The Rabbi’s Daughter

I cried watching this film.

Not just because it is about three daughters who choose to break with the chinuch they received from their parents, from the ways of the Torah. Not just because of the additional irony and tragedy that each one is the daughter of a major figure in the Israeli dati Leumi world. [Warning to potential viewers. The daughters dress at times like dropouts, not like their mothers.]

I cried because so much pain was visible and palpable, because it slides off the celluloid so easily that the viewer is left with no choice but to hold on to it.

It is a disturbing film, for all the questions it raises without answering them. How did it all come to pass? How widespread is the problem? Can it end differently? What possessed the parents to allow their pain and shame to become part of the public domain? Did they do it as a concession to their daughters, or did they hope for an even greater good? Could parents in the haredi world (where dropouts are no less prevalent) bare their souls the same way?

Many things did become clear. The parents were not bad parents, nor were the daughters bad daughters. There was no lack of love on either side. The commitment of the fathers was manifest; they were not shallow figures, deceiving the public. The adulation of the public was well-deserved.

Confusion and denial abounded. Parents were not fully in touch with how far off their daughters had drifted. The daughters showed more tentativeness about their thinking than firm resolve. Their husbands and boyfriends showed at times more understanding of the women’s unresolved doubts than the women themselves.

In this relatively short piece, the film as a medium displays its power to the skeptic. All of us are familiar with the phenomenon of off-the-derech kids. Yet more is conveyed by a wrinkled brow, a pause in midsentence, a facial expression changing from confidence to worry than in a page of prose.

Some scenes and lines are revelatory. The bond restored by the introduction of a grandchild. The challenge by a father: “So if you want to talk, when will you be ready to do so not on camera?” Or “You want us to accept you for whom you are. Can you accept us for who we are?” Or one woman’s reminder that she was the only one of eight children not faithful to the beliefs of her family, and that it was G-d Himself Who gives us free will.

And perhaps the most important line of all, the one that cuts to the chase of so much of the off-the-derech phenomenon. “So it isn’t really about rabbis – it’s about parents.”

Watching this will be doubly painful by the film’s end, because many of us will be forced to confront our own inadequacies.

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26 Responses

  1. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I think the most important take away message of this poignant film is the way the parents dealt with this. These three significant rabbinic figures are setting the example that it is no longer our way to disengage, or worse, from children who choose not to follow our straight, and increasingly narrow, ways. They didn’t “tear kryia”, throw their daughters out of the house, or otherwise cut them off. They exhibited tenderness, love, and expressed a desire to understand.

  2. Harry Maryles says:

    Very well put! I wrote about this very important and powerful film a while ago and had the same reaction you did. And so did most of the readers that commented. That post generated 118 comments!

    You asked why the parents agreed to be filmed in this very vulnerable way. I think the answer is contained in the film itself. These parents love their children. It’s as simple as that. They realize that there is pain on both sides and that the issues are real. The children needed to express themselves this way and the loving parents agreed to it, painful though it may have been to do so.

  3. Shlomo says:

    You wrote

    “What possessed the parents to allow their pain and shame to become part of the public domain?”

    I agree that the parents have pain, but why do you think they also have shame? Why should parent’s be ashamed if their children choose a different lifestyle? Disappointed yes, but why shame?

    [YA – Just a guess. The film opens with a father asked whether he found his interview embarrassing. While he responds in the negative, I read his body language and his facial expressions differently. Not that I disagree with your point in the slightest. Yet, many parents do feel shame, as if their childrens’ choices reflect badly upon their skills as parents. And sometimes, indeed, they do.]

  4. Rabbi Harry Zeitlin says:

    Perhaps most important is to keep the profundity, sensitivity and insightfulness of Torah alive. That means not fossilized, not routine-ized, but truly alive, filled with growth, sparked by love as well as by curiousity. It’s not a matter of making an observant life “appear” attractive–this isn’t marketing strategy–but to live it that way. As best as we, imperfectly, can.

  5. Daniel Rubin says:

    This is a remarkable film. Very heartfelt and heartbreaking.

    For filing in the Department of What Might Be the Answer, one thing I noticed is that two of the three daughters are clearly quite artistic and creative. Add the director herself and it’s actually three out of four. I can’t help but wonder if that provides a clue as to why these girls went off the derech when their siblings didn’t. Frum Judaism can be a little stifling for anyone, let alone someone a little more free-spirited.

    The free-spirit angle also shows up when you look at how two of the daughters live their daily lives: one drives from place to place in a van and hangs out with a bunch of kumbaya hippies; another decides to hop a plane to Australia for time indeterminate. It seems like they’re just not the types to be tied down to any type of regime or conformist lifestyle, be it religious or otherwise.

    (Interestingly, the one daughter who is not explicitly artistic gives a highly intellectualized reason for going off the derech — as she tells it, she basically came to a decision that Judaism didn’t give her the answers she was seeking. I guess there’s no one-size-fits-all here.)

    Perhaps what we (particularly those in Chinuch) need to think about is whether we should place stronger emphasis on providing outlets for children to use their talents and skills. Some birds just can’t be caged, you know? So let them out a little bit.

  6. yankel says:

    Why is the topic of teens-at-risk rarely judged from the Torah’s perspective? What does the Torah say about someone who knows the mitzvos and their obligations and does not keep them because of personal reasons? How are we supposed to treat such people? How is a person who was abused/neglected/mistreated/ignored supposed to approach Torah, Teffilla and Emuna? We hear all kinds of psychological explanations and ideas from ‘experts’. Is that advice derived from the Torah? If someone would have us treat these people with just love and understanding, how will they explain the various condemning passages in the halacha about such people.

  7. cvmay says:

    Could parents in the haredi world (where dropouts are no less prevalent) bare their souls the same way? The answer is SURELY NOT!!

    Excellent film, personal, painful, distressing, loving and full of turmoil from the daughters and fathers.
    Parents in places of prominence particualarly in Rabbanus, Chinuch and Religious Leadership roles do find their children cast into a hot cauldron of Peer Pressure, Congregational Commments and 24/7 observations. It takes a special kind of parenting and emotional health to ignore the “outside world”. There seems to be a large group of “challenged youth” from these catagories (past and present).

  8. cvmay says:

    Another thought comes to mind: What role did the mothers of these 3-4 daughters play in their upbringing? Were the moms approachable? Were they aware of what was happening? Could they have played a different role? Would have liked to have heard from the other two moms..

  9. SL Zacharowicz says:

    The easiest conclusion to reach after watching this film is that there are no easy conclusions. A powerful, thought-provoking film.

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    The film was fair to both sides, showing the parents as caring about their children despite their choices of lifestyle(Ma’aleh, the school which produced the film, was one of several different kinds of film schools for religious Israelis recently profiled in the NYT article, “Filmmakers Who Are Ultra-Orthodox and Ultracommitted”).

    I thought that one of the touching scenes was when the bare-headed landlord offers Halachic pointers about building a Succah, which he learned from R. Aviner, and adds that he was the “kindest, most, wonderful man”. This sounds like the sort of scene which the Berditchiver would have something to expound upon.

    Despite the point that “it is about parents, not Rabbis”, there can be unique pressure being part of a rabbinic family. One (frum) Rabbi’s daughter who anonymously blogged about the film, put it as follows:

    “Growing up in a Rabbis home has its challenges. If I had the opportunity to switch my family, I would never in a million years take it. The love that constantly flows in my direction, the investment my parents made in my success, the people I met and the experiences I lived through by far outweighed the difficulties of having to live up to expectations and act like a role model.”

  11. E. Fink says:

    Here is what I think is the most important thing we can learn from this film:

    (From my comments on this film on my blog:)

    I think that it is very important that the parent / child relationship not depend on religious observance. It is hurtful to parents when children diverge from their parents’ way of life. But that pain cannot be more prominent than the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent.

    Every child needs to feel accepted by their parents. Every child needs to know that they are loved for who they are even if they are doing things which parents do not approve.

    In so many of our prayers and remarks around the High Holidays we note that despite our failings God loves us unconditionally. We need to be able to follow the lead of God on this one. If God can do it, we need to at least try.

  12. Dovid says:

    Question: Of whom would a typical American MO or Charedi family be more embarrassed as son or son-in-law:

    The frum, but bummy-looking neo-Breslover brother of Kfar Pines Tamar or the non-frum, but conventional-looking, law school student Moti Katz, son-in-law of Rav Bigman?

    And why would that be?

  13. DF says:

    I thought Shlomo’s understated point, above, was excellent. There are many ballei teshuvah in our community. Their choice is in most cases not meant as an indictment on their parents, but only that they’ve chosen a different path for themselves. Indeed, there are so many ballei teshuvah, from so many different backgrounds, that perforce we must say it’s not the “fault” of the parents, but simply the choice of the child. There’s no real reason why we shouldnt look upon those dropping out of religion in exactly the same way. Looked at from that perspective, your penultimate line should be modified: It’s not about Rabbis, AND it’s not about parents. It’s about the individual.

  14. Mr. Cohen says:

    As a baal teshuvah, I believed for many years that I could never be equal to FFBs.

    But if FFBs are so great, then why are some of them going off-the-derech,
    as shown in The Rabbi’s Daughter?

    Apparently, the superiority of FFBs is not as great as I previously believed.

  15. Joe Hill says:

    How would a parent feel if their child “chose” a path in life of being a professional burglar? However such a parent feels, these parents should feel the same.

  16. Allan Katz says:

    I agree that we must help those with artistic talent to find their path in Torah and that relationships with parents and teachers play an important role in keeping kids on the derech , more than banning internet

    the test is that even when kids decide on a different path, the relationship in intact

    the high profile story of the Philip family in Israel – Menachem Phillip and his 4? siblings who left the derech was a combination of both problematic parenting and not finding a placde for artistic talent. Today Mani (menachem ) is an aclaimed film producer

    Here is a shiur from R’ Frand – I wonder if kids off the derech are included in the decendents that Mordechai had shalom with them ?

    The last pasuk [verse] in the Megilla reads “For Mordechai, the Yehudi, was viceroy to King Ahashuerus; he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with the multitude of his brothers (ratzui l’rov echav); he sought the good of his people and spoke with peace to all his posterity. (v’dover shalom l’chol zar’oh)” [Esther 10:3]

    The Ibn Ezra makes two very interesting comments on this pasuk. He says regarding the phrase “he found favor with the multitude (literally the majority) of his brothers,” that because of jealousy, a person cannot find favor with everyone. It is impossible to be perfectly popular.

    Then the Ibn Ezra comments on the buildup of praises that we have in the pasuk. The concluding, and seemingly greatest praise is that “he spoke with peace to all his posterity.” The Ibn Ezra comments that this means he was on good terms with all his children and grandchildren.

    This seems anti-climactic. Is this the greatest thing we can find to say about Mordechai HaYehudi? The Ibn Ezra says this is indeed a great praise.

    Think of all the children and grandchildren that Mordechai had. Did each one turn out exactly like Mordechai would have wanted? If Mordechai would have wanted all his children and grandchildren to become Torah scholars, do we expect that is the way it would have worked out? Or, if he wanted them all to be expert businesspersons, do we expect that is the way it would turn out? Maybe there would be a black sheep in the family that became a scholar!

    And yet, he spoke in peace to all descendants. He was able to maintain a peaceful relationship with all his children and all his grandchildren. This, the Ibn Ezra tells us, is a great thing. Because of the natural fear that children have towards parents, it is not always true that there is a loving relationship between parents and children. Therefore if Mordechai could maintain such a relationship, this is indeed the highest accolade that the Torah can offer him.

    I think this is a great ethical lesson for us. We try to raise children, and we have certain ideals and standards of how we would like our children to be. It does not always turn out like that. But we should always strive to maintain a relationship where we can, at least, speak peacefully with all our offspring.

  17. Hillel says:

    The daughters are each extraordinary in their own way, yet all three articulated the desire for more time and connection with their fathers and felt that their fathers’ public position interfered with their own personal connection. Who’s to say if this is a fair complaint or not, or how (or if) this contributed to the daughters’ shift from their parents’ religious path. We also certainly saw genuine love and engagement on the part of the fathers with their daughters.

    For me, the film underscored that I need to make quality time with my children sacred, demonstrating presence in the moment. Even then, there may be things my children want from me that I am unable to give, or complaints and accusations for which I have no answers. By maintaining loving and engaged relationships each family gives itself the opportunity for future progress.

  18. Chardal says:

    Really Joe Hill? You really see no ethical distinction between stealing and say eating treif? If anything, recent history has shown that thieves are much more likely to be accepted in frum society than, say, mechalelei Shabbat.

  19. Daniel says:

    I find it curious that you conclude it couldn’t have been the parents’ fault simply because the parents love them. There is a lot more to parenting than loving, and indeed, love is the easiest and most natural part.

  20. yankel says:

    Joe, well said. Maybe our acceptance of OTD people reflects a lack of awareness as to the importance and absolute imperative of keeping Torah. maybe it shows a lack of commitment in our lives.

  21. L. Oberstein says:

    What possessed the parents to allow their pain and shame to become part of the public domain? Did they do it as a concession to their daughters, or did they hope for an even greater good? Could parents in the haredi world (where dropouts are no less prevalent) bare their souls the same way?So if you want to talk, when will you be ready to do so not on camera?” Or “You want us to accept you for whom you are. Can you accept us for who we are?”

    You pose very important questions. I think that the ansswers are also very important. I think the parents agreed to the filming in order to open up a dialogue with their children that did not exist. These young women deeply love their parents, it is very clear, but they are seeking whatever it is they are seeking, autonomy, identity, freedom from confined expectations and they deperately want their rabbi fathers to love them even though they are going against much of what their fathers teach their students. They don’t want to run away , break their ties and neither do the fathers. Bu talking on camera and not screaming, condemning or threatening to sit shiva, the fathers are trying to keep the ties that still bind them to their daughters.
    The chareidi world is much more afraid of shanda than the national religious world. My son in Netzach Yehudah knows a “chareidi” soldier whose mother will not let him enter the house in his uniform. If he wants to visit, he must find a place to change before entering. She is not only ashamed of him, she is afraid he will “shter” the status and shiduchim of the other members of the family. That is real and palpable. Very, very few yeshivish and chassidish parents whose children are addicts go to support groups because they are too ashamed for anyone to know the truth. The won’t go to a church meeting because they don’t want to go to a church and they won’t go to a shul meeting because someone may see them. If one child is not frum, what do you put on the resume? “He is in rehab”, “she is living with a goy.”
    I admire Rabbi Aviner and the others for their understanding and I am sure that any solid rav ,especially those who understand this generation will tell their baalebatim not to cut off children who question authority or who move out of the frum world. Most of the boys eventually return and I don’t know if it is so easy for the girls once they have strayed. It is heartbreaking but hiding it under the rug won’t help. There are very few support groups for orthodox parents whose chldren are no longer orthodox and that in itself is part of the problem.
    May all of us who are blessed with children succeed in keeping them within the fold and may Hashem give us all the wisdom to not do the wrong thing when faced with this family tragedy.

  22. lacosta says:

    i am struck by the 2 streams of comments here that can be boiled down to essentially 1] an approach of sakol yisakel –they should be stoned 2] a resignation that people live their lives and make their own choices. this classic tearing kriya approach of course means the end of that child’s relationship with familyand maybe judaism—but from the tone of the commenters , one fears they would recommend thee same approach if the child shifted from haredi to mizrachi…
    the 2nd approach is so modern , like every one gets to do their own thing, and you know quality control there’s always a bad apple but love it anyways—the problem is that opting out of a tora lifestyle is not like choosing another career choice—we have to see it as spiritual death….. but life and people are complicated…

    chas veshalom that any of us need to decide what to do with the religiously different child–>young adult–> independent adult—> and their family….

  23. Joe Hill says:

    “You really see no ethical distinction between stealing and say eating treif?”

    Chardal: No. Both are violations of the Torah.

  24. Shades of Gray says:

    “Maybe our acceptance of OTD people reflects a lack of awareness as to the importance and absolute imperative of keeping Torah”

    The question is what does “acceptance” mean?

    Two years ago, Hamodia had a supplement called “Kids of Hope”(Peasch 5770, available online), which included the following excerpt of an interview with the Noverminsker Rebbe:

    “Speaking of those who are already off the derech…Some recommend unconditional love; others disagree.”

    There are no absolutes.

    On one hand, the door should always be open. On the other hand, if maintaining an open door can cause damage to other children in the family, then, unfortunately, he’s not welcome at home. You can’t expect a family to welcome a child who will be desecrating Shabbos.

    These children should be given every opportunity to connect with their parents, and to be shown the love that parents feel for their children. But there are certain rules they have to obey and standards they have to meet. It’s not a one-way street.

    The love is always there. But there can be cases and times when, unfortunately, these children are not welcome at home. Hopefully, it will only be a minority of cases. In most cases, a child [can be] shown by parents, “The door is still open for you, we still care about you, we love you….” It’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

    There are no absolutes in this parashah. There are rules, but then there are exceptions. In general, in chinuch, there are no absolutes. You have to judge each situation individually.

    “In conclusion, what divrei chizuk can the Rebbe offer to the many families that are suffering?”

    What can I say? They have to try to maintain in some way, either personally or through mentors, communication with children who are already off the derech… and be mispallel for them, and ask for siyatta diShmaya. Tefillah is very important!

    We should be zocheh that all our children be ehrliche children, b’siyatta d’Shmaya.

  25. Emes L'Amito says:

    Hmmm. Lots of people commenting with some harsh words about this piece, calling it unworthy of publication. I wonder if they noticed that 1637 people recommended the piece via Facebook. Presumably, some/most of them “recommend” when they like the piece, not hate it. Maybe all of them are ignorant and stupid.

  26. deena says:

    it says that you need a password to view the video. does anybody have an idea what the password is?

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