Friday, February 03, 2006

...just a little bit


Is it disrespectful to not be observant when in the company of our religious family and friends?

I do not refer to when we are in shul or during some religious practice. I am speaking of when we are visiting, having dinner, or getting together somewhere. Do we wear our yalmukas, wash, bench, go to minchah?

Is this “respect”?

I’ve certainly heard that it is - not just in my own case, but applied broadly to other members of the family who are not frum. “Isn’t it nice how they came to davening.” " Can you believe that they drove off before the end of shabbos?" My parents, (who have generally been very understanding) deeply believe that this is an issue of respect.

I bought into this idea as well. For quite a while, long after I was no longer observant – and long after my family knew this – I behaved religiously when I was with them. Not all of my motivation related to respect. There are other, more complex reasons – I have four orthodox children who I love very much – and the emotional consequences to them of my actions is far more important than to anyone else.

But if the reason to keep up the observance is as a show of respect, then I think that it is misplaced. This isn’t to say that my family would not be hurt by seeing me violating some lav – they would, and I understand the choice not to subject them to that pain. But this is not respect.

Respect, in my opinion, is a genuine appreciation that someone else has a valid right to choose their beliefs and to act according to those beliefs. It is not an expectation that someone else will mimic your observances so as not to upset you. Acting religiously may make my family more comfortable, and it may allow them to hold out hope that I may ultimately become frum, but it does not show respect.


Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

This is an issue I've thought about, too. Basically, I settled on wearing a kippah at my parents' house, but nowhere else. If I drive to visit on Yom Tov, I won't park in front of the house so it's not obvious to the neighbors that someone's coming and going on the holiday. I don't go to shul or daven at home, though.

In a way, I'm reluctant to participate in the charade that lets Orthodox people continue to pretend that people like me don't exist. But, you know, shalom bayis.

February 03, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

To clarify, I'll add that if my parents visit me, or I meet them elsewhere (except at a local kosher restaurant) I don't wear a kippah.

I wouldn't think of asking my Dad to not wear his at my house. Nor would I go move his car on shabbat if it were parked outside so the neighbors wouldn't realize that he's religious. Honestly, the whole issue is just one more double standard that religion enjoys.

February 03, 2006 9:06 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Would "courtesy" be a more fitting word than "respect"?

February 03, 2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

BTW, thanks for linking to my blog!

February 03, 2006 3:12 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

I think this depends on the open-mindedness of one's parents/ children as well.

For instance, my parents would infinitely prefer that I tell them the truth rather than acting out a charade because I don't want to hurt them. And as long as I would be tasteful in my "lack of observance," assuming I were to be in such a position, I think I'd be all right.

On the other hand, to very blatantly violate halakha in their presence is just that- disrespect. If I throw off my yarmulke and stomp on it, turn on all the lights in the house on Shabbos, eat pork in front of them- I think that would be disrepectful.

One place we might see this is by Zimri and Kosbi. When they cohabited, it was not an ordinary matter of lust between the two, but rather a political move to embarass and humiliate Moshe. Why else would they cohabit in front of the people rather than returning to their own tent? Because of this mockery (and the account that states Zimri said, "Moshe, you married a gentile (Tzippora), how can you dare reproach me?) Pinchas is justified in his zealous measure for God's sake. If Zimri had been like the other members of his tribe, I believe it is understood he would have died in the plague...

But if it is not a blatant violation-if, for instance, you do not wish to wear a yarmulke at home- I do not see that as disrespect. So long as you are not deliberately provoking your parents or refusing to cooperate with them, I think you are within your rights.

February 05, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

I have struggled with this issue myself. My family would be hurt if I acted against religion in front of them. It is my obligation to honor them. Their obligation to honor me is separate, and is their business.

I also respect Jewish tradition in the sense that our sadly departed first Jewish astonaut did. He observed Jewish law as a representative of the Jewish Nation even though he was not observant himself. That seemed right to me, and I find myself acting similarly in similar situations (but not yet in space).

February 05, 2006 11:12 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

Thanks all for the comments:

JA – I pretty much do as you do regarding my parents, perhaps even a bit more depending on how uncomfortable I’ll feel. When I’m with my children I do far more, though this is more a matter of providing them with a comfortable environment (and other, more complicated issues) than with ‘respect’.

EK – It is certainly a courtesy to be sensitive to other people’s sensitivities. … How could I not link … with that photo…

Chana – I very much agree that simply being l’hachas is disrespectful. But put it this way, if your father wasn’t frum, would you consider it disrespectful for him to not wear his kippa when visiting you? You certainly know and feel that he respects your beliefs – this comes through loud and clear from your writing. But isn’t that sense of respect based on how you have seen him relate to others with disparate views over a long period of time? Wouldn’t you want him to be true to himself – that wouldn’t reduce your sense of his respect?

I like the Zimri case – it’s a very good point that it was primarily a political revolt using a religious issue as the catalyst. (Similar in some ways to Korach.) By the way, there are still many would-be Pinchas’es out there, complete with spears, still looking to score another ‘bris shalom’.

Le Freak – Thanks for making the point that the obligation of respect is unilateral, even if not reciprocated. I very much agree, and not just with parents, it’s just a good way to live. I haven’t really been able to internalize an importance to keeping observances out of solidarity/respect for the jewish nation. Perhaps I’ll get there someday, but I was raised with such a strong theological emphasis that once that is removed, it is hard for me to find the laws to be meaningful.

My bottom line is that I agree with JA that it is a double standard. It presumes that not observing is spiritually inferior to observing, and that those of us who become non religious do so out of a moral void. That assumption is very deeply rooted, and is at the core of the lack of understanding between the frum community and the non-frum world.

Also, despite our reasons for going along with family sentiments, there are real consequences for doing this, which I hope to blog about (b’siatah d’google).

February 06, 2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

that those of us who become non religious do so out of a moral void.

I don't know if that's my perception. I think most frum people assume that a frum person who stopped being observant did so because of "worldly temptations" and not theological/philosophical reasons. I have no idea if that assumption is correct or not. However, I also believe most people who choose to stay frum don't do so for theological/philosophical reasons.

February 06, 2006 3:13 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

"But put it this way, if your father wasn’t frum, would you consider it disrespectful for him to not wear his kippa when visiting you? You certainly know and feel that he respects your beliefs – this comes through loud and clear from your writing. But isn’t that sense of respect based on how you have seen him relate to others with disparate views over a long period of time? Wouldn’t you want him to be true to himself – that wouldn’t reduce your sense of his respect?"

It wouldn't bother me personally if my father did not wear his yarmulke in my house. The reason for this? Very simple. The wearing of a cap or skullcap is a minhag, a custom that has been adopted. It is not an actual law from the Torah. Certainly, it has become a standard nowadays, but it is still more of a symbol than a halakha.

For my father (or any relative) to eat bacon in my house would be different. That is a direct law from the Torah, and hence the transgression is no longer a symbol of his non-observance, but rather a very strong statement. While I would love my relative regardless, it would cause me pain to see him violate a direct law.

When I say this, I mean that he deliberately would go out and buy bacon just to prove he is non-religious. This is different than my relative being invited by some friends to a non-kosher restaraunt- there it was not deliberate, an intentional slight. Here it would be. I think it would be correct for me to express a gentle preference (to please not eat bacon at my house) but not a command. No ultimatums. No "I won't have you over if you do this..." That, to me, seems wrong.

Another element (as far as the kippah element is concerned. I am my father's daughter, and as such I have no right to judge him. Perhaps if it were the other way around (I the parent, he the son) I would find this to be disrespectful. But I am not in the position of authority. We learn that we must honor our father and mother. To become angry with my father or tell him he is being disrespectful toward me by not wearing a kipah would be the very height of dishonor. If he tells me to transgress the laws, I cannot follow his advice. But since when do I have the ability to tell him what to do?

We learn that the mitzvot between ourselves and other people are on a higher level than mitzvot between ourselves and God. God cannot forgive us unless we are forgiven by our fellow human beings first (in these mitzvot.) The difference between Dor HaMabul and Dor HaHaflaga is the respect they had for one another (one a generation of chamas, stealing, showing the height of disrespect, the other a generation where they all gathered together- according to one opinion, to fight against God, but peacefuly.) One must be careful to be respectful of ofther people, even if we do not agree with them. To demand hypocrisy of my parents would be wrong.

They do what they do because they feel it is true...not to spare my feelings.

So in the end- no, I don't think it would be disrespectful. Au contraire, I think it would be disrespectful of me to demand hypocrisy from him.

February 06, 2006 11:48 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

EK – I think that you’re making my point – that frum people believe that those that leave do so because they are making an immoral (or amoral) choice.

Chana – Your last sentence is my main point, that, although they don’t realize it, it is disrespectful for someone religous to demand that someone who is non-religious to act observantly.

I also agree that there are differences in behaviors. To go out of my way to violate some halacha in someone’s home is insensitive and rude.

I know that I’m just teasing you here, since you can’t refuse a challenge, but what does the drash say about the pasuk in Noach 8:21?

February 07, 2006 6:56 PM  
Blogger Keeva de Rosh Yeshiva said...

Kudos to you for bringing up such a timely issue!

So many of us suffer the same social stigmas- it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one out there!

February 09, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger rebelmo said...

i like your blog, keep it up

personally i play the game in front of all family and friends and avoid confrontational situations.

the kids issue is also a personal one for me. sometimes i think raising a kid frum is giving him a handicap for life.

February 09, 2006 4:12 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

I know that I’m just teasing you here, since you can’t refuse a challenge, but what does the drash say about the pasuk in Noach 8:21?

This has been eating away at me for days. Every time I logged on I knew that I was supposed to look this up and "answer" the question.

Most times, however, I'm at school, where I have no access to Judaic materials such as a Chumash or Rashi.

All right- so, derash on Noach 8:21.


From his youth: From his youth connotes the time that he emerged from my nostrils, for I placed in him the Evil Inclination.


(This is from the blue collections of Sefarim by

FOR THE IMAGINATION OF MAN'S HEART IS EVIL FROM HIS YOUTH. He ascribes merit to men because by their very creation they have an evil nature in their youthful days but not in their mature years. If so, for these two reasons, it is not proper to smite every living thing. The reason for the prefix mem [which signifies "from" in the word] min'urav (from his youth) is to indicate that the evil imagination is with men from the very beginning of their youth, just as the Rabbis have said: "From the moment he awakes to go forth from his mother's womb the evil impulse is placed in him." It is possible that the verse is saying that it is from youth- meaning, on account of youth- that the evil inclination is in man, for youth causes him to sin. And some say that if it were said "in his youth," [min'urav being interpreted as if it were bin'urav]. Similarly, we find 'Miterem,' (Before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the Eternal, [where the word miterem is interptered as beterem]; so too, This is the land which ye shall divide 'minachlah' (by lot) unto the tribes of Israel, [where minachlah is interpreted as bemachlah.

February 19, 2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger undecided said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 20, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger dbs said...


Thanks for your (excellent as always) drash. I was actually trying not so much to give you a homework assignment (though you’re a senior, so you probably are doing more yearbook than homework) to point out that a possible alternative reason (instead of the medrash which you cited) that the Dor Ha’Haflagah wasn’t destroyed was that God had promised Noach that he would never again repeat a mass destruction of mankind. This is, of course, one many of instances where a medrash gives an explanation which is contradictory (or at least not aligned with) a simple pshat.

I have this instinct every time I hear someone quote a medrash or create a drasha which is far fetched or clearly contradictory. Medrash does certainly contain some of the most beautiful ideas and messages in Judaism. But I must say that I do have a general problem with medrash. We pay lip service to the idea that medrash is not to be taken literally, but it is the food with which we nurture our children. For adult, we can at least try to separate reality from parable, although I still think that there is a very unclear boundary in our minds about what is and is not literal. For children though, fact and fiction blend together.

Here is a question to me from my 11 year old son (who is very smart and thoughtful): If each body of water in the world split at the time of Kriat Yam Suf, and if the Yam Suf split into 12 paths, (one for each shevet), then did each river, stream, lake and ocean split into 12 parts?

I just think that the more far fetched the medrashim are, the more we learn to suppress our natural ability to question and evaluate our world and our ideas. Perhaps that’s part of the point.

Anyway, what do you think? I read your post about the medrash which you discussed at Stern (by the way, my oldest daughter will be going there next year). What role does drash play in your thinking? How would you want your children to think about these things? (This is not a homework assignment, but I know that you’ll be coming up with something good. Maybe you should post about it.)

February 20, 2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

There's a link on B. Spinoza's blog to an article that deals with Religion and Respect.

February 27, 2006 11:42 PM  

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