about hand washing, TV, internet, Pesach humros (my favorite one) - all this is hashkafa, and he has the right to decide what he likes.
Sending him away to a board school would not hurt either, if you concerned how his behavior will affect other siblings.
And the most important - asking questions is OK. Blind faith - not OK. Since no one can prove whether God exists or not, being an atheist is just another type of religion. A thinking person, is an God believer and an atheist in the same time. Let me know if you need me to explain this one.

Jake said...

Yeah man, I'm a Dad with a twelve year old boy. Sorry I missed this discussion. For the record, kids don't reject their parents way of living for intellectual reasons. Maybe Aristotle would've, but let's not kid ourselves. If my kid came to me and said he wanted to change schools and not be religious anymore, I'd try to figure out what the real problem was. Changing his school without getting to the real issue and trying to help your kid with whatever is really troubling them is just as bad as making him stay.
Douche bag. Your the same as the frummies. They project their way of life down everybody's throat and so do you. "What if a 16 year old became an atheist?"