Monday, April 06, 2009

Chumros - and Honoring Parents

What was it like in the good old days of American Jewry? Were our parents and grandparents better than us?

Perhaps an answer can be found in Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Noach. He comments that Noach who was righteous in his generation can be understood in one of two ways. One interpretation is that he was of such great caliber that it was only his lowly generation that held him back. Had he lived in the time of Abraham he would have been even greater. And alternate interpretation is that he was righteous compared ot his own generation. Had he lived in the time of Avraham, he would have been no big deal.

We can see the previous generation in either of those interpretations. But it behooves us to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus and judge them favorably. I believe that the generation of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s were greater than ours. They survived great hardships. Remaining Frum under any of those conditions was a major accomplishment. And raising Frum children was an even greater achievement.

Religious Jews of previous eras were much different than the typical mainstream Jew of today. Back in the good old days our values were different. Religious Jews were primarily working people who wanted to make sure that their children remained Frum and learned as much Torah as they could. That effort turned out to be far more successful than anyone ever dreamed it would. But there was a price to pay.

We now live in the era of the Chumra. I have discussed this phenomenon in the past. It is not my intention to discuss the reasons. But I do think it is imortant to look at some of the fallout – particularly as it pertains to parents.

The question is what does one do about parents who won’t play along? Should their children write them off? Should they be humored? How should one treat parents who haven’t bought into all the Chumros a child has adopted? What should the relationship be?

What about the grandchildren? Grandparents might have a TV in their home. Can a grandchild be allowed to visit a grandparent lest he be exposed? What about a newspaper? There are inappropriate advertisements contained even in a respectable newspaper like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? Should a parent risk exposure to such material by allowing a child to visit a grandparent? What about the food? Should a child be exposed to a grandparent who does not keep ChalavYisroel? What if he is finds a Hershey Bar in the cupboard and asks if he can have it? Is it worth the chance?

These questions may be laughable to some people but they are real to the young people who are a part of the brave new world we live in – and their ‘not up to par’ parents.

It is sad that we have come to this – and does not speak well of children who have these questions. Many of these parents have sacrificed great amounts of time and money into educating their children to be religious Jews. They have been sent to some of the finest day schools and Yeshivos. The result is an Olam HaChumros - a world of religious stringencies that parents never dreamed their children would become a part of.

If one follows this progression to its logical end, the grandchildren will be even more Machmir. Either that or they will go off the track and become irreligious (The pendulum does swing back).

What I think is missing in many cases is a sense of proper Hakaras HaTov to their parents for the sacrifices they have made. And that does not just mean saying thank you - have a nice life! What seems to be happening in a significant number of cases is a sort of resentment against parents who are not Frum enough. They have not ‘grown’ along with their children.

This is not a universal phenomenon. I don’t even think it is a majority. But I do think a lot of children end up only tolerating their parents and looking down at their Judaism. That sometimes causes them to minimize contact. I’ve seen it happen. I know of one case where a Frum parent is not invited to any of his children’s homes for the Pesach Seder. How sad is that?! What kind of values have his children really learned? What happened to Kibud Av V’Em?

I realize that there might be other factors involved – like a parent who constantly criticizes his children’s Chumra filled lifestyles. But honoring one’s parents means biting that bullet.

I have long lamented the world of Chumros that has taken over the hearts and minds of many young people in our world today. But I have neglected to point out the fallout for parents undeserving of the distance their children put between them. Unless the parents tow the child’s new line they risk losing contact. Parents deserves better than that from their children. Instead valuing the Chumros above parents - the parent should be appreciated and thanked for raising them Frum in the first place.