Monday, July 7, 2008

The gentle balance of truth and love

I can't really thank you ladies enough for sending me so many encouraging and thought-provoking emails. One such email echoed a question about which I have been wondering on my own: what do we do when our loved ones act in sharp contradiction with our own conviction, and with what we believe is the best for them? Do we step aside? Do we intervene, how much, and in what way? How do we do the right thing without arrogant self-righteousness, and how can we be soft and loving without compromising our beliefs?

"My friend is moving in with her boyfriend of several years," - writes one of my readers, - "and expects me to be happy and excited for her. What do I say?"

I think we've all dealt with similar situations, especially when we are talking about someone we love and don't want to hurt, and at the same time we want the best for them so we feel an obligation to be truthful about what we really think.

Sometimes, however soft and loving we try to be, the other side may get very defensive. Usually this is because, deep in their heart, they know they aren't doing the right thing - and when their loved ones turn into living, walking and talking conscience, anger may flare up. And sometimes, confrontation can hardly be avoided.

I had to deal with this when a friend of mine was planning her wedding, and decided to have a reformed "Jewish" ceremony. That was because she had some difficulties in proving her ancestry to the rabbinical court, and simply gave up, out of pride and misunderstanding the court's intentions. So I tried, gently and lovingly, to tell her that if she wants a Jewish wedding (and I knew she did), she should stand up, take an extra effort to prove she's Jewish, and have an authentic ceremony which will link her and any future children to the Jewish people for all generations to come. A watered-down, very much compromised pseudo-Jewish ritual would only bear a weak resemblance to what she wished, and would not bear any real significance by Jewish Law.

Since I wanted to be tactful, and keep that balance between telling the truth but avoiding hurtful words, I didn't mention the word "sacrilege" at that point, though it was on my tongue all the time, remembering that the so-called "rabbi" who was to conduct her ceremony, would marry not only couples whose Jewishness was not certain - but also gay and lesbian "couples" (which is an outright abomination in the eyes of God).

Things took a rapid turn for the worse when she asked me to actively participate in her ceremony (as one of the confirming witnesses), which I of course couldn't do, because my participation would mean that I see the ceremony as legitimate and equal to a real wedding by Law of Moses and Israel. With an aching heart, I was forced to tell her that I simply couldn't do that. Performing in such a ceremony is forbidden.

She didn't speak to me for almost a year, until I called her before my wedding and sent her an invitation. She came and we did the wildest dancing together - at the women's separate section, of course. :-)

So where am I getting with this? Our friends expect us to be happy for them, and rarely want to hear less-than-encouraging words about their choices. Sometimes we have no choice but to remain mute - sometimes we gather our courage and speak up.

You could talk to your friend, doing your best to speak lovingly and in a non-judgmental way. If she thinks that's the "next step" in their relationship, ask her, how does she see their relationship developing from there? Marriage and children? Have they ever discussed that? And in what time frame? I think that if you can make her ask these questions, it will be more effective.

Common sense and statistics show that living together is not a good preparation for marriage; neither is it a "step" towards marriage. All too often, it's a convenient arrangement for one of the parties (usually, the man), who enjoys the comforts of home life without the commitment of marriage. The woman, who at first was certain a proposal is just around the corner, slowly starts to realize she is as far from "the next step" as she was before moving in with her boyfriend - if not further. Very often living together prior to marriage is a dead-end for a relationship.

I think there is little you can do beside speaking to her in a way that would make her realize what her own expectations are. Right now your friend is probably excited because finally, after years and years of dating, her relationship is taking a certain change - and right now she cannot analyze the situation and see that this change might not be the expected step towards marriage and family. But after some time, she might remember your conversation and get out before it's too late, and find someone who truly wants to start a family.


Kim said...

You are wise beyond your years and so gentle with whatever you have to say. May it always be so.

Kim Hereford UK

P.S. I am thinking of starting a blog. please can I link to you?

Thursday's Child said...

Excellent post. Gentle, yet firm.

flacius1551 said...

The Israel rabbinate often makes it very hard to prove that one is Jewish for people who immigrate from other countries. In my opinion, unnecessarily hard, in cases where it's obvious that the family has been Jewish going back for generations and the countries of immigration cannot provide the paperwork the rabbis demand. I have at least three friends who went through this, and the demands are frankly, unreasonable. So I really don't think this case really demonstrates your point very well, because whether a friend is Jewish or not is not really a *moral* issue in the same way that cohabitation is, not least because you don't have to have a rabbi perform the ceremony in order to be halachically married. Not supporting a friend in that situation is tantamount to saying you agree with the rabbis that she isn't Jewish--in which case it really doesn't matter if a non-orthodox rabbi performs her wedding, does it?

Brobdingnagian said...

Excellent reflection. It is good that you were able to preserve the friendship, yet you were also able to bear a witness to your convictions, and not have to place yourself in a morally compromising position, saying you approve of something you cannot in good conscience approve of.

As a Christian, I have no problem attending a Jewish wedding, and I would hope that most of my Jewish friends would have no problem attending a Christian wedding, though.

The only Jewish wedding I have ever attended was at a Reformed synagogue.

Are reformed Jews who marry at a reformed synagogue not married at all, because I have read in various places that many Orthodox Jews may not consider Reformed Jews to be observant of Torah at all? Shomer Mitzvot, I think it is called.

It is a confusing and endlessly divided world we live in, especially on matters of faith and religion.

It's hard to balance the need for clarity and good conscience with the need for charity and love towards our neighbours.

[toronto, canada]

Anonymous said...

I think it's best not to say anything in cases like this. People need to find things out on their own.

Living together is the biggest waste of time and energy, no matter what you think of it from a moral stance, which is a whole other issue. Oh, how I wish young women today would understand that.

~ Ann

Terry said...

Good advice, Anna. A perfect balance of truth and love.

Kathryn said...

What does it take to constitute a real wedding ceremony in the Jewish faith? What is it in the Reformed tradition that makes it not real in the eyes of the Orthodox? Forgive my ignorance in this matter, but my knowledge of Jewish matrimony extends to "And Isaac took Rebekah into his tent and she became his wife". :)

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for your posts, they are full of wonderful words of encouragement and wisdom. God Bless.


Anonymous said...

Anna, what would you have done if she had tried harder and still couldn't prove to the court that she was Jewish? Would you have attended her reform wedding then? What are Jews who cannot prove that they are Jewish supposed to do? ~Erica

Miss Amy Smarty said...

I have the same situation looming before me. I'm dreading the day when my dear friends, who are a male gay couple, invite me to their wedding. They are both "Christians"...attend an extremely liberal gay church, and one of them is on the pastoral staff doing music. I've already thought about what to do and say when they ask me to attend. I surely cannot condone such a union, but how do I not lose them as friends?

To the young lady who wrote in:

I'm glad you are taking a stand and asking these questions. I see living together as a total cheapening of self for the woman, especially! Through her actions she is telling her boyfriend that he doesn't have to win her or pursue her to have the pleasure of her company in living with him and helping him. All he has to do is share a house with her! She'll do things for him and act as his wife, without any commitment from him! What a sad position for a girlfriend to be in.

Anonymous said...

I can tell that you've given this matter so much thought, Anna. I will focus on the question you were asked, about moving in together. "What do I say?" your reader wanted to know. Sometimes, unfortunately, there is nothing to say. I have a friend who moved in with her boyfriend, now has three children, & the boyfriend is gone. I remember that when she was pregnant with their first, my reaction was less than enthusiastic. I'm sure it was an involuntary response, as my eyes opened wide with fear & worry for her, & I remember saying, "You are going to get married, right?" She replied, "We will, eventually." She was giddy with happiness over this "progression" in their relationship. Eventually never happened, he never "stepped up to the plate", as she thought he would, & now she is in a very bad situation, financially speaking, health-wise....everything. I have wondered sometimes if I should have spoken more forcefully. Then I tell myself, No, she never asked for my opinion. My friendship with this woman does not depend on the choices she has made, & I have not been faced with an ultimatum (for instance, if she'd ever wanted to visit my home while she was still with this man, I would have been forced to insist on separate sleeping arrangements for the two of them). Could our friendship have withstood such a test?.....I don't know. It is excruciating to watch someone we care about continue to make bad decisions, even if our lives do not overlap day-to-day. Harder yet, is to have to make the difficult choice, as you did, Anna, to refuse to participate in something that clearly went against your beliefs. I'm happy you were able to mend things with your friend.

thanks for a good post,

Andrea said...


I trust that somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, but in the case of a person who is determined to wed according to the laws of Israel, I believe that if a person's Jewish ancestry cannot be proved then conversion to Judaism is the next step.

"Our friends expect us to be happy for them, and rarely want to hear less-than-encouraging words about their choices."

Anna, of everything you have written yet, this might be one of the most insightful things you've said. It's not a terribly gentle truth, but it is a very real one! Our human pride so often keeps us from being willing to be shown our failings, even by those we love best. I can count on one hand the number of people who are dear enough to me (and whom I trust enough) that I would readily swallow my pride in order to hear their concerns as legitimate and valid. Goodness knows that even then it pricks and stings, but I think we're the better for it each time we do, and God is certainly refining me in this area!

I remember you posting about the problem of your friend's wedding some time ago, although you didn't mention specifics at the time. You simply said you had been asked to participate in a ceremony in a way that you knew you could not, though you thought you might have been able to simply attend. I've actually remembered that post from time to time over the past couple months and am childishly delighted to have my curiosity assuaged!

Now, for another question of idle interest- are you as an Orthodox Jewish woman permitted to perform in wedding ceremonies that do not pretend to conform to the Laws of Moses? That is, if a Christian friend were to ask you to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, or an agnostic friend asked you to be a witness at her civil ceremony, would this be permitted? Just curious :)

Anonymous said...

What does it mean to 'prove' she's Jewish? Why does she need to do that? Thanks for answering so many questions!


Sarah K said...

Ann said: "Living together is the biggest waste of time and energy, no matter what you think of it from a moral stance, which is a whole other issue. Oh, how I wish young women today would understand that."

I am afraid I don't really understand how living together is a waste of time and money. I understand it from a moral perspective and how it can be abhorant to your beliefs, but surely the main issue is a moral one? Not trying to stir, genuinely curious.

Mrs. Anna T said...


What people often don't fully understand is that the dayanim (rabbinical judges) are interested in one thing, and one thing only, when they question people about their Jewish ancestry: to make sure that every man and woman who is married by Law of Moses and Israel is, in fact, Jewish.

Intermarriage is strictly forbidden in Judaism, and therefore it is impossible to give someone permission to marry if it isn't 100% certain they are Jewish. I can tell you that I, an Orthodox Jew, would be simply appalled if I knew of even *one* case when a non-Jew has managed to pass for a Jew and got permission to marry through a rabbinical court. An incident like that would threaten the wholeness of the entire Jewish people, and would pose a hidden threat of intermarriage to my children and grandchildren.

A few short months ago, I stood before the rabbinical court myself in order to get permission to marry. Before that, I heard an awful lot of horrible things, of interrogations done "for no reason" and of mean rabbis who see it as their vocation to make people's lives difficult. Not true. Of course, if someone doesn't understand how grave the possibility of intermarriage is to the entire Jewish people, it's difficult to understand why rabbis insist on questioning witnesses and seeing birth certificates. For me, as I have become observant a few years prior to that, it was crystal clear. The dayanim were very respectful and made no unreasonable demands at all. They looked very glad to get me off their hands with a "mazel tov" and wishes for a long and happy married life.

I was more than willing to support my friend in getting more evidence that she is Jewish, and further investigation of the rabbinical court. It would have been possible, had she taken the matter seriously in the first place. As she wasn't observant and didn't understand the extreme importance of it, she didn't. I knew she is Jewish because I knew her - but I also knew that the rabbinical court couldn't, and shouldn't, count on her word alone. I wouldn't, if I were one of the dayanim.

She preferred to have her marriage vows guided by someone who calls himself a rabbi - someone who couldn't possibly know for sure whether she is Jewish, and didn't care.

Whatever might have happened, I could not agree to validating, with my participation, a "wedding" performed by someone who might have "married" a lesbian couple the day before.

Mrs. Anna T said...

PS: If someone's Jewish ancestry absolutely cannot be proven (it HAS happened and CAN happen, in detached communities very watered-down by intermarriage for example), but they insist that they are Jewish, a conversion out of doubt can be performed.

'Proving' you are Jewish may be done in several ways: the most obvious one would be presenting the ketubah, marriage contract, of your parents. If such a document is absent, birth certificates may be used. If no documentation exists at all (and that happened to a lot of people), or if it isn't reliable, witnesses may be questioned. For example, my grandmother testified for me and was asked to speak a little Yiddish and tell about her family, community, Jewish traditions etc.

Sometimes, a rabbi who knows the person in question may give testimony. Sometimes, even a photograph of a tombstone from a Jewish cemetery, or photographs of older family members bearing Jewish symbols (say, a man wearing kippa and tzitzis) can serve as proof.

Again, the point of such investigations is to prevent assimilation and intermarriage.

Anonymous said...

In Response to Ms. Sarah K,

Most people see all objections to cohabitation as a 'moral' thing but actually it goes beyond this. Here are some things I took from my developmental psychology research paper.

People who cohabitate see it more as a "trial marriage" in which couples can determine their compatibility without any legal obligation in the event that things do not go as planned; therefore, people disposed towards cohabitation generally avoid commitment and, as a result, find the non-binding relationship of cohabitation along with cohabitation’s many benefits as being a quite viable alternative to marriage with all marriage’s legal trappings. The people are also, generally, more divorce prone and often cannot handle the commitment and responsibility of marriage. Many adults who engage in cohabitation have parents that divorced and, therefore, have gained values as well as attitudes that increase the chances of the adults, themselves, getting divorces. Due to the ease in which one can break-up, many people often choose riskier mates than they normally would choose which increases the rate of problems. Cohabitating also has been found to make people “less religious” and encourages the development in problematic skills in working with other individuals. People also invest less time into the resolving of problems and in providing their partners with support (PRENUP, 2004). Those engaging in cohabitation are also less likely to be similar to each other than married couples that did not cohabitate prior to marriage (Bee & Boyd, 2003).

Despite the large number of those cohabitating today, cohabitating causes more problems for those couples engaged in cohabitation than those simply not living together. Couples cohabitating are less likely to marry than couples who do not engage in cohabitation and the cohabitating couples are more likely to engage in promiscuity than in non-cohabitating couples (Witcher, 2004). The couples in which cohabitation does eventually lead to marriage, stay together shorter and are more likely to divorce than the couples that do not cohabitate (Bee & Boyd, 2003). They are also more likely to experience less happiness and more conflict before and after marriage (PRENUP, 2004).

One of the most significant and unfortunate side-effects of cohabitation is the increased likelihood of child abuse. Children are more likely to be abused when the "stepparent" happens to be a boyfriend cohabitating with the mother and the risk of serious injury or death is significantly increased in such a situation (Witcher, 2004).

Despite what many believe, cohabitating does not indicate a longer lasting and stable marriage than a marriage without the couple having previously cohabited. Cohabitation has been shown to be more harmful than non-cohabitation and does the exact opposite of what many believe it to do. One cannot test the matrimonial waters by engaging in cohabitation and cohabitation does not prepare the cohabitants for marriage.

Now if both couples go into cohabitation with the full knowledge that they do not plan to marry (which rarely happens), then I would guess it would not be a waste of time or energy. But since children are more likely to result in cohabitation it usually just results in more broken families (at a higher percentage than caused by divorce) and higher poverty rates for the women who are left single and with children.

I will bring up another point about moral issues and then I'll leave it at that. Many people get upset when
someone uses "morality" as a reason to be against something. All laws (ALL) are based on morality. Murder, theft, speeding, and environmental laws are all based on morality. Since it is hard to make people act morally, governments have to make laws to punish immorality (murder, theft, etc.).


Mrs. Anna T said...

Sarah K, your post got to my email but was somehow eaten by moderation.

You wrote:

"Ann said: "Living together is the biggest waste of time and energy, no matter what you think of it from a moral stance, which is a whole other issue. Oh, how I wish young women today would understand that."

I am afraid I don't really understand how living together is a waste of time and money. I understand it from a moral perspective and how it can be abhorant to your beliefs, but surely the main issue is a moral one? Not trying to stir, genuinely curious."

The answer is simple. A woman who moves in together with a man often expects him to marry her later. And often, it doesn't happen, which is a waste of her time and energy - no matter what moral views she holds.

Canadian said...

I lived with my boyfriend for two years. I now believe this to be wrong; however, at that time we believed ourselves to be committed for life and thought that marriage was just a piece of paper. We did not think of it as a trial. We got around to getting married two years later and we have been married for almost ten years. So in our case anyway, it did not turn out to have negative effects (this does not mean it was not morally wrong).

Anonymous said...

Conversion! I didn't think of that. I thought she would just be out of luck, so I felt a bit sorry for her. ~Erica

Anonymous said...

This is such an on time post. I'd been avoiding a phone call for what will be a week tomorrow. I knew if I called this person right away, the truth would be like sharp daggers being driven into her heart. So it's been my prayer to tell the truth in love which took some heart examination on my part, speaking to the Lord in prayer about the fact that it's my desire to please Him in my decision and reason for the phone call, it's not about my own desire to speak the truth or to do the right thing. Now I can better handle that call and do so in love. First apologizing for taking so long to make it but it's something I wrestle with, learning to be more on the side of assertive than aggressive and it's easier to lean on the side of aggression when you know you're telling the truth on a matter.

As everyone else has stated here, you brought an excellent balance here as you do in your posts always, much wisdom to gain here.