Throwback Thursday – Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

Below is a post I wrote in 2008 that also appeared on the Beyond BT blog.  In this post I gave my interpretation of why some baal teshuvas choose to go back to their secular lives.  Although the reasons I gave do apply to some folks (and I was basing my rationales on the experiences of people I knew), and ongoing inspiration and support might prevent some baal teshuvas from going off the derech, the reasons why people leave are varied and complicated.  Sometimes, the matter is as simple as trying out a certain lifestyle, and realizing that it’s not for you.  Until you live a religious life day in and day out for a significant period of time, you can’t really know how you are going to take to it in the long run.

This is not a valid reason to go off the derech according to kiruv professionals, or any dedicated religious person.  An orthodox person believes that every Jew should ideally be orthodox. You are either on the (orthodox) derech or off the (orthodox) derech.  There is no such thing as going on a different derech – still being a committed and believing Jew, but not identifying as orthodox.  I have found this attitude to be true from haredi Jews to modern orthodox Jews.  This might be a reason why some Jews schooled in orthodox philosophy leave all forms of Judaism behind when they choose to leave.  When you are taught it’s all or nothing and you don’t want it all, you choose nothing.

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

Dixie Yid wrote an interesting post entitled, Where to Focus When Adults Go Off the Derech. The post was in response to Harry Maryles, who wrote about a few men who went off the derech. One of the men was a Talmud Chacham who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Despite being a respected scholar and authoring several seforim, he recently went off the derech and is no longer religious. Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles presented their arguments for why adults go off the derech.

Dixie Yid feels that certain negative personality types – the glass is always half empty – are prone to this type of disengagement. This negative tendency not only splinters their relationship with the Jewish community, but also with family, friends, coworkers and any other relationship that requires compromise, patience, and being dan l’chaf zchus.

Rabbi Maryles feels that the frum community is at fault when an adult goes off the derech. He touched on the issue of poverty in the frum community as being an issue that can challenge faith. When the Ramat Beit Shemesh Talmud Chacham was desperate to feed his family, the only advice he was offered was to sweep doorsteps to earn a few shekels. Another man was consumed with loneliness, and took no pleasure in Shabbos or Yom Tov without a family to share it with. His isolation was so great that he felt he would get more satisfaction and concrete results from working on Shabbos and Yom Tov than simply sitting in shul and davening for parnassah.

Rabbi Maryles feels that when a frum person reaches out to leaders/teachers/community members with questions or statements that can indicate a growing lapse of faith, instead of being taken under wing, leaders/teachers/community members chastise the person or attempt to silence them. A person who asks such questions could be a bad influence on impressionable people within the community. Better to have that “bad apple” go off the derech instead of taking the risk that they might rot the whole bushel. In a way the sacrifice can be seen as pekuach nefesh – sacrificing the unbelieving rodef for the good of maintaining the believers. Whether this is an acknowledged systematic approach or simply the inability of the frum community to deal with the questions that arise from a crisis of faith, the result is the same.

Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles raise interesting arguments on where to point the blame when a frum yid goes off the derech. I think that their theories apply to those who are frum from birth, but I think that the baal teshuvah (BT) angle differs. Of course, personality type, poverty, and community support or lack thereof, can also have a tremendous effect on whether a BT stays committed to yiddishkeit. However, sometimes none of these things determine someone leaving the fold.

As a BT myself, and as someone who has known quite a few BT’s who have both “stayed the course” as well as those who left the frum lifestyle, I offer a different perspective. Obviously, this is just one type of perspective. The illustration I offer below is a generic compilation of experiences from some of the BT’s I have known who decided frumkeit was not for them. While some people turn to yiddishkeit precisely because their origins were abusive or unsatisfying, I am offering the viewpoint of the opposite.

Picture growing up as a non-frum Jewish girl.

You live with your mom and dad, and frequently see your grandparents and extended family. You have 0-3 siblings, live in a fairly spacious home with a two car garage, an expansive yard, and possibly have a canine member of the family. You live in a nice suburb with a great safety record and an amazing school system that gets top ratings nationwide. There is a large population of Reform and Conservative Jews in your area, and your family belongs to the more religious sector because they belong to the Conservative synagogue, avoid bread on Pesach, fast on Yom Kippur, and light Shabbat candles every Friday night before going out to dinner.

Every year your family takes at least two vacations – one to a warm spot in the winter, and one to a family fun destination in the summer. You grow up listening to all types of music; go to concerts; go to plays; participate in dance/drama/gymnastics and a host of sports – some coed and some all girls; attend school dances; and have your first steady boyfriend by 7th grade.

You can’t think of summer without remembering the smell of Coppertone Suntan Lotion, bathing suits matted with sand, flip flops, cut off shorts, and tank tops. You fondly remember “Shabbos walks” at Camp Moshava with your summer “boyfriend.” You remember taking dance lessons to be ready for basic ballroom dance steps with an opposite sex partner at your classmates’ upcoming bar/bat mitzvahs. You remember your dressy gown with short cap sleeves and your first shoes with heels at your own bat mitzvah when you were 13.

Gradually over the next few years a light gets turned on. You might have been invited by a friend to attend an NCSY event. Perhaps you went through high school in blissful ignorance until your shul rabbi or a JUF representative informed you about the Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel where you met some amazing frum people. Perhaps you went away to college and hooked up with Hillel or Chabad. Maybe a Jewish professor or college counselor encouraged you to do a year abroad at Neve or a similar seminary in Israel because it would look awesome on your grad school Curriculum Vitae.

Once the light turned on, you were on a roll. You were learning, you were networking, and you were shopping for new frum but fab clothing. You were learning about keeping kosher while putting your own unique spin on it – maybe some type of new-fangled Atkins/South Beach/Vegan Kosher diet. After all, just because we aspire to be a baleboosteh, doesn’t mean we have to look like one!

Once you were given the green light to date by your Rav/Mashpia, finding your bashert was almost a full time enterprise. Your parents were not involved in the decision except in a peripheral way. After all, how would they know how to look for a frum husband? No, endless heart-to-hearts with your BT girlfriends in the same parsha, and frantic phone calls at all hours to your Rav/Mashpia would get you through this trying challenge.

With Hashem’s help, you found your man. You might have lived in Israel the first year or so of marriage so your husband could learn, or you might have moved back to your hometown upon marrying. Either way, the next step was children. They might have come along quickly and easily or there might have been many challenges along the way. Those challenges might have caused you to first question your faith, or those challenges might have strengthened your faith. With children, or lack thereof, there came a new stage of life. One in which you played the supporting role, and the children and/or husband the main characters.

With your new responsibilities came stress. You have no intimate role model for how to handle large family life. Your mom did laundry once a week and no one ever ran out of socks or underwear. You can’t imagine ever catching up on the avalanche of laundry and you sometimes are reduced to (behind your husband’s back) purchasing new socks or underwear because you haven’t washed the ones you own! Your childhood neighborhood had a free school bus program to tote you back and forth from home to school. Your state doesn’t provide transportation for private schools, therefore you must be available to drive several carpool trips per day for your kids, all of whom have different schedules. Your mother only had to cook for a few people, you have a houseful – whether your own brood or guests. Your childhood family ate out at restaurants quite often. Keeping kosher, eating out is too expensive and there aren’t enough choices to make it a regular option. You must cook the majority of your meals. Your mother hosted dinner parties at Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. She had most of the items catered. You host the equivalent of a large dinner party each Shabbos and Yom Tov and make most of the items from scratch. Unlike when you were a newlywed, as your family grows larger, the invitations to eat out grow smaller.

You occasionally meet siblings, childhood friends, or cousins at a kosher restaurant for reunions. They marvel at the large van you drive, when they are all in smaller SUVs or sedans with their husbands and 2 kids. You and your husband make a higher income than they do, but you live paycheck to paycheck, while they have money to spare. They live in big homes and nice neighborhoods, while you are renting a two-flat and can’t even think about buying a small Georgian with a postage-stamp sized yard in your overly-inflated-priced frum neighborhood. They talk with concern about saving for future college tuitions, currently enjoying the benefits of a free grammar and high school education in their upscale communities. You can’t even imagine putting money aside for college as you scrape together the monthly tuition bill for day school. Your family reminisces about the old days and the fun times you all had. They ask if you are hot in your long sleeves, long skirt, and scarf/wig/snood as they fan themselves with paper napkins and insist they are boiling in their t-shirts, shorts, sandals, and hair pulled back into a ponytail the way you used to wear it.

Your parents worry about you. They help out when they can, but they are empty nesters. In their world, grandparents visit their grandkids and their kids at the same time. They are too old to babysit so many little ones. Financially, they give checks on birthdays and anniversaries. However, they raised you to be an independent adult, and expect you not to disappoint them. After all, they now live on social security and a finite pension. They only planned their financial future considering their own retirement needs, not the financial needs of your family.

Every day that passes feels harder. You need to relieve the burden from your shoulders, but so many people are counting on you. You decide to stop doing certain things that you find difficult that will only affect you. No one needs to know. The first day you don’t wash negel vasser. It saves you a few seconds, but you feel better. You took control. That night you fall exhausted into your bed without saying shema. You wake up the next morning, same as usual. That wasn’t so bad! You start skipping other things, like al natilas yedaim, making brachos on food, bentching. Little things that no one notices. Maybe you start uncovering your hair at home if you used to cover all the time, maybe you start wearing pants around the house, or not being so careful about kashrut when you aren’t at home. The little things add up, and gradually, you are now blaming the source of your unhappiness on being frum.

You are frum and you are unhappy. When you weren’t frum you were happy. You have frum friends and you know that they are unhappy. You have non-frum friends/relatives and they seem happy. Never mind that before you were frum you were young and single with no kids or responsibilities. Never mind that you haven’t had anything but a surface conversation with your sister in 10 years, while you and your frum best friend speak every day and she feels close enough to confide her troubles. Nevertheless, the issue becomes simple in your mind. If you stop being frum you will become happy again.

So, does becoming frei make such a person happy? I can’t say, because of the BT friends I knew who went off the derech, most of them have left and not retained ties. Can the community reach out to such a person? Of course. Would it work? It couldn’t hurt. However, sometimes the societal norms and expectations we were brought up with, affect us in ways we don’t expect as life goes on. Most kiruv efforts concentrate on bringing newcomers to frumkeit. The real challenge is further down the line when a person is thought to be cemented in the observant lifestyle. Call it a mid-life crisis, a crisis-of-faith, or simply call it a phenomenon in our community that is only going to grow as the BT population does.

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Postponing Mikva Night on Shabbos or Yom Tov

keep-calm-and-yom-tov

Shabbos and particularly two or three day yom tovim, sometimes bring with them a certain anxiety for married women. Will she have to use the mikva during this time when she must walk to her destination, is limited in bathing/hygiene/beauty preparations before or after her dunk, and must be noticeably absent or late to family dinners? Additionally, if a couple is a guest at someone’s home for Shabbos or holidays, it’s often difficult to get away discreetly for this purpose and/or intimacy is not even an option due to guest accommodations (e.g. sharing small rooms with children, no locks on doors, sleeping in someone else’s bedroom who may pop in to get a spare pair of undies).

A shaila and answer from Nishmat about postponing mikva on the first night of Shavuos prompted an interesting Facebook conversation. The psak given by the yoetzet was that the woman should go in order to release the limitations of the harchakot and allow for other forms of physical contact besides intimacy (the couple would be staying with family and sharing a room with their children, so it wouldn’t be a romantic post-mikva reunion).

The conversation revolved around postponing mikva night due to inconvenience. It’s no easy feat to get to the mikva on the second seder night, or on the night of your daughter’s wedding, or when your husband is out of town for the next two weeks and you are on your own with the kids. Also, if you have a big simcha on Shabbos, such as a bar mitzvah, a woman will often apply cosmetics that will hopefully last until Shabbos day for the big event. If you go to the mikva on Friday night, you can’t reapply your makeup again. It might seem superficial or trivial, but there are women who wouldn’t go to the grocery store without their makeup on, much less greet hundreds of guests at a simcha with no makeup. It seems there are two main camps on the issue of postponing mikva. Once camp says it’s assur to delay immersion and another camp says it’s muttar as long as both husband and wife agree to the delay.

Some women feel that in a system where their sex lives are pre-regulated in terms of when they are allowed to be with their husbands, controlling when they go to the mikva is a form of empowerment. Why should they have a rushed, stressed, or uncomfortable experience on an inconvenient night, when the next night will be much calmer? Other women feel that it’s a halachic mandate to get to the mikva on the earliest permitted evening and that inconvenient timing should not be a factor when your mikva night rolls around.

In a larger community, it’s easy to get away with making your own schedule. With many mikvaot and rotations of many mikva ladies, the only people keeping track of your mikva attendance is you and your husband. In smaller towns where there is only one mikva and possibly only one mikva lady, some have been known to make comments such as “I haven’t seen you recently,” indicating that someone outside of the couple’s marriage is privy to their mikva schedule. However, small towns aside, mikva calendars are personal and no one will know if a woman has gone to the mikva on her “correct” day or not.

I don’t know how often women take scheduling their mikva night into their own hands, but I do know that motzei yom tov and motzei Shabbos are very busy mikva nights. It could be coincidence or it could be because many women who would otherwise have had to go on Friday night or yom tov night have pushed it off. In any event, I think postponing mikva, as long as the husband and wife both agree, should be a personal choice. Although there are good reasons for not postponing (trying to conceive, marital discord, and various kabbalistic reasons), going to the mikva and feeling anxious or resentful about it isn’t good for marital harmony either.

Stepping Forward or Backward? New All-Female EMT Crew is Operational in Boro Park

pinkA few years ago I read about a group of women who were petitioning the Jewish volunteer emergency medical service, Hatzalah, to accept females into their organization. The Forward had an interview with the woman lawyer and EMT spearheading this effort, Rachel Freier. Freier and others created Ezras Nashim, hoping to create a women’s EMT division in the Brooklyn branch of Hatzalah, primarily to assist with emergency home child labor.

In the late 1960’s when Hatzalah was first founded, there was a short-lived women’s division called, Hatzilu. Within three months of operation, local rabbis, fearful of inappropriate relationships happening between mixed gender emergency volunteers, ordered the female division to be disbanded. Ever since that time, the rabbis and lay leadership of Hatzalah have excluded women from participating in the service, even though half of their patients are women.

The Forward article included this interview from a woman named Miriam :

“Miriam was home alone in Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park when she birthed her second child, her water breaking unexpectedly and the baby slipping out along with it. Moments later, seven men barreled through the door. One of them took the baby, and another asked Miriam to lie down so that he could check between her legs for the placenta. Then, the technicians — members of the volunteer ambulance corps Hatzalah — whisked her away to the hospital. Even though her male neighbor had called the men in an effort to help, Miriam said the experience was “traumatizing.”

In the ultra-Orthodox world in which Miriam lives, unmarried men and women are barred from touching, let alone exposing their bodies to one another. Though the incident occurred 15 years ago, Miriam (who asked that her name be changed to protect her privacy) remembers every detail of that uncomfortable visit. In particular, she remembers wishing that women had attended to her, instead of men.

“I think that a woman who has to give birth at home should at least have the comfort of another woman at her side,” she said.”

Rachel Freier added in a Voz Iz Neias interview:

“Women who have had a baby delivered by Hatzalah are grateful to them, but they are also embarrassed and humiliated by the experience,” said Mrs. Freier.  “If they meet that EMT or Hatzala member, they will likely cross the street to avoid him.  We are all so proud of Hatzalah.  We can’t live without them.  But the voice of the women now has to be heard.”

Hatzalah refused to change its position not to accept female volunteers, and so Ezras Nashim has been established as its own organization. They will first begin serving Boro Park and hope to expand into other areas of New York and even Israel. According to Tablet magazine:

“None of the issues they’ve faced have been enough to deter Freier or her dedicated crew of nearly 50 volunteers. In fact, they went above and beyond, with each EMT attending additional training sessions at two local hospitals, where they shadowed doctors on the emergency and obstetrics wards, and obtaining certification in neo-natal resuscitation, which requires extra hours of instruction. New recruits are signing up every day, with 10 or so currently enrolled in courses. The EMTs will at first be answering calls related to childbirth but plan to expand their focus as they solidify their practice.”

What’s interesting to me is that, aside from the usual critics who don’t feel that women are capable of responding to medical emergencies and that Ezras Nashim is taking precious financial donations and resources from the already established Hatzalah, there are those who feel that Ezras Nashim is anything but a female empowering endeavor. People have critiqued the service for promoting a hyper-tznius agenda which further separates the sexes, and could be creating a new chumra that will stop women from accepting medical treatment from men or stop men from offering medical treatment to women.

My opinion on the matter is that I think that frum female EMTs are long overdue in our communities. I think that the Hatzalah organization should be ashamed of itself for refusing to let women into their corps. Having a separate Ezras Nashim should never have had to happen – it should have been a division of the already established Hatzalah all along from the beginning. Since Hatzalah has stubbornly refused to let women into its volunteer EMT organization, forming Ezras Nashim is a necessity.

Ezras Nashim will give women more control over their care in vulnerable situations. I think it’s a terrible breach of tznius to have familiar men caring for a woman in labor who they know – especially when there have been women asking to take over this role and were told no. There is such a big difference between having a male doctor and male volunteer EMT from your neighborhood treating you. Most people I know don’t have a relationship with their OB/GYN outside of professional visits. Plus, a male OB/GYN has seen hundreds/thousands of deliveries and done hundreds/thousands of intimate exams. After awhile they become desensitized and it’s strictly professional. Doctors undergo sensitivity training in medical school on treating the opposite sex. They are graded by volunteer patients to see how they perform in this area.

Being treated and seen for an intimate exam by someone with a BLS or ALS license who you see at shul, the grocery store, parent/teacher conferences, simchas – someone who you only know socially – is quite different than being seen by a physician with whom you only have a professional relationship.

I think the critique about Ezras Nashim being a feminist step backward has to do with the emphasis on only providing labor and delivery services. In reality, these women are getting the same certification that Hatzalah members have and can treat emergencies of any nature. My opinion is that I think they are kowtowing to rabbis and those accusing them of being feminist upstarts by stressing the childbirth/doula angle. Eventually, they will incorporate all emergency services into their repertoire. I agree that it’s a waste that the women of Ezras Nashim had to recreate the wheel, but that wasn’t their choice.

I think it’s hypocritical for people to argue that the men of Hatzalah are professional and unfazed when seeing an unclothed woman they know, but women would not show the same level of professionalism when treating a man they know. How is it pikuach nefesh when a man touches and treats an unrelated woman, but a woman touching and treating a male patient would not get the same dispensation? I thought women were supposed to be on a “higher level” regarding sexual temptation? Men and women work side by side for many hours in stressful jobs every day. I don’t see how volunteer EMTs would be any more likely to develop inappropriate relationships than in most other professional work settings.

Women have a lot to offer to community emergency health services, not just as dispatchers or secretaries, but also as active EMTs and paramedics. To that end, I am very proud of these women and their determination and dedication.

If You Don’t Look Good, We Don’t Look Good

mimosaIt’s always interesting for me to get a glimpse of how other Jews personify God.  For example, as a young child, I always thought of God as an angel with large and feathery wings.  Oh, and He was a She.  God was a nurturing mother figure always ready to comfort young children as needed.  Obviously, other people have different visions of what Hashem is like.  For example, some folks imagine Hashem as a flamboyant hairdresser, a divine Vidal Sassoon, if you will.  This version of God is very concerned about the hairstyles worn by Jewish women.

“Whyyy are all these Jewish ladies still wearing long hair? Prince called – it’s time to stop partying like it’s 1999, girls! Have any of you even cracked open an issue of Vogue in the last decade?!!  The look now is a shoulder length razor cut bob.  This is how I want all my women to look!  You don’t want to chop off your expensive long wigs, you say?  Fine, as an added incentive I will make sure that no illness, accident, nor fatality shall befall your community for the next, say, two weeks!  Now get to cutting!!!!!”

In what kind of mad world does Hashem give a crap about the length of our sheitels?  If anything, Hashem is probably shaking His head over how far we’ve taken this head covering thing.

“He he….you know ladies…it’s a funny thing…you’re really gonna get a kick out of this.  You know that portion of the Torah that talks about uncovering the Sotah’s head?  Yeah, that passage where you all inferred that a married woman has to cover all her hair in public at all times?  Well…cough, cough…you see right around the time I wrote that, I was taking this writing course, “Creative Writing for Deities.”  I know, I know, I was the only legit one there, it was kind of funny.  That Odin is a really nice guy though, but I digress.  Anyway, I had just learned about “show don’t tell,” and that lesson fit right in with the Sotah story I was jotting down at the time.  It’s just that I was thinking, a dramatic scene like that should take place on a windy and stormy day to reflect the mood.  Naturally, if it was a windy day, the Sotah would be wearing a scarf so that her hair wouldn’t be blowing all over the place for the outdoor trial.  Yeah, that’s all that was about.”

Who knows how many things we get wrong in our human interpretation of events?  I can picture a woman who cut down her $2,000 wig going to shemayim and facing Hashem ready for her reward due to her great sacrifice and Hashem asking –

“You mean to tell me you cut off five inches from your custom European sheitel?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“And if you had bought a shorter wig to begin with it would have cost $500?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“So, you wasted $1,500 of your family’s hard earned money?!!”

“Yyyeesss…I mmean….nnnooo!”

“STRAIGHT TO THE FIERY FLAMES OF GEHENNOM!  NEXT!!”

As the woman is ushered down to the depths of hell by one-eyed demons, she sees a line of women, hussies who had left their long wigs alone, being escorted by angels into the Gan Eden Day Spa with complimentary mimosas.

This was just a long winded explanation of why I won’t be shortening my wig.

 

From the Mailbox – Underage Frum Girls and Online Relationships

The Kol B’Isha Erva “Email Hotline” strikes again.  I received this comment last night in response to my post Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  After reading it, I felt it deserved to be showcased as a post of it’s own (the name has been removed to protect anonymity).  I will give my response after the email, but feel free to add in your two cents in the comment section.

Dear Sharon,

Hi.  I’m a 16 year old jewish, frum girl. I really really need some advice! A few days ago I joined a social 3d website that allows to to meet other people and chat with them. I started talking to this non-jewish guy who is 22 years old. I was just playing around and talking to him. He ended up falling in love with me and he gave me his number.

I told him that I was jewish and it wouldn’t be possible for me to be with him. He told me that he would convert. Seriously doubting that but intrigued I ended txting him. I kept asking him if he was serious about converting and I haven’t stopped badgering him about it. I’ve asked him a lot of questions about how serious he is and if he knows how much he’d have to sacrifice to be able to convert to judaism. He said he would give everything up for me.

I’m not sure whether to believe him or not. I am starting to believe that he really does love me and that thought makes me sick. I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined this. I’m 16. I have a whole life ahead of me. I’m going through a really hard time at the moment and I can’t spare any thoughts for guys let alone non-jewish ones. If any of my family, friends or community found out about this they’d probably kill me!  I have thought a lot about this and I’m pretty sure that this is definitely not what I need and want at the moment or even in the next few years.

I could just delete his number and never talk to him again but number one, if he really does love me I would break his heart, number two, if he’s really serious about converting I might destroy that by severing all contact with him. I don’t know what to do! I’m at huge conflict here! I feel really guilty about this whole mess and that I was the one who started it in the first place. Please please help me!

Sincerely,

Sleepless in the Shtetle

————————————————————————————–

Dear Sleepless,

First of all, in reading your letter, it’s obvious that you know in your heart and gut what you want and need to do from this line –

“I have thought a lot about this and I’m pretty sure that this is definitely not what I need and want at the moment or even in the next few years.”

Ding! Ding! Ding!  Congratulations, you’ve given yourself your answer.  Whether this young man was a deeply religious frum Torah scholar descended from the Chofetz Chaim or the non-Jewish social media predator that he is, you are only 16 and have a lot of self-discovery and growth to do before settling down with any man.

What you are describing here is not a man who has “fallen in love,” but a man who is “sexually preying on a minor” according to the laws of most states.  Even if the age of consent is 16 in the state you live in, there is also a law that says the person you are dating can’t be 4 or more years older than you at that age.  So basically, this entire “relationship” is straight from a Dateline: To Catch a Predator episode, because he is legally not allowed to engage in a sexual/romantic relationship with you online or offline.

Additionally, you have probably seen or heard of the MTV show Catfish. For those who haven’t seen this show, Catfish exposes people who prey on others online by pretending to be someone they aren’t.  Sometimes they keep up the charade for years before being discovered as a fake.  With this in mind, your guy could be anyone from a 22 year old young man, to a 42 year old married stock broker, to a 52 year old lifelong serial killer.

Let’s assume for one nanosecond that this guy is legit – he really is a 22 year old Romeo who is so in love with a young Jewish girl that he is ready and willing to convert, sweat through tzitzit in the heat of the upcoming summer, put strange leather boxes and straps on his person while mumbling incomprehensible Hebrew prayers each morning, and give up McDonalds for life.  What do you think the reaction of your rabbi will be when you present your “boyfriend” for conversion?  Your rabbi, as well as any other Orthodox rabbi, will turn him away.

Why?  First of all, any potential convert who approaches a rabbi about converting is turned away initially.  In fact, I believe a potential convert must be discouraged at least 3 times before being taken seriously.  Becoming Jewish is no small undertaking, and only those who are deemed to be serious in their conviction that Judaism is the only true religious path are educated in our ways and allowed to convert.  One red flag on every Orthodox rabbi’s radar is someone converting for the sake of love or marriage.  People converting for a relationship are not converting because of belief in our religion, but because of their belief in their relationship.  If that relationship ends, so too does their belief in Judaism.  I think your young man would find many doors closed to him if he approached conversion in the given scenario.

From your letter it seems that, as any 16 year old girl would be, you were flattered by this man’s attention.  The thought that he would make such a major life change as converting to Judaism just to be with you must have made you feel good.  However, remember, words are one thing and actions are another.  Men have been known to make all sorts of empty promises to women in order to take advantage of them.  Even if this guy is sincere, he has no idea what becoming an Orthodox Jew really means in daily practice.

Bottom line, you don’t owe him anything.  22 year old hearts are surprisingly resilient and he will get over the heartbreak of you ending the relationship.  Judaism isn’t a missionary religion, and we are under no obligation to convert the non-Jewish masses to our ways.  There is nothing to feel guilty about if he doesn’t convert.  If you feel he is truly interested in sincere conversion, tell him to Google “Orthodox rabbi” near his location and call one of them for assistance.  It’s not your job.

Finally, take this experience and learn from it.  A mistake isn’t a mistake if we’ve learned a lesson.  Next time you think about flirting, texting, chatting, webcamming with a random guy online your thought should be – “I’m having fun and enjoying the attention this person is giving me, but then what?”  What do you hope to gain from such interaction?  What will the outcome look like?  All online relationships, just like all offline relationships, come to a crossroads.

At some point, you are not going to be satisfied with only online or phone interaction, and the choice will have to be made to break off the communication or meet up in real life.  If you are embarking on a relationship with someone you could never be with in real life, you have your answer to “but then what?”  Then nothing.  It’s a dead end every time.  Quite frankly, at 16, every relationship is a dead end, because you are simply too young to choose who you want for your life partner, even if the young man is another frum Jew.

Enjoy being 16, enjoy your freedom, enjoy having a world of opportunities before you, enjoy getting to know yourself and what you want out of life.  I wish you luck!

Sincerely,

Sharon