My daughter has a child with a non-Jewish man with whom she has since split. She leads a totally non-Jewish life, although she comes for Seder, etc. Her own father, who died at the age of 24, was not Jewish. I have since married a Jewish man. I truly hope and wish that my daughter ends up with a Jewish man, but given her choice of lifestyle I do not see how this can ever happen. Should I give up hoping and accept that this is a lost cause? She is my only child and I sense that she feels lost and is unhappy. All she wants is to have a family life. My own father was the only father figure in her life, but he died when she was six years old. I blame myself entirely for this situation as I was hardly a good example.
There would seem to be two parts to this type of question. The first part would be: what is your obligation, as a Jew, in promoting Jewish identity in another Jew, in this case your daughter? The answer to that is straightforward; a Jew clearly has an obligation to assist another Jew in his/her observance of Torah. One argument for this is found in the halachic principle: kol Yisrael areivin zeh b’zeh, ‘all of Israel are guarantors for each other’. See Rashi, Rosh Hashana 29a where this principle is used to explain why one Jew, in various circumstances, can fulfill a mitzvah for another even though the one performing the mitzvah has already previously fulfilled his/her own obligation. As long as another Jew is under an obligation to perform a mitzvah, it is as if we all are so obligated – and responsible. See, also, T.B. Shavuot 39a.
In addition to this principle, an obligation of one Jew for the observance of another also arises from the command of hoche’ach tochi’ach et amitecha, ‘rebuke your fellow’, See Vayikra 19:17 and, for further details, Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 239. While there are many practical rules that have to be considered in regard to the application of this law, its basic principle is that a Jew is responsible to take steps to correct or prevent another Jew from violating Halacha. In this regard as well, you would have an obligation to try and further your daughter’s Jewish identity.
The real issue, however, is, I believe, the other part of this question. Answering that you, as a Jew, have an obligation to promote Jewish identity in your daughter actually seems to present your daughter as an object, someone you are to act upon. The law seems to be telling you that you have an obligation to affect another – and that would seem to be without even a consideration of this other as a seperate person, an independent human being with a will of her own. So we must consider the other part of this question: in the interest of your daughter, should you attempt to promote her Jewish identity? Is it to the benefit of your daughter to promote her Jewish identity? This leads into the question of how you actually see Jewish identity, personally and in general. If you see it as a good thing that would benefit your daughter, how could you not promote it within her?
We have a principle within Jewish Law that we can convert non-Jewish children. The question still emerges: how is this possible for conversion demands the free-will acceptance by the candidate to become Jewish and children are not deemed able to make such a free-will decision? The answer lies in the halachic concept of zochin l’adam shelo be’fanav, ‘one can benefit another even without their consent.’ While transactions demand the free-will acceptance of the parties, such an acceptance is not deemed necessary from a party when the transaction would be fully and totally beneficial to this party. Applying this principle to the laws of conversion, it is deemed permissible to convert a child -- even as a child is absent the ability to make a reasoned, adult, free will decision of this nature -- because becoming Jewish is deemed to be a total benefit to the child. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 268:7. Within the principles of Torah, being Jewish is a good thing.
This, I would say, is the real issue with your daughter. Jewish thought believes that a Jew identifying as a Jew is good for that person – and if this is so, how could you then not further promote the furtherance of your daughter’s Jewish identity? Of course, there are many practical issues that would have to be addressed in determining how you would proceed from such a perspective. This is not a time for imposition or for the lack of recognition of your daughter’s own will. In the way you framed the question, though, it seems that you do believe that promoting your daughter’s Jewishness would be good for her. Jewish thought would agree and inform you that regardless of the past, it is never too late to assist others in improving their lives. Never stop hoping for the good – and more so, do whatever you can, properly and correctly, to bring it about.
As a People we have learned never to give up hope, so I would not counsel you to give up hope for your daughter ending up with a Jewish man. Indeed, I hope she does as well. While hope can be a positive force in our lives, guilt can often be a negative force. There are many choice that people make that they might wish to do over, but it is not possible to go back and “re-do” life. All that is in our power, and it is a great power, is to move forward. While you cannot change the choice you made in the past and the model you were for your daughter, you can hope to show her a different, better model by how you live now.
Maimonides teaches that true teshuvah, true repentance, only occurs when one gets to the same point in life and chooses to act differently. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:1) Through your actions, you have shown the power of teshuvah to change your life. As a parent, you have the opportunity to model differently for your adult daughter then you did when you were bothe younger. You can be an example for her, while loving her and accepting her adult decisions that you cannot change. Hopefully, she will learn from what you do and it will lead her to make good choices in the future. Never give up hope, but do not turn her away either.
Every parent worries for the welfare of their children, and this is evident in your question. You are worried about her future happiness. You wonder if you set a strong enough foundation upon which she can build her life. These are the kinds of burdens we accept as parents. Our children remain our concern throughout our lives.
You wonder about the influence your past may have had upon your daughter. It is hard to know how that impact is felt. What one child sees as a bad example that sends them down a certain path, a different child may see as a lesson learned to help them make informed choices in the future. Regardless, the past is behind us and beyond our ability to influence it.
I applaud your desire to do what you can to help your daughter achieve happiness. I would encourage you to place your emphasis on the present. This is the time in which you can support her as she chooses her current life choices. The talmud (Kiddushin 29a) teaches that a parent has the responsibility to prepare their child for adulthood by instructing them in Torah, guiding them to earn a livelihood and teaching them how to swim. I was taught that this last requirement, to teach swimming, should not be taken literally. Rather it refers to the uncertain waters that we all experience throughout our life. We don't want to get swept off our feet, to be caught in a riptide, or forget how to tread water. As I read your question, it is in regards to this last skill that you can be most helpful to your daughter.
You ask, “Should I give up hoping and accept that this is a lost cause?” Certainly not. You have the opportunity to model for your daughter the skills of swimming in the currents of life's challenges. You have the ability to offer a supportive hand to help steady her when that is necessary. You can be present as a focal point, so that she does not get swept off of her feet. These are ways to be present, recognizing that you cannot make choices for your grown daughter, that harsh words are unlikely to be heard, and that agonizing over what is past will not change the present.
Shortly before his death in 1972 Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked what he thought of the youth rebellion of that day in light of the Biblical command to honor one's parents. He responded, as best I recall, that it is the responsibility of parents to act in such a way that the children can honor them. You can be present for your daughter as a loving and accepting mother. You can model the behavior you would wish for her in your own life, whether that is through Jewish observance, creating an open and welcoming home or any other way that you feel appropriate. You are not able to compel your daughter to behave in any particular way, but you can model positive behavior that she may choose to emulate.
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