I am Jewish, come from a religious family, I am married for over 10 years to a religious Jewish woman, and we have children. After being a skeptic for the past 2 years, I finally came out to my wife recently, and to some of my family/friends, but not all.

My wife wasn't happy about it, but accepts that I will not change. However, she made some "ground rules", such as I must attend synagogue, and I must not tell our children. She does not want our children to think that they have the option of becoming irreligious because she wouldn't accept that.

I wish I could speak honestly with my kids about it, and skip synagogue on the Sabbath, but I don't want to lose my wife and kids.

Do you guys think I should hold my ground, speak with my oldest kid (young teenager), skip synagogue, and take a chance of "escalating" the situation and loosing my family, or should I "fake it" to keep peace in the house?



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I would point out to her that the kids may come to the same conclusion that you did  ON THEIR OWN ... and what does she do about THAT?  There are plenty of younger members of A|N who have done so, and depending on their familial circumstances, have struggled mightily with their position in their families because of it.  Being dictatorial about a religious belief doesn't help her position here, and it's even worse on the kids.  They'll wonder which parent they dare talk to about their own questions and doubts, and the resulting potential for tension in the family ... well, I think it's pretty intuitively obvious, ain't it?

Sweeping this issue under the rug is no solution.  This wants some further discussion between you and your wife and, depending on the age of the kids, involving them as well.  Think about it: your wife effectively wants you to go back in the closet.  Is that really what you want to do?

I couldn't agree with Loren any more.  Making demanding ground rules only pits one parent against the other is only going to drive an unhealthy wedge between the two parents and between the adults and the children.  The kids need to grow up with parents who are willing to be honest and open with them in order to maintain any respect for you in the future.  Let the honesty of both parents allow the children's natural inclinations to take them where it leads them without fear of any type of backlash from the parents. 

"To thine own self be true."  --Shakespeare

You have a tough decision to make but why does she set the ground rules?  Your atheism is just as important to you as her religion is to her and respecting each others views and being honest with each other and your children should come first.  "Faking it" is not a solution it's just putting off the inevitable.  

100% there John.

I'd put it back on her as to why she is happy to force you to live a lie?

Clearly if you don't believe in her religion pretending to do so would be an affront to her god?

Also if her God and religion cant withstand some questioning then really is it worth defending?

Both of you together are responsible for raising the children. The interplay between her beliefs, and your lack of belief is a great opportunity for the kids to learn more about the world. There is a good chance that it will produce either stronger theists or stronger atheists. Either way you are likely to have happier kids.


I agree with John on this one. There's no reason that she should get to the lay the ground rules, as if you are the bad guy for trying to be honest. And continuing to go to church as if you are still a believer puts you into an uncomfortable position. I've done this myself before coming out, and it's not pleasant and makes you feel like a fraud. At some point I think you are going to have to take a stand. This might cost you your relationship, but no court is going to order that you can't see your kids based on a theological difference. Hopefully, it won't come to that.

Actually, I've heard stories about legal problems having to do with the fact that one spouse is an atheist while the other one is a believer, to the point where that consideration entered into negotiations for parental visitation rights.  The sad fact is that atheists ARE the last minority it's okay to discriminate against, though with intervention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, such problems MAY be resolved in favor of the atheist party.

Still, I agree that we don't want this situation to come to that.  How this is dealt with may depend to some degree on the age of the children and whether they are sophisticated enough to be able to comprehend the matter sufficiently.  With that as preamble, my attitude is simple: CARDS FACE UP.  If the kids are old enough to understand this issue for themselves, then they're old enough to choose whether they want to continue going to temple or not.  If they're NOT old enough, then they're being subjected to something which can potentially be construed as indoctrination ... because They Can't Fully Understand What They're Being Taught.  From where I sit, this is child abuse and utterly intolerable.

Am I taking a hard line about this?  Yes, I am, and with no apologies offered.

Also, just because you're not religious doesn't mean you have to give up the culture that goes with. A couple of friends of mine are a good example. He was raised reform jew, but he's an atheist... She was raised catholic, went pagan for awhile, and now is wanting to convert to judaism and is going through all the stuff that entails. When they have kids, the kids will be raised with the religion, but more for the cultural grounds than anything else. He doesn't hold back his opinion, so they will certainly hear what his opinion is on things. Are you sure your wife isn't more concerned about the cultural repurcussions versus any religious ones...? Sounds like you really need to have a heart to heart with her, because the way it is sounding, she's just talking defensively.. Get to the heart of the matter, and if she can't understand where you're coming from, you need to assess what's best from there...

Good luck.

I can understand your dilemma, Mordie, especially since in Israel the government has long ceded control of marriage and divorce to the religious authorities.

There are activists (see Hiddush) working on several fronts for Israel to fulfill the promise from its Declaration of Independence: "Israel ... will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion ... it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience...." -- but there's a long way to go!

When I was having doubts as a young teenager, I wish I could have talked to one of my parents about it. But I was under the impression that they were both very religious. Little did I know that my father was just faking because my mom told him to. I really wish he had been open about his atheism when I really needed somebody to talk to about it because that would have saved me a lot of pain and anxiety. That being said, I thought more about that kind of stuff than a person usually does at that age, so it comes down to whether or not you believe that your teenager is mature enough to be having those thoughts. If he is, then you should be there 

My parents did it right in that respect -- never pressuring me to become either religious or nontheistic. They were clear about their attitude that "the past should have a vote but not a veto", and that even when you see value in particular traditions, your own reasoning and intelligence have the final say.

(That's the opposite of the Orthodox Jewish perspective, as I understand it, that precedent is generally binding, that succeeding generations have less authority to make changes because they're further away from the revelation at Mount Sinai.)

You had some extraordinary parents in that respect, GC.  Such thinking is entirely too often the exception when it should be the rule ... and I think it shows off the detriment a lack of openness in a family can bring.

I hope Mordie can introduce a bit of that to his gang, because as he describes it now, I think trouble is on the horizon.

It's more than a little unfair to ask you to pretend to be something you're not, even worse that your wife is using the old "for the children!" excuse to try and force your hand.

My husband is a very casual Lutheran and has sometimes expressed an interest in going to church. I've always told him to go if it makes him happy, and take our daughter (8 months) if he wants to but I won't be joining him. When it comes to religious-themed activities regarding our daughter, we try to have a calm discussion about it (example: he wanted our daughter baptised. It's not something I agree with but it's pretty harmless so I said I didn't mind, but said I wouldn't let him put her through Confirmation). I guess the point is: there's no reason an atheist and a religious person can't have a good relationship, even with kids in the mix.

I definitely wouldn't be able to "fake it". It's possible your wife is just in shock and needs some time to realize that it's not the end of the world. Be supportive of her wanting to go to synagogue with the children, if that's what she wants. How old are your kids? If they're very young, they might not really understand what's going on and why but if they're old enough to ask questions then they should be a part of this too. Maybe have a family discussion about it so your wife doesn't feel railroaded?


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