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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 7/28/06

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Readers Speak

Dear Rachel,

I found the letters relating to the subject of boys who learn rather than earn really interesting and very true. The writer I most agreed with was “A parent who represents many others” (Chronicles 2-3).

I think my perspective is a little bit different because I am not a parent but rather a post-seminary girl. I am 19, and I haven’t yet started dating, although most of my friends are. I feel like I can be somewhat objective about it because I am not yet entangled in it.

I attended a pretty mainstream seminary. Learning in general was looked at as an ideal. Many of our female teachers supported husbands in kollel and worked and mothered – a pretty incredible feat. They chose to live that sort of life and were happy with that choice. As students, we got mixed messages. Mostly the message was that learning in kollel is the ideal, but that there are other acceptable options.

For many of us, it’s not all right just to be “acceptable” – and therefore my friends often gravitate towards boys in learning, because they are considered “better” boys. The question really is, “Is there truth to the idea that boys in learning are generally better in avodas Hashem?”

This cycle will continue unless strong evidence comes out showing that this is not the right way. This evidence would have to be from the roshei yeshivos who are allowing and encouraging this cycle in the first place. It is important to realize, though, that even if this is a wrong hashkafa, it is coming from a very positive place and we can’t judge those people.

Dear Rachel,

I have never written to a paper before, but I was losing sleep over “At My Wit’s End” (Chronicles June 9). The first part of your response was perfect and seemed appropriate. However, I was deeply bothered by the last few sentences mentioning giving up and losing respect for one’s husband. Giving up on marriage should only be introduced as a last resort by a competent authority who knows the whole story. Giving up and losing respect should never ever be hinted at. Once words are spoken and put into one’s head, it becomes its own reality. How can this woman work with her husband when now in her head, he is a failure? I would love to give her some positive reinforcement and hope.

Dear Wit,

Breaking a bad habit or addiction is tough. Learning good coping skills for today’s complicated world is tough. Overcoming spiritual challenges is tough. That is the purpose of this world. Change does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process. Everyone has challenges. Your husband appears to recognize the endless watching of movies as inappropriate as he has tried to refrain. Don’t lose respect for him. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t give up on him. Don’t give up on yourself. Try to understand him.

No one’s perfect and no one is one character trait. Everyone is a package deal. We are on this world to improve ourselves. We are not finished projects. Life is about overcoming spiritual challenges. Marriage is about teamwork, working together to overcome our challenges. His challenge is not his challenge alone – in a good marriage it is both partners’ challenge.

Talk to a rabbi, a therapist. Try and try again. Even if your husband refuses to see a rabbi or therapist, you can benefit by seeking help. You will learn skills to enable you to help your husband. You will be that much stronger as a person and as a couple once you overcome this difficulty together, and with the next spiritual challenge that comes your way you will benefit with having the improved skills to tackle the task of life.

Good Luck.

Dear Rachel,

Cheers for Anonymous’s personal report of permanent change in his own SSA (Chronicles June 16). Even though such changes are reported often in the media, and “Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays” (PFOX) is a growing organization which demonstrates the changes among real people, many in the counseling professions and media continue to insist falsely – and contrary to the fundamental Jewish concept of teshuva – that such change cannot occur. That insistence results from the immense influence of homosexual activists within those groups.

It is important, however, to distinguish between same-sex attraction (which we can call SSA-1) and same-sex activity, SSA-2. Which of the two Anonymous was engaged in is unclear, especially with regard to his pedophilia. SSA-1 is relatively easy to overcome; after all, we all have forbidden sexual thoughts – most of them heterosexual – and they usually recede into insignificance when one is involved in stable, satisfying marriage. When it is SSA-2 that has been engaged in, however, change is harder, and under crisis, relapse – temporary or permanent – is more likely to occur.

If Anonymous had been involved with pedophiliac activities, I would insist on his having gone at least 10 years without them before I would allow him to, say, run a Boy Scout troop. Also: it may be more accurate to see SSA as a habit, for which one is responsible, rather than an illness, for which personal responsibility is lacking.

The fact that therapy/counseling can help people change SSA does not mean that they will, or that the change will be permanent. And without adequate marital satisfactions, the chance of relapse (especially with SSA-2) remains high, no matter how effective the therapy/counseling has seemed to be. That’s the lesson taught by the many Roman Catholic priests who were returned to full duty after therapy/counseling, only to repeat their pedophilic behavior.

Cheers again for Anonymous’s story, and thanks to The Jewish Press for publishing it.

Nathaniel S. Lehrman, M.D
Former Clinical Director
Kingsboro Psychiatric Center
Former Assistant Clinical Prof. of Psychiatry,
Albert Einstein and SUNY Downstate Colleges of Medicine;
One time Chairman,
Task Force on Religion and Mental Health,
Commission on Synagogue Relations,
New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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