I was blessed to have a grandfather with an enormous heart, roomy enough to fit the life choices of all his family members inside of it. Of the many things that I admired about him, this is what I respect the most: He had the capacity to be deeply proud of us, even when our decisions diverged from his own way of life. I don’t think he ever really understood my becoming observant, or why I would be a rabbi – but that didn’t matter much to him. He loved me for finding my way into my life, and I will never forget the worth of the gift of his respect.
The way you wrote reminded me of him. She is lucky to have your thoughtfulness and love, and your willingness to support her where she goes.
I bring him up, though, because there was another side to his personality. His flexibility when it came to loving us for our choices was paired with an exacting sense of right and wrong, and he was not shy about demanding that we act with integrity. And because we knew we had his respect, he had ours, and we did our best not to let him down.
You bring up Chabad, and the answers to your concerns about them are…complicated. They are unique among the Judaisms of our time, and I have a deep respect for them. On the one hand they often teach that there is an essential difference between women and men in a way with which I disagree, and claim the primary role women as mothers and primary caretakers of children in a manner that may be interpreted as dampening women’s professional ambitions. On the other hand, Chabad actively puts women in the position of teaching of Torah and communal leadership that would have been inconceivable in an Orthodox setting before our time.
If your daughter moves into this world, it may be that inhabiting a certain religious ideal of womanhood is her ambition. She will choose her role according to her own lights, influence from her teachers, and, to some extent, you. Impose too much, and she will react against you. Too little, and you won’t give her the benefit of our wisdom.
So I think that the only way I can help is to offer the example of my grandfather, who honored our choices even as he asked for our integrity. Ask for hers.
Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.