Ask the Rabbi

  • Family and Society
  • Honoring Parents vs. Other Mitzvot

My Parents Want Me To Be Less Religious


Rabbi David Sperling

Tevet 2, 5781
Hello, I grew up in a secular Russian Jewish family. There is no observance in our household whatsoever. My own transition into a religious lifestyle was gradual but intensified over the past year. I am now comfortably shomer shabbos and keep kosher. My parents have accepted this, but they continue to express their unhappiness about my level of observance. They say my lifestyle conflicts with the values they instilled within me to respect my family (e.g. the fact that I did not call my sister on her birthday because it fell on a shabbat is something completely ludicrous and "extreme" in their eyes). They ask me to sacrifice some of my beliefs for the sake of "respecting" our family who do not understand or might get offended by some aspects of my observance. I feel trapped that staying true to my own beliefs would mean going against my parents to a large extent. I know that if I do not comply with them they will simply shut me out for being selfish and claim that I am no longer a member of the family. At the same time I know I cannot live my life by appeasing my parents, but I am also bound by the need to respect them. What should I do?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. First, let me say how much I feel for your situation – having difficulties with one’s parents is never easy; and when it clashes with very important values that you have worked hard to obtain, it is all the more painful. May you be blessed with wisdom to do the right thing. As to advice – the Torah already understood that sometimes keeping the mitzvot might bring a person into conflict with honoring their parents. (So, you are not the first one to be in this situation!). It tells us that even though we need to honor our parents, both us and our parents are obligated to honor G-d. Therefore, if there is a conflict – Hashem comes first. With that said, let me add that the ideal is that there be no conflict. Hopefully, in the long run, your parents will see that by you being religious, they will have a better relationship with you, that you will respect them more, that being religious should not be at odds with true family love and closeness. I know that at the present it may not seem like that to them – but ultimately the message you need to give to them is that you are not rejecting them, or their values. But rather, because of the values they instilled in you – family, commitment, etc – you have turned to Torah, which only aims to strengthen those values. Yes, you will miss out on a Shabbat birthday party; not be able to attend a non-kosher meal etc, - but you will be an upright child who respects their parents, who looks to do kindness and charity with all, including their family, who speaks well of all, and who – most importantly – will live a life that has meaning to yourself, and bring you happiness, which is surely what they want for you. It seems strange (and painful) to me that if your parents’ value family so much, they should threaten you with being “shut out” of the family. If they truly valued family then they would be able to accept you and love you no matter what path you choose. I don’t know if you are able, but if you can you should communicate to them that you will always love them and be a part of the family – no matter what they should do. But, you need to be true to your own values and life. May you be blessed with all that’s good.
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