My sister and her husband, whom I’ll call Sam, keep kosher, inside and outside the house. Recently my husband went to a sports bar with Sam and was surprised when Sam ordered the (un-kosher) chicken wings. He asked my husband not to tell anyone, especially me or my sister. Thankfully, my husband and I don’t keep secrets from one another and now I am seriously torn. I’m put out by my brother-in-law’s farce and the trouble I take to respect his family’s kosher lifestyle while he breaks the rules. Should I tell my sister? — G.S. in Oakland
Dear G.S.: This is a bit of a kosher (or not) pickle. Your question has less to do with kashrut than with family dynamics and secret-keeping. As in most matters, especially ones affecting other people, Mensch believes in having as much information as possible before taking action.
Is Sam partaking in a “farce,” as you put it, or was this a momentary lapse? Everyone breaks the rules now and then, and a bite of the wrong chicken wing seems fairly harmless in isolation. However, keeping secrets from intimate friends and family can be destructive, and your husband might let Sam know that he is uncomfortable being asked to do so.
As for you, Mensch can understand your feelings of hurt and betrayal. You have gone out of your way to respect your sister’s family and you have cause to consider Sam’s duplicity as something of an affront. However, since family harmony seems important to you (and kudos for that), you may want to tread lightly.
A prudent approach might be to keep this whole thing to yourself in the hope that it was an isolated incident. But if Sam continues to act in ways that compromise your ability both to respect his integrity and be honest with your sister, you might want to speak with him. His actions have made it your right to do so.
My sister is pregnant with her first child, a boy, and she and her husband, both of whom are Jewish, are leaning toward not circumcising their son. Our parents are fully expecting to attend a bris in three months when the baby is born and will be absolutely crushed, and possibly quite angry, if my sister and her husband forgo this most sacred of Jewish traditions. My husband and I have circumcised our two boys; how will they react to an uncircumcised cousin? — Beth, San Francisco
Dear Beth: I have two words for you: Mazel tov. The arrival of a new baby is a cause for joy and congratulations.
But of course Mensch understands your concern. As you know, the circumcision of a newborn baby boy is something most Jews believe to be commanded in the Torah and an absolutely critical rite of passage into Jewish life. But there are others, not necessarily less Jewish in their spirit, who balk at imposing a painful, elective surgical procedure on a week-old infant.
The question for Mensch is, why are you so invested in your sister’s choice? You have made your choices concerning your children, you parents made theirs, and your sister and brother-in-law have an absolute right to their own. Not only that, it would be quite sad if their son does not have the unconditional support of his auntie and grandparents.
Your boys likely will follow your lead. Everyone looks a little different and every Jew has his or her own relationship with God and the traditions of Judaism. You need not worry about your decision or about how your parents and your sons might react to it. If they do choose not to circumcise, it’s not necessarily the end of the story, and you have an opportunity to set an example for them all.