Deciphering Off The Derech: Role of Siblings


By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA

Director: Jewish Professionals Institute Email

When a child in a Torah home starts to go off the Derech (OTD), it is usually found in the context of other regular non-rebelling children in the family facing this tough Nisayon (test) so that parents and the Rabbonim they consult will feel impelled to act to do something about their OTD child.

It stands to reason that if a family would have only one child and that child would be going OTD then the urgency of protecting other children would not apply. That one child would be given all the consideration, time, love, concern and counseling that the parents could afford to lavish on their one and only child who is the darling apple of their eye.

However most Frum families have more than one child, often they have many children, and when the OTD situation may CH”V start to creep in affecting one child out of a larger group of children in the home, then that “one” OTD child is diminished and viewed as a threat and “rodef” to the other children in that family.

Yet think about it, is not that OTD child with siblings that’s part of a larger family unit, a unique and special child that still remains as if he or she was the “ben yochid” or “bas yechida” of the parents struggling with this unenviable nisayon?

That is one part of the great dilemmas faced by parents grappling with the questions of what to do with their straying OTD child.

Sadly one hears that in Israel, children like this, known as “Shababnikim,” and OTD in the USA, have been thrown out of their homes or have voluntarily left because no way was found to treat them as that one special child deserving of the full understanding and love from their siblings and parents that every child deserves.

In such situations the role of siblings is crucial. They need to be educated and prepared to know how to deal with their “irregular” brother or sister. Just as with a special needs child, children are taught, and expected to respect and accept their special needs sibling as every effort is made to keep that child in the home and all the siblings are taught and guided both by professionals in the field and by mature parents to accept and deal with that special needs child, likewise the OTD “special needs” child needs to be provided for.

Only when special needs children are so weak that they cannot feed or eat unaided or if they are physically violent dangers to others are they put in special facilities but the love for them by their families is never lost. However, OTD kids often face harshness, hostility and rejection from their immediate families and made to feel like “Martians” and even sadly like “sub-humans” CH”V.

The same caring, sympathy and empathy needs to be applied to OTD children by siblings and all family members as if they were no different were they to be special needs kids. Parents should be encouraged to contact their nearest Kiruv organization and Kiruv rabbis, rebbetzins, Kiruv workers and volunteers to teach parents and siblings how use Kiruv techniques and try to be Mekarev the OTD child, or a child that looks like they are headed in the OTD direction.

People who work in Kiruv are the ideal “professionals” to be brought in that not only try to Mekarev the OTD child but to also educate siblings and family members as to what makes people reject Yiddishkeit and how to be Mekarev the Rechokim.

Wishing everyone a Freilichen Chanuka and may we hear Besuros Tovos only.

To be continued…



  1. um, so OTD kids don’t wanna be treated like “martians” but they appreciate being treated like “special needs kids?” I don’t think so. Frum parents should just accept their children the way they are. No otd’er was ever “mekareved” by their sibling or parent telling them how great the toirah is.

    • You sound like a disgruntled OTD’er. You miss the point that there is an existential threat posed by the OTD’er to his/her siblings and a balance must be struck between a parent’s love for all their children and protecting the neshamos of their frum children.


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