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God's Will, Our Relationships: Do Religious Commands Ever Yield to Interpersonal Needs?

God's Will, Our Relationships

A new 6-part series with Rabbi Ethan Tucker

Mondays, 11/4 - 12/9, 7:00-8:30 PM

Yeshivat Hadar, 190 Amsterdam Avenue
$25 for the series in advance/$10 per two-lecture unit in advance/$10 per lecture at the door


Families are one of the most fundamental units of human life. Our parents raise us, our spouses share an adult life with us, and our extended relatives often define our sense of home and identity. More broadly, our friends ground our most basic interpersonal experiences and it can be hard to understand ourselves outside of these relationships.

Yet, in an open, pluralistic society that emphasizes romantic love, we often cannot assume aligned observance in even our most intimate and defining relationships. When our commitments to observance and our relationships conflict, how should we proceed? Are interpersonal dynamics of little or no religious consequence, such that the mitzvot must always trump the facts of our social reality, even at the price of destroying relationships? Or do relationships have their own religious gravity, around which the time and space of halakhah is necessarily and obviously distorted?

Should we think of relationships as fixed points that need to be accommodated irrespective of our potentially idiosyncratic covenantal commitments? Or are true relationships ones that start from a place of deeply internalizing the convictions of the other and are false or destructive when they do not?

Join us for this 6-part series as we explore these questions in depth through interactive learning.

Filial Loyalty and Divine Commands (November 4 and 11)

What do we do when parents expect things of us that the Torah forbids? Are these competing claims that must be balanced, or does one override and overwhelm the other? When is it permitted or required to disrespect a parent in order to be faithful to the Torah? And is it ever permitted to violate Jewish law in order to honor one's parent? Does the command to honor one's parents presume that they are good people generally worthy of honor? Are sinners also worthy of this privilege granted by the Torah? More broadly: is our respect for our parents just a subset of our commitment to a worthy society or is it a value in its own right?

Sinning Spouses and Strained Marriages (November 18 and 25)

In these two weeks we will explore a range of texts surrounding marriages divided by religious practice. Some rabbinic sources speak directly and harshly about contexts where marriages must be dissolved because a spouse refuses to observe a basic element of Jewish practice. Other texts speak passionately about the profound power of the marital relationship and the need to preserve it even at serious religious cost. We will try to develop a vocabulary for thinking about these issues from a rabbinic perspective, particularly in a world in which people may meet and connect deeply before they have sorted out their religious commitments.

Family and Friends (December 2 and 9)

Parents and spouses are central and powerful figures in many of our lives. But there are so many others who define our social behavior and commitments. Any observant Jew has had many experiences where a mitzvah or traditional practice has created discomfort or even enmity with family members and close friends. Moving beyond the parent- and spouse-specific sources we focused on for the first part of this series, we will see if halakhah has language for grappling with the occasional unpleasantness of observant life. When must we grin and bear the awkwardness of observance in a pluralistic world? Are there ever cases where interpersonal concerns affect the implementation of halakhah?