Please forgive me in advance for my comments – I don’t mean to offend or be critical. In fact, I generally find your advice to be very sound and inspiring and I think you really help those who write to you. But in regard to the letter from Bothered and Bewildered (Chronicles 8-5), I think that the writer and others reading your response might be confused by the advice that was given.
It sounded like the woman who wrote the letter is not involved in kiruv and has little exposure to people who are not frum or who were frum and then left Yiddishkeit. In your response you wrote “you are obligated to let her know that you do not condone her lifestyle nor approve of her living arrangements, which is contrary to our teachings. This can be communicated via casual conversation in a non-condescending manner, even as you carry on in your warm and neighborly way…”
Perhaps you have a vision of how this would happen, but practically speaking I’m not sure how one would do this; certainly someone who does not have experience with kiruv or in knowing how to handle such delicate types of situations might be confused and unclear as to how to interact with her neighbor based on this suggestion.
You also wrote “be pleasant…but be forewarned not to allow yourself to be drawn into heavy…discussions…coming up against a non-believer can be daunting…our sages advise us to handle the non-believer’s rationalizations as we would…our yetzer ha’ra: shrug off any and all arguments and justifications…head off any discussion that threatens to be going nowhere with a ‘you are entitled to your opinion.’” To me these comments imply that this woman is a non-believer who will not be open to hearing about finding her way back to Judaism, a woman who already has her justifications planned, a woman whose heart is closed to Yiddishkeit.
Perhaps you meant only to advise the writer to proceed with caution. Yet, I would not make these assumptions. Even the fact that she sends her kids to yeshiva is a very important point that shows she has not totally severed her connection to Judaism despite the way she is currently living her life.
Perhaps if she had someone who really cared about her she would open up and reveal that she is torn about being with this man and about having left Judaism. Perhaps she never experienced the beauty of Yiddishkeit. Perhaps she is very lonely, confused and hurt by a bad divorce and is turning to this non-Jewish man for companionship, caring and love – not because she has totally rejected Yiddishkeit, but because he was at the right place at the right time (or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time when she was very vulnerable).
I would have advised the letter-writer to get in touch with a kiruv professional or contact a friend, relative, or neighbor who has a lot of experience dealing with these types of situations (and understands kiruv and human psychology and relationships) for direction. It may be a step-by-step slow process, but this way she might be able to bring her “neighbor” back to Yiddishkeit or at least plant the seeds in her mind.
Getting into deep philosophical discussions may not be for everyone, but she can perhaps be directed to the right people who can handle those discussions. Maybe she is not even interested in deep philosophical conversations; maybe she just needs to see how Yiddishkeit teaches us to love our fellow man and treat them with respect. A Shabbos meal is often a wonderful kiruv tool. Or if she is not ready for that, or the timing is not right, perhaps a schmooze in the backyard… or inviting her over for tea, or going out to lunch with her one day to get to know her a little better… but handling things the wrong way without knowing how to find the right balance and how to address things appropriately could, G-d forbid, make her even more lost to Yiddishkeit than she already is.
I would tell “Bothered…” to keep an open mind, seek advice, daven to Hashem for guidance, and IY”H she should be a catalyst for good things to happen.
Finding the Right Balance in Kiruv
Thank you for your sound and strong suggestions. (This column never takes offense at reasonable, relevant and intelligent commentary, but rather welcomes it.)
In light of the letter-writer’s scant details, this column’s response was intended as a general guide (based on Torah principles) and purposely avoided delving into feelings, motivations or circumstances that may or may not be factors in this particular instance.
One must also bear in mind that just as there may be any of various reasons a person has lost his or her way, not to mention the different personalities and temperaments that make each case unique, the people who chance to interact with them are also unalike.
In other words, the writer with the neighborly concern may not be in a position, in whatever way or for whatever reason, to involve herself in a kiruv sense (as you have indicated). To that end, we have concurred in our view from a practical standpoint: be respectful and kind, and teach by example.
Your in-depth analysis of possibilities will surely be of benefit to some of our readers. Thank you again for taking the time to write.