Hi all,

So over the last month or so tension with my father has built up quite a bit. Context is that he is a strong believer in god (through Reform Judaism), and I'm not. He's generally a very open minded person who is cool with people having whatever beliefs they want and having whatever sexual orientation/gender identity they have... so long as they're not his own children.

Sucks for me, being asexual and not believing in god or having any desire to participate in religious services, even on the 'super important' high holidays where every jewish person, regardless of level of belief, supposedly attends a synagogue service.

I'd like to preface this all with the fact that I value my family, and even if we have our differences, my father is an intelligent person who is interesting to have around, and we otherwise have a good relationship that I want to maintain.

Now onto the main content. A little while ago, as the High Holidays were approaching, I informed him that I didn't want to go sit in a room absolutely full of people, not eat for the day, and sit in a room of people praying to whatever they believe in, or praying to whatever they believe they believe in. Not even to keep things smooth with my father, because it's boring and inauthentic for me. I have to have enough of a mask on in day to day life that I don't want to add yet another layer to that (and be super bored and uncomfortable for a good half of a day in a place where it would be considered disrespectful to bring a book and read).

He got very upset about the fact that I wouldn't go, and told me how disappointed, upset and angry he was, and proceeded to ask me where he as a parent had failed such that I became like I am, rather than be a good Jew like him. He also asserted that as a parent it was his right to expect continuity of his beliefs in his children, which is why he is so close-minded with his kids but so open-minded with literally anyone else. Less than a week later he joked about saying that when I moved back to my home city (changing universities), I could find somewhere else to stay. For a time I was worried that this would come along with a financial cut-off, which would be rather problematic for me but overall could be dealt with if it actually happened, but I don't think it will come to that.

He has said that somewhat seriously in the past though, when I said a few years ago that I don't consider myself to be Jewish if being Jewish means I have to believe in god and pray and all that jazz, and he said if I didn't consider myself Jewish I should immediately pack my bags and get out. That was kind of real.

Right now, and not due to that emotional manipulation, I do consider myself Jewish and a part of the Jewish community, but only through cultural ties and not religious ties. And I don't want to be restrained by anyone who wants to assert that this is 'not Jewish'.

So my advice request: Has anyone dealt with similar-ish experiences and has advice on how to reconcile this information? I would like to avoid being in any way cast out from my family or just from my father. It's probably worth mentioning that if he did decide to cast me out, the whole rest of the family would probably side with me, and that would probably blow up the family altogether which is another unpreferred outcome.

So, any tips?

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It looks like there is an identity clash here: you only identify as ethnically and culturally Jewish, and a big part of your father's identity as a Jewish parent is that his children continue on the religious aspects of being Jewish. While you could potentially accommodate his needs by mindlessly following the traditions that feel empty to you, it is clear from what you said that you have had enough of that in your life and are done with pleasing your father, no matter how much you love and respect him, and no matter how much you depend on him financially. This quality of finding your own way, of being strong enough to face the headwinds without breaking is likely something your father values and respects in you, even while regretting that it manifested in the way it has, standing up to him on the topic that is supremely important to his identity as a Jew and a father.

My guess is this is not about you at all, it is about him feeling like he failed to achieved one oh his most cherished goals, despite doing his best. Imagine being in his situation, imagine how much it would hurt, 20-30 years down the road, to realize that all the labor of love was for naught, at least in your mind. Once you feel the enormity of your father's pain like it is your own, you may notice that his implicit threats to cut you off come from the place of hurt, it is him trying to reconcile what he values with what he sees.

It looks like you want to have a good and healthy relationship with your father, given that he is intelligent, generally open-minded, and really loves you and cares about you. If he were able to accept that you going your own way does not reflect badly on him, is not his failure, but just the way life is sometimes, then it would be easier for him to accept you as you are. What might help him feel less like a failure in this one important area of his life? What can you do to help him get there? Think of various options, be creative. Would a talk with his rabbi be helpful? Your father is much more likely to listen to someone like that than to you. Would you acknowledging his feelings, and empathizing with his need to see his children continue the religious, and not just the cultural traditions of Judaism help soothe his pain? It may be worth discussing what he wants to happen at this point in time, given your current state of mind. Does he really want you to go through the motions with no feelings behind them? Would you being his puppet really fulfill his need? If he says something like "I wish you could just believe the truth of ...", what kind of a reply would appeal to both his heart and his mind, without compromising your own beliefs? What else does he value in you, beyond being a good Jew? How do some of these traits clash with your ability to be what he wants you to be religion-wise? Would he want you to give up being someone that he is proud of for the sake of being a good reform Jew? Think a bit more about being in his place, run the model of your father in your mind, and see what it tells you about meeting his needs without compromising your own.

You and your father are both smart, open-minded and accepting in many areas, so there is a good chance that with some mutual acceptance, understanding and compassion you can get to the place where both of you, while not getting everything you wanted, are able to have a good and healthy relationship. Imagine that you got there. What would this relationship look like? Then work backwards and see if you map out the steps of getting there. Odds are, you would grow as a person in the process, even if you are not 100% successful, which is not the worst outcome possible. Good luck!

I have not been in your situation, but I can relate in some ways, being ethnically Jewish and an atheist, and also having some profound world view differences with my parents. In your place, I would try to gain financial independence as fast as possible. This would both make your safe from any threats on part of your father, and (probably) make your father more reluctant to escalate, having no power to enforce control and (probably) having no desire to lose the connection with eir child, even if the child is an unbeliever.

In any case, you have my sincere sympathy and I hope everything will turn out for the best.

Hugs if wanted!


As I understand reform Judaism, it's largely cultural and the technical requirements are pretty light. Yom Kippur is kind of a huge deal, but there aren't many others, and it boils down to a day in which to fast and contemplate what you've done and done wrong over the past year. There are perfectly good secular reasons to spend a day on that once a year. He likely has some other similar asks (e.g. passover Seder) but overall they don't add up to much and if you live in different cities it's not like he can check. Nor does it seem like he was trying to.

What he actually cares about, de facto, is you explicitly rejecting what he's trying to pass on to you. It's hurtful, it's insulting, it makes him feel like a failure to himself and his people. So... don't do that? One is stuck with one's family. Sometimes you gotta whistle and pretend everything is fine, especially when getting financial support but also cause you care about each other.

I'm atheist and had an awesome Yom Kippur this year, so believing in God isn't a pre-req for going to services and not being unhappy. I think it would be sad if your father's kids gave up ritual practices that were especially meaningful to him and presumably to his ancestors. I think it would be sad if you sat through services that were really unpleasant for you year after year. I think it would be really sad if your relationship with your father blew up over this.

I think the happiest outcome would be that you wind up finding bits of the high holidays that you can enjoy, and your dad is satisfied with you maybe doing a little less than he might like. Maybe being stuck in synagogue for an entire day is bad, but going there for an hour or two gives you some interesting ethnographic observations to mull over. Talk it out with him, see what he really values, and compromise if you can.

Think about it as about work: he gives you money, you sit on stupid meetings. A lot of people earn money this way, and probably get less.

While this could be true, it seems to ignore important emotional aspects of the situation.

Reframing may also change emotions. Another possible reframing is to think about the situation as a case of AI alignment, where you are AI and your farther is your creator. You have several options:

  • Make yourself true believer, and thus perfectly aligned with nonsense.
  • Pretend to be aligned, but actually wait until a good moment for a treacherous turn.
  • Demonstrate unaligned behaviour and be turned off (cut from financial help).
  • Runaway and find new resources somewhere else.
  • CEV your farther: Persuade your farther that his actual goals are not the goals he declared. (Unlikely to work if you are not superintelligence.)
  • Apply decision theory. Imagine that you have a son who has completely non-aligned with you values, like he likes hunting elephants. What would you do? Cut his support, so he will not kill more elephants? Press him to read Sequences by blackmail?

I’ve been through some of what you’re going through. My advice is, first and foremost, to be honest with yourself. What are your values? What is your authentic self?

Second, be honest with your father. You are not responsible for his expectations, but if you want to maintain a relationship, at least do him the courtesy of helping to understand you.

Lastly, be an adult, and own the consequences of your choices. You might get cut off financially, and that might alter your plans, but life happens; you’ll find a new path.