when religious leaders destroy families

17 Sep

There is a reason why God gave us family. We are unlike certain animals, that once they have left the nest or den, no longer have any bond (that we can see, anyways) with their parents and siblings. For us the family bond can strengthen us, ease us, ground us and sometimes destroy us but we can never obliterate it.

For some strange reason, and I really don’t know how it came about, religious leaders are pulling at the fabric of families.

Let’s give an example from orthodox Judaism. A newly religious baal teshuva asks his rav, can I eat the food of my not-so-religious parents? The rabbi in his shortsightedness, issues a ruling within a few minutes that can irrevocably alter the relationship between this person and his or her parents. He cannot sit with them and eat from their dishes at their table (even if they have always kept a certain level of kashrut), he asks questions and checks labels, he is suspicious, they feel demeaned, disrespected and marginalized. And for what? A doubt, a mild suspicion, a chance. But the chance of their relationship being severely compromised is much higher than this strictly observant person breaking a rule of halacha.

You should not put foreign Gods before you. So God teaches us – the most fundamental law of all. Yet we do it all the time. We ask this religious leader how we should conduct the most intimate and complex of relationships as if he were God! He’s not even a psychologist or a social worker (not that I trust them much anyways) so how can he possible try to peer inside our private lives and decide what is right. A family is perhaps one of the biggest complexities of all. The worst thing is, the power that this lay leader has must be intoxicating. I cannot trust myself sometimes with the authority I have over my own kids but to have people asking you what to do in the most fundamental aspects of their lives? Well, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t get high on that occasionally. As a result, not only is the lay leader going to do all he can to protect his interests and continue having his community dependent on him, his congregation become increasingly dependent and crippled as a result.

We are simply too frightened to stop and to ask where God is in all of this. He is with us in every aspect of our life. No rabbi can be God’s representatives unless God has clearly said so. And for those who do not have the patience to wait for God to speak, they have to understand that this problem is theirs and doesn’t belong to anyone else.


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