Dear Rabbi Boteach,
My youngest son married outside the faith and now has a young baby. It was very difficult for me when he got married, but I Knew there was no reversing his decision, and so I have tried to make the best of it. This was not easy, as my Jewish heritage is an integral part of my life and practice.
I know that he has no interest in Judaism, but when he told me that he was not going to circumcise his son it further increased my agony. The baby has nothing to do with these decisions, and I believe with all my heart that he deserves grandparents who love him (his other grandmother is deceased). Yet, I can’t feel the bond that I want to. When I am with him, I feel alienated from him. I don’t want to, but I don’t know how to overcome these feelings.
I have other grandchildren who are being brought up in a very Jewish home, and I dearly love them and feel the close bond I wish I could feel with this grandchild.
I would appreciate it if you would give me some guidance in dealing with this situation. I would also appreciate it if other readers who experienced the same feelings would write in and tell me how they handled it and what happened as time went by.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach replies:
I am sorry to hear that you feel alienated from your own grandchild. I understand how painful it must be to so love your Judaism and yet have children and grandchildren who do not embrace that same commitment. Here is what I advise: Your love of your Jewishness is extremely commendable, and it would have been wonderful had your son married Jewish and raised Jewish children, just as you did. But that is not the case, and dealing with the reality of the situation is paramount. It is important to separate the two issues. As a mother, you do not love your children or grandchildren because they embrace your ideals. Less so should we love our children because they are the same faith as us. On the contrary, the bond between parent and child is permanent and unbreakable. You should be showing your son that, whatever decisions he made in his life that you found personally disappointing or with which you disagree, you still love him totally and unconditionally. You would not love him more had he chosen to marry Jewish, and you do not love him less now that he has chosen not to. And this reflects the truth of the situation. Your love for your son is due to the fact that he is your flesh and blood, veritably a part if you, and this has not changed. The same applies to your grandson. Penalizing an innocent child for a decision made by his parents, especially when that decision was not an immoral one, is itself immoral and highly unbecoming. You will tell me that you cannot help your feelings, that you naturally feel closer to your Jewish grandchildren because you share more in common. I will respond that we human beings are capable of controlling and directing our emotions, that playing favorites among children or grandchildren, for whatever reason, is unacceptable and undermines family. So you must make the effort to be just as close to this child as you are to your other grandchildren. I regularly come across men who tell me they have fallen out of love with their wives and are now in love with some other woman. They have more in common with the new woman. They cannot help it. I tell them that this is a poor and immoral excuse. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. And we are in control of the emotions of our heart. The more time a husband spends with his wife whom he claims not to love, the more he falls in love with her again. And similarly the more time you will spend with this grandchild, even when you don’t feel like it, the more precious the child will become to you. This is not to say the Jewish question is unimportant, which brings me to the second issue. Judaism is rightly the treasure you cherish and the lifeblood of the Jewish people. Losing a connection with our faith is the potential death knell of the Jewish people. What I suggest, therefore, is that you make an effort to bring your son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren close to the Jewish tradition. It is not true that your son is lost to his tradition. Less so it is true that your daughter-in-law cannot convert in the future. I even know of many children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers who later chose to have an halachic conversion because of their love of the Jewish tradition to which they were exposed principally by their Jewish grandparents. You should make an effort to have your son and his family over for Friday night Shabbat dinner on a regular basis. Make sure they also come over for all the Jewish festivals. Buy your grandson Jewish books and read them to him. Take him to synagogue with you, even if his parents don’t come along. Volunteer to baby-sit for him, and his parents will be grateful. Don’t worry about him not being circumcised. His mother is not yet Jewish and, therefore, neither is he. But he is still connected to the Jewish people in the most profound way. His father is a Jew, as is his grandmother. And if his grandmother remembers to shower him with affection and bring him closer, then, as he grows up, he will want to know more about a tradition that can create such loving people. And he may want to make that tradition an inextricable part of his life.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of The Learning Channel’s “Shalom in the Home” and the author of numerous books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” “Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments” and “Judaism for Everyone.”