Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2001/ 18 Elul 5761

Too much Torah?; Name-dropping
rabbi turns off worshippers

By Wendy Belzberg -- My daughter recently became engaged to a young man whose ambition is to study Torah -- Bible and Talmud -- full-time. I raised my children to value their place as Jews in the world, setting a good example and making active contributions. Learning full-time rather than "living in the real world" is antithetical to everything my wife and I believe in. Is there any way for us to dissuade our daughter from marrying this man without her resenting us for meddling?

A: No way at all. Furthermore, I resent you for asking the question, and we've never even met.

Your future son-in-law is committed to the study of Torah. He has not joined a cult that forbids him to interact with the rest of the world. Is your future son-in-law kind, intelligent and nurturing? Will he make your daughter happy? After all, she is the one who will be living with him, not you. The path of a kollel yungermahn is as demanding -- and arguably more virtuous -- as that of a doctor or lawyer. Remember, the third term among those hallowed professions is Indian chief. I know many parents whose children have intermarried that would gladly switch places with you.

If you are not being asked to pay the bills, and you have no concerns for your daughter's happiness and well being, keep your concerns to yourself. I hope your daughter and future son-in-law are more generous than you, since, even if you haven't said a word, I suspect you have already communicated to them exactly how you feel.

My wife and I have attended the same synagogue for the past eight years. Our friends and family are also members and the High Holy Day services are moving. The problem is the rabbi. He is a nice man, but his sermons are usually a mix of name-dropping and personal anecdotes. I go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to be inspired, not to be entertained. My wife wants to stay with our friends and family, but I want to try a different service.

A: A man's got to do what a man's got to do. The problem, however, is not with the rabbi. The problem is with you.

If the rabbi still has his job, you are in the minority with regard to your opinion of him. Unless he has been appointed for life, that is. Moreover, your friends and family are there, and the rest of the service seems in keeping with your sensibilities. It is an added bonus when a rabbi's remarks are inspiring and spur introspection, but it is by no means his job to make you examine your soul.

The High Holy Days are not here yet. Rather than preparing to blame the rabbi for your lack of spiritual response, start now to assume responsibility for making your High Holy Day experience what you want it to be: examine your own behavior, think of the people you have wronged, make a High Holy Day reading list and start to think about doing teshuvah. You may want to start by talking to your rabbi. It sounds as if you will have an easy time tuning the rabbi out, which will provide you with time to think and reflect.

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© 2001, Wendy Belzberg