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Dishing the Dirt
Dear Emuna

Dishing the Dirt

Should I tell my friend some negative information about the man she is dating?


Dear Emuna,

My friend is very excited that her daughter seems to be dating a nice young Jewish man. I happen to know that this young man’s high school years were, shall we say, “less than ideal.” I don’t want to burst my friend’s bubble or stick my nose where I shouldn’t but I also feel that I might have some responsibility to make sure they know the truth. What should I do?

Torn Friend

Dear Torn,

This is really more of question for “Ask the Rabbi” than “Dear Emuna” since there are halachic parameters for when one may speak lashon hara (derogatory information) or not. But in terms of basic judgment, there are many gray areas here. In the first place, you don’t reveal what that “less than ideal” behavior was. Secondly, we don’t know how close you are to the boy. Have you followed his growth? Is he a changed person? A more mature person? Has he done teshuvah (repentance) for these past actions? If the behavior was violent, if there was evidence of mental illness or addictions, then you might have an obligation (I am saying “might” because I still want you to confer with a rabbi) but if not, I would be very careful not to ruin something now due to past immature behaviors.

When one of my daughters was dating, a “friend” revealed unsolicited information about some “less than ideal” behavior during her teen years, behaviors that no one had asked about and that she had long since outgrown. I was outraged and called the so-called friend up to suggest that her conversation was inappropriate. She was apologetic and acknowledged that she had been careless in her speech. When lives are stake, carelessness is no excuse. Don’t speak unless you are really sure it’s necessary.

Mini Israel

Dear Emuna,

My family is like a microcosm of Israeli society – I have a daughter who is secular, a son who is chareidi and another daughter who lives in the settlements. You can imagine what family get-togethers are like. The sparks fly and, much as I love all my children, I find the experience extremely stressful. There is going to be a family celebration next month and instead of looking forward to it, I am dreading it. Can you help me?

Torn Mother

Dear Torn,

I understand how difficult this must be for you. The truth is that I think that family celebrations frequently exacerbate differences and bring out a lot of family issues. Perhaps you could begin by lowering your expectations of what the experience will be. In the United States, Thanksgiving is billed as this warm, loving family occasion and most people’s experience of the day does not live up to the hype and they are frequently depressed by it. That’s because they bought what the advertisers were selling and expected something completely unrealistic of the day. So being able to enjoy the simcha starts with having realistic expectations and not expecting a Hallmark card moment.

The other secret is of course to constantly model the type of tolerance and acceptance of each other that you want your children to display. It may not work instantly but if you continue to do it, they will hopefully catch on. And finally, whether they do or not, you need to recognize that they are adults and you are no longer responsible for their behavior, only yours.

Setting Boundaries

Dear Emuna,

I work from home and I have a very hard time setting boundaries for my children and grandchildren, especially in the summer, and concentrating on work. They all feel like they can walk in out of my office whenever they feel like it and begin conversations that interfere with my train of thought and double the time required to accomplish anything. I love them and love spending time with them but it is getting out of hand and I really need to fulfill my work responsibilities. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Torn Employee

Dear Torn,

My kids would laugh if they saw this question and say that I am completely unqualified to answer it since I struggle with the same dilemma. In fact, I think it is a challenge for all parents who work out of the home. As with everything, kids – of all ages – will take as much as we are willing to give so it’s up to us, not them, to set limits. (Their job is to keep pestering for more!) We need to be firm about our boundaries – perhaps with set times, perhaps locks on the doors, perhaps refusing to having that conversation when they show up mid-project. The worst thing we can do is to get angry with them. Then we lose everything – we don’t finish what we need to get done and we damage our relationship with our children. Not to mention what it does to our character… Therefore we need to let them know when we are available and when we are not. And honor those times. When we are available we should try to be fully present for them and when not available, we need to be firm about that as well because they will push us. It will all depend on the message we communicate and our ability to stand firm.

August 23, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anna, August 31, 2014 8:27 AM

I would ask how recent the 'less than ideal' things were. If he was involved in drugs or vioence, then a word of caution might be appreciated.

(4) Miriam, August 29, 2014 11:42 AM

To Torns

The first one: Why not talk to each child alone, before the gathering, and explain that you have a huge, humongous favor to ask him/her. As difficult as it is for them, could they please, please, please, not talk about divisive issues? Tell them if they could do this for you it would be the greatest gift imaginable to you. Might work.
Second Torn: Maybe rent a cheap office to work in?

(3) Anonymous, August 28, 2014 5:38 PM

Sometimes you need to protect others

The person who sold us our house made us suspicious. So we discreetly asked the rabbi whether this was an honest person. We were concerned that we might be helping him to harm others by buying the house. We didn't wish to give a good person a bad name, so we were very discreet. Months later, when his Ponzi scheme blew up and our friends at shul realized they'd been swindled, some of them wanted us to locate the seller - we didn't know where he was. The police came with an arrest warrant and told me he'd renewed his driver's license giving our address - years after he sold us the house.
So if the purpose is to protect an innocent person from someone who may be trouble, ask your rabbi. Obviously, gossip is forbidden. Ask what your motive is

(2) Anonymous, August 25, 2014 2:24 PM

Dear Emuna Braverman--Thank you so much for printing the first letter AND for offering your wise counsel. In my lifetime I have known FAR too many people who have felt the need to offer me their unsolicited advice. Most of the advice was either bad or just plain lashan hara. Even before I knew what lashan hara was, I believed that people needed to think twice before opening their mouths to offer their opinions to others. My family of origin did not know the meaning of the phrases it's none of your business/mind your own business. They have gotten angry at me for not answering questions I find to be too personal, but that is their problem not mine.

(1) scott, August 24, 2014 7:24 PM

When in doubt...keep it to yourself.

A nice young Jewish man. Is that true? If so you've answered your question. People are entitled to grow up. People are entitled to be able to live in the present. If the behaviors you seem to want to discuss with your friend were serious enough to derail a romance and were still in would not have called the man nice.

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