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Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Boys Adrift

Book Review: Boys Adrift (copyright 2007)
The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men {A Doctor's Plan to Help Our Sons Fulfill Their Potential}
By Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.
A Doctor's Plan to Help Our Sons Fulfill Their Potential

Unfortunately, this book review will not do justice to this intriguing, thought-provoking, and enlightening book. I found this book during a library search for a semi-related subject, placed the book on hold, read the book, and after determining it was worth a thumbs up review, figured I'd renew it and take my time in writing a review. However, it is a rather popular title at the library and was put the book on hold. So, back to the library it goes.

The author, Dr. Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. (Psych), is a family physician, published research psychologist, and very popular speaker. He noted a trend of unmotivated boys which prompted what is now his current life's work on gender differences and emerging social trends and issues.

On the flap of the book reads: "Something scary is happening to boys today. From kindergarten to college, they're less resilient and less ambitious than they were a mere twenty years ago. In fact, a third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home with their parents--about a 100 percent increase in the past twenty years. Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals are worried about boys. But until now, no one has come up with good reasons for their decline--nor, more important, with workable solutions to reverse this troubling trend."

Certainly this trend of unmotivated and underachieving young men is one that I think we can almost all sense exists, even if we can't identify it. Although the author specifically praises Orthodox Judaism and other "enduring cultures" in brief for not succumbing to such a trend (and it is always flattering and wonderful to be the object of praise), I think there is more, not less, in this publication that our communities can relate to, even if not every factor described is a contributing one, and even if some of the solutions (he is an advocate of single-gender education) are already heavily practiced.

The five factors that Dr. Sax points out as contributing to the demise of boys and men in America include:

1. Factor One, Changes at School. . . Dr. Sax looks at how education has changed in America and believes the changes are not working for boys. These changes include the acceleration of early elementary curriculum (he specifically looks at the changes in kindergarten) and a shift away from Kenntnis (acquisition of knowledge through experience) to Wissenschaft (book knowledge) which he fears "may seriously impair development--not cognitive development but the development of a lively and passionate curiosity."

He points out that the average boy isn't particularly ready to sit still in the classroom and meet the demands of the classroom curriculum. Homework and a classroom environment geared towards girls are other factors. Other trends the author points out include taking the competition out of academics, physical education, less opportunities for competitive sports, and instituting a strike "zero tolerance" policy for violence which includes not just play and speech, but written expression.

I think this chapter has a lot the day school/yeshiva parent can relate to. Friends tell me of punishments their young sons endure in day schools, both co-ed and separate gender. These children have the little recess they get taken away because of inability to sit still in the classroom. And while the children are bright, they just don't seem suited to a very restricted classroom environment. Also, today I hear all about early emergence of behavior issues in lower elementary which seems to be a shift from the elementary that I remember.

2. Factor 2, Video Games. . . The doctor comes down hard on video games which take young men in particular away from the real world.

3. Factor 3, Medications for ADHD. . . The doctor is very concerned about the rise in ADHD, which he originally mentions in relationship to the changes in school environment (see #1 above). He does mention that much of the suggestion that a child be evaluated for ADHD is coming from the classroom teacher. He is particularly critical of the trend to prescribe stimulant medication (esp.) for ADHD as an experiment "Why Not Give It a Try?" He advocates for other solutions before medication and certain medications over others. He also details that much of the medication, when remove, can having lasting effects that sap motivation.

The suggestion of ADHD isn't unknown in our world. From what I understand, there is tremendous pressure on some parents to medicate their boys. While the doctor never dismisses medication completely, he advocates for other solution such as moving boys to more boy-friendly environments first. I was not able to relate to the push for more single-gender education in relationship to ADHD as in our world we tend to separate the boys from the girls and yet the issues remain. My guess is that separating out the boys from the girls isn't actually the key, but creating a learning environment that really appeals and motivates boys is. And where that environment lacks, the behavior follows.

4. Factor 4, Endocrine Disruptors. . . Here the doctor outlines environmental changes that might be affecting boys more than girls.

5. Factor 5, Devaluation of Masculinity. . . lack of role modeling to transition boys to manhood.

The End Result, a "Failure to Launch". . . The doctor sums up his list of five factors with a summary of the "end result", young men who are failing to get their lives of the ground. They are unmotivated by things that traditionally motivated men, i.e. money and sex (North American culture also lacks a "stick of duty", i.e. the expectation to provide despite the unpleasantness of it all out of fear that the family would be demeaned). In the past, a man had external motivation, even if he lacked internal motivation. To marry he needed to demonstrate he could provide. Today, marriage rates have fallen and sex has been divorced from marriage. Worse yet, the doctor mention that sexual satisfaction has been divorced from women altogether. He writes: "If you don't work with today's teenage boys on a regular basis, you man not understand the extend to which pornographic images of women have replaced the real thing.. . . among those men, use of pornography can readily escalate from an occasional diversion. . . to becoming the preferred sexual outlet." The issues mention are closely related to the chapter on video games where the doctor mentions that young men today seem rather satisfied to remain in the fantasy world of video games, rather than interact with young women.

The end result is that a growing number of young men are more than happy to remain unemployed/underemployed and live a fairly comfortable live off their parents (or girlfriends/wives). Perhaps the real highlight of this chapter are the numerous letters the doctor published from people who recognize the trend and/or relate their experiences re a "Failure to Launch."

The "Failure to Launch" is certainly something we see in our own communities. After I read the book, I was discussing the prevalence in our own community with my husband. We know so many men who are wonderful and bright, yet just can't seem to "find themselves". They don't feel a duty to do what it takes and aren't motivated to make money if it isn't pleasant or "demeans" them. Thankfully, we haven't divorced the physical relationship from the marital relationship, so it might be easy to dismiss such as non-applicable. Nonetheless, we seem to face many of the same issues of young men unmotivated to establish independence. We have many a husband, father, or single who is happy to live off his parents or wife.

The Solutions
School Changes
--Societal: Restore kindergarten as kindergarten, so that the initial school experience be a positive one. Put Kenntnis and Wissenschaft back in balance. Give teachers more freedom to reintroduce competitive formats into the classroom for those that need that approach.
--For Parents: Hold back a child that is not ready for an accelerated curriculum. Team up with other like minded parents when asking for changes in school. "One parent is just an annoyance. six parents can't be ignored." Don't be adversarial, but look to work with the school. Explore separate gender education tracks, both in private schools or within a public school framework (as it is not legal in American public education).

Video Games
--(beyond never introducing these games or pulling the plug) find real world experiences for boys, especially competitive or contact sports.

Medications for ADHD
--If it is suggested your son has ADHD, insist on a formal (private) assessment who i not biased in favor of diagnosing ADHD. The doctor does not believe that school psychologists (or psychologists recommended by private schools) or primary care physicians are the best choices. He also recommends trying a different environment.

A useful parent's guide is provided by the author on 5 criteria that need to be met to diagnose ADHD:

1. Hyperactivity/impulsively or inattention.
2. Onset before seven years of age.
3. Multiple settings.
4. Significant impairment in social or academic functioning.
5. Not attributable to another disorder.

Endocrine disruptors:
--be careful with plastics. See the website for things to avoid and articles.

Devaluation of Masculinity
--look for positive role modeling, restore the bond between generation, don't ignore gender.

My recommendation: This book is a very easy, short read. It is highly worthwhile reading for parents (especially parents of boys of all ages who don't seem to be "launching"). There is plenty that is applicable to the Orthodox Jew, even if our children aren't spending their days playing video games and even if our children shidduch date. The articles on the author's website are worth exploration. Even where I'm not quite sure about the author's suggestions, or have my reservations, I'm glad I've been exposed to his research and suggestions. (My apologies for a short and rather faulty review, but the book must return to the library shelf).


Anonymous said...

Using the author's terms, isn't the typical Jewish Day School curriculum 100% Wissenschaft and 0% Kenntnis? Maybe the latter is supposed to come from the home and from non-school life in general. If school and homework eat up all available time other than for eating and sleeping, there could be a problem.

Anonymous said...

What makes you think that Orthodox Jewish boys, even from right-wing homes, use video games significantly less than other boys? These games are considered more "kosher" than other activities in many circles.

Miami Al said...

What makes you think that pornography is less of an issue as an outlet in the Orthodox world? You're talking about sociological impact, NOT the visuals themselves. Even if they are less likely to be on the Internet viewing hardcore pornography, in a world were an exposed leg is a scandal, is there not plenty of "stimulation" available within the guidelines of filters? Given the lack of availability of real "young women," are young Orthodox men not equally capable of substituting the pursuit of real women with the fake ones of their fantasies?

While the world outside of Orthodoxy sees a male dominated culture, within it, how much of that is true? Outside of the synagogue, how much of daily life do the men actually dominate. How many men are seen as kings of their castle and treated with respect when at home, and how many are treated poorly and dismissed by spouses, leaders, etc.

Don't pretend that the anti-male attitudes in contemporary America haven't entered Orthodoxy, it's just reflected differently.

Some of the problem is also definition of normal. In the secular world, it looked like almost every diagnosis of ADD (now ADHD) was a Jewish male. It's also possible that for cultural and historical biological reasons, Jewish men had a slightly different learning style/emotional development style and all got diagnosed.

Regarding male role models... how many Orthodox boys learn to ride a bike or throw a ball from their father? How many get taken to sporting events? How many see any sort of physical activity as manly vs. "goyish." Little stuff like my dad, not the most physically active, putting up shelves when I was a kid made him a doer, or helping me with a boy scout project. How many Jewish boys see their father do much of anything?

Unknown said...

Hobbies should be encouraged, too.

Unknown said...

You should check out Sir Ken Robinson's recent speech (put up the video recently on my blog) where he discusses much of this brilliantly.

That, along with his two prior TED talks, are well worth the time.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be that concerned about young adults living at home until about 25ish, particularly given the job market and cost of housing. It depends on what they are doing while living at home -- ar they starting to act like adults. Do they take responsibility for household chores and their share of household expenses? Are they doing things to help build a future life, like school, work and training? Are they starting to give back to their communities through volunteer work.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the problem is that for those who aren't academically talented or who haven't been encouraged in academics, relatively speaking to a few generations ago, there are many fewer good job/career paths for men who don't have a college degree, so perhaps less to aspire towards. Even being a cop or a fireman now requires a bachelers degree in many areas, where that was not the case 30 years ago. Factory jobs have disappeared, and the trades (carpentry, plumbing,construction workers, steel workers, etc.) are subject to constant rounds of layoffs. Generations ago, boys knew what they would grow up to be -- whatever their father was -- farmer, rancher, blacksmith, printer, etc. and their fathers taught their trades to their sons, wo there was a simple, direct path to follow. That usually is not the case now. Sometimes too many choices can lead to not making any choice, particularly where many of those choices don't seem attainable.

Shoshana Z. said...

I really look forward to reading this book. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Anonymous said...

My father is Jewish and he was a dynamic, industrious, leader personality, ambitious, focused, both intellectual and practical. Both his sons are the same, and their sons are equally dynamic and together. I don't see this problem in a family with a strong father figure. I do see a problem for sons where the father is ineffectual or "present but absent". Those sons have a hard time coming into their own. It's not the school, the environment, the religious standards. A boy needs a father to look up to. Lacking a father, he will drift. I know that boys who were directionless have been saved by the all-male yeshiva environment and a caring, attentive rebbe.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous writes: What makes you think that Orthodox Jewish boys, even from right-wing homes, use video games significantly less than other boys?

Please let me know your thoughts. I don't believe that the video games (at least games such as Grand Auto Theft) are being played with great frequency. However, I do recall stopping in a camp to find the camping boys on the computers playing computer video games and I was rather surprised. I don't believe it was anything particularly graphic, but it certainly wasn't what parents were paying for.

Miami Al writes: What makes you think that pornography is less of an issue as an outlet in the Orthodox world? You're talking about sociological impact, NOT the visuals themselves. . . .. . are young Orthodox men not equally capable of substituting the pursuit of real women with the fake ones of their fantasies?

I never made an assessment vis a vis pornography, I only mentioned that I didn't believe video games were quite the issue as in the community. The author drew a connection between video games and pornography, but I think each could be looked at separately.

Many Rabbis will tell you that pornography is a growing problem in the community and so, yes, it seems that even some married men find more satisfaction with the fake over the real person that argues with them, challenges them, etc (a point made by Dr. Sax).

Orthonomics said...

RAM writes Hobbies should be encouraged, too.

Exactly. The author encourages getting kids involved in real world things. Hobbies included.

Ezzie-Thank you. Many of my non-Jewish friends pointed to this talk and I believe that Dr. Sax footnoted Sir Ken Robinson in the book.

Shoshana-You have pointed me to good reading material and I'm happy to return the favor :)

Anonymous writes I wouldn't be that concerned about young adults living at home until about 25ish, particularly given the job market and cost of housing. It depends on what they are doing while living at home -- ar they starting to act like adults. . . . .

If you choose to read the book, or some of the material on the website, you will see the concern isn't particularly living at home, but the "Failure to Launch." In other words, they are not moving towards independence.

Anonymous writes there are many fewer good job/career paths for men who don't have a college degree, so perhaps less to aspire towards.

The author writes of a program for plumbing introduced in a large school district in Maryland that was barely able to attract the minimum number of students, and after the program started, nearly half dropped out. He writes of encounters with other professionals noting the same trends.

Anonymous writes: I don't see this problem in a family with a strong father figure. I do see a problem for sons where the father is ineffectual or "present but absent".

The author is very big advocate of the need for men in the lives of boys. Nonetheless, it seems that the "failure to launch" is prevelent in families where all the gears seem to be in place.

Anonymous said...

ADHD-like symptoms are rampant among elementary age boys at the Yeshiva. A big problem is the false expectation that a young boy should be able to sit still with no breaks for 3 hours and it he can't that there must be something wrong with him. This in part, stems from a lack of education in child development among Yeshiva teachers. My son was "diagnosed" with ADHD by his first grade teacher when he really had a language processing disorder. Depite this both she and the pricipal put tremendous pressure on us to put him on meds, despite advice to the contrary from both his pediatrician and a child psychologist in our area.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:22: Count yourself and your family as very fortunate, but don't be smug. I agree that an involved father (or father figure) is important, but its not enough. I know boys/men from families like yours that did not launch. In other words, its not fair to always blame the parents.

Anonymous said...

It seems logical that a close relationship with ones father and a strong paternal role model who is involved in his sons' lives is very important. My question is how do orthodox dads do it if they have to work 60 hours/week to pay tuition, rush off to minyan, shiurs, etc. and the kids get sent off to camp and long days at yeshiva. Is being a shabbos dad enough?

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 6:22. Is being a Shabbos Dad enough? From the list of activities, instead of the father going to shiurim, maybe your community has a father-son shiur or beis medrash evening. Use the walk to and from shul on Shabbos to spend time with your son. One of my nephews once said, "I only see my father on Shabbos" - and he's grown up to be a wonderful, responsible young husband and father.

I didn't mean to sound smug. I have seen enough sad situations that I am aware of the fragility of bringing up a son. A 12 year old boy in my extended family was withdrawn and unhappy without an involved father to guide him. His mother hired a yeshiva bochur to tutor him in gemora. The young man became a guide and a friend to the boy, and the boy flourished and became happy. Sometimes a tutor outside the family can add an important element of support and stability.

A yeshiva day school rebbe who actively tutors told me that the reason there is such a demand for tutoring is not for remediation, but because fathers don't have time to learn with their sons.

Mara said...

Thanks for sharing this! I am eager to read it now. My oldest is only 7, but I have grown increasingly frustrated at how "girl-geared" his classroom is (he's in a mixed class for now in all subjects).

They only have one recess period a day, and they often end up with "inside recess" when the weather is even slightly inclement. *All* children need to be outside for more than 20 minutes out of an 8 hour day! Especially 7 year olds. Ugh, it really frustrates me.

If you want more reading on this topic, I like this Time article from a couple of years ago. It's obviously from a secular perspective, but I think there is a lot to be gleaned for those of us in religious communities as well.,9171,1647452,00.html The author points to some reason for optimism, as well, which I appreciate.

elanit said...

And now for a review of Girls on the Edge, by the same author!

Orthonomics said...

elanit--That would be wonderful. Are you volunteering? ;)

I'm always happy for Guest Book Reviews. This book is actually on my list, but the library doesn't have it yet. I did reserve Why Gender Matters and a few other interesting books on boys. But, we should give some equal time for girls. And, we have both.

Parent of both said...

In the RW world I live in, it seems easier to raise well-adjusted girls than boys. In my daughters school, if a girl can't do well in her studies, she can join the choir or the GO, help run the school play, join a Chesed program, learn to cook/bake/sew/swim, etc. If my son can't learn well, he can go off the derech.

Ariella's blog said...

That's an interesting point, Parent of both. I agree that in the RW world, the ultimate achievement for a boy is well-defined. That forces many boys to go through the system of learning full-time even when they are not at all cut out for it. But that is an open secret. Boys who don't learn well sometimes concentrate their energies on secular studies or find an outlet in music, sports, and even chesed programs. Some of the area yeshivas -- including the RW leaning ones do encourage such participation and one even requires it for the honor students.

On the other hand, the problem I have with girls' education is that they really don't know how to define the goal beyond the general "bas Yisrael" ideal -- whatever that is. They don't wish to stress learning too much b/c, after all, that is not what they want to promote as the woman's role. I get the impression that good grades for girls are just today's measure of accomplishment for young ladies, rather like a well-done sampler or well-played piece of music of 200 years ago. So we have the absurdity of devoting no less than half a year to a curriculum centering around tznius. Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for dressing to code-- but I don't see it as the equivalent engagement of mind and soul as intensive Torah study.

My daughter informs me that a teacher warns that some girls lose control once out of an environment that keeps her in place. They may not go completely off the deep end, but their behavior, once freed of external constraints, shows that they never really internalized the values they heard about for themselves. Another thing I've noticed is that even girls who appear to have done everything by the book -- gone to the right school, seminary, married young, had kids right away, etc. -- don't really seem to be deeply connected. Yes, they're safe from intermarriage, etc., but their lives seem to center around a hollow core.

m said...

"Another thing I've noticed is that even girls who appear to have done everything by the book -- gone to the right school, seminary, married young, had kids right away, etc. -- don't really seem to be deeply connected. Yes, they're safe from intermarriage, etc., but their lives seem to center around a hollow core."

My personal view is that this is, unfortunately, exactly what one would expect in a community that views women as means and not ends.

Parent of both said...

"My personal view is that this is, unfortunately, exactly what one would expect in a community that views women as means and not ends."

If what Ariella is saying is true of women and not men, then your statement would be worthy of debate. But from my view, I see quite a few men who also lead hollow lives.

In fact, I think Areilla's post applies even more to men than women, who - in my view and I admit I may be way off base - by nature (or nurture) seem more emotionally connected to God than men do.

tesyaa said...

I agree with both Ariella at 10:57and Parent of Both at 11:46. Even if a man is busy with minyanim and is kovea itim, that doesn't mean he is living a life more connected to Hashem and holiness. Many times these activities are substitutes for the arduous work of truly thinking about one's life direction and priorities.

Certainly there's a lot of potential for rote observance for both males and females. But how is that different in this generation compared to the past dozens of generations? I can't believe that more than a very few luminaries (such as Rabbi Soloveitchik and Nehama Leibowitz for some modern examples) spent much time thinking about life's greatest questions.

Father of both said...

It doesn't take thinking about life greatest questions to make a life that is fulfilling - or not hollow.

I look around shul on shabbos and (1) see people who are never there during the rest of the week (2) who can walk in 30 minutes late to a 9:00 minyan (3) who can talk through the entire davening and leave to join the kiddush club during the haftorah (4) etc.
That is what I call someone who has an empty spiritual life. Sad but true. The wife at home, or behind the mechitza, has no idea; going about her life thinking her husband is a wonderful frum man connected to God, but I would disagree.

Anonymous said...

The wife at home, or behind the mechitza, has no idea; going about her life thinking her husband is a wonderful frum man connected to God, but I would disagree.

The wife is probably happy as long as (a) the husband earns enough to buy nice groceries so that the company will be impressed, and so that she has a Shabbos sheitel and a nice new Shabbos robe or outfit, and (b) doesn't bother her too much about what she's doing between 9:00 and 2:00 every weekday while the kids are in school. Starbucks or the mall? Don't ask, don't tell!

Shoshana Z. said...

Make your son your chevrusa several times a week. Who better to learn with than your own child? And for those who are worried that it isn't intellectually stimulating enough, you would be very surprised at the intellectual and emotional stimulation for both father, no matter what the ages.

Shoshana Z. said...

that is, "both father and son."

Shoshana Z. said...

Anonymous said...

Father of Both said "I look around shul on shabbos and (1) see people who are never there during the rest of the week (2) who can walk in 30 minutes late to a 9:00 minyan (3) who can talk through the entire davening and leave to join the kiddush club during the haftorah (4) etc. That is what I call someone who has an empty spiritual life."

Yikes. Maybe its that judgmental attitude and failure to recognize that there are many ways to have a full spiritual life that is turning off some kids. Spirituality is not one size fits all. Is it really so hard to understand that constant repetition of ancient prayers written by others and being told to do so at set times and places and in a prescribed manner isn't going to work for some people. The fact that you may find deep meaning and spirituality in those rituals doesn't mean that everyone will, or that they will every day on schedule. Perhaps children should know that its ok to find other ways to explore and express their spirituality while at the same time learning our traditions and law.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:47 p.m.: It sounds like you should read the book about Girls on the Edge. I hope there is something in it about gender stereotyping that you can learn from.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43pm. How do you expect your kids will turn out if you don't show them how to respect tradition?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:39: No one said anything about not teaching kids to respect tradition. The comment was in response to someone who said if you aren't into the prescribed way of davening you are spiritually hollow.

Bklynmom said...

The "wife at home or behind the mechitza" not only thinks that her husband is a wonderful tzaddik, but her children are also. Meanwhile the children are running around the shul basement torturing other kids. We see it every Shabbat in our shul. Mothers who talk about loving all Jews, tell me I can relax and sit to have my piece of herring, the children will be just fine. Their own children, meanwhile, are horrors, calling other children names, pushing toddlers down the stairs. When will religious Jewish parents start parenting their kids? Books on child rearing assume a certain level of parental involvement.

tesyaa said...

See Ariella's earlier post discussing the common assumption that learning Torah always makes a man a better husband and father. I think it's relevant to this discussion:

Bklynmom said...

Tesyaa--I just did. From what I am seeing, many Jewish parents seem to have gotten half the message. The fathers remember to learn, the mothers remember to daven, but they forget to teach their children to behave. They got the message to be fruitful and multiply, but did not get one about the 18 or more years of child rearing that follow the birth of each child. The result is that learning, davening parents have children who run around shul and the neighborhood wild, disturbing and hurting others.

Ariella's blog said...

Thanks, tesyaa. I agree that many people are living a superficial frum lifestyle. That goes for men, as well as women. But what I see is that women who have achieved a fairly high level of Jewish education and who identify as Orthodox in every way expect very little of themselves in terms of their religion. Many women without medical conditions or babies on hand do not even try to daven or to fast on any days beyond Yom Kippur and 9th of Av. In my girls' BY school, some of the girls over 12 (not pregnant or nursing) even eat in public on those fast days b/c their parents tell them they don't have to fast.

Abba's Rantings said...


"When will religious Jewish parents start parenting their kids?"

the de facto situation for many families is that educating (or in general raising) kids is the responsibility of the schools. in some cases this is the ideal and in other cases it's just the way things are.

so when you have parents who for the most part have abrogated their parenting responsibilities 5-6 days of the week, it should be no surprise that come the 7th day they don't suddenly snap back into parenting mode.

Anonymous said...

I am a social worker and in our office we see familes from many different backgrounds. An observation I have made is that often in obsevant families the father does very little parenting putting an unfair burden on the mother who might have 5 or more kids. Also the kids tend to wild to the point where they have literally trashed our office with the parents present and not so much as telling them to stop. One little boy did over $500 in damage, and it was later discovered that he put tacks on several chairs that were later sat on by an elderly couple. The parents when contacted later claimed that there child was an angel and stated that they would not pay their bill because we had insulted them. This is an extreme example, but literally every time an orthodox family comes in the children, who are often not even the patients, run wild.
Ruth Silver, MSW

Shoshana Z. said...


Your example unfortunately rings so true. I am still shaken to this day recalling a Shabbos when I went to the basement of our shul to help set up the trays for kiddush. Two boys (ostensibly best friends in public) were down there unsupervised. One was lying on the ground while the other was standing and kicking his "friend" in the abdomen repeatedly and with full force - all the while repeating, "you better not tell anyone or you'll get more." I went home from shul crying that day and was profoundly affected by the incident. We had already been homeschooling for 2 years when this happened and it more than confirmed our decision, as these were boys in my son's (would-be) class. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this is an extreme or isolated example, but there is little point in saying more on such a depressing subject.

I personally could not care less how much Gemara or teiching a child knows if they do not have respect for human dignity nor any sense of right and wrong outside the parameters of a false reward/punishment system.

Abba said...


"When will religious Jewish parents start parenting their kids?"

i decided to post something as a follow up to up my comment to you above:

Anonymous said...

I have read Boys Adrift and recommended it to several orthodox families. One problem that occured was that most of the mothers loved it but some fathers reported that it makes them feel guilty for not spending time with their sons. A local Rabbi also told a father, who is the husband of my patient, that time spent studying was more important than time spent with his wife and son because Torah study would make him a better husband and father.
Ruth Silver, MSW

Orthonomics said...

Ruth Silver,
Welcome and thank you for commenting. I'd love a guest post on some of the differences you notice in your practice. The story of $500 in damage in the office sadly resonates with me.

If you could add your thoughts on the book here, I'd also appreciate it. Glad I'm not the first reader :)

Ariella's blog said...

" Torah study would make him a better husband and father." I totally don't believe that. I do believe there is an infinite value to Torah study, but I don't believe that it translates into a better husband and father. Like R' Copperman said when urging girls not to study for (secular subject) tests on Shabbos: "I'm not a Chissidish rebbe, so I can't guarantee you will get a better grade, but you will have a better Shabbos." Learning Torah brings great rewards, but they are not of this world.
But it's not just fathers. Someone her her kids left off at the park where my daughter was expected to watch them for hours while she felt very spiritual about saying Tehillim in silence. Another time she wanted my daughter to go watch her kids in her house b/c she wanted to go to a shiur. But my daughter had a test and had to say no. I have nothing against saying Tehillim or going to shiurim, but they do not justify foisting your kids on other people. In my view, children are the parents' responsibility, no matter how much they shell out for tuition and camp to put them in other people's hands.

Anonymous said...

I once saw a couple where the husband did not come from a religious background but became so after being married for 10 years and fathering 2 children. The wife stated that her husband was a good man but spent no time, other than Shabbat, with their kids after becoming religious. He actually went so far as the file for divorce, which greatly hurt his kids, because his wife, who was from a reform background and whom he described as a wonderful woman, would not agree to live an orthodox lifestyle. The children, by the way, also objected to becoming more observant, which led to their father choosing to spend time studying rather than spending time with them.
Sad but true story.
Ruth Silver, MSW

Anonymous said...

Ariella: I have a different take on the mom who wants to take some time to daven or go to a shiur. Its a matter of degree and how much time the parents take away from their kids, but I think that often it can be quite healthy and good for both mom and the kids if mom gets some time to herself, whether its 45 minutes a day to go for a run or go to the gym, 30 minutes to daven or 20 minutes to soak in a bubble bath. Everyone needs some down time and time to recharge. I would rather see a mom take a little time for herself than to be too stressed and tired to be the mom she wants to be and the kids deserve.

Anonymous said...

To Ruth Silver: When I was at the dating stage, I was offered a shidduch with a divorced man who became religious and therefore "had to" divorce his nonobservant wife. This was put to me so matter of factly, he had to get divorced because he became frum. Needless to say, I never for a moment considered going out with a man who would use frumkeit (religiosity) as a figleaf for leaving his wife and family. Any man who considers divorcing his nonfrum wife should be aware that observant women he would want to meet will look at his life story with more than a little skepticism.

YoelB said...

Anonymous 10:21:

I'm a divorced man looking for a shidduch; I can't tell you how many women were suggested who were willing to move across country with the kids leaving the father behind -- or had already done so. No, in many cases the boys were not already away at yeshiva. And no, the fathers apparently mostly weren't bad guys.

When I mentioned my objection to the shadchanit, she said "If she's willing to move, what's your problem?

My take: for a supposedly patriarchal religion, men are pretty disposable.

Anonymous said...

I often compare my own secular childhood to my children's upbringing. My dad worked 2-3 jobs and my mom worked too. Going to PS and getting home earlier than my kids do today gave me FREEDOM. Freedom to explore the world by bike. To do stupid things, to go places on my own like the library and and make friends (and enemies) along the way. Either we were naive or the world was much safer then. I see more of my upbringing in the non-hareidi Israeli today than in the American Jewish kid. Perhaps that is why they are still producing virile males and we are not.

Anonymous said...

I am the father of 3 boys. They behave well at school but are "wild" when they are with their mother. I work long hours and study after work. So the job of parenting falls on her. This was our agreement when we married, but now she complains about our life. Most of my friends are in similar situations. I have thought about leaving them and going to Israel to study full time. I love my kids. Sometimes fathers get a bum rap.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:49: Maybe your wife didn't realize at the time of your marriage how challenging it would be raising 3 boys with an absentee spouse. Maybe it's unfair to hold her to an agreement that was probably made as a starry-eyed young girl. You sired these children; please try to take some responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:49 - your prior agreement with your wife is irrelevant to your obligations to your children. They obviously need more time with you -- fewer hours at work if you can swing it, and less hours out of the house studying. Would you say its ok to beat or starve your kids if that's what you and your wife previously agreed to?

Orthonomics said...

YoelB-I like your instinct and it reminds me of a situation that I saw when I was in college that shook me as being so "off". But who is a college student to say something is wrong here when everyone else was saying mazal tov? I still think of these under bar mitzvah step kids who were taken over 1000 miles away from their community, put in a new type of school, and told they had to keep new chumrot/minhagim. For all I know they turned out just fine, but it certainly was a jarring situation and I remember them being none too happy.

Anonymous father of 3 boys--I don't mean to be rude or mean, but perhaps your children need more of you. It sounds so cold to consider moving oversees to study because of some deal that was made before your wife likely understood how much these children need their father, his time, and his involvement. Perhaps it is time to change the agreement for the sake of the children, not run away because you aren't getting what you expected. Certainly that won't solve the "wild" issues. And it most certainly won't make Torah beloved to them.

Miami Al said...

"When I mentioned my objection to the shadchanit, she said 'If she's willing to move, what's your problem?'"

They say that women should be nervous about a man who leaves their wife to be with them, because he'll do it again. A woman that moves her children across country and away from their father, not a woman that I would want to sire children with.

Anon 1:30, "Going to PS and getting home earlier than my kids do today gave me FREEDOM. Freedom to explore the world by bike. To do stupid things, to go places on my own like the library and and make friends (and enemies) along the way. Either we were naive or the world was much safer then. I see more of my upbringing in the non-hareidi Israeli today than in the American Jewish kid. Perhaps that is why they are still producing virile males and we are not."

The world is MUCH safer now than it was then. Crime rates are down, crimes against children are down, zero tolerance policies in schools make it a safer place. It seems more dangerous because of the 24 hour news cycle and the growth of tabloid television in the 90s that spilled over to 24 hour cable. Seriously, compare crime statistics now to then, the world is a safe place.

Very true on Israel vs. the United States now. It's a small version of what commentators are saying about China vs. us. China pulled out ALL stops and basically rebuild a metropolis in a year for the Olympics. They build a city the size of Houston every year to handle economic growth. We still can't seem to replace the Twin Towers that fell (and were originally built in 4 years).

America just has lost it's nerve.

The media didn't cover what I thought was the biggest effect of 2008 (not the Ivy League educated half African man as the first black President, neat but not shocking, Colin Powell would have won in 1996 if he ran). The cultural shock: two east coast lawyers/US Senators would win against a war hero AND a frontier governor. This is just NOT the same country that conquered the western frontier.

Anon 7:49, "Sometimes fathers get a bum rap."

I hope you're not real. That's not fathers getting a bum rap, that's you being a bad father. Your wife and children need you. Your children are only young once.

AztecQueen2000 said...

Another part of the problem is that children are starting school younger and younger. Many times, I have children as young as 2 in classrooms and on school buses. While I recognize that the increasing number of working mothers leads to a rise in children needing daycare, call a spade a spade. School should not function solely as daycare, nor should toddlers be expected to learn the institutional behaviors expected of much older children.

Chaim B. said...

For every bit of anecdotal evidence about fathers ignoring children, boys who misbehave in shul, etc. one can cite anecdotal evidence of frum fathers who are involved in every aspect of their children's upbringing, of kids who because of their upbringing and chinuch exemplify the best of midos tovos and learning. Calling for a complete overhaul of the current system, or rejecting the system in favor of some other option depends largely on whether you see (or choose to see) the success or the failures.

tesyaa said...

Chaim: I agree with you that we're largely dealing with anecdotes here. However, there are a few factors at work:

1) The pressure on fathers to work hard (to pay tuition) and/or the learn hard (unfortunately, many feel that anything but learning is bittul zman - including childcare! Remember the story about the guy who complained that taking care of his children during chol hamoed took away from his learning?)

2) If a father thinks of quality time as a father-son learning event, that's great if the boy is a learning type. If the boy would rather go to a ball game or go bowling, and the father views it as not frum enough or bittul zman, it's going to be a turnoff to th at particular kid.

3) Many frum fathers fall into the anti-PC camp, and they view childrearing as not manly. I can excuse fathers of the 1960s for having had this attitude, but sadly the frum world is always 30-40 years behind the mainstream culture.

Chaim B. said...

Your criticisms apply equally to fathers who sit on the sidelines at little league games cursing at the umpire for calling a strike when their kid is at bat or yelling over a dropped fly ball, fathers who pressure their kids to attend only the "right" college (i.e. the one they want their kid to attend, regardless of the kid's feelings), as well as fathers too caught up in their own learning or job to spend time with their kids on what they want to do. My point is that directing ire solely at learning fathers, at fathers working hard to pay tution, etc. -- at frum society to the exclusion of everyone else -- is unfair. Looking at the glass as half-full one could just as well point to fathers who help around the home because they view it as chessed, fathers who are actively involved in their kids' lives because they feel it is a chiyuv of chinuch, fathers who spend time with their children over a sefer and both enjoy it. The system of Torah chinuch can be a positive force in shaping parenting skills, though most of the comments I don't think convey that impression.

Avi Greengart said...

Just a quick counterpoint: sometimes medication is a godsend. ADHD may be overdiagnosed, but it is quite real. Sometimes ADHD kids and adults can learn coping skills or can benefit from alternative approaches such as physical therapy, structured exercise, music classes, extra classwork, or freedom to daydream/doodle. Sometimes it's not enough, and medication can provide the foundation for learning coping skills. I've seen medication do wonders for children who need it. Magical, miraculous, transformative wonders.

Miami Al said...

There are plenty of good frum fathers, and bad frum fathers. There are plenty of good secular fathers and bad secular fathers.

There is NOTHING unique in this about frumkeit.

A father really into collecting stamps could equally neglect his children if after work he locked himself in a basement with his stamp collection.

The difference is, if someone is a bad father because of hobbies, you'll call them self indulgent.

If someone is a bad father because of learning, the Frum community is filled with people that will give him accolades and call him a tzaddik,

There isn't a systemic problem with bad fathering, as we've said, anecdotes go both ways.

There is a cultural problem where bad behavior is encouraged by the community at large, not discouraged.

Bklynmom said...

I agree with much of what has been said, from ADHD being real, to it being overdiagnosed, to the fact that some frum parents parent their children well and raise real "menches" while some ignore their kids to the point of malignant neglect. My husband and I do our best to raise our children to have good manners, concern for others and solid secular and Jewish education. We are hopefully preparing them to function in the world. But when they go to shul (every Shabbat) and get called names, when my 4 yo gets pushed down the stairs, by those who represent the half that are not parented, it hurts our entire family. Yes, for every badly behaved kid there is a well-behaved one. But the badly behaved ones ruin it for the well-behaved ones, leave them with a negative feeling towards their religion, and make Jews look bad to the rest of the world.
And, yes, it is essential for mothers and fathers to have some time for themselves every day. But for every "time out" for themselves or their children, parents have to put "time in." That is what seems to be lacking in many families, the "time in" with their children.

Abba's Rantings said...


"Your criticisms apply equally to fathers who sit on the sidelines at little league games cursing at the umpire . . ."

of course. but no one uses frumkeit to idealize cursing at the umpire.

Chaim B. said...

>>>If someone is a bad father because of learning, the Frum community is filled with people that will give him accolades and call him a tzaddik,

I guess I must be sheltered, because unlike yourself and Abba's Rantings, I haven't really come across this phenomenon. Are you saying that you heard first hand (not some ma'aseh through the rumor mill on a blog) a Rav or Rebbe tell a father that it was more important for him to spend time learning or being away from his family than dealing with his kids or helping his wife when they needed him? Did you see such behavior advocated in the writings of a gadol? Please let me know where so I can take a look.
Even if one such instance occured it would be a stretch to use is as an excuse to attack the community as a whole, not to mention to disregard all anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

tesyaa said...

Chaim - it's never explicitly stated that "we're honoring this fellow because he spent so much time learning, he even had no time left for his children!" But clearly full-time learners are honored above working men in many segments of the community. Learning "boys" are favored in shidduchim. And what other culture would not SHUN a man who chooses not to work while his pregnant wife works full time supporting the family? (4 other kids, ages 7 and under, this is an actual relative of mine!). Sure, his wife is happy and says she wouldn't have it any other way - who in her right mind would say that, unless learning were honored over other occupations?

(Please, no comparisons to the grad student who's finishing his PhD while his wife works. This young man has been learning full time for 10 years or so and is not getting any earning power out of what he's doing. But he IS an illui).

tesyaa said...

I'm NOT saying that every learning father is a bad father - not my relative or anyone else.

I'm NOT saying there aren't many positive parenting values a person can get from being frum.

I AM saying that the culture encourages activities that make it easy to excuse not spending enough time with the kids, or to make it seem like too much attention paid to the kids by a father is either wimpy or an emulation of non-Jewish values.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I AM saying that the culture encourages activities that make it easy to excuse not spending enough time with the kids, or to make it seem like too much attention paid to the kids by a father is either wimpy or an emulation of non-Jewish values.

But you ignore the strain of our culture (present to a far greater degree than in the outside world) that emphasizes and encourages connecting with our children and taking part in their education - v'shinantam *l'vanecha*. It's not the culture which is the problem -- it's the people who fail to apply it's lessons properly.

I don't understand your point about full time learners in as much as there is no inherent contradiction between full time learning and spending time with one's children. I'm not sure what you mean by "honor" -- I can't recall the last shul or yeshiva dinner that honored a kollel guy for his contribution to the community...

tesyaa said...

It's not the culture which is the problem -- it's the people who fail to apply it's lessons properly.

It's just a matter of terminology, then. I'm referring TO the people when I use the world culture - you apparently are referring to idealized religious teachings. So we may have more common ground than it appears.

Chaim B. said...

I really must live in the wrong community. Where I am the two largest local shuls are open only for ma'ariv. The local yeshiva Beis Medrash is basically empty except for a handful of people. Another local yeshiva has a beis medrash with most 16-20 year olds. I'm wondering where all these absentee fathers who are spending all their time learning are hiding!

Ha'levay the biggest plague in our community should be fathers spending too much time in the Beis Medrash instead of with their kids instead of the problem of fathers spending too much time in front of the TV, in front of the computer, at the gym, the movies, etc. instead of with their kids. Tesyaa, I don't mean to minimize the issue -- sure, sometimes there is a problem of too much of a good thing -- but I think things are getting bent out of proportion.

Anonymous said...

We can't ignore the fact that parts of the culture/religion do take fathers away from their children -- minyanim, shiurs, learning. Ask someone not lucky enough to have children -- they couldn't imagine not spending most of those waking hours not spent working to support the family or when kids are in school not with their children. How many hours a day does the typical frum father who works, attend minyan and makes time for some learning actually spend with their children? If you subtract out the time spent with older boys if they attend shul with dad or do father son learning, how much time is spent with the daughters and younger children? If you then subtract shabbos and yom tov meals, then how much time is left?

Anonymous said...

I should clarify that my prior comment wasn't meant to denigrate frum fathers. Just that they have to be extra-cognizant of their use of time and make extra efforts to compensate for the times they are out of the house without their children if they want to be good dads.

Chaim B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaim B. said...

Sorry, Anonymous, i did not see your clarification before my prior comment. I will delete my response

Abba's Rantings said...


"I guess I must be sheltered, because unlike yourself and Abba's Rantings, I haven't really come across this phenomenon."

my comments here have really been about what i percieve to be parents' detachment from their kids' chinuch (and rearing in general), not about learning fathers.

"the strain of our culture (present to a far greater degree than in the outside world) that emphasizes and encourages connecting with our children and taking part in their education"

i would disagree. not about what our "culture" idealizes, but what happens in practice. on from what i on the one hand, many parents are simply not invoved, for various reasons (unless you mean signing the checks), including being pushed aside by the schools themselves.
(and since you did ask above about what AL and i heard from rabbonim and rebbeim, i will tell you that i was once discussing the yeshivah schedule with a principal and he brushed aside one of my concerns and commented that in his "opinion family time is overrated.")

Abba's Rantings said...

"on from what i on the one hand,"

sorry for the garbling. should read "from what i see"

Ariella's blog said...

To Anonymous December 29, 2010 8:24 PM: I don't claim a mother must be home with her children 100% of the time. It's fine to take time out to go to a shiur. I even knew a mother who hired a babysitter to come every afternoon to allow her quiet time for mincha. If you can afford to hire someone to take care of your kids to allow you that respite, that's great. But it is a different matter, to just casually leave your kids off with a pre- teen (whom you don't pay) to give you several hours on a Shabbos afternoon to feel spiritual while they run around in the park, or trying to leave them off when you want to go to a shir. When my kids were little, if I wanted to go to a shir, I could only do so if my husband was with them. I didn't make them the responsibility of a neighbor/

Ariella's blog said...

What it really comes down to is this: you have the kids, they are your responsibility. It doesn't shift to the school, no matter how much tuition you pay. Mothers do not have to be tied to their children 24/7, but they do have to be arrange proper care for them when they cannot attend to them themselves. The same goes for fathers. I know some fathers take the view that they work hard and so are off duty the whole time they are home. After all, if they provide the income, their wives have to provide all the childcare. That is an error.

Anonymous said...

"But it is a different matter, to just casually leave your kids off with a pre- teen (whom you don't pay) to give you several hours on a Shabbos afternoon to feel spiritual"

The issue here is, then, nothing to do with how much time parents should spend on their kids vs. religious pursuits. it's rather about feeling entitled to impose on others. perhaps you claim that pro-shiur culture allows her to feel entitled when she goes to a shiur in a way she would not just to get pizza, but the problem is the entitlement all the same. your daughter can say no.

in general there is a problem of taking the labor of teenage girls for granted - i remember in my shul some men wanted to institute kiddush after hashkamah, but somehow expected the "girls" to help set up during mussaf. well, i was waking up early to daven, not to cut cakes, so i did the former and not the latter...

Ariella's blog said...

Ah, but the mother knows my daughter hates to say no, and she does take advantage of that. Then I have to be the bad guy and say no for her. I had to do that recently when she asked if she would babysit on a school night while she went to a wedding -- that's with one day's notice. I knew that she would only get back after 11, too late for a school night. The thing about it is by giving very late notice or no notice, she makes it seem like less of a business arrangement and more of a can-you-help-me-out-here situation. This mom does the same for a shir, a wedding, or going shopping. For some reason, she likes to set out to go at night when, for some reason, her husband and older kids are not available to watch the younger ones. It's the classic transformation of poor planning into the guise of urgent situations. Part of the responsibility of a parent is not falling into poor planning.

Boys rule said...

Back to the boys versus girls issue: How many of you live in neighborhoods with father-son learning programs on Friday night? My shul has it and I (as well as my chavrusa, who is a rebbe in an all-boys yeshiva) are sickened by the concept. Picture the family sitting by the Friday night table, and the father saying to his wife and girls "me and Moshe are going now" with the underlying "becuase my learning with him is more important than the rest of you". Note that I am NOT talking about the one-hour Motzei shabbos programs, that are soon after shabbos,. ending early enough to still leave hours of time for the wife and girls; I happen to think those are great. But leaving a shabbos table to go learn with just your boys? (and likely leaving your gilrs to clean up?) Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

My brother in law never spends any time with my nephew claiming that his time is better spent studying. The young man in question, who attends an MO Yeshiva,started drinking and smoking marijuanna. His father saind said that it was his mother's fault because she didn't raise him right. He also refused to attend counseling claiming that the counselor was trying to turn him against frumkiet. The father studies more than ever and was even given the Alumni of the Year award at the annual dinner because he made a very large donation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:02
It would be wonderful if you could fill the void left by your brother-in-law. Perhaps you could be a male role model for him. If I were you, I'd call the counselor and ask how you can help him through this difficult time.

tesyaa said...

Ariella, it sounds like the woman you're describing is taking advantage, but I really don't see this as having anything to do with her frumness. You are doing your daughter a favor by teaching her that sometimes she has to say NO, even if it's uncomfortable.

If she cloaks her actions in the guise of frumkeit, that's no different than a person saying you NEED granite counters and three dishwashers for religious reasons. You don't, and she doesn't. I'd teach my daughter the difference.

SJ said...

Read this if you want your kiruv skills to go up.

ora said...

Spending time with kids is an important part of parenting, but it's not the whole thing. Sometimes being apart from kids is necessary to be a good parent.

To me, there's no contradiction between davening and being a good parent. A man who goes to minyan is being a good father by setting a personal example. And as someone pointed out, he's doing something to strengthen himself, which ultimately strengthens the family (within reason, obviously).

I'm with ChaimB - most of the frum men I know are involved fathers.

I don't think the "macho"/"1960s" approach to fathering is necessarily against fathers being involved. If anything, it's the modern approach that sees fathers as unnecessary. The "macho" approach means fathers get less involved in the physical aspects of parenting, but they are if anything more involved in raising their kids, especially boys, from what I've seen.

The 1960s view would see boys being raised by a single mother being far more disadvantaged than 2010 society would think. IMO.

ora said...

About the man who divorced his non-religious wife - I think posters are being overly harsh. From what was said it's not clear if the wife was at all willing to accommodate him or not. There's a big difference between someone divorcing a less religious spouse who's willing to compromise (for example, go to mikva and allow the orthodox spouse to keep separate kosher dishes) and one who is unwilling to compromise (or even openly hostile).

Without knowing the couple or the details, it's not fair to assume that it was his fault the marriage didn't work.

Shoshana Z - I hope you told the parents of the two boys what you saw. Didn't they have anything to say about it?

While it's a horrible incident, assuming they were at least in second grade I don't think it's reasonable to expect that parents would be constantly supervising. I had playdates at that age and there was never a parent in the same room with us as we played.

I agree with Anonymous (the one who used to be home alone as a kid) that giving kids freedom is a necessary part of good parenting as well. Like with the scary shul story - while that's an awful thing, would it be better parenting to follow your 7-year-old child around and not let them have any time alone with a best friend? Then you'd end up with kids who are unready for independence even at age 20 (which is already happening in some circles).

tdr said...

On the subject of giving kids freedom and raising self-reliant kids, here is a blog some of you might enjoy

She wrote a book by the same name.

Anonymous said...

With all due repect, I am a non-orthodox Jew, who is very actively involved in the larger Jewish community. If my wife suddenly became observant and started to insist on my following an orthodox lifestyle, I would consider it to be a potential deal breaker in our marriage.

Miami Al said...


If you wife started keeping Kosher, would you leave her? Sabotage her efforts in the kitchen? Try to reach a middle ground (3 sets of pots/dishes)? Bring in take out?

Would you leave her if she refused to fry bacon for you?

If she decided to make a family dinner Friday night and sit home and read a book on Saturday, would you join her for dinner, or would you start flipping light switches to annoy her on Saturday?

A successful marriage can involve spouses with different religious practices. A successful marriage CANNOT involve spouses that are disrespectful of each other.

If you wife demanded you dress differently, keep a rigid Shabbat, stop eating with co-workers, etc., I could see that being a "deal breaker" in that you never signed up for it. If your wife decided to be personally observant and asked for your help in a respectful manner, would you be that mortified by it?

Dave said...

I think you are understating the issue rather a lot, Al.

Try: "We're going to switch to double beds, and for long stretches each month we will have no physical contact of any kind, whatsoever".

That's likely to be a deal breaker in many marriages.

I would put major changes in religious observance in the same category as a decision to open (or for that matter, close) a marriage. A major change in the underlying terms; if the marriage doesn't survive that shift, the fault lies with the person who made (or is insisting on making) the change.

Anonymous said...

Baalai tshuva return to Orthodoxy for many, many reasons. It's not always due a sudden change in belief based on intellectual reasons. There are often emotional factors motivating a major life change. So one can say that the marriage might have been in trouble anyway, regardless of whether one spouse became observant or not.

Please, do not delude yourself that every baal tshuva makes the decision to become Orthodox based on rational, intellectual reasons. Emotions and life circumstances play major roles. And as Seinfeld would say, "not that there's anything wrong with that".

ora said...

Anonymous, I'm not saying that religious differences aren't sometimes a reason for divorce, just that it's not fair to assume that a person who changes religiously and then gets divorced is a bad person who ditched their family (and is to blame for hurting their kids, and shouldn't be accepted for dates, etc, what previous posters said).

What's the realistic alternative - that someone who believes they should be religious (leaving their reasoning aside for now) ignore what they feel is right for the rest of their life? As if one party repressing their desires day in day out would lead to a healthy marriage...

L'havdil, if a person realized only after marrying someone of the opposite sex that they're attracted to members of their own sex - that would be a deal-breaker, but that wouldn't make them "at fault" or mean that they don't deserve a chance at happiness with a new partner if their relationship ends.

Anonymous said...

Ora, thank you for bringing up this very important point, that one should not reject someone just because he found it necessary to start a new life because he or she became religious. Let me respond.

I wrote that I would not consider marrying someone who left his wife and children because he became religious. I have strong principles about this and I am glad your comment gave me the opportunity to clarify my position.

I have known a number of married people who became religious and whose spouse did not. They did not leave their spouses. They valued the marriage and they had children. They were good people. I didn't know the man who was mentioned to me for a shidduch, but I do know that it is not necessary to leave your marriage and family when you become religious. In fact, becoming religious should strengthen the family bond. To tell a young girl that the man with three children who she is being fixed up with "had to leave his wife because he became frum" is an insult to her intelligence, to her critical facility. If a Bais Yaakov education teaches you anything, it's not to marry someone who uses frumkeit as a way of shedding his first wife.

I take your point about self fulfillment, about the dangers of denying one's own desires. And I disagree with it. I think the definition of a decent human being is one who puts his family before his desires. As one man said to me when he was considering divorce, "I looked at the three children, and I thought - how could I leave these innocent children?" He waited til the children were grown up before he left his wife. He sacrificed for what he felt was a higher good, the well-being of his children.

Self fulfillment has been grossly overrated. You have bought into a hedonistic way of thinking that is widespread. It often does not lead to happiness.

But I appreciate your writing, as it gave me a chance to clarify my beliefs.

Anonymous said...

My cousin became religious at 43 after 15 years of marriage and having 2 fine sons. He left his family last month and moved to Israel because his wife was not sufficiently supportive of his new lifestyle. A bigger shock came when my husband called my cousin's rabbi for advice and was told that it was he who had suggested the move to Israel.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous 6:41PM, well stated.
Anonymous 7:10PM, shameful

Anonymous said...

I am saddened but not surprised that a kiruv rabbi might suggest a man leave his family. (It's hard to tell from the specifics here if that actually happened). Children who become frum as teenagers are often encouraged to move out of their parents' house into the home of a teacher or a rebbe. (In the 1980s, I remember several young girls living in the home of a well-known kiruv rabbi who was later convicted of sex offenses). Or, they're encouraged to become free of their parents financially as soon as they finish high school, going to seminary and/or Jewish college on a "scholarship". Because the parents are not religious and refuse to become religious, they are painted as anti-religious. In actuality - they may not have been anti-religious when their child started on the kiruv path, but after a year or two of their child being told that their wishes aren't important because they're not religious - yes, by that time they're anti-religious.

Miami Al said...

"He left his family last month and moved to Israel because his wife was not sufficiently supportive of his new lifestyle."

There is a term for that sort of behavior... but religious isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:10: While it is commendable that the man you described wanted to put his children first, what he did to his wife is not commendable. He was not willing to put her first. I would assume that by the time the children were raised, the wife was well into her 40's or perhaps older. It is very hard for a woman over 35 to meet someone new and remarry -- much harder, the older she is. What does the man do while he is sticking around for the children -- tell her the truth and his plans and give her the option of leaving (with the kids) or kicking him out of the house, tell her and try to work on whatever issues makes the man want to leave, including through marriage counseling, or wait until the kids are raised and then spring it on the wife? I also wonder how great a dad you can be and what type of family life you can have if you are planning on leaving once the kids are grown. Kids need to be with parents who have genuine love and affection for each other and are partners. There is an old saying that one of the best things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

Orthonomics said...

We can all make assumptions and we will never had an idea if they are accurate. I would assume that a man (or woman) who decides to stick with a marriage that isn't quite working "for the sake of the kids" will make an attempt to make the better. In some cases, the marriage will eventually end. But in other cases, there could be a turn for the better.

ora said...

Anonymous - You're just repeating what you say someone who becomes religious shouldn't do. OK. But what should they do?

If a man believes that the right thing is to eat kosher food, should he eat treif anyway because to do otherwise would upset his wife?

If a man believes he shouldn't drive on Shabbat, should he do it anyway, because his wife will be furious if he cancels their usual weekly Saturday trip?

If a man believes in keeping taharat hamishpacha, should he not keep it, because his wife would resent it?

And if he gives in and gives in and gives in to keep the peace, do you really think that the result can be called peace?

It's all well and good to say he should stay with his family. But how do you see that working, practically speaking?

Self-fulfillment is indeed overrated in American society, but it's not hedonistic to suggest that each partner in a marriage needs to be able to preserve at least a basic sense of self.

Anonymous said...

I will be honest, my charedi brother has six kids. He is VERY involved with them, helping around the house a lot, even while managing to work full time, learn and daven 3 times a day. However, his kids are still bratty. I don't know why. He puts a lot of effort into helping them grow up and he doesn't see very many results. It's frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I took a college trip to Israel with my best friend, Adam. We met a group by the Kotel led by a man named Jeff. My friend stayed in Israel and became religious. He broke his parents and friends hearts by cutting off contact with them. His father died several years later and he did not even bother to call. His parents were very involved conservative Jews and hardly anti-religious, but they became so as a result of their son's actions.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the pursuit of a "religious lifestyle" is a form of narcisistic self-fulfillment. My observation it that some parts of the orothodox community are so self involved that they do not see, or perhaps care, how their actions affect other people.

Anonymous said...

If a man believes that the right thing is to eat kosher food, should he eat treif anyway because to do otherwise would upset his wife?

If a man believes he shouldn't drive on Shabbat, should he do it anyway, because his wife will be furious if he cancels their usual weekly Saturday trip?

If a man believes in keeping taharat hamishpacha, should he not keep it, because his wife would resent it?

And if he gives in and gives in and gives in to keep the peace, do you really think that the result can be called peace?

Ora - hello - it's called COMPROMISE. If he expects to get everything his way - it's unlikely to work out. If she insists on shrimp cocktail, maybe he can keep a small kosher kitchen in the basement. Socially it's not Orthodoxly correct, but it might work out. She might agree to do their special trips on Sunday. And so on... it's call COMPROMISE, but many baalai tshuva insist on "my way or the highway".

As for taharas hamishpacha, even that might not be a breaking point if he goes the extra mile to make her happy the rest of the month.

And if it doesn't work out, it's likely the marriage had problems anyway. Why would a husband go seeking a new religious way of life if everything in his life and marriage were hunkydory?

Anonymous said...

Ora - would you defend a married Orthodox man who decided he didn't believe in Orthodoxy anymore for intellectual reasons, and left his wife and family to date non-religious women?

ora said...

Anonymous - hello - I already suggested compromise earlier. But not every non-religious spouse is willing to compromise.

Sometimes even a simple thing like having a few kosher dishes to eat off of will cause major strain in a marriage (or parent-child relationship, for that matter).

Maybe "many" BTs insist on "my way or the highway" (I don't know any, but let's assume they exist). But that's not a reason to assume right off the bat that any specific BT who has issues with family must be at fault.

I actually do know a man who decided not to be religious and ended up divorced. I don't blame him for the divorce, because like in the case of the BT husband, I wasn't there and I have no idea who was or wasn't willing to compromise, and who decided they wanted the marriage to end.

Anonymous said...

More than compromise is necessary -- genuine respect and caring is required to make these situations work. Most important is not being judgmental. If the newly religious spouse acts holier than thou or negative toward the other spouse's non-belief/non-observance that, rather than some new restrictions with respect to kashrut or shabbat is going to the killer for the marriage. Similarly if there is a newly non-observant spouse, that spouse needs to show respect for the observant spouse's beliefs. Also key is how you deal with other relatives. For example, if the newly observant spouse will not go to a neice's wedding because of mixed seating or intermarriage or food arrangements, where he/she would have gone before, that is going to be a problem.

Anonymous said...

A family member became more frum although she grew up in a modern Orthodox family. She was highly critical of her parents' lifestyle, but this did not prevent her from requesting and accepting their financial support. She was also critical of other family members' religious level, but let them know she would nonetheless be happy to accept their financial contributions. Apparently, a frum person can reject her family but accept their money. Is the money kosher, while the food not? How fortunate that a family can be kept together by frequent financial transfusions from the frei to the frum. This is what is known as human nature. Balzac wasn't Jewish, but he knew all about it. I often think the machinations of family life such as this are out of Balzac. The frum family member considers literature completely ossur, and I can understand why.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the 8:13 PM post just above. Do people who become frum tend to descend into chronic dependency, or is it that dependent personalities find in the generosity of frum kiruv people a congenial way of life?

megapixel said...

getting back to the original topic, there is a really good book by James Dobson, Bringing up Boys. (he is a christian, so some things may need to be disregarded but it is a solid, conservative book on old fashioned family values.)

people should stop commenting on a scenario that they do not know enough about because they were not there.
nobody wants to break a marriage. obviously it wasnt working.

Miami Al said...


Marriages fail, there isn't always a fault, sometimes they just fail. The idea of one-way tolerance is a serious character flaw in Frumkeit's culture, not a flaw in the religion, just the manifestation of it.

That said, if a Rabbi encouraged a father to move half way around the world and leave his children behind in a home "not sufficiently Jewish" and therefore have no ability to show the children a more Jewish home, that IS something else entirely.

But blaming one for ending a marriage because of religious differences and looking for blame, 100%, that is silly.

Anonymous said...

My observation it that the frun community is much more accepting of Jews who might looking for a free ride. I work for the development office at our local Federation. We get a lot of pledges this time of year from a broad section of Jews. A longterm pattern is that very few members of the orthodox cumminity make contributions while most of our local funding goes to orthodox institutions. When my boss asked if he could make a presentation at a local shul, the Rabbi told him not to waste his time because very few members would consider giving money to a nonfrum institution. Yet his same shul has a large number of members who get free medical care sponsored by a federation program. This would be a great topic for later discussion by the way.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al,
What if the kids are totally turned off by the changes they see in their father and his new lifestyle? I am not orthodox, so to be honest I am very much an outsider when it comes to the frum community. I do, however, work for a Jewish organization and to be honest their is very little that is attractive about the orthodox lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

The idea of one-way tolerance is a serious character flaw in Frumkeit's culture, not a flaw in the religion, just the manifestation of it.

Miami Al, can you give any classical sources that support halachic tolerance of heterodox religious practices? Unfortunately, loyalty to halacha demands intolerance, although there are ways to go about it that make it seem less harsh.

Miami Al said...

Anon 10:22,

Classical Sources?

Sure, Talmudic claims that the first Temple was destroyed, in part, for 70 missed Shemita years.

The entire middle eastern Jewish experience: you can tour the marketplace that had two streets of Jewish shops next to each other in the Arab lands. Usually one for the shops that were closed on Saturday, one that was not.

Lithuanian Jewry: every non-Artscroll publication that covers that entire experience describes the masses as being relatively non-observant and the boys spending years in Yeshiva because they couldn't find wives.

Or, by Classical sources, you mean the Ivory Tower religion that our Yeshivot falsely teach was the "religion in Europe?" On the ground, the Jews of Europe and the Middle East were predominately non-observant, but lived in Jewish towns and were somehow harmonious.

There is actually no religious imperative to be an jerk.

Talk to people that are 80+ that aren't/weren't Frum and weren't integrated into American non-Orthodox movements. They grew up in a world where everyone kind of learned the same thing from an Orthodox Rabbi, and families did what they wanted to do. Most of them that became non-Orthodox can describe the specific terrible behavior that the "just off the boat" Polish/Lithuanian Jews did to harass and push them out of Yiddishkeit altogether.

Anon 7:07's story is another case in point. The Federations are also funded heavily by that older Jewish set, the Jewish set that believed in a unified Jewish people. Somehow, in the last 50 years, the Orthodox broke off, setup their own institutions, and showed up begging money. This is remarkable, given the current triumphalism you see in Orthodoxy about declining population numbers in non-Orthodox Judaism: newsflash, that's where your ranks of BT and Federation money comes from, the groups you only interact with to beg money from or insult.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous Commentors, please do try to pick a "name" so we can sort you apart. Thanks!

megapixel, I actually checked the book out today. Looking forward to reviewing it. I used to listen to Dr. Dobson's radio spot over 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I can sadly see that there will be a big split coming in the next generation between Orthodox and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. You already hear complaints at Federation offices about the one-way stream of money going into primarily Orthodox institutions. Beyond finances,another very sad obsevation is that many in the Orthodox community do not volunteer or involve themselves in larger Jewish Community wide activites. For example, out of over 450 participants in last year's Walk for Israel only 16 peiple showed up from the local MO Yeshiva. There absence spoke volumns about their community spirit. By the way, contrary to what some in the Orthodox community might want to believe they are losing members who want to be part of the larger world and I believe that the Reform movement, which is by far the largest demonination, is the movement growing fastest in term of numbers.

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