I must say that of all the questions I have received, yours is the one I have been hoping for. I, as many others, have pet peeves and this question of minhag or minhagim (pl. customs) is one of my favorites.
· Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodiesbut not their souls . . .
When a young person looks at the parent, s/he may ask themselves, “Am I my own person? Or am I just a mini-Me of my parent?” If the adolescent is to develop his or her own identity, it behooves parents to allow their children (to some degree) to have some space to make that discovery. If anything, verbally acknowledging your child’s uniqueness can take the sting out of Oedipal or Electra Complexes from developing.
The last thing any parent wants is for the child to consciously overthrow the parent’s authority —which will psychologically happen if the parent chooses to rule the home like a dictator rather than as a wise counselor. Wise parenting demands that parents be attuned to the child’s unspoken desire to be accepted and respected by one’s peers and family.
On a practical note, I would suggest that if it is a matter of adhering to a higher degree of kashrut, then parents need to ask: Is my daughter’s request for glatt kosher meat affordable? Or, would it make the observance of kashrut more of a financial hardship? In these tough times, the daughter needs to be sensitive to the fact that stricter observances of kashrut often comes with a heftier price tag. If the adolescent wishes to contribute a little bit toward purchasing a higher grade of kosher meat, the young adolescent might rethink her position. It’s always easier to be super strict if someone else is footing the bill.
If my adolescent son/daughter wanted to keep a stricter standard of kashrut, I would definitely wamt to know why my child is feeling this way? Are the teachers at the Day School or Yeshiva speaking critically about those kosher-observing families observing what they consider to be an “inferior standard, or not?” If someone from the yeshiva is attempting to persuade my child to keep a higher degree of kashrut or modesty, I would be upset at the yeshiva for attempting to seize parental authority away from the parents!
As a parent, if your family is invited to a friend or family’s home where their kashrut observance is less than your present family is, then I suggest that your daughter observe the level of kashrut of the host, so as to not embarrass or humiliate the host family. Shaming someone is a much more serious sin because failing to observe kashrut is considered to be only a sin affecting one’s relationship with God alone. Shaming anyone is a sin that weakens our relationship with God and people alike. If your daughter wishes to be extra religious, it is imperative that her interpersonal behavior be as exemplary, otherwise she is not being religiously consistent.
With respect to the tzniut issue, I think it’s important to dialogue with your daughter about the importance of being modest. Obviously, some women wear stylish pants, others insist on wearing as much clothing as possible. Some women in Jerusalem, known as the “Jewish Taliban,” look indistinguishable from the Taliban women in Afghanistan. The local Haredi rabbis have taken the position that this degree of modesty is excessive even for them!
Parents should engage the adolescent and ask her, “What do you think is the real meaning of tsniut? Obviously modesty is more of an interior attitude; it should not be about showing the world how pious one is.
Lastly, with adults, the problems become more nuanced. If the parents are not observant at all, it is important for the parents to try to accommodate the child and be support the child’s desire by maintaining separate dishes, foods, and so on. Actually, my parents did that for me when I was becoming observant in my early teens. If the child is an adult, it is important for the child to act respectfully—and give simple instructions how to cook kosher for whenever s/he visits. There is always one principle that remains unchanging: one’s ways should always be conducted in the manner of “Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace” (Prov 3:17).
· Recognize the virtues of wise parenting vis-à-vis authoritarian styles of parenting
· Encourage the adolescent to explore her own freedom within the confines of Jewish tradition.
· Examine the practical and economic changes a family would have to undergo and ask yourselves, “Is it still worth it?”
· Try to understand the person(s) or institution that is pushing her in this austere Halachic direction.
· Never embarrass anyone for keeping a “lower standard” of kashrut.
· With respect to modesty; focus on the question: “What does it really mean to be ‘modest?”
· Adults ought to show respect and kindness before asking a non-observant parent to undertake any religious behavior upon his/her behalf.
Best of luck,
Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel