Letters – Fall 2022

Moving “Out of Town”

In Rabbi Simon Taylor’s article “Is Moving Out of Town the Answer?” (summer 2022), he makes a correlation between both parents working outside of the home and parents being less involved in the household, thereby causing a host of problems. However, having two working parents does not necessarily mean the parents are less involved. My wife and I have worked for the past twenty-three-years while raising our four children, and we have remained fully involved in their education and upbringing. What is also worth noting is the immense respect that my children have for my wife, a respect that I share. My wife and I are true partners in the development of our family, and we are proud that we have been able to provide our children with a full Orthodox life.

Eliot Hoff

New York, New York

 

I’d like to point out that young people preferring to live “in town”—either right after marriage or after a few years in a smaller Jewish community in kollel, kiruv or professional training—is likely due to the social support they receive by living in proximity to parents, in-laws or both.

As with anything in life, there are good things and not-so-good-things associated with this trend. On the plus side, there is the opportunity for grandchildren to develop close relationships with grandparents. Parents and grandparents can share responsibilities like shopping, carpools and child care while young couples are working. This also comes at a financial savings that might, on a superficial level at least, mitigate the higher costs of living. 

However, often especially with young women and men marrying earlier, living close to parents might reflect a codependent relationship.  The parents are aware that their kids were not prepared for married life and continue to shelter them, sometimes until middle age. This could have adverse effects on the children’s psychosocial development and financial and decision-making independence. The trend often suppresses children from being able to mature into community leaders because they are always appendages of their parents. Most significantly, this trend might also result in shalom bayis challenges when normative boundaries are not established or respected. 

So moving to a smaller community helps the married children mature organically. It might also afford them the opportunity to assume communal leadership roles, which have likely already been saturated or handed down b’yerushah in the bigger communities and are largely unavailable.

Elliot (Elly) Lasson, Ph.D.

Organizational psychologist

Baltimore, Maryland

 

Refuting Get Misconceptions

Thank you for raising the important topic of divorce in our community. I want to address something “Shlomo” shared in his piece in “The Single-Parent Family” (summer 2022).

“Shlomo” states that “giving [the get] so soon enabled [his] ex-wife to drag her feet” in the civil divorce. While I am glad Shlomo stands by his decision to issue the get, this statement reinforces a common misconception about get refusal—that cooperating with the get disadvantages the civil divorce process.

On the contrary, in our work at ORA, we find that when the get is manipulated or withheld, the resulting fear and anxiety inflame the cycle of animosity in divorce, leading to more conflicts, delays and challenges. The choice to withhold a get generates a divorce that lasts longer, costs more and is deeply corrosive to the co-parenting relationship. More fundamentally, the concept that someone “should have” withheld the get but magnanimously chose not to belies the reality that get refusal is a form of domestic abuse. A get should never be used as a tool of leverage or control, regardless of its impact on the rest of the divorce process.

The Orthodox world experiences an unusual volume of high-conflict divorces, of which get refusal is a powerful contributor. We need to encourage healthy divorce practices and help set couples up for positive post-divorce futures.

Keshet Starr

CEO, Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA)

 

Only Telling Part of the Story

As a single parent in a frum community, I discussed the articles on divorce in your most recent issue with some other divorced men and women and wanted to share our feedback.

While we appreciate the magazine’s decision to bring attention to and awareness of some of the struggles we face, there was an overall tone felt by all of us who read it—that we are a sad, broken population that should be pitied and that we need to be taken care of.

While none of us planned to end up divorced, the part that was missed is that many of us have come to this stage from a place of strength and determination. We took a broken situation and decided to do something about it. Getting divorced is not the easy way out. We fought for our well-being and for the well-being of our children, took the harder road and made extremely difficult decisions, and we should be viewed as downright heroic.

There are so many frum divorced men and women who have created beautiful, healthy, stable and joy-filled homes for their children. While it’s impossible to write an article that fully captures each person’s struggles and perspective, the message could have been more encouraging and empowering, illustrating that despite all the struggles that come with divorce, there are amazing parents out there who are doing an incredible job. And for those still struggling—keep at it, stay strong and never lose hope.

Anonymous

 

As a relatively recently divorced man, I read the articles on divorce with great interest. I was moved by the wonderful chesed organizations that financially and emotionally support divorced women and men and help them navigate their challenges. Without question, many divorced people can and do benefit from the support offered by Sister to Sister and Ish Chayil.

Nonetheless, as I read the articles I realized that they tell only part of the story. The articles describe the ills, challenges and struggles of divorce; they don’t tell of how divorce can be beneficial and can present people with hope. Divorce can impel one to uncover latent talents he was not previously aware of. Divorce can be a source of growth, personal improvement and even happiness. The articles in the issue presented a picture that is too dreary, dark and bleak.

I expected the bitterness and difficulties the articles set forth, but baruch Hashem, they did not materialize. I have kept myself busy and learned new skills. I am barely lonely. Prior to my divorce, I cooked little; I certainly never made an entire Shabbos by myself. Now I do. I occasionally have guests over and although it is not a “normal” family, it is still a normal Shabbos meal with divrei Torah and zemiros.

Divorce, although I wish it on no one, has taught me valuable lessons about myself. I have learned that I can be happy despite, or because of, challenges I face in life, and, with the help of Hashem, have overcome. I have learned to appreciate my children even more on the weeks I have them and how to productively use my time during the weeks when I don’t. There still are moments of pain, anger and loneliness, times when I sit with sadness, thinking about the shattering of my dreams. But on the whole, I am not a pity case. Baruch Hashem, things for me—and, I suspect, for a fair number of divorcees—have not been so bleak. I believe there are many men (and women and families) who have gone through divorce and emerge from the process stronger and happier.

Anonymous

 

Where Jewish Soldiers Are Buried

Robert Trinz (“Letters,” summer 2022) proposes that the reason Jews are underrepresented in America’s foreign military cemeteries is because the American Jewish families of many GIs accepted the US military’s post–World War II offer to repatriate their remains for reburial in the United States in greater proportion than other groups.

We at Operation Benjamin gave serious consideration to that theory from the very beginning of our work. But after thousands of hours of research, we concluded that there is no data to support it—and there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence to refute it.

We have examined hundreds of the forms used to decide whether a deceased soldier would be repatriated to the US or buried in one of the US military cemeteries overseas. We have read thousands of pages of agonizing correspondence from children, siblings, mothers and fathers to the military about the disposition of the remains of their loved ones. We found no indication that Jews repatriated their sons to the US in numbers different than any other religious or ethnic group. On average, in both World War I and World War II (the only wars in which this option existed), 60 percent were repatriated, and 40 percent remained buried in Europe and Asia.

Said one Max Shore: “I want my son to rest in peace. Bringing him back to the States will only open up my wound deeper. I know he gave his young life to preserve our democracy and that we shall have a peaceful world. I have enough faith in our government that they will take proper care of my son’s grave. My only wish is that I will save up enough money to go to Manila and see the grave of my son.”

From Rudolph Lobel: “It is the desire of his mother and mine that he may rest at the US military cemetery at Margraten where he fought and died with his buddies.”

Or how about Alma Fontaine for her son Jerry: “Please bury my son beside Lt. [William] Warren, who was his best friend. They were loyal to each other to the last, and it would be a comfort to know that they lie side by side.”

It’s heart-wrenching to read the instructions given to the army by Armin Klein for his twenty-one-year-old son David, an infantryman killed in France in August 1944. He carefully wrote out the Hebrew inscription of the dates of birth and death, and the name of his son, David ben Yitzchok Mordechai. David’s mother was distraught, the descendants tell us, and even though they were Orthodox, they decided to have his remains interred in St. James, France alongside his comrades in arms. His mother could not withstand the strain of a funeral in the United States, and the family feared for her survival.

We remain convinced that the underrepresentation of Jews will be mostly explained by incorrect burials under Latin crosses. And we will continue to work to repair these errors and honor these boys for who they were in life.

Shalom Lamm

CEO, Operation Benjamin

Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter

President, Operation Benjamin

 

Honoring An Abusive Father

I was surprised by a story in “Rabbi Leib Kelemen on Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe: Advice from a Master Educator” (spring 2022). Rabbi Kelemen describes a son who tried blackmailing his elderly father by refusing to forgive his father for not showering him with love during his youth unless his father parted with his “true love”: his substantial wealth of millions of dollars.

I understand the point Rabbi Kelemen was trying to make—that starving a child of love can be painful—but the father’s mistake in no way justifies such cruelty from his son. I fear, though, that the absence of any critique by Rabbi Kelemen of such a gross violation of both “kabbed et avicha v’et imecha—honor your father and mother” and “lo tikom v’lo titor—do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge” will be misinterpreted by readers as implicit approval of the son’s behavior.

The Gemara tells us: “Dama ben Netina was once wearing a fine cloak of gold and sitting among the nobles of Rome when his mother came, tore his garment from him, struck him on the head, and spat in his face—but he did not embarrass her.” It is to this kind of behavior that we should all aspire.

Anonymous

Rabbi Kelemen Responds

Our sages tell us (Devarim Rabbah 6:2) that honoring our parents is the most serious of all the positive commandments. I regret if my essay gave anyone the impression that kibbud av v’em is a debatable proposition. My error may have been not adequately clarifying the details of the case:

I described a middle-aged gentleman who suffered psychologically and even experienced physical disease throughout his life as a result of parental abuse. It would be a misrepresentation to characterize his father’s error as just “not showering him with love.” His father devoted his life to the pursuit of wealth, entirely ignoring his children from birth. Nevertheless, the middle-aged son still yearned for his father’s love. After decades of psychological agony and stress-related disease, the son learned to keep his physical symptoms at bay by distancing himself from his father. But when his father reached his mid-eighties, he apologized to his son and asked him to re-engage in the relationship. The son agreed to forgive and spend time with his father again on condition that his father would give enormous financial gifts to all his children. The son was independently wealthy and had no interest in his father’s money. However, he explained that he did not feel psychologically safe re-engaging until his father demonstrated that he had given up his fixation on wealth in favor of his children.

I would have joined the writer in condemning the behavior of this man if there were a clear halachic violation. However, the son’s intent in asking his father to distribute gifts wasn’t revenge or blackmail. He was seeking reassurance that his father had done genuine teshuvah and changed his values, and that the abuse would end. The son was within his rights, as the Shulchan Aruch (240:10) rules that a child is not required to personally engage with an abusive parent. Furthermore, the halachah is that one is entirely exempt from the mitzvah of honoring an abusive parent if doing so makes a person physically or even just emotionally ill. In a presentation to the Young Israel Council of Rabbis in February 2000, HaRav Dovid Cohen, rav of Congregation Gvul Ya’avetz in Brooklyn and of Nefesh: The International Network of Mental Health Professionals, explained that if one is not required to spend more than a fifth of his assets on a positive commandment, then he is certainly not obligated to make himself sick.1

The story of Dama ben Netina certainly sets the standard we aspire to, but it must be applied accurately. Dama ben Netina’s mother attacked him without warning, and he is praised, after the fact, for not shaming her. This is how the story appears in the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a), Tur (Yoreh De’ah 240) and Shulchan Aruch (ibid., se’if 3). This story says nothing about whether a child must lechatchila subject himself to parental abuse.

Tosafos (ibid, s.v. u’vata emo vekarato) go a step further, suggesting that Dama ben Netina’s mother was obviously deranged. The implication is that he therefore suffered minimal embarrassment. Had she appeared sane, he would have suffered more and our sages would have sanctioned giving her even such a vociferous rebuke that it may have shamed her. Rav Shlomo Luria (Yam shel Shlomo, ibid.) explicitly rules this way.

I apologize for not clarifying these details originally, and I encourage all those who have suffered parental abuse of any sort to discuss their situation with a posek who is an expert in these matters.

Note

1. The transcript of Rav Cohen’s presentation is published in Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin’s essay, “Honoring Parents Who Are Abusive,” published online at drsorotzkin.com.

 

A Novel Solution to the Teacher Shortage
As a retired pulpit rabbi and educator, I found the article regarding the teacher shortage in day schools in the recent summer issue (“The Great Teacher Shortage,” by Rachel Schwartzberg) informative. However, no attention was paid to a resource that can be utilized to provide a solution to the issue at hand.

Retired teachers may be willing to share their expertise with schools lacking adequate teaching personnel by volunteering or by being paid to teach. Unfortunately, we live in an age of ageism, where many think that only young teachers can relate to their students. Successful teachers are not relegated to a certain age group, and productive retired instructors need not be proficient in the latest educational gimmicks and techniques in order to be effective. The love of Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot, the goals of religious Jewish education, are cultivated more by the personality of the instructor and his or her dugma ishit, than by some arbitrary educational method.

Rabbi Howard Finkelstein

Rabbi emeritus, Congregation Beit Tikvah, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Emeritus head of Jewish studies,

Ottawa Jewish Community School

Editor’s Note: Jewish Action received quite a few letters regarding our article on the teacher shortage. We hope to publish more of them in the winter issue.

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