"She doesn’t have Internet, so she comes to your ‘treif’ house to use yours?"
I have a dear friend (we’ll call her Ahuva because to me she truly is!) who has unintentionally put me into a very uncomfortable position.
Ahuva doesn’t have any internet access, and at some point during the COVID lockdown she asked me if she could come do some shopping on my computer. It was a reasonable request, and of course I said yes. Slowly she began coming over more often, and I saw what a huge help it was for her.
She and her husband are on an extremely tight budget, and with three little ones it was a real boon for her to be able to order summer clothes for herself and her kids on Ali and other cheap sites, paying for all her purchases the amount she would have paid for one item in the local stores. She was also in middle of moving apartments, and rather than shlep around town to Lowe’s and Home Depot and Target for hours, she was able to order household items and the like all from the comfort of a laptop while her kids played with mine.
Very often I’d leave Ahuva in my apartment to do her thing, and she’d just lock up when she was done, but sometimes I was home and we’d have coffee and schmooze while she shopped, checked her emails, and occasionally surfed the frum news or lifestyle websites.
“You don’t mind being her Shabbos goy?” My sister, who was once visiting while Ahuva was doing Yom Tov shopping, asked me afterward.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Well, she doesn’t have Internet, so she comes to your ‘treif’ house to use yours? Does her husband even know that she spends all this time online?”
“First of all,” I responded with more than a tinge of indignation, “you’re throwing together completely separate issues. Second of all, it’s totally none of your business! Come to think of it, it’s not my business either. I have no problem with helping Ahuva out, she’s doing nothing wrong, and I think it’s inappropriate for you to even bring it up.”
My sister shrugged in a “suit yourself” kind of way and never mentioned it again. For my part, no, I didn’t mind being Ahuva’s “Shabbos goy” as my sister so crudely termed it. My computer is filtered, Ahuva wasn’t going onto any objectionable sites, and if I could save her literally hundreds of dollars and precious time, I had no issue with it.
Sure, sometimes she got caught up in frum videos and clips and comments on websites, but that was her business. She never took advantage, was always careful to come at convenient times, and even bought me a really nice gift Erev Yom Tov to thank me.
It was this past Pesach that shifted things. Before Yom Tov Ahuva came to shop on Amazon, Ali, etc., and hung out a little longer, checking her emails, forwarding funny clips and memes, and checking recipes on frum women’s sites.
Then she began to tell me how her husband preferred to pay double to shop in stores rather than have someone order something for him online, and how even though he was willing to do a lot of the running around so she shouldn’t have to, she didn’t agree. In fact, she told me, he had no idea that she had been shopping online all this time!
“How can that be?” I asked, incredulous. “Doesn’t he see your credit card statement?”
“No, he doesn’t really look at them,” she said casually. “He pays the bill, or I do… but I do all the shopping in the house and he’s not checking statements. He never asked and I never told him, and he’s not home during the day when packages come. But I’m not doing anything wrong, and what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. I’m doing what I need to do.”
I was floored. Call me naïve, call me innocent, call me dumb. It never dawned on me that someone would do this behind her spouse’s back — or anything behind a spouse’s back, for that matter! What in the world?!
I was extremely shaken up by this conversation. The next time she came over I walked her to the door as she was leaving.
“Ahuva, you know I’m your best friend, I love you like a sister, and I’d do anything for you. But something about what’s going on… I’m not so comfortable with it. I was happy for you to use my computer for the past year because it helped you out so much, but I didn’t realize it was all behind your husband’s back. Now that I know it is… it just seems off. I wish you’d figure this out with him and not sneak around.”
Ahuva looked at me for a moment and then shrugged. “This is just the way it is,” she said. “Different dynamics in every relationship. You tell your husband what you ate for lunch every day, I don’t. Your husband asks you if you think he should buy a new tie, mine doesn’t.
“This is how I operate. If you don’t want me using your computer, I get it, and I won’t. I’ll find someone else.”
I’m left feeling confused and uncomfortable. Should I tell her she can’t use my computer? Is it my place? I wonder what I will accomplish: Am I punishing her for doing something behind her husband’s back? Why is that my business? It won’t change anything, because she’ll go elsewhere. There is truly nothing I can do about the fact that she and her husband don’t see eye to eye on certain things. It doesn’t seem to bother her; she seems to be genuinely happy and has never indicated that there was friction in her marriage. This is just their dynamic, and it’s not mine to understand. I’m afraid that if I ask her to go elsewhere nothing about her situation will change, but something will shift in our friendship, as I become the holier-than-thou mussar-giver, which I never have been and don’t want to be!
On the other hand, as a friend, I really do think she is doing something wrong, and if I ignore it, what kind of friend am I?
Rabbi Ilan Feldman is the rav of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, Georgia. The families who are part of his vibrant, dynamic community regularly turn to Rav Feldman to receive his wise counsel on both halachic and interpersonal issues.
Before we begin, let’s clarify that we assume that in this case there is no monetary halachic issue that would arise from a situation where a wife is spending money in a way that her husband does not allow. This would be halachically forbidden and would turn this into a different question altogether. Assuming that he simply doesn’t know (but might possibly find out) I will address the broader issue of friendship, which is the question posed here.
You’re clearly a good and loyal friend, and a thoughtful one at that. Ahuva, as you call her, has a need, and gets a real benefit from what you are providing. You are not giving her access to anything of a prohibited or unsavory nature. But she’s accessing the Internet while her husband doesn’t want her to, and you are being asked to be an accessory to her secret shopping. Though this activity is not up to you to report to her husband, it feels as if you are helping her sneak around his wishes.
Let’s change the circumstances for a moment and see if it helps clarify something. Suppose, instead of shopping on the Internet against her husband’s wishes, Ahuva was secretly shopping in person at Target while her husband objected, and she needed you to provide a ride to the store, or to borrow your car.
Would you have the same dilemma? I suspect you would, because it’s not the use of the Internet that is the problem; it’s the secrecy from her husband that concerns you.
When supporting a friend, it’s useful to distinguish between the friend’s unwise and perhaps even ill-fated behavior on the one hand, and prohibited behavior on the other. A friend should never be asked to be an accessory to prohibited behavior — that forces someone to give up their own principles in the interest of maintaining a friendship. Friendship should never require compromising who you are.
I realize that in this case she’s not wandering into prohibited activity on the Internet and shows no interest in that. If it ever did come to that, given your relationship of general trust and friendship, you would be obligated to lovingly but firmly call it to her attention, telling her that you can only continue to share your computer if she commits to exclusively proper use, and letting her know that you feel violated when your generosity is used to counter Hashem’s wishes.
Though I agree with your sentiment that keeping secrets or not sharing pieces of one’s life with a spouse is unhealthy and puts the quality of the marital relationship at risk, what’s going on here is not a violation of principle.
You have done what a good friend should do when she sees unhealthy behavior: Call it to the other’s attention in a straightforward and respectful manner. But, as a friend, you’re not required to attempt to control her behavior by withdrawing assistance.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 746)
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