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Question: I am a 23-year-old frum girl and have been dating an amazing guy. He is a medical student, handsome, responsible, smart, and very giving. He is also a ba’al teshuvah. Initially, I wasn’t too crazy about the idea of dating a BT, and neither were my parents, but after we all got to know him, he impressed us with his zeal for a Torah life.

We are almost on the brink of engagement, and I met his parents. His mother keeps a kosher home for him and lights Shabbos candles. She is very respectful and supportive of her son’s frum way of life. His father, on the other hand, is very anti-religious. He makes fun of everything related to Yiddishkeit. In fact, when this guy’s tzitzis were a little bit exposed, his father mocked, “Hey, you forgot to cut off the extra strings hanging from your pants.” I was horrified.

I am having second thoughts about marrying him. He is very close to both of his parents and respects them. I’m also concerned with what kind of relationship our children will have with such grandparents.

Do you think I should marry him anyway and hope for the best, or am I better off breaking up with him, and not dating a ba’al teshuvah in the future?

The Panelists Respond

Baila Sebrow:

You are depicting an emotional struggle between father and son. The father mocks Yiddishkeit, and the son, while appearing respectful, might be manifesting passive-aggressive behavior in reaction to his father’s abusive behavior. Although the father publicly humiliates him, he still feels inclined to expose his tzitzis in his father’s presence. There is underlying resentment that goes deeper than this guy’s choice of lifestyle—a result of unresolved conflict between them.

Sounds like your dilemma is not about this guy being a ba’al teshuvah and whether you should consider such a prospect in the future. You and your parents are clearly open-minded about the concept of dating a guy that had previously been not frum. The issues that are of concern to me are the way you are portraying the scenario this guy plays out with his parents.

Most parents prefer that their children follow the model of religiosity they were born into and the manner in which they were raised, so conflict is also likely to occur when children choose to be less frum than their parents. Parents do not have to agree with the lifestyles of their adult children, but they need to be respectful and verbally poised in their presence.

You are describing an episode in which the father also showed disrespect to you, a guest in his home. This man not only humiliated and belittled his son in front of the girl he plans to marry, but displayed complete disregard for your feelings in witnessing such a traumatic episode. I get the feeling from your letter that the guy’s mother did nothing to assuage your discomfort. Unfortunately, it sounds as though she is defenseless in her husband’s presence.

Not all ba’alei teshuvah sustain such extreme antagonism from family members. In fact, some families not only eventually come to respect their child’s newfound spirituality, but they oftentimes embrace Yiddishkeit as well. Case in point: the mother of the guy you are dating now lights Shabbos candles and keeps a kosher home.

The emotionally healthy person that chooses to exchange his previously secular lifestyle for one of strict halachic observance does so due to being spiritually oriented and in the belief that the Torah way of life is his way of strengthening the bond between G‑d and man. In fact, the Gemara expresses highest regard for ba’alei teshuvah, even going so far as saying that even the most righteous among those we might refer to as “frum from birth” cannot stand in their place.

You are astute in recognizing the possibility of conflict in the relationships between this father and his future grandchildren, and that there is potential for tension to arise when you visit your in-laws along with your husband and children. Despite the love that this man will feel for his grandchildren, his animosity toward Yiddishkeit can emerge. However, I am comfortable in advising you to marry this guy, on the condition that you both seek premarital counseling.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com.

Alisa Berger:

In life, and in shidduchim, nothing is perfect. There is no such thing as a Prince Charming who fits every criterion on your checklist and is perfect in every way. And yet you seem to have found a pretty amazing guy who is on his way to becoming a professional (and a doctor, no less) and is smart, handsome, giving, and responsible. Ding, ding, ding—you have hit the jackpot and should consider yourself very lucky.

Seemingly, his one imperfection is the fact that he is not “frum from birth,” yet that is still not a problem for you because of his great enthusiasm and newfound love for Torah and Yiddishkeit. So your guy appears to be pretty perfect. And his mother sounds nice as well. You have a problem with his father and are considering breaking things off with this otherwise wonderful man because his father is unsupportive and mocks his son’s newfound religiosity.

I know many couples that have in-law issues. The wife doesn’t get along with her mother-in-law, the husband feels controlled by his father-in-law. It is not atypical for a married couple to have issues, squabbles, and points of discontentment with their parents or in-laws. Many of these arguments and issues arise many months and even years after the wedding. I truly do not believe that if these couples had known while they were dating that they would encounter these issues once married, they would have broken up then and there.

Right now, you need to ask yourself how bad you would feel if you were to break things off with your guy. How much would you miss him? And is that hurt and sadness worth experiencing because of an unsupportive father, who may, one day, change his tune and become more supportive? You mention in your letter that despite his father’s mockery, your guy is still respectful of his father and enjoys a close relationship with him. Is it possible that once you got to know him a little better you might find that he has some good qualities as well? In terms of the grandchildren issue that you raised, I have seen many grandparents enjoy warm, loving relationships with their grandchildren, despite much ill will felt between the parents and themselves.

I think what it comes down to is that you marry a person, not his father. You are lucky enough to have found a wonderful person to marry who possesses so many amazing qualities. Don’t throw him away because of possible difficulties involving his father. I believe this would be a decision you would regret for a long time. Best of luck to you with whatever decision you make!

Alisa Berger is a Lawrence shadchanis and part-time dating coach. She can be reached at alisab27@gmail.com.

Miriam Schreiber:

Nobody has a problem-free scenario. Some people just hide it better than others! All of our perceived problems and struggles are the tools Hashem has designed with the particular person in mind to help each individual maximize his or her potential—including your bashert. Everyone has something—aging parents, sick family members that require an inordinate amount of attention, dysfunction, off-the-derech children, personal illness. As depressing as all of these sound, they are all facts of life and opportunities for us to learn from and grow. As we pass each test, we move to greater heights.

The father’s taunting is possibly his way of expressing his insecurities, discomfort, and perhaps even a feeling of rejection from his son’s choice to take a more religious path, different from the way he was brought up. I would not relegate all ba’alei teshuvah to the “no-date list” based on one person’s sensitivities to a particular situation. On the contrary, I would be more concerned if a guy (“frum from birth” included) didn’t have a good relationship with his parents. His respect for his parents (in particular for his father) despite his father’s blatant opposition to his choice of religious practices is indicative of both a zeal and commitment to a Torah way of life and very good middos. More importantly, it would appear his parents were actually good parents if they raised him to have such respect. It is not easy to be so respectful when someone is antagonistic to your beliefs. These are very important traits to recognize.

In the final analysis of whether or not this is your bashert, rather than focusing on his parents’ attitude toward religion with respect to your future children, focus on your potential mate’s commitment to Yiddishkeit, his middos, and his relationship with his parents. You should be 100 percent comfortable with his personal commitment to Yiddishkeit and feel he would make a good father to your children, both emotionally and religiously.

While his father’s behavior might be disconcerting and make you uncomfortable, understanding where he is coming from while continuing to be loving and accepting may eventually lead him to being more respectful of choices, especially when he sees respectful children and grandchildren. Once you have kids, grandparents want one thing—to be able to spend time with their grandchildren. In all likelihood, they won’t waste precious “grandchildren time” with taunting about your religious differences.

It would also be wise to gently bring up the topic of what might happen if his father makes derogatory remarks in front of the kids. You can then decide if you are comfortable with his approach and attitude should things never change.

Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide if you can handle the possible taunting. Perhaps this is the way Hashem is giving you an opportunity to teach your children kibbud av v’eim.

Miriam Schreiber is the publisher of Jewish Image magazine and an event coordinator/consultant who also organizes tours throughout the world. She is involved in shidduchim across the globe and lives in Chicago. She can be reached at monro999@aol.com.

In each installment of the Five Towns Jewish Times Dating Forum, a question pertaining to contemporary dating issues will be addressed by our diverse and experienced forum panelists. Questions and comments can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.