Reader: My Husband Has Doubts about Judaism

'Question mark made of puzzle pieces' photo (c) 2008, Horia Varlan - license: reader writes:

Hello, I am writing you to address an issue in my home. My husband and I were raised Jewish and have two young children. My husband has been seriously struggling lately with certain parts of our faith. Doubts such as these: Is there a personal G-d or not? Why pray to G-d if he has already established a plan for us? We can’t change His mind.

Does G-d intervene? If we have free will, then He shouldn’t. So, why do we pray for G-d to intervene for our benefit? Why are so many others struggling while I praise God for choosing to bless me? What makes me so special?

The questions/statements above are puzzling to me and I feel that I don’t have a good answer for him. Please, I ask you, as a sister of Jacob, help provide your perspective on these issues. I have been reaching out to so many as I feel abandoned (spiritually) by my husband. I am pregnant again and fear that I will be raising our children alone in the Jewish faith. I want to be an observant Jew, not just a Jew by heritage.

My response:
How upsetting it must be to learn of your husband’s doubts, especially when you are raising a growing family. Fortunately, he is sharing his feelings with you and not keeping them to himself.
No one knows what they are getting into when they get married. People change their outlooks. While it’s understandable that you worry your marriage won’t survive, I suggest trying to take a step back and not worry about the future. There is no way to predict how this will get resolved. Even couples with diametrically opposed sets of beliefs can manage to build successful marriages.
In the meantime I offer some responses from readers on the Facebook page:
  • Tova: This problem is more common than people realize. 🙁
  • Kate: Well, he’s not alone. There are very, very few people that I know of personally who have never struggled with similar questions from time to time.
    For the rough times, I don’t know, there is a certain kind of fake-it-until-you-make-it quality to be had (for daily issues, like tefilah, prayer). And also there are other benefits (family time, “unplugging,” being hospitable) that come part-and-parcel with celebrations of shabbat and holidays.
    I don’t have a good answer for the questions, other than if the issue of feeling blessed while others have less or are struggling . . . that is an easy one to channel into donating time/money/energy for worthy causes, religious or not.
  • Rachel: The free will vs. G-d’s plan has been a time spanning conundrum for Jews (and those of other faiths). I have resolved it in my mind thus: G-d gave us free will. We make our choices in life and based on those choices certain things happen – cause and effect. G-d KNOWS what our choices are going to be, that is incontrovertible. To the extent that G-d knows it seems that our lives are about inevitability. BUT — even though G-d knows what our choices will be — they are still OUR choices to make. G-d does not make those choices for us. One way to look at this is that G-d knows all the possible outcomes for all the possible choices we face. We don’t. And even though G-d knows what our choice will be, we still make the choice ourselves, and thus a certain outcome will come about. His plan, I believe, is one in which we are meant to learn certain lessons. Thus He is the director of outcomes. He knits together all the possible choices that all of us have and all the possible outcomes that we each produce via our choices. It is still up to US to learn the lessons we need to learn. Some of us are able to grasp the meanings in the things we see and experiences, some grasp it right away, some take time to get it, and others never get it. And yes, we CAN change His mind. We do so by the choices we make and He does so by the way in which the outcomes are knit together.
  • Chavi: This is a very common struggle, it’s just one people don’t talk about openly in front of everyone, only their close friends. Come to my Shabbat table, and you can join in on the discussion!
  • Yael: He needs to study the Rambam (Maimonides), specifically “Moreh Nevuchim” with a scholar who understands the truth of what Rambam is saying. It is very different from the feel-good stuff that is taught most places and while good for children– if analyzed by a thinking adult–doesn’t make any sense. She’ll need to be open while he goes through this and perhaps study with him. The answers will initially make her very uncomfortable but it seems like he is seeking truth and not comfort.
  • Sharon: I have found a lot of support for these kinds of questions through the works of Rabbi Akiva Tatz, his books and shiurim online. I think he has his own website, but there is a lot on Specifically,  Hatzlacha and chag sameach.
  • Pesach: I can relate to this. I went through some religious struggles earlier in the year. I know it was hard for my wife to watch and not know how to help me. From your perspective, I would recommend being supportive and not pushing him. It will take time. From his, it is important to realize that there are no easy answers, or even absolute answers. As a teacher a in day schools, I always told my students that anyone who says that “The Jewish answer to X is…” is almost automatically wrong as there are many different approaches. For some, the Greek-based rationalism will work. For others, the warmth and mystical side of chassidus (chasidic thought)Which one is correct objectively? Only G-d knows. I would recommend that while he searches that he try and practice as much as he can, both for his sake and the sake of the family. If you wish to discuss this further, I am happy for you to contact me. I have a decently strong background in Jewish thought and am a rabbi to boot. Chag Sameach.
  • Leah: My answer turned out to be too long for a Facebook post, so it became a blog post. Feel free to pass along to your reader:  The Personal G-d of Elisheva.

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  1. David Aharon Lindzon says

    All I can say is to get in touch with a kiruv organization such as Aish Hatorah, JEP, or Jews for Judaism … If your husband is not under pressure or being influenced by a Missionary to convert to another religion, I would recommend that both of you read The Garden of Emunah by Rabbi Shalom Arush … it is OK to question once you aceept the basic premise of Judaism. You as the wife should try to pinpoint the issues carefully and make all efforts to work with your husband and daven specifically for guidance in maintaining shalom bayis.