Thursday, February 24, 2005


In this post from 2 weeks ago, I concluded by saying that the ideas I had written about were leading to a specific point. Interestingly, an anonymous commenter on the post wrote something which alluded to the very point I wanted to explore:
"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."
His observation is accurate, and not just relevant to this subject. On many varied issues, people often encounter individuals who have left the yeshivish/chareidi world, or the frum world, or whatever world, and are surprised that many vestiges of their former life are still evident in their activities, their outlooks, and their personalities. Why is that? they wonder, If you've left it so wholeheartedly, why are you still looking at things like you're still in that world?

Shlomo shares some of his thoughts on this issue in his typically eloquent and inspiring prose. I want to explore a slightly different angle than he does over there.

As I explained earlier, my own departure from my former society resulted more from an emotional reaction than an intellectual one. During my religious transition, for the most part, I wasn't seriously examining all the intellectual and rational foundations of my religious upbringing. Some of them, yes. But even for those few areas that I focused on, my criteria for acceptability was probably based more on a subjective cognitive appeal than any critical intellectual analysis.

Over the years, I've changed quite a bit. I've changed the clothes I wear, the style of my speech, the manner of my interactions, the activities that interest me, the people I associate with, the things that are important to me, the way I think, and the perspectives I have. I've even had opportunity to adjust my views on the deeper philosophical issues of Jewish thought and practice.

The changes happened in many different ways. Some of them were done with conscious effort and some just gradually happened on their own. A lot of them came to me naturally while others were met with incredible resistance. Many of those changes were due to the appeal of the new way of doing things, and many others were a deliberate rejection of the old approach. Most probably came from subjective considerations, but at least a few are probably based in semi-solid convictions.

But there are still myriad areas of thought and experience that I haven't adjusted my perspective on. For the most part, this is because I haven't had any opportunities to seriously reexamine these issues and feelings. Changing ones lifestyle and society can raise many issues that one needs to clarify and take sides on, but there remain countless other areas which are just not touched on by the events and experiences of everyday life. Additionally, the sheer volume of ideas, habits, perspectives, and tendencies that the frum world inculcates in their followers makes it practically impossible for a person to totally undo all the subtle, yet deeply rooted, effects they have on one's psyche.

This is all the more true when speaking about one who, like myself, made the transition not primarily due to intellectual considerations. I didn't get up one day in class and proclaim that I no longer believed in the truth of Torah. Even after I left, I still pretty much accepted and believed that most of the ideas that they had taught me were God-given truths. I didn't reject everything as false and irrelevant. And contrary to what frummies like to think that all rebels do, I didn't consequently make efforts to violate every religious principle and halacha that I could.

But even after all these years, even though it's been a blessedly long time since I've had a rabbi demand an explanation of why I wasn't on time to davening, and even after I've made a pretty complete adjustment into my current community, I still have many of those old yeshivish/chareidi perspectives about life and Judaism lingering within me.

My experiences since leaving my native culture have exposed me to a lot of things, a lot of new ideas, a lot of new approaches to old ideas. But only in certain areas. Those areas of thought and experience that I haven't reexamined still retain the same traditional (and usually restrictive and objectionable) view on the issue that I had all those years ago.

Lying dormant within me, and within so many likeminded individuals, are many beliefs, ideas, value judgments, perspectives, preferences, and feelings which actually are totally at odds with the person that we have become. Unfortunately, those old patterns of thought don't gradually die out, or just fade into the background of our psyche, never to bother us again. They actually are very much still alive, yet because the particular issue may not be raised by the experiences we encounter, they're able to remain undetectable to our consciousnesses for a very long time. Only many years later, possibly when an idea is raised in conversation, an incident catches our attention, or an experience evokes a reaction, will we discover the phantom that's been lurking within us all this time.

At times these epiphanies are rather benign. But more often than not, they can end up coming back to haunt us in a most detrimental way. Let's take a closer look at the scenario raised by the commenter I mentioned above:

A kid is taught that black-hat frumkeit is the only valid and legitimate approach to Judaism. Due to various frustrations and other emotional/sociological factors he decides to chuck it all and drop frumkeit altogether. Some years down the line, after he's achieved a certain balance in his life, he decides to try to take another look at his tradition. Leery of his former society due to the negative associations and memories of his youth, he looks around at other alternative approaches to Judaism. He explores, he tries out, he discovers. Yet, despite the fact that so much of these approaches appeal to him, he finds himself cynical and skeptical of them all. He can't bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace any one of them. Why is this? Because subconsciously he still has the belief he was taught all those years ago that all these approaches are illegitimate when compared to the one authentic derech of chareidism. He never rejected that view when he left that world. And since he studiously avoided any and all contact with religious society in the years since, he never had the opportunity to reexamine the idea and reject it then. As a result, the old perspective still holds sway in his outlook of these issues, and triggers feelings that are counterproductive.

These unconscious views that are latent within us often emerge when we least expect them. They trigger immense frustration in our lives, in so many areas of life, not even ones directly related to religion: relationships, goals, trust, work-ethic, family interactions, child rearing, etc. As mentioned, Judaism has views, opinions, and ideas on every conceivable area of life, from the most mundane to the most significant. And a person that went through the black-hat world probably had so many of those views drilled into him as dogmatic and immutable truth. Any of those ideas or beliefs which are allowed to recede from ones focus and then be ignored for many years will probably resurface years later when an issue that asks the person for their feelings on the matter arises.

If a person is lucky (or self-aware), they can recognize the source of these unexpected feelings and hopefully counter them appropriately. But many people must battle these demons throughout their lives, never fully understanding why they constantly seem to react to experiences in ways that seem so counterintuitive to the person that they understand themselves to be.


Jengenis said...

This post is a masterpiece,congrats!!!

Isaac, Translate This! said...

Daas, I'm not surprised that you, or Shlomo or any other of the "shkatzim" are still passionately "Jewish." There's a lot of good in the communities where you and I grew up. We've internalized it and want to carry it forward to our children and to the world. Who are the people painting the picture of "black & white?" Are they not the same people who want to marginalize anyone who doesn't fit their "100%" profile, the people who've invented clever pathological epithets, such as "burn-out," "oisvorf," "off-the-derech," etc? The people who can't imagine that ex-Orthos or struggling Orthos can still wish each other a good Shabbat?

For that matter, why do some people lump all the "shaigetz-bloggers" in the same basket - "out of the community, or about to be." I see a broad range of surrender vs. rebellion in these 'blogs.

With that, Shabbat shalom.

rebelmo said...

Well said . While I can meet and be impressed by many other jews and non jews but the pple who i feel at home with are usually the ones i grew up with. this is very normal but by no means says that is the right derech because it feel right. it just means that we were socialized in a particular community. the sad part is that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. you cannot remain within the community and be opposed to it at the same time. once you stop walking the walk, talking the talk, you are history.

Anonymous said...

But why is it necessary for you to drop every value of your former society?

Isnt it possible that in true open-mindedness you agree with at least some of the values and beliefs of your former community? It doesnt have to be that you have simply been brainwashed and cant get it out of your head!

For example. I find it hard to believe that a formerly frum person could feel comfortable in a Conservative setting for the simple reason that the failings of the C movement are so glaring (rampant intermarriage, ignorance of Torah, etc..).

sorermoreh said...

Anon, I find your first and last paragraphs contradictory. I'm "formerly frum," (black hat) yet feel "comfortable" and at home in Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist shuls and in Havurot. They're all examples of Jews working to bridge the past and the present with the future and and the keep their way of life relevant.

The first time I heard a woman read Torah, it appeared to me as a natural extension of Jewish life and practice as I'd known it until then. The first time I'd seen "Mechayeh Metim" replaced with "Mechayeh Hakol," it made perfect sense to me (as I'd never seen anyone come back from the dead.) Music on Shabbat took a few tries, but I eventually got into that, too.

I used to visit a certain resort. They had a lake with 2 very large white birds (swans?) I asked a staff member "How is it that these birds are always here?" He answered "we've clipped their wings."

The liberal movements have their problems, but to their credit, they're relatively open to a variety of views and lifestyles and encourage their members to "see the world" and treats those who question, deviate or leave with humanity and respect.

The Hedyot said...

Anonymous, I specifically said that I didn't try to drop every value of my former society. I still have many aspects of frum and halachic life in my lifestyle. I think that there are many values taught in the frum world which are positive and beneficial, and believe very much that each issue should be judged on its own merits.

The problem is when an area of experience arises in which I don't agree with the way it was taught to me. It then disrupts the way that I think is proper and true for me to behave.

The Hedyot said...

Hate to break it to you Anonymous, but the failings of the O movement are just as glaring to anyone who isn't biased. That's not to deny that it has it's good things too, but so does C.

In other words, be consistent.

Anonymous said...


Of course O has failings (PS - the situation is far worse in NY and urban areas which are disasters, get out of town a bit - I did and would hate to move back)...

But as a Yeshiva educated person it is going to be hard to respect the pronouncements and decisions of people who you can objectively identify as ignoramuses. Furthermore, the failings that I refer to are more fundamental to these movements as a movement. O is not a 'movement' in the same sense as it has no centralized structure or stated goal. The other movements fail in ways fundamental to their mission. C Judaism states that they adhere to halacha, but not more than 2-3 percent of them keep it or even try to. While they may provide quality Jewish entertainment, their assimilation and participation rates are so shocking as to be appalling.

Thus, it is possible that you simply retain a sense of what is 'real' and what is not rather than simply being socially uncomfortable.

Barefoot Jewess said...

I so enjoy your blog. Got here via Mis-nagid.

I feel for you. And I can relate. I converted (C). In essence, though Catholicism (unlike Jews), is not fervent about apostasy, I guess you could call me an apostate.

My experience of conversion was incredibly arduous. The Jewish worldview is not the secular/Christian one. I had to tear myself away from all that I had learned and grown up with. Judaism demands an entirely different worldview and attitude (very positive, btw and should be noted).

You have been imbued with some great stuff growing up and you recognise it; it sounds as if you just need to find your place. The fact that that comfort and familiarity creep in tells you and the rest of us that Judaism is not 'black and white', 'either/or', nor are you ever gonna leave the Jewish fold. There is a place for you.

You will always be "Jewish", like the rest of the doubting bunch, because you care, way more than most Jews.

Barefoot Jewess said...

anonymous at 6 pm-

I hope you can offer us stats on the keeping of halacha by "2-3 percent" of of Jews who affiliate Conservative. After all, we wouldn't want to give the wrong impression, would we?