April 12, 2001
To make it brief: I am married (with a new daughter) to an Israeli American and am a ba'al teshuvah (recently Orthodox). My brother is married to a non-Jew and has a son (1 year old). I love him very much, but we have chosen different career paths and obviously different approaches to religion (he and his wife are raising the child with de facto no religion due to the intermarriage). We have grown increasingly apart from each other, as I have become more observant and he has chosen a different path. He finds it difficult to be with me because Judaism proscribes intermarriage, so he feels as if I view his personal situation as inherently wrong (unfortunately, he is right, although I do my best not to judge him). However, we haven't discussed our feelings about our growing separation because it is very painful.
Notwithstanding our separateness, I want to maintain a close relationship with him. It seems increasingly difficult considering my religious perspective and his wanting to protect his child from feeling that there is something wrong with him because he is not Jewish. Is there any way to salvage this relationship? Any advice you could provide me would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for turning to me. Your problem is one shared by many others. As siblings mature, each walks his own path in life, and sometimes those paths are sufficiently divergent that they create strain and even distance between people who love each other. While it is true that you and your brother will not agree on all matters (even those of great importance), that doesn't have to mean that you can't love each other, enjoy each other's company, love each other's family, and remain a close and connected part of each other's lives.
But to do so will require great commitment from you both: you must agree to be honest with each other, to remain willing to discuss painful issues, and to respect the integrity and wholeness of each other's world view even when you cannot agree with aspects of that world view.
You can love your brother's children whether or not you consider them halachically Jewish. You can give them Jewish gifts to help bring them to a fuller understanding of Torah (from your perspective). Take it from a rabbi, preaching is a poor form of education, so don't waste your breath. Instead, become a role model of the sweetness and love that Judaism commands us to show each other and all humanity.
Your brother may consider your rules rigid and narrow. That need not prevent him from being with you when you can, and working hard not to perceive your need to observe halacha as meaning that you don't love him. Some things you will not be able to do together (e.g., Pesach may not be a great time for a lengthy visit), but many things you will, and both of you can enjoy those moments.
Finally, I would encourage both you and your brother to converse not in a spirit of trying to "win" the argument, of trying to persuade each other to abandon views and take on your own (or his). Instead, speak with each other in order to understand each other better and to assist each other in clarifying one's own views or addressing important topics.
If you and he can learn to express love, to honor differences, and to support each other in being as Jewish and as menschy as possible, you will both have made a contribution to making the world a better place.
God bless you both.