Question: I’m Jewish. My daughter is 17 years old, but was mostly raised by her Christian grandparents. Now she is living with me. She has interest in Judaism, and has expressed difficulty in believing Christian doctrine. I’ve told her more about Judaism, but she is afraid of doing any Jewish practices, such as lighting the Shabbat candles. She even referred to that as a “Jewish sacrament,” and she’s confused. Any advice?
I think a full answer should cover two points: What she feels, and what a ‘sacrament’ is.
Part 1: We need to look at this situation through her eyes: Seventeen years old is pretty old for a kid. She’s almost an adult. If she is unwilling to do something as simple as lighting a Shabbat candle, that’s telling us – because of the way that she was raised – she is not ready for taking on even minor Jewish observances at this time. There is not much that one can directly (“Light the candles”, “Now learn Hebrew and come to services each week,”) but there is so much that you could do for her through exposure and role-modeling:
Include Jewish art and music in her home; as you listen to the music, or put up the art, involve her in a conversation.
Have her just be there with you when you light the Shabbat or holiday candles, and when light the havdalah candle after Shabbat. Just seeing how ritual Judaica is a normal part of your life has an impact.
Go to events from the local Jewish community, including the occasional shorter prayer service (Friday evenings.) Bring her as a guest, and let her know that she is not obligated to participate or believe, but that since she is family, you would like her to be there with you.
Once a week, show her one of the Jewish books in your home; spend a few minutes talking with her about it.
Eat Jewishly, instead of eating secularly. Learn about the spiritual practice of kashrut, and begin to incorporate some elements of that in to your home. She can eat how she wants outside of the house, but just note that within your home, your kitchen follows your rules. (And not as a punishment!) The idea of keeping kosher – to any extent – is that we are developing a daily spiritual practice.
Slowly, over the course of the next year or two, she will then gets lots of exposure to Jewish ideas, books, events and services, and she may choose to become more involved.
Part 2 – In Christian theology, a sacrament is a hugely important bridge between God and humanity, which can only be done by a priest. This includes things like the Eucharist.
Judaism also had sacraments connecting God and mankind that could only be done by our priestly tribe, the Kohanim, in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But we don’t do any of those mitzvot anymore since the destruction of the Temple.
Most ritual observances that Jewish people engage in today do not rise to that level, and thus would be Ok for her to do. The closest that we have to sacraments would be communal actions in which one is not allowed to participate unless one is Jewish and affirms specifically the Jewish faith exclusively. These actions include
* Wearing a tallit for morning prayers
* Wearing tefillin for weekday morning prayers
* reading from the Torah
* Being a shaliaḥ tzibbur (cantor, hazzan) the one who is leading the congregation in prayer.
However, even non-Jewish people can participate to some extent in communal Jewish worship, without engaging in any of these almost sacrament-like actions. All the more reason for someone who is Jewish, but who wasn’t raised as a Jew. For instance, even non-Jewish guests at a synagogue may
* cover one’s head with a kipa, hat, shawl, etc.
* attend a synagogue service
* read and sing from the siddur (some prayers are said in English, others are offered in transliteration.)