A bunch of people sent this video my way. They all suggested I watch the video and they all felt the video was very powerful. I needed to find 30 minutes to watch it. This morning I had an opportunity to watch it and I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with them.
The video is a student project (read: not very professionally produced) but sometimes simplicity is the most pure form of art. It is a documentary that tells the story of three daughters, maybe three and a half daughters, of prominent religious Zionist rabbis in Israel. I am not familiar with too many religious Zionist rabbis but I have heard of all three of these rabbis.
Each of the daughters is no longer as observant as her family. The film explores that tension in a very real way.
In my opinion, the film is not about rabbis and daughter. Only one of the daughters seems to have been particularly affected by the fact that her father was a prominent rabbi. The other two could have just as easily been daughters of any orthodox family.
I trust you’ll watch the video when you have the time and I am sure you will have your own reactions.
Here are some of my thoughts on the video.
The fathers come off really well. I am sure it was not always so pleasant growing up as a rebellious daughter of a prominent rabbi. Yet they are portrayed at loving, down to earth, and genuinely concerned about their daughters. Especially Rav Aviner.
The daughters all seem really artistic, artsy even. I think this is a very important point. Of all the personality types that might not be compatible with orthodox Judaism, I think the artsy type could be the most difficult. Artsy types, and I know this is a generalization, value and crave independence. Freedom of expression and thought is a large part of what makes people artistic. Conforming to orthodox Judaism is hard for artsy types if they are born into it. A lot of Baalei Teshuva are artsy for the opposite reason. They left their homes and expressed themselves via orthodox Judaism. But I think it is still fair to say that the artistic Baalei Teshuva are non-conformist orthodox Jews. I think that is great. But we need to find more opportunities for artsy types who are born into orthodox Judaism, especially for young women.
Thinking about this from a rabbinic perspective was interesting. First of all, I am the son of a rabbi. My experience actually somewhat mirrored the one daughter (Bigman) whose experience was rabbi-centric. She was “more orthodox” than her peers as a child. I had a similar experience. My father was the principal of a modern orthodox school and we had higher religious standards than almost all of my friends. It was not easy for me either. Going to high school at Ner Israel almost turned that upside down as many of my peers had more religious homes than mine. Perhaps they balanced each other out. But I was able to relate to her struggle very much.
I am also the father of two sons of a rabbi. I know that it can sometimes be challenging for them to be the son of a rabbi. But in this respect, I don’t see their experience mirroring that of the daughters all that much at this point. I am not a super famous rabbi who is called away from his family too often. I feel more like a regular dad who happens to be a rabbi. But the video certainly illustrated the fears that I have in the back of my mind.
I am sure that some people will watch this video and attribute the issues these daughters have to their more open religious Zionist lifestyle. They will blame this philosophy for these rabbis’ daughters leaving orthodox Judaism. This is burying one’s head deep into the sand. Amongst every kind of orthodox Judaism there are people who leave. There are daughters of every single kind of rabbi out there who have left orthodox Judaism. It is not a new phenomena either. It is a part of our heritage and history. I really hope that people don’t come away from this video and see it is a justification for living any other form of Judaism as a protection against this.
The most important thing about this video to me, is that it raises the issue of how to deal with children who are not following our personal choices. It can be extremely challenging for a parent when a child reject their way of life. Sometimes rejection is absolute. The parents are orthodox and the child is secular. Sometimes it is far less absolute. The parents are chasidic or very yeshivish and the child is modern. Or the parents are modern and the children are ultra-orthodox. These can sometimes be very challenging situations as well.
I think that it is very important that the parent / child relationship not depend on religious observance. It is hurtful to parents when children diverge from their parents’ way of life. But that pain cannot be more prominent than the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent.
Every child needs to feel accepted by their parents. Every child needs to know that they are loved for who they are even if they are doing things which parents do not approve.
In so many of our prayers and remarks around the High Holidays we note that despite our failings God loves us unconditionally. We need to be able to follow the lead of God on this one. If God can do it, we need to at least try.
Not everyone works the same way and not everyone can be exactly the same. We need to find a place in our communities and even in our families for different forms of expression. Sometimes those forms of expression may be in accordance with halacha, and sometimes they might be at odds with halacha. While the orthodox community cannot condone the breaking of halacha, we must understand that it simply does not work for everyone. If we want to have relationships with our friends and family who are not as comfortable in the box, we need to let them know that they can still be loved and accepted despite our religious differences.
Everyone yearns for acceptance. Clearly, in our homes we should not make acceptance dependent on religious practice. But even in our communities we should not make acceptance dependent on religious practice. The Jewish people are a family. We have all types and that’s just fine with us.