An unspoken dream is like an unopened letter

Many years ago when I was newly married, I woke up from a nightmare. I don’t get nightmares often, but when I do, they stay with me for a time, haunting my waking thoughts as I search to make sense of the frightening visions. I woke that night in a confusion between dream and reality, with tears streaming onto my pillowcase and barely concealed snuffles and sobs, trying not to wake my husband without success.

He asked me what was wrong, and I began to tell him about my dream, thinking that putting it into words outside of my dreamscape would take away the power of the disturbing alternate universe from which I had so recently emerged.

As I began to delve into the details, my husband stopped me.  “No!  Don’t tell me.  An unspoken dream is like an unopened letter.  If you don’t say it out loud, it won’t come true.” Apparently this was an adage that many in the frum community live by, and are deeply superstitious about.  Indeed, he seemed nervous at the prospect that I might say too much, thus bringing ill tidings upon us.  He spent time soothing and reassuring me that it was just a dream and everything was fine, until my little crying hiccups subsided and my eyes no longer ran in salty rivulets down my cheeks.

As I turned over on my damp pillow and heard my husband begin to softly snore, I lay awake and thought again about my nightmare.  I felt unsettled and restless, but I repeated the mantra to myself that it was only a dream.  Eventually I drifted off to sleep.  While the dream continued to haunt me for a few days afterward, not putting it into words eventually helped to eradicate it from my memory, as I have no recollection about the details today.  I have since kept my nightmares to myself, to the same amnesic effect.

It’s interesting to note that the idea of not speaking of dreams, lest they come to pass in real life, is typically only brought up when referring to bad dreams.  Nightmares are the visions that must be kept at bay, by not infusing them with the power of words.

I believe it’s this same theory that prevents us from speaking of real life horrors.  If we don’t name the atrocities, they don’t exist.  Except they do – much in the same way my nightmare affected me in a very real way – even though it remained unrevealed.  Even though I don’t remember the details, I still remember my fear and panic as I woke from that bad dream and struggled to put it into context.  I know the nightmare happened, I remember the trauma, whether I spoke of it or not.

There are some brave people in our world who dare to reveal what we all want to remain hidden.  They refuse to leave the nightmare unspoken, because if these nightmares are allowed to exist in the name of keeping unpleasantries out of the public eye, they grow and flourish like a cancer.  Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is one such champion who refuses to remain silent, if he can save even one child from being harmed by those things that go bump in the night, or even in broad daylight, while the rest of us “keep it sweet” and stay quiet because, “loshon horah,” because, “think of his/her (the abuser’s) family, because, “there are two sides to every story,” because, “it’s embarrassing to talk about such topics,” or because, “it will make a chillul Hashem for the rest of the world to hear of this happening in the Jewish community.”

Yes, especially when it comes to child sexual abuse, there are so many reasons to remain silent, yet that silence is mostly self-serving.  It alleviates us from the responsibility of getting involved.  We tell ourselves the rabbis will handle it, the parents will handle it, maybe even the police (if they are notified) will handle it.  It’s not for us to mish in (butt into someone else’s business).  Yet when all of us have that attitude, it leaves no one to mish in.

Rabbi Horowitz is the perfect example of why a person shouldn’t mish in, after all, look where his mishing in got him? A defamation lawsuit and failed attempt at an order of protection filed against him in the Israeli courts from U.S. convicted Level 3 sex offender, Yona Weinberg!  The lawsuit remains pending.

It all began when Rabbi Horowitz, founder and director of the Center for Jewish Family Life/Project Y.E.S. and founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, discovered Weinberg had moved to the Har Nof area in Jerusalem, and sent out tweets to warn residents of his presence.  Ever since those fateful tweets, Rabbi Horowitz, a child safety advocate who speaks internationally educating parents and children on protecting themselves against predators, has been the subject of a legal campaign by Weinberg to silence him against warning residents of his Har Nof community about his criminal past.

Ironically, the media attention brought on by Weinberg’s own legal campaign has called more attention to his current whereabouts and criminal past than a few tweets ever could.

Rabbi Horowitz recently spoke in Har Nof about child safety, an event that was almost derailed by Weinberg’s attempt to get an order of protection against Horowitz, unsuccessfully arguing that Horowitz would incite community violence against him and his family. Hours after successfully fighting the petition for a restraining order in Israeli court, Rabbi Horowitz was able to give his seminar to an audience of 200 as planned, despite Weinberg’s legal effort to prevent him from coming to his neighborhood.  His speech from August 2 in Har Nof can be seen here.

Lohud featured a timeline of Yona Weinberg’s crimes and whereabouts, giving more background and justification for why Rabbi Horowitz would want the citizens of Har Nof to be aware of Weinberg’s presence –

June 2008: Brooklyn district attorney indicts Yona Weinberg, a 29-year-old licensed social worker and bar mitzvah tutor, on numerous charges including nine misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse and six of child endangerment.

June 2009:  Weinberg convicted of nine counts for victimizing two boys — seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse and two of child endangerment.

September 2009: Weinberg sentenced to 13 months in jail. At his sentencing, Judge J. Reichbach criticizes the Orthodox Jewish community for supporting Weinberg, noting 90 letters were sent attesting to his character and innocence — and mentioning nothing about the victims.

2010: Weinberg released from jail after serving roughly a year. He returns to his Brooklyn home, where he lives with his wife and young children. Weinberg is designated a Level 3 sex offender (high risk of repeat offense and threat to public safety).

June 2014: Police investigate a complaint Weinberg allegedly groped an 11-year-old boy after they were watching television in Weinberg’s apartment earlier that year. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, according to the Daily News.

August 2014: Weinberg allegedly elbows and slams the same 11-year-old against a coat rack in synagogue after prayer service, hurting the boy’s back. The boy told police that Weinberg pushed him against a bookshelf, threatening further harm if he continued to talk to authorities, the Daily News reported.

September 2014: Police file report about the alleged physical assault. The next day, police go to Weinberg’s Flatbush home to arrest him, according to the Daily News. His wife told police he was not home and referred them to his attorney. Weinberg moves to Israel. Shortly after, his wife and four children join him in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

January 2015: News of Weinberg’s presence in Israel appears in the Daily News. After the story, the NYPD notifies the state that Weinberg had moved to Israel. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Monsey, child-safety advocate, sends out a tweet to notify Har Nof residents of the presence of a Level 3 sex offender in their community. Tweet says he was as dangerous to children as “a terrorist with a machete.”

June 2015: Horowitz is served papers at his Monsey home, informing him that a summary judgement was issued against him for $55,000 in an Israeli court, stemming from a defamation lawsuit. Horowitz didn’t show up in court, he said, because he didn’t realize he was being sued.

Later that year: Horowitz’s attorney in Israel has judgment set aside. Horowitz is still required to pay some court costs.

July 2016: Weinberg seeks protective order against Horowitz, which would prevent the rabbi from giving a lecture on child safety in his neighborhood, where the rabbi has been lecturing for 13 years. The court denies the request.

November 2016: Trial date scheduled in Israel for defamation charges. Horowitz says he will appear in court to defend himself.”

Horowitz said that he will not be silenced by a bullying sex offender.

“I think this is a test case…,” he told The Journal News/lohud. “I am not giving up.”

Israel does not have a sex offender registry, and as such, some child abuse activists such as Horowitz take it upon themselves to warn residents of predators in their vicinity. “How can you slander a sex offender?” asked Horowitz..”

“Horowitz told The Journal News/lohud that he won’t be intimidated by Weinberg, who used his position as a bar mitzvah tutor to gain access to his victims, who were 12 and 13.

He also sees the fight as part of a larger effort designed to thwart others from exposing sex offenders and warning potential victims of the danger. The Israeli legal maneuverings are key to this tactic, he said…”

“If you care about the personal safety of children, these lawsuits should trouble you deeply. For, make no mistake, if these outrageous lawsuits are permitted to continue, fewer and fewer people will be posting warnings when convicted sex offenders move near you or those you love,” he wrote on his blog,

“Horowitz, who faces thousands of dollars in legal fees, in addition to the threat of a judgement against him, pledged to continue his defense in order to protect families who have a right to know a predator is in their midst….I will fight to the end,” he said.”

I asked Rabbi Horowitz how those of us who also feel this lawsuit is an outrageous and dangerous precedent can financially help him.  He said that the best way to help him is by donating to his efforts to distribute complimentary copies of his Project Y.E.S  Let’s Stay Safe books and give seminars to communities who want to learn how to protect their children from abuse.  The Let’s Stay Safe book has been translated into several languages and been culturally appropriated for various Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora. Many of these communities are impoverished and so he gives his books away to them for free with no compensation for even basic costs.

Mishing in comes at a price, and it’s a price most of us aren’t willing to pay.  Thank God for those who mish in. Thank God for those who wake and tell what they saw, for those are the ones who will save lives, save worlds.  We can no longer afford to be dreamers, dreaming that if we don’t acknowledge the nightmares, they don’t exist.

Let’s assist Rabbi Horowitz in his important work so that he can continue to share his message to communities around the world.


Don’t Men Get Insulted?

helplessI often wonder if men get tired of being underestimated when I see generalizations made about women being objects of lust and men being unable or unwilling to control their temptations. I recently wrote about this general attitude having gone so far, that a Hasidic rabbi has declared that he will no longer meet with women, even with their husbands present. He is urging other orthodox rabbis not to meet with women anymore either, lest they succumb to their baser urges.

On occasion, when discussing the topic of sex segregation, men will acknowledge that it is often difficult not to have sexual feelings around women. My teenage sons will shake their heads and say, “Mom, you have no idea how teenage boys think.”

That is true, but at the same time, older men, like my husband and friends closer to my own age, will say that controlling your thoughts and actions is something that isn’t automatically present upon puberty. Self-control is something that is learned and honed over time with maturity and experience in socializing with members of the opposite sex. The more exposure a man has to interacting with women in school, in the workplace, or in social groups – the less sensitive he will become to sexual triggers and the more he will be able to compartmentalize between his sexual feelings for his wife or future wife against his platonic feelings for a classmate, teacher, family friend, or coworker.

I think that if I were a man, I would feel highly insulted at being categorized as a pervert with an ever roving eye unable to control my insatiable sexual appetite – so much so that I was at constant risk of being swept away by anything in a skirt.

Someone shared an article by a blogger who decries general society’s portrayal of women being dangerous husband-stealing femme fatales and men being helpless against their sexual urges, in an article entitled, “Husbands, Nannies, and the Culture of Dangerous Women and Helpless Men.” The author writes:

When we teach boys and men that they are powerless against their sexual desires, when we teach them that they are not responsible for their actions if a woman is dressed in a way he finds arousing, when we write articles about “protecting” our husbands from all those slutty nannies out there, WE ALL ******* LOSE.

Every last one of us.

Men lose because we paint them with the brush of being weak and having no self-control. They get to live in a culture that expects them to **** up. One where they are expected to ruin their marriages, to not be capable of concentrating at work or school, all due to being in close physical proximity to a vagina.

And women lose. We lose because the burden of saving these men from themselves falls on our shoulders. If we aren’t sexy enough, we will lose our husbands to someone sexier, because they can’t help it. If we are too sexy, we are just asking to be disrespected because men can’t control themselves.

In orthodox Jewish culture, sexy is a four letter word that isn’t even appropriate for the bedroom – words like holy and sanctity of marriage and shechinah (divine presence) are more apropos. However, the concept of being ready and willing (a rebellious wife who refuses her husband is called a moredet and can be divorced without her ketubah settlement), is definitely in play. A Jewish wife is accountable for keeping her husband’s sexual needs satisfied, especially since he can’t even satisfy his own needs without violating halachah.

Therefore, both the burden of dressing and behaving modestly in public, but also satisfying the insatiable lust of our men in private, is put upon women. In short, their lack of control is our problem on the street and at home.

This attitude can’t be healthy. It just hasn’t been my experience that all men are uncontrollable sex fiends. Maybe I just haven’t met the right men, or maybe I’m not attractive enough to have that problem, but experience dictates that men can control themselves when they are taught appropriate behavior at a young age and throughout adolescence. Have I met a pervert or two in my day? Yep. But out of all the men I’ve come into contact with, including family, friends, classmates, coworkers, etc., the statistics ain’t bad! I just don’t think it’s fair to say that men can’t control themselves and shouldn’t even try – mostly it’s not fair to the men!

Don’t you guys ever get insulted?

The Jewish Community Needs a Mental Health Care Gemach

mentalhealthToday I read an article called, “Breaking the silence on Jewish Suicide.” The article profiles families who have dealt with the tragedy of having a loved one commit suicide, and the attempt to break the stigma that surrounds suicide in the Jewish world.

In Judaism, suicide is akin to murder. Just as we aren’t allowed to take the life of another person, so too, we aren’t permitted to take our own life. Only Hashem can decide when our time in this world is finished. In a sense, our lives are not our own. We live on borrowed time, in borrowed physical vessels, and our job is to do as many mitzvos and make as many positive contributions to this world during our time here as we can. In a sense, our lives are not our own to take.

Those who do take their own lives are considered to have committed a grave sin. If the cause of one’s death is known to be suicide, that person can’t be buried alongside other Jews, nor is their family permitted to sit shiva.

Today, as our knowledge of psychology and mental health improves, we know that even if an act of suicide was premeditated (i.e. leaving a suicide note or gathering supplies to carry out the act), often the person’s mental state makes it impossible for them to have made a rational choice in taking their own life. The person, being desperate and in tremendous pain, cannot be held responsible for their action. Because the person is helpless in the face of their crisis, any rebuke or punishment after their death should not be implemented.

I think that there is a great need for mental health care funding in the Jewish community. Private insurance plans often have limited coverage for mental health issues, and those who rely on public health care services are often under served, their coverage subject to budget cuts and availability in a system already stretched thin.

While there are many Jewish charitable organizations that help people with everything from food, to making weddings, to home furnishings, to infertility treatments, to help with general healthcare, there aren’t many that cater specifically to mental health treatments.

My husband was once told that opening the door to subsidized mental health services in our local Jewish community would be opening a Pandora’s Box. The need would be so great, that there would be no way any organization could collect the required funds. Consequently, we are left with the ironic situation of having a communal need left unmet due to overwhelming demand.

It seems strange that the Jewish community has so many hotlines for various emergency services, yet there is no widely publicized Jewish suicide prevention hotline. Although, if suicide is something that simply “doesn’t happen,” in the Jewish community, I suppose officially, there is no need for such a service, nor for funding to treat mental health issues that could eventually escalate into a suicidal crisis.

Elijah’s Journey is the lone Jewish organization that deals with suicide awareness and prevention. It is a little known nonprofit that is trying to provide support for those at risk or who have lost a loved one to suicide. It is a sorely needed organization, however, it doesn’t negate the need for an organization providing mental health support that might prevent people from becoming suicidal in the first place.

The recent suicide of Faigy Mayer, as well as similar stories of tragic suicides that came before her, prompt similar reactions from some in the community. When and if journalistic digging reveals a history of mental illness, that fact is latched onto as being the true cause of the suicide. It is all too easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility with the excuse that the deceased suffered from depression or bipolar or anxiety – blame their brain chemistry and leave the community alone.

However, how many people suffer from latent mental health issues that don’t manifest except under extreme stress? How many depressive episodes leading to suicide might have been avoided if the person hadn’t suffered isolation and condemnation for not conforming to communal expectations? A mental health diagnosis doesn’t let us off the hook, as much as we would love to sit back with a sigh of relief and say, “See, it’s not our fault!”

For those solidly in the orthodox world, religious expectations can cause us to be harder on ourselves than folks on the outside. When you are religious, you are never simply an individual. No man is an island, and all that jazz. Our actions not only reflect upon us, but upon our families, our local community, the larger Jewish community, and God. If we are a “bad Jew” we take down a lot of folks with us. That’s what the concept of chillul Hashem is all about.

It’s a lot harder for religious people to view inevitable mistakes made in life simply as learning experiences. Outside of the frum world, it’s a lot easier to make a bad choice and recover from it. Unless you’re a celebrity, who has every move plastered all over the media, most people can make a fresh start for themselves and not have a collective memory of their past misdeeds to haunt them. Not so in the orthodox community, which generally speaking, is fairly small. A person’s reputation, good or bad, can follow them even if they move to a different location.

Before Tisha B’Av, I was listening to a shiur about some of the things we are missing out on by not having the Bais Hamikdash. One of the points was that we no longer have the opportunity to give a korban to atone for our sins. I have always been fairly squeamish about the concept of animal sacrifice. While I still can’t really wrap my modern sensibilities around the concept of slaughtering an animal to cleanse my body or my soul, the shiur did enlighten me with a new take on the purpose of korbanos.

In today’s times, our ability to do teshuvah and know that we’ve been forgiven is limited. If we do an aveira, yes, we can repent, we can confess, we can give tzedaka, we can vow never to do the sin again, we can klap away during viduy on Yom Kippur, we can toss our sins into the water during tashlich, and we can daven. However, we can never know if Hashem truly forgives us.

For some, the doubt that they have been forgiven can cause them to sink into despair. Those who feel they’ve committed an unforgivable sin can feel like a faker or a fraud, which is especially harsh when one is presenting themselves to the world as a religious Jew. Sometimes this feeling can go so far as to turn a person away from the Torah.  If a person can never achieve forgiveness, despite their best efforts, they feel hopeless. They can’t move on from closing the old chapter of their life and moving forward with a clean slate. The korban ritual provided a physical way to achieve closure and allow a person to psychologically move forward from their sins. Part of our exile is that we no longer have a vehicle with which to achieve that closure.

I guess what I’m rambling on about is that those of us touched by religious life and expectations, whether we have left orthodoxy or are still in it, have the potential to be extra hard on ourselves when we screw up. Guilt and shame can be powerful forces behind suicidal thoughts. The added expectations that have been instilled within us as religious Jews (whether in the past or present) can be a potential touchstone that triggers depression and anxiety when others disappoint us in a major way or when we disappoint ourselves.

Not everyone who faces occasional bouts of the blues during a rough patch in life is in danger of developing a full blown mental health crisis. However, those of us who are vulnerable through genetics, hormonal imbalances (i.e. postpartum depression), chemical imbalances caused by illness/medication side effects, or any number of other reasons that could make us permanently or temporarily vulnerable to a mental health crisis can have potentially dangerous reactions to stressors that would normally be manageable.

It’s easy to play the crazy card in dismissing people who cause us to take an uncomfortable look at our own behavior and attitudes. Mental illness isn’t pretty, but it also doesn’t develop and thrive in a vacuum. While the roots of mental illness might not be planted by outside invaders, feeding and watering the seeds with negativity can cause it to surface. Likewise, allowing the obvious signs of mental distress to flourish without treatment, can cause the symptoms to grow uncontrollably with sometimes fatal consequences.

Plugging the dike…is it time to build a new wall again?

This morning I read an article in Haaretz entitled, “Is Orthodox Judaism on the verge of a historic schism?” It talks about the deepening fracture between liberal orthodox Judaism and right wing orthodox Judaism, one of the highlights, of course, being the growing demands of women for greater public and leadership roles within traditional Jewish communities. While there are other issues causing conflict within the many strains of orthodoxy, Prof. Vered Noam of the Hebrew Culture Studies Department at Tel Aviv University summed it up in an article she wrote calling for a change in attitude toward women in religious life:

This article is not a feminist manifesto, and anyone who thinks it’s about arrangements in the synagogue is mistaken,” she wrote…..The subject is the synagogue as an example and women as an example. The reference is to a society in which the tensions between its declared value system and the reality surrounding it and the world of its members’ natural inclinations, have led it on a difficult path of denial, ignoring and strong repression – of both the external and the internal reality. This repression leads to dichotomy, compartmentalization, fakery, double standards and the construction of wall upon wall and partition upon partition… The first ones to be crushed beneath these walls are the women, who in their very being, to their detriment, represent the fault line between the two worlds.

While there are certainly other issues at play, women are the fault line – attitudes toward the advancement, or lack thereof, of women’s roles in orthodoxy determine which side of modernity a community rests upon. Those who oppose women studying gemorah, having a role in shul services, or obtaining an advanced level of Jewish studies culminating in some sort of official title are now pitted against those who maintain that there is room within orthodoxy to expand women’s roles and textual studies without violating halacha. At the core of any argument between orthodox factions is the argument for or against granting women more opportunity and control over their religious education, advancement, and spiritual possibilities.

When I read articles about the debate over women’s roles in the right wing orthodox Jewish media, I am reminded of the fable of The Little Dutch Boy Who Saved Holland. There are several adaptations of this tale, but the general theme is of a young boy who notices a leak in the town dike, and thinking quickly and selflessly, he plugs the hole with his finger and remains in place until the adults of the community can permanently repair the damage. The parable teaches a lesson about self-sacrifice, civic responsibility, and how one small boy can save a town from immeasurable damage by taking a simple action. One small finger can stem the tide of a raging flood, and many fingers together can hold up a crumbling wall against an imminent tidal wave until a more permanent solution can be found to fortify the breaches in the barrier.

Take the example of the rise of the Bais Yaakov movement. Although it took about 14 years from the time the general concept was brought up to the gedolim of Polish Eastern European Jewry in the early 20th Century, the movement to provide Jewish education for girls did eventually take off, to put it mildly:

Leaders of the Orthodox community in Palestine or in Eastern Europe still often preferred that the girls study in alien non-Jewish environments than they be taught traditional Judaism in a school setting. The latter they considered an outright violation of the prescribed women’s role within Judaism. In 1903 at a conference of Polish rabbis held in Cracow, Rabbi Menachem Lando, the Admor of Zvirtche, [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Landau] blamed his colleagues for neglecting the education of Jewish girls and called for the establishment of schools to deal with the problem. His suggestion was almost unanimously opposed.

It took a dedicated and courageous woman named Sarah Schenirer to initiate the change. Influenced by a brief period in Vienna during the First World War when she was exposed to the spirit of German Neo-Orthodoxy, Schenirer founded the Bais Ya’akov movement in Poland in 1917. Beginning with a kindergarten class of twenty-five pupils in Cracow, the movement grew to encompass almost forty thousand girls on the eve of the Second World War, having spread to several continents and established day schools, afternoon schools, teachers’ seminaries, summer camps, youth groups, a monthly journal and a publishing house for textbooks and other educational materials. ” – Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Volume V: Israel: State and Society, 1948-1988, edited by Peter Y. Medding Institute of Contemporary Jewry the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, July 13, 1989, Oxford University Press, USA

It should be noted that Rabbi Landau, in his book Mekiz Nirdamim, came to the conclusion that formalized Jewish education was necessary for girls because of the growing prevalence of trafficking lower class Jewish women for prostitution among Eastern European Jews. Rabbi Landau blamed the lack of education. He proposed an organization to be called Shomer Yisroel that would foster education among women and girls in religious observance and the running of Jewish homes to be subsidized by communal funds. However, rabbis such as Rabbi Akiva Rabinovich of Poltava, editor of Hapeles, opposed Rabbi Landau’s proposal using various arguments, the main one being that teaching one’s daughter Torah is like teaching her tiflut (frivolity or immorality).

Certainly Jewish Polish society probably wasn’t any more immune to societal ills such as prostitution than the rest of early 20th century Polish society. However, it’s most likely safe to assume that, like today, most women exposed to secular society and educational opportunities during Rabbi Landau’s era wouldn’t choose prostitution as their preferred way of life. So was this really the burning reason driving him to propose a women’s educational system? After all, Rabbi Rabinovich’s response that teaching a woman Torah is like teaching her immorality seems a weak response if the alternative is that she becomes a prostitute, as Rabbi Landau feared.

Whatever the arguments made against developing Torah education for women, they were obviously fingers in an ever crumbling dike, springing new holes until finally, Sarah Schenirer helped them to create a new fortification. The Bais Yaakov movement became a new edifice in preserving the future of traditional Judaism by teaching women subjects that would help them to become better wives and mothers in both a practical and spiritual sense, but not venture anywhere near the sacred texts that are the realm of men. The old wall of keeping women illiterate in Hebrew and Jewish studies may have fallen 98 years ago, but the bricks of limitations that the rabbis set forth regarding women’s education have been firmly embedded inside the new structure. Only with those limitations in place could a new wall have been built.

Make no mistake, the development of Bais Yaakov was nothing less than miraculous. In addition to promoting women’s basic literacy skills, the Bais Yaakov movement also provided the most advanced formalized opportunity for women’s education in the history of Judaism (within those texts approved for female study). Additionally, it also instilled a sense of pride and connection to Jewish heritage that has probably kept countless women in the fold who otherwise would have left. However, for some, maybe even for many, today a Bais Yaakov education is no longer enough.

With its inherent limitations, there are women who are looking for further avenues of Jewish education for their daughters and themselves. Women are seeking higher educational opportunities beyond one or two years of post-high school seminary, that will lead to a career path either in addition to or beyond teaching, venturing into the realm of halachic expert and advisory roles.

There is a current phenomenon underway where the disparity levels between the leadership roles frum women are assuming in the secular world compared with the limited leadership roles they can play within their own communities is becoming a distance too great to bridge. Additionally, even voicing a desire for the opportunity to achieve a greater level of involvement or leadership in ritual life or communal institutions is met with suspicion. For example, a man who aspires to be the President of a right wing modern orthodox day school board will be seen as ambitious, while a woman who aspires to the same role will be seen as trying to rock the boat. President of the PTA is her lane, and she should stick to it.

Just as the Bais Yaakov educational movement was an inevitability in the early 20th century, so too is giving expanded Jewish leadership roles to women in the 21st century. Right now, the only movement that seems to have found tentative acceptance is the Yoetzet Halacha movement. Because of its narrow emphasis on women’s health issues and niddah, and its commitment to defer to rabbinic authority on all questions, it is an example of an innovation in female leadership that more centrist and right wing elements of modern orthodoxy are willing to accept. Any further acceptance of an expansion in ritual or advisory roles for women in right wing modern orthodox communities will have to follow this example.

The slippery slope argument isn’t far-fetched. Education and knowledge follow a path leading to the desire for more education and knowledge. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Will 21st century women ever be happy to travel paths that ultimately lead to dead ends? The end of the road might get pushed back a bit further each time, but still, for us, there is always an end in sight. The fear of a swelling tide rising up against a 98 year old wall is real, the question is, who will be the engineers involved in building the new fortification?

Why are rabbis encouraging family estrangement and why are parents listening?

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. This seems to be the philosophy behind why some rabbis advise parents to kick out a deviant child, cutting off all contact, except for the most delicate thread of connection that might inspire them to return to the right path.

The child parent bond is the most primal form of relationship. I never fully understood the innate connection between parent and child until I became a parent myself. Yes, as the child of parents, I felt a love and dependence upon my mother and father. However, it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I felt the immediate magnetic bond, that “mamma bear mode” protective instinct, that I knew that my babies will always be my babies even when I have to crane my neck to look them in the eye.

Therefore, I can’t imagine coming to a bump in the road with my teenage or adult children, where I would seek rabbinic counsel and be told that the only solution is to cut off my child so that they don’t taint the rest of my kids. I can’t imagine this because I don’t believe that the rabbinic counselors I would choose would offer this advice. However, I also can’t imagine, no matter how great my respect for the rabbinic authority offering this counsel, placing my reverence for that person over my love and responsibility for my child. I personally don’t believe a good rabbi would ever force a parent to make such a choice.

Some of us seeking the advice of our rabbis concerning a family crisis, know that the choice to follow that advice is still ultimately left to our own discretion. However, in some communities, the rabbi’s counsel is never simply advice, but a mandate. Going against the decision of the rav is akin to breaking a commandment. In those communities, rabbis have a tremendous responsibility to their followers. Their word is irrefutable, and as such, they have the power to hold families together or tear them apart.

I often wonder, when I hear stories about parents who shun their children because – they no longer want to be religious, they come out as having a same sex preference, they identify as a different gender than their God given biology conferred upon them, or any other number of other revelations that are incompatible with the path laid before them by the Torah, the rebbe, the parents, and the community – how could they abandon their child?

Maybe in my heart I can understand. Their child must be the sacrificial lamb. Perhaps they can justify their actions by feeling that they made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the whole family unit. This child will reflect poorly upon the entire family. Their younger children will be ostracized at school and their older children won’t get good shidduchim. They themselves will be viewed by their neighbors with suspicion as having failed as parents and possibly inspiring the devious ways of the wayward child.

How many times have I heard people clucking about families who have kids who went off the derech – “I always knew this would happen. When the kids were younger the parents would always say negative things about the rabbaim. They would complain about the teachers and criticize their shul rabbi in front of the children. It has an impact. You always want to speak positively about religious figures in front of your kids. Now, not one of their kids is frum!”

It’s the parent’s fault. They didn’t have the proper respect for rabbinic authority and that’s why their kids are no longer religious. By shunning the errant children, the parents show their allegiance to authority, both by respecting the rav’s psak and by making the ultimate sacrifice of their children.

The parents see their actions as selfless, while outsiders see it as selfish. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. However, the one thing that remains is the broken child, who not only is embarking upon a new and sometimes frightening path outside of the only world they’ve ever known, but embarking upon that journey without the support of their family. More than that, the child embarks upon their journey knowing that their family harbors hope and confidence in their failure, which they pray will send their wayward offspring back home with their tail between their legs.

What parents don’t grasp is that the chance of failure is very high when your entire support system vanishes in rubble. Without their love, their child has little chance of a happy existence no matter how successful they are in their educational or career goals. What parents need to understand is that sometimes failing in the outside world doesn’t result in a return to the home, but a return to their maker. The ultimate price could be life of their child.

Parents don’t understand the real gamble they are taking by shunning a child. They aren’t merely risking their child being lured into a secular existence versus returning to the orthodox enclave, they are risking their child’s emotional and mental well-being, and ultimately their lives. The parents might not understand the high stakes they are playing with, the question is, do the rabbis advising them to cut off their children understand that risk?

Killing off non-believers and non-conformists is a heck of a lot easier than bearing the burden of having them in our midst. You don’t even have the pull the trigger, give them enough time, they’ll do it themselves. Assisted suicide.