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Do I Have to Choose Between My Friends and My Beliefs?

Do I Have to Choose Between My Friends and My Beliefs?

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Dear Rachel,

I’ve gradually become religious over the last five or six years. Along the way, I’ve met new people and made new friends. I’m very happy with my life now and feel I made the right decision. The problem is that my old friends think I’m a fanatic. They say I can’t hang out with them anymore because a lot of the stuff they do includes eating nonkosher food, having parties on Shabbat and engaging in activities that don’t seem suitable to me anymore.

When I try and explain my point of view, they say I’m intolerant, and they cast all kinds of aspersions on religious Jews. If I say something against their secular lifestyle, they reply that I think only my beliefs are right and that I don’t respect anybody else’s. I’ve been very hurt by all this. Do I have to choose between my religious beliefs and my friends?

Fanatic

Dear Fantastic,

Think for a moment: If you were being offered a great job in another city, would you have to choose between your job and your friends? If you were getting married, would you have to choose between your spouse and your friends? If you decided to move to Israel, would you have to choose between your aliyah and your friends? The answer to all these questions is “yes” (at least partially).

Life is dynamic. Any change we make brings about changes in our attitudes, feelings, beliefs and priorities, which will affect our relationships with other people who haven’t gone through the same experiences.

The more drastic a change we make in our lives, the harder it will be for people who shared our previous lifestyle to understand it and even accept it, since it is a rejection (however subtle) of the life they decided to keep.

But this particular lifestyle choice may be especially difficult for your friends to accept. They feel that you perceive your beliefs as right and theirs as wrong. And in order to defend themselves, they call you a fanatic. Nobody wants to feel on the wrong side of G‑d, truth or life’s ultimate purpose.

So here are a few tips to maintain your friendships:

1. Don’t lecture, criticize or judge. When a person becomes religious and “sees the light,” there is a tendency to want everyone else to see it, too. That doesn’t help relations with people who are trying to adjust to the new you and not feel judged.

I once attended an event held in the studio of a nonreligious Jew. As I left after the program, I instinctively reached up to the mezuzah, but it wasn’t there. When I asked the owner why there wasn’t a mezuzah, she became defensive. A little while later, someone brought her a beautiful mezuzah as a gift and helped her put it up. She was very happy, gracious, grateful and not the least bit resistant. While I made her feel attacked and judged, this other woman made her feel cared about.

2. Find common ground. Think of ways you can spend time together that everyone can enjoy. For example, invite your friends over for a Shabbat meal. Good food, good company, and perhaps a few l’chaims are a nonthreatening way to show them the beauty of your lifestyle without encroaching on theirs.

3. Show the love. Your friends need to see that becoming religious has not changed you into a judgmental, condescending person, but rather has helped you become a more accepting, loving person. Do what you can to be there for your friends when they need you, and they’ll see you’ve changed—but for the better.

There’s nothing quite as valuable as old friends who knew you back when. That being said, if you’ve tried the above tips and you still feel that your friends are rejecting you for who you are now, it may be time to let go. A really good and loyal friend wouldn’t ask you to choose between your beliefs and your friendships.

On the whole, you’ll find that the old friends you keep are the ones who, like you, have evolved and changed and grown in a similar direction. And like you said, you’ve also made new friends. Our friends reflect our transformations, and we draw new people into our lives as we recreate and renew ourselves.

King Solomon told us to learn from the wisdom of animals. Lobsters grow new shells and shed their old ones to accommodate their growth. They do this throughout their lives as they continue to constantly grow. During this process, they are very vulnerable.

Growth implies vulnerability and change. You may feel that you underwent changes slowly and gradually, but perhaps the best indication that you are a different person is the fact that your friends view you as such.

And that may just be a cause for celebration, not remorse.

Keep growing and evolving in Torah, and be the best lobster—er, person—you can be!

Rachel

Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer originally from Montreal living in Israel.
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David Stevens February 23, 2017

Why not talk to me, since you've include this person as an annoyance whom there's no joy in talking..? Once you've tried having a conversation, it might change that opinion of yours. I could be a blessing to you. Reply

Barbie San Diego May 31, 2016

When I have dinner with an abstinent alcoholic, I do not mind his avoiding wine. And he does not mind if I order wine.
He eats as he needs to eat, and I eat as I need to eat.
Similarly, I do not order shrimp or pork or, for that matter, any meat at all. I order a fruit plate. If s/he orders pork or shrimp, s/he does not need to apologize. S/he eats what s/he needs and I eat what I need.
Can your friends not do the same with you?
Or, can you cook a delicious lunch and invite them on Sunday?
Why must everybody be the same?
Gd loves variety. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI February 27, 2016

Having to Choose Between Friends and Religion Your friends believe you alienated them when you became religious, and they're not entirely wrong. They believe you made yourself "off-limits," so they decided not to be your friends anymore. It's sad and unfortunate, but real friends accept each other's decisions, whether they like them or not.

When people make drastic changes in their lives, it can upset their friends and family. This is especially true with the kosher dietary laws. Everywhere you go there's food, and people on special diets can't always have normal relationships because they can't and/or won't eat with other people.

If you're happy being religious, that's okay, but you'll need to say goodbye to your old friends for not accepting your decisions.

Reply

miriam Madison wi December 9, 2015

I prefer the word "observant" to "religious". Reply

Vee December 8, 2015

If I may...
I am on my way to conversion, eating kosher, dressing modestly, respecting shabbat and going to shul, celebrating all the holidays (great and small) and it's not always easy. One really good friend invited me to her church potluck. I declined and say that I would not go to church, it's not appropriate and to respect my choice. She's been pouting for 2 weeks, is leaving tomorrow for 3 weeks and has not gotten back to me, though she said she ABSOLUTELY had to see me before her departure for Florida. It's hard sometimes. Other friends understand, text me or voicemail me "Good Shabbat" though they know I can't answer. It's their way to tell me they think of me even if I can't answer yet. Try to make the best of it. Reply

Sylvia U.K. December 8, 2015

King Solomon King Solomon, really gets to the point. It is a matter, sometimes, of out growing the past and seeing the reality of the world.

Some people are happy in their shell, even though it is uncomfortable and they need to adjust to remain inside the shell.

When you draw close to HaShem the world changes, you change and your spiritual growth needs space. Reply

Hanalah Houston December 7, 2015

Other ways to lose old friends...or maybe avoid losing them Overindulging in fattening foods may mean that most of our friends are also overweight. When we join, say, Overeaters anonymous, we may become more physically fit. When we go to the movies with our old friends, they may be envious and may feel rebuked by our new look. They may resent us. If we go out to eat with them, and we eat differently than they do, they may feel especially rebuked or call us fanatic.

You may want to invite your old friends to a dinner some time OTHER than Shabbos. They may be so resentful by now that the very idea of any Jewish observance is offensive to them. But if you simply invite them to a delicious Sunday meal, they may realize that they can eat your food and enjoy it without seeing you as "fanatic". And if you agree with them on other topics, and discuss those topics together, they may feel you are still the same basic person they always knew and loved.

Good luck! Reply

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