Thursday, February 10, 2005

Leaving It Behind

How does one go from being a fully committed Jew to one who doesn't really care much about halacha or a torah life? I often find myself asking that very question (to myself). Back in yeshiva we were told that the route to becoming "frei" is a result of any of a variety of subtle triggers:
  1. the yetzer hara convincing us to sin; giving in to our base impulses
  2. our minds rationalizing how our transgressions are really no big deal
  3. allowing ourselves to be put in potentially compromising situations
  4. not following our rabbeim and gedolim
  5. not learning enough torah
  6. stepping on to the slippery slope (I suppose all of the above could be examples of that)
All these rationales seek to place the blame of choosing such a path on the individual themselves. Those who believe these are the reasons for a person "going off" usually see the torah way of life as very fulfilling, consistently true, appropriate for everyone, and not in any way in need of any critical evaluation or adjustment. To their eyes, any person who "strays" from this path must obviously be making a mistake, either by having gotten "farkrumpt"(corrupted) somehow, or otherwise by knowingly choosing to abandon principles of right and wrong in order to "give in to their yetzer hara".

Those may well be legitimate explanations for the phenomenon of people choosing to leave the traditional way of life. No doubt there were many times that when faced with the "do what I think is right vs. do what I want" dilemma I willingly chose the path of self-indulgence and then rationalized it away after the fact. Admittedly, that may well have had some affect on my overall torah commitment. (Actually I have no idea if it did. But I also have no idea if it didn't, so I won't rule it out.)

But there are other catalysts at play which I believe are more deserving of attention. I can think of other, more honest and more genuine reasons why people choose to step out of the seemingly warm, comfortable and secure world of frumkeit to one so foreign and unfamiliar.

Looking back on my own journey of transition, I can clearly identify a variety of factors that were instrumental in the weakening of my allegiance and devotion to a committed torah life (in no particular order):
  1. Frustration that I was not allowed to pursue activities and experiences which were enjoyable and meaningful to myself. And the opposite:
  2. Being forced to constantly engage in activities which I found boring, meaningless, and even painful (and even being taught that I must be devoted to it and enjoy it!).
  3. Engaging in innocuous activities, but because they have been characterized as unkosher, feeling guilty about it and reinforcing the self-image of a transgressor.
  4. Witnessing hypocrisy, lies and injustice perpetrated in the name of Torah, halacha, and Yiddishkeit.
  5. Being made to feel second-class.
  6. Not being allowed to freely express my true feelings and views about many issues.
  7. The constant and endless harping about so many trivial and irrelevant halachos and issues as if they were the most important issues of life.
  8. Discovering that certain basic tenets of Jewish life and thought might not really be as true as I was led to believe; that facts, history, and even torah were being distorted to further an agenda.
  9. Realizing that those charged with my upbringing (family members, rabbis, teachers) made decisions which were far from being in my best interests because they felt that a proper frum upbringing demanded that such a path be taken.
  10. When I realized that the trust I had in the torah system may be a bit unfounded.
  11. When I came to the conclusion that I was just not going to be happy living a typically frum, torah lifestyle.
These are all general categories, each of which has myriad examples, some trivial, others more significant. All of which probably contributed in some way to my loyalty to frumkeit being reduced to a mere echo of it's previous commitment.

It's obvious that the above listed items are primarily emotional issues. Despite what led some others to renounce their ties to Yiddishkeit I freely admit that the primary impetus for my departure from the chareidi world was not due to any deep intellectual convictions. True, there definitely were other issues along the way which had some influence on my choices (some of the more intellectual type) but I think it's fair to classify my "rebellion" as mainly an emotional response. (Although, as is often the case in these situations, I probably felt it neccessary to legitimize my decisions by pointing at the intellectual issues.)

Since exiting the chareidi world and the koslei beis medrash, I've been exposed to many ideas and views on life other than the typical frum ones, and I have heard many opinions and intellectual arguments which seem to undermine much of the foundations of frumkeit. A lot of it is quite convincing. I've also heard some more solid arguments for the cause of Torah than I was previously aware of. At this point there's a whole mess of ideas and opinions within me vying for my attention and allegiance. Some trying to convince me why so much of my former life is so wrong and not worth paying any more attention to and some pleading with me not to make the biggest mistake of my life. Much of it is quite intriguing, but actually, the simple truth is that I really don't care too much whether it's true or not. What I do care about is to live a meaningful, fulfilling, enjoyable life, filled with as much goodness, love, enrichment and happiness as I can, and as devoid of pain, pettiness, shallowness, and injustice as possible. Something like that.

In the next installment (which hopefully won't take 3 weeks to compose), I'll try to explain how this is all relevant to something I'm going through now.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your views completely. You get alot of Rabonim who try to intellectualize/guilt you into agreeing with them. And yes they might be smarter than you and the arguments and logic gets you tangled up. On their terms and turf - thats what happens. They cannot conceive of anyone being being happy or fulfilled or decent if they are not from a frum background.

Frum does not work for everyone. Some pple get their kicks by saying the whole tehilim every day. Others are enraptured with how to check what goes into their mouth.

Shul doesnt do it for me, never did, never will. I believe in G-d like most people on this planet , but not according to someone else's ridiculous terms and dictates.

Isaac, Translate This! said...

How does one go from being a fully committed Jew to one who doesn't really care much about halacha or a torah life?Funny thing, H, I commented on some of the things you touched on on Shtreimel's 'blog, wondering aloud if the mindset of "I've had 'bad' thoughts or done 'bad' things, therefore I'm 'bad' and either need to fight an impossible battle to become 'un-bad'" actually sows the seeds of destruction in the minds of some "frum" people.

It never ceases to amaze me the way the "frum" community uses language ("off the derech," "burnt out," "meshumad," etc.) to pathologize anyone who entertains a slightly different way of life.

Finally, who's to say that someone who does not follow Torah or halachah can't in his/her own way be a "fully committed Jew?" Besides, have you committed murder today? Have you teamed an ox and a donkey? Did you sleep with another man's wife? (please say "no," please say "no," please say "no"...)



Ahin Ahe'r with your justifications a godol told me your gonna hell ,see ya soon

The Hedyot said...

Have you committed murder today?
No, not today.

Have you teamed an ox and a donkey?
I once set up a shidduch that might count as that.

Did you sleep with another man's wife?
In my defense, I didn't know she was married.

(please say "no," please say "no," please say "no"...)
OK, I admit it - I've never committed such terrible sins. But once I did tie my right shoe before my left one. How can I ever live with myself?

Anonymous said...

You make some very legitimate points. However, one should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water, even if it's very tempting to do so at times.

Take the dirty bath water and bury it - water your garden with it, and hopefully a beautiful flower will come up after a while.

Isaac, Translate This! said...

Shabbat shalom Hedyot & all

Anonymous said...

It's kind of obvious, as you said, that these are emotional issues. People who question and then lower their observence is not a new phenomenon.

What is new to me here, is that you don't seem to have been exposed to the idea that Hashem gave us the Torah lifestyle to make our lives happier. Both within the home and within the larger community, it is a very pleasant way of life, to me. Either someone mis-trained you, or you never experienced it yourself. Just look at the teens who go off. They're mostly not happy. As a kiruv pro once told me, they hate their parents, not G-d! In any case, find a happy family and watch what they do.

So much of your focus seems to be on intellectual aspects of frumkeit, yet your emotional pain seems to be the operative factor here. Good luck, and good shabbos.

Mis-nagid said...

"Much of it is quite intriguing, but actually, the simple truth is that I really don't care too much whether it's true or not."

I do. To me, it doesn't matter if it feels good if it's not true. That's not to say it feels good, but that it wouldn't matter to me. The claims of frumkeit are bogus, and that's enough for me.

I doubt you really feel as strongly about your not caring as you think. Imagine if you came to believe that you'd be best served in your litany of desires by become a Jehova's Witness. Considering how hard it would be for you to believe that it's true, it would be hard to swallow that you'd sacrifice your intellectual honesty on the altar of cult to attain happiness. clearly turth matters to you, at least a little.

"It never ceases to amaze me the way the "frum" community uses language ("off the derech," "burnt out," "meshumad," etc.) to pathologize anyone who entertains a slightly different way of life."

Classic cult characteristic. As is Daas Torah, and a slew of other reasons why Frumkeit is a cult.

Shmarya said...

#'s 4, 8, & 10 are the ikkar. Once you have been lied to and you realize it, and you discover other lies, the whole underpinnings of emunah (not in God, but in Othodox Judaism) collapse.

After that, you are kept 'inside' by the cult-like treatment of those who try to leave and the fear it instills.

After a while, though, the fear stops working and you're frei.

That's why truth is so important and lying to promote yiddishkeit is so evil.

Isaac, Translate This! said...

For all of you rebels out there who live in metro New York City. Take yourselves and your families to Central Park sometime these two weeks to see "The Gates." (link below) In "Yeshivish," we'd call this total "bitul z'man," but it's a lot of fun to walk through and it's great to see thousands of people just enjoying themselves.

Shlomo said...

Good post.

Don’t even bother trying to make distinctions between the emotional and the rational. Trying to discern one from the other to figure out how things turned out is futile. I’ve been frei for 16 years and still have no answer as to which came first or why. At some point, the emotional and the rational begin to operate in synch, but it isn’t until one or the other stops working that you know you are no longer attached to it.

I avoid the ad hominem attacks on other Jews who misbehave or use their power or position for personal gain. People are just people. Only that my fellow Jews claim they are more than mere mortals, and that continues to bother me. As Rav Steinsaltz said “The most difficult thing about Judaism is Jews.” Living up to lofty ideals is nice but also unrealistic for many, so I avoid making my decisions based on the actions of others.

Personally, the biggest factor was the indifference to individual wants and desires. Some of those are intellectual and artistic. The fact that there are different classes among Jews is not unusual at all and doesn’t bother me in the least. Some of the families we envy because of wealth and fame have some real problems that they carefully hide from the public view. Being 2nd or 3rd class was never an issue, besides they told me the seeking kavod was meaningless. They were right.

The reasons we leave Yiddishkeit are as varied or conflicted as our personalities. I tend to appear rational and use the rational argument to support my leaving, because the rational part can be spoken clearly and expressed to another in question and answer. The emotional side of the matter, which came from and reinforced the rational (and vice versa) is a bit harder to express to another person they a) cannot associate or b) associate but not as strongly. Either way, you come away with not being able to say what you want to say using only the emotional argument.

The distinctions we make between emotion and intellect are misguided. The science does not support such differentiations. Both are strong and concurrent factors in decision making and processing information, and one is no less important than the other. For good reading on this idea, read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (ISBN 0-553-37506-7).

My father wanted me to be a talmid chochom. Which Jewish parent doesn’t? The mistake was that HIS desire for me, coupled with the kehillas desires for everyone, did not match what I wanted for myself, which was to be just like my father, a skilled tradesman who did good and honest work, came home tired, and tinkered in his workshop for relaxation. So my entire childhood I was sheltered from the life that was going on inside my own home! As some would say “Se pahst nit far a Yid.” Why? What shame would there be in striving to be an honest man doing an honest day’s work? Why must every Jew become a Gadol? Part of the drive for perfection is what drives us away. The standard barely tolerates those who can’t attain it.

There are three groups of Jews: the ‘who’s who’, the ‘who’s that’, and the ‘who cares’.

Menachem Plaurt said...


1. the yetzer hara convincing us to sin; giving in to our base impulses

1. Frustration that I was not allowed to pursue activities and experiences which were enjoyable and meaningful to myself.
They could certainly be seen as equivalent, from a frum point of view.

Anonymous said...

To do what feels good...those Jewish sages were onto something when they chose the word apikores
for unbelievers, heretics, and similar unsavory characters.

It seems that it is derived from the name of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. His philosophy has been expressed as eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I shall die.

They were hedonists, believing that pleasure was good and pain was evil, and that the right thing to do was always what produced the greatest pleasure and the least pain...

This is the Jewish belief that when all is said and done (most of the time)we leave the proper path because we wanna party...or we don't want the struggle..

He also developed the idea that if there is evil there can be no G-d So the fact that you were messed over and lied to and suffered in life would be enough of a reason from that point of view to deny G-d..of course Judaism would say among other things that we are puny creatures not knowing the mind of G-d..

It is always better to be l'teyavon -to know that you are following pleasure or avoiding pain than to create reasons why it is not true..

I wish you luck in achieving JOY in your life not pleasure..but Joy.

Anonymous said...

What puzzles and saddens me is that even "burn outs" from the "frum" world continue to view religiousness as black or white. The view seems to be that you're either in for a penny, in for a pound - or not, and nothing in between. As someone that sends my kids to a MO school (after starting them in public school), davens in a conservative shul but often visits the "old world" shul to take in the yiddish of the kind (OK, some are gruffy) 80+ year old guys that make their minions, I find it incredible that many folks don't see how the broad tapestry of religious Judaism offers many, many choices to express oneself wherever you are on Jacob's Ladder at this point.

God wants to hear from you, and He doesn't care whether the phone booth that you call in your prayers from says "Orthodox", "Conservative", "Reform", or "hippy renewal havurah". Really.

Kol tuv!

Soferet said...

You have a wonderfully honest & keen post! Kol ha-kavod for listening to your Self & standing in your truth. It isn't easy when the voices of so many are louder than what's inside...
I'm going to send this link along to a friend who is in the same boast as you, but less settled. We should be allowed, as Jews, to be frum AND to think for ourselves - it's a very old minhag :)
May you go from strength to strength,

rivka said...

the Epicureans were moderates*, not all-out hedonists. I don't know if the "eat, drink, and be merry quote is historical or a myth, but it certainly was not their entire philosophy.

*Shvil Hazahav, if you will.


Anonymous said...

I skimmed through this blog but would like to comment that I feel sorry for anyone who leaves frumkeit because of emotional issues. Having come from a very non-sheltered backround (gone to movies, ball games had non-jewish friends ect.)I believe I can clearly see both sides. There is almost no greater emotional joy I feel as when I make kiddush on Yom Tov and say the words "Asher bochar bonu Mikol Am V'Romimonu Mi'kol Loshon, V'kidishonu B'mitzvosav". The world outside frumkeit can be enjoyable...sometimes, but true joy comes from inner peace and that can only be attained for a Jew through Torah. If Judaism seems boring, ritualistic, creating guilt feelings ect. it is because those transmitting are not being honest about their own feelings or cannot connect with someone on a different level. A vibrant enthusiastic Rebbie will spill over to his students and they will quickly forget any doubts that they had.

The Hedyot said...

> I feel sorry for anyone who leaves frumkeit because of emotional issues.....
There is almost no greater emotional joy I feel as when I make kiddush...

You're against leaving because of emotional reasons, yet your whole rationale for being religious is because of those same emotional bases! Kind of inconsistent, don't you think?

And it's just plain unfair. just because you enjoy something means that other people have to enjoy it too?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you misunderstood me. I fully understand a person who leaves for emotional reasons and nobody must enjoy anything. I understand a thing or two about human nature and I understand that when people leave Yiddishkeit, it is because they were never given the opportunity to appreciate its beauty. I too sat in yeshiva and wondered how I would ever last through Seder. I too would not want anyone to tell me that I can't go mixed skating or the like. B"H I outgrew the difficult adolescent years and landed in a Yeshiva in Israel where for some inexpicable reason my eyes were suddenly opened to the joy of learning. If someone tells me "it doesn't work for me" I would say that they haven't given it a fare chance. Living in an environment where a person is made to feel that they are being forced to daven and learn is not called a fare chance.

The Hedyot said...

Have you given Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism a fair chance? No? Don't tell me that "it doesn't work for you" because according to you that just means that you obviously haven't really been exposed to how wonderful that life can be.

Anonymous said...

One does not have to try every single religion to know which ones make sense and which ones don't.(even though there are peope who have) Even if Hinduism felt good that wouldn't make it right. The fact that the Torah is true AND brings beauty to life is what counts. Let me mention though that nobody's life - religious or not - can be perfect bliss because the purpose of this life is not meant to be. The path of the Torah is simply the best avenue to take because it guides us, enriches us, and protects us from wavering into dangerous territory.

The Hedyot said...

I'm glad we didn't have to waste too much time before uncovering the inconsistency and circular reasoning of your position.

I'm not going to get into it here, but just read the archives of GH to see how little logical sense you're making.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing circular about my argument and I am not arguing.

I am not talking about the truth of the Torah versus Hinduism. I am simply claiming that the value of the ways of the Torah in truth and beauty are not to be underestimated by someone who has not had the proper opportunity to appreciate them.

I have read posts from GH and yes I wish he had met the right people too, at the time that he was struggling with his beliefs.

The Hedyot said...

> ...the value of the ways of the Torah in truth and beauty are not to be underestimated by someone who has not had the proper opportunity to appreciate them.

And what, to your mind, would be the criteria to determine if one "had the proper opportunity to appreciate them"?

Or is it so self evident, that by definition, if a person doesn't appreciate them, then they must not have had that opportunity?

Anonymous said...

A person who is properly nurtured through the difficult learning process until they can learn to appreciate Torah and Mitzvos on their own, has been given the opportunity

When damage is done by parents or teachers who have a hard time with questions to which they do not know the answer, or who do not know how to deal with a difficult child or teen, deep negativity results and the opportunity often has been stripped from this person.