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When Religion Comes Between Husband And Wife


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

Last year, I read your book, “The Committed Life,” and ever since, nothing has been quite the same for me. I don’t even know where to begin… everything is so convoluted and confused in my mind. I will try to be as brief as possible. I really don’t want to burden you with my problems, but I need guidance, so I guess I should start at the beginning.

My husband and I were married six years ago, and we have one child, a four year old little boy who is the joy of our lives. We both come from Reform backgrounds, although I think that my parents are even more secular than my husband’s parents. We had X-mas trees and Easter eggs, but, to be fair, we also had a seder and went to Temple on the High Holidays.

Bobby and I met in graduate school. We both studied at Wharton, and after two years of keeping company, we were married and settled in Dallas, Texas. Religion and G-d were never a part of the equation of our lives and although, as I said, our families went to synagogue on the holidays, we even gave that up, because we saw it as pointless and hypocritical. But then, two years ago, from nowhere, I was hit by a major trauma. At a routine examination, my doctor found a lump which he told me looked suspicious, and as you can imagine, I became somewhat hysterical. Among the people I called in my time of trouble was an old school friend who lives in New York and attends your Tuesday night classes at Kehillath Jeshurun. To give me strength and hope, she sent me your book, “The Committed Life?” as a gift.

At first, I resisted reading it and put it aside. I couldn’t imagine that it would have a message for me. But then, on the night before I was scheduled for surgery, I had difficulty sleeping and I picked it up. From the moment I started to read, I couldn’t put it down. I cried, I laughed, I identified with your stories – but most important, I felt an awakening in my heart, a yearning for G-d, a desire to connect with the Jewish people. The next morning, on my way to the hospital, I shared my feelings with my husband, and he attributed them to my condition.

“It’s not the book,” he insisted. “You’re just very vulnerable right now. Anything will get to you.”

In vain did I try to convince him that, while it was true that I was vulnerable, the truths that emerged from your book were unrelated to my vulnerability. But there was no talking to him, so I gave up. For the first time in my life, I prayed to G-d. I didn’t know any Hebrew prayers, but your chapter on prayer had such an impact on me that I just cried and beseeched G-d to help me, and I just know that He was listening.

The procedure was successful – the growth was removed and it was not malignant! I know that this was an open miracle. Prior to surgery, I had consulted three physicians who all seemed to feel that the tumor was cause for concern. My husband however, feels that we were just lucky, and all this talk about G-d and miracles is a lot of poppycock, without substance.

When I came home from the hospital, I knew that I could not go back to my old way of life. I asked the friend who gave me your book to get me some literature on Judaism, and she did, and she also sent me your Torah tapes, as well as your articles from The Jewish Press which, by the way, I love. They keep me going from week to week. And thus began my journey back to G-d. But I am in a very lonely and painful predicament. As my relationship with G-d intensifies, my relationship with my husband is dissolving. My husband refuses to join me on this journey, and what is worse, he has the support of my parents and in-laws as well. I feel like the ‘odd man out.’ I would like to keep Shabbos, but how? For my husband, Friday night is a time to play cards, watch TV, or go out for dinner and a movie.

To make things even more complicated, he loves seafood and mockingly told me that if G-d measures people by whether they eat shrimp or salmon, it’s pretty sad.

Our little boy is four years old. I would love to enroll him in some sort of Jewish program, but again, Bobby refuses to hear of it. He wants him to go to a private, but secular school. I am truly tormented, Rebbetzin. I know that G-d saved me. I feel it with such intensity, yet I cannot make my husband understand. I have tried to get him to read your book, but he categorically refuses to as much as look at it. “I wouldn’t waste my time reading that stuff,” he says.

Our marriage is definitely in jeopardy. We are fighting more than ever before. My husband says if that’s what religion does to a marriage, who needs it. I have tried to reason with him in a cool logical manner, but that hasn’t worked either. His favorite argument is that when we were married, we were not religious, and I have no right to change horses mid-stream. “I didn’t bargain for a religious woman, and I’ll be damned if I will agree to all this craziness,” he argues.

When he goes on one of these harangues, I don’t quite know how to answer him. I sense that he is wrong, but what do I say? In all honesty, I sometimes think there is some validity to his argument. After all, it is true that I wasn’t religious when we were married, and it’s understandable that he resents being pushed into a different life style. So you see, Rebbetzin, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Should I get a divorce and break up my home, or should I stay married and abandon my commitment to Judaism? In either case, it’s a no-win situation. I know how very busy you are, but I hope that you will be able to answer this letter through your column. Perhaps if my husband sees the story in print, it will make an impression on him.

Many thanks for having taken the time to read my letter.

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