Friday, March 24, 2006

The One True Derech

Recently, on Godol Hador's blog, GH reposted one of my comments as a "guest post". Well, I figure that if he can recycle one of my long-winded rants as a featured blog post, then I can too. So, here it is for your viewing pleasure. My comment there was prompted by GH's post about how so many skeptics are ex-chareidim, and how often these people are a result of the black and white nature of the chareidi mindset. (I've actually written quite a bit about the Black and White Principle (as I like to call it) and his illustration is just one more manifestation of what I've long known to be a sad reality. Link, link, link.) To better understand the context of my post, I suggest you read his original blog posting. What follows below are my thoughts, slightly emended from my original words:

While I don't disagree with GH's general idea as it applies to many people from that society, I'd like to expand on the point in a subtle way. For myself, my right-wing ultra-orthodox background did not cause me difficulty in the way that he describes specifically. For example, (back when I cared more about halacha and torah) when I was first exposed to it, I didn't find it problematic to believe in a billion year old universe and still consider other parts of mesorah well founded. The same with ideas like considering the flood allegorical, and evolution. True, it did adversely affect my overall trust in the veracity of the system, but those revelations did not cause the entire structure to immediately collapse in the way he describes.

However, the much more direct impact of the black and white mode of thinking is that I can not bring myself to seriously accept non-chareidi expressions of Judaism as truly legitimate and authentic. That's how they really screwed me over. The truth is that Modern Orthodoxy actually appeals to me in many ways, and I'd probably be ok living that lifestyle and adopting that approach to viewing the world, and viewing Judaism (hell, actually, I was ok doing that for almost 3 years). However, throughout it all, as much as I admire it and consider it to be a better approach to Judaism than the chareidi one, I can't help feel the persistent tug of my past, reminding me that it is not "the truth"; that it's not the right way to be living as a religious Jew. There is a place inside my heart that can not stop viewing Modern Orthodoxy as a compromise, a corruption, a feeble and inadequate substitute for the supposedly real and proper way to be a religious Jew. This, despite the fact that intellectually I'm more than convinced of it's merits (while also remaining well aware of its failings).

This dismal way of thinking accounts for why every time GH presents an approach that reflects some more moderate, reasoned view of Judaism, I typically react with, "Well, that's not how Orthodox Judaism really is." Because, as much as I like what he's saying (some of the time), I still can't help but view his idea as an illegitimate form of OJ. To my twisted mind, true OJ would never subscribe to such a view.

Similarly, in the opposite vein, it's the hold this idea has on my mind which explains why I particularly enjoy comments from people like Lakewood Yid (one of the regular commenter's at GH) and his ilk (here's an example). Lakewood Yid is a proud member of that society which I was once a part of and which I believed so strongly to be the true heirs to what Torah living and thinking meant. He truly is an embodiment of that persona. When he expresses his simplistic and childish ideas about Judaism, Torah, and the world, and reminds us that he is merely articulating the accepted views of his leaders and his community it helps undermine that fictitious notion that they are in any way a genuine expression of any Divine truth. Seeing that so called "Torah True Judaism" in all it's glaring imbecility is the most effective remedy for what afflicts my mind.

How did this notion come to have such an extreme grip on my psyche? It's hold was formed over many years of repeatedly being taught a fundamental precept of chareidi ideology, spelled out in unambiguous, black and white terms: "Our way (however you want to call it - the life of a chareidi, yeshivish, ben torah person) is the only truly proper way to live as a frum Jew. Everything else, no matter what it is, no matter what they call themselves - Modern Orthodoxy, Zionist Orthodoxy, Torah U'Mada, Torah im Derech Eretz, cultural Judaism, Conservative, Reform, whatever, it's all just a sad and distorted misrepresentation of how God really wants Jews to live - as proper, gemara learning, black hat wearing, kollel studying, da'as torah believing, gadol trusting, chumra seeking, gender separating, badatz eating, college avoiding, Degel voting, chareidi Jews. That's what being a Jew is really about!"

That is what they told me was the way to be a proper Jew. I believed them for many years. I even heeded their advice (to some extent) for a long time, but now, after many years, I have come to know myself that I can not live (nor believe) as a chareidi Jew. One would then think, I should become MO. That would work for me. I agree, it would seem to be a good match (to a certain degree). Yet, because in my mind, I still retain that belief that "Chareidism is the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", I can not adopt such a lifestyle. It appeals to me, yet I can not bring myself to genuinely embrace it. My educators have successfully turned me off to any forms of Judaism which are not theirs, and theirs is altogether objectionable on so many levels. As I see it, I am left with only one course of action in this regard: to completely leave behind the religious life.

This is how chareidi black and white thinking has affected me, how it has turned me off totally. (Well, there are more ways, but this is one very prominent way.) Maybe one day, some time far in the future, when I can expunge from my heart the insidious notion that "Chareidism is the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", and I can bring myself to accept the validity of other forms of Judaism, I may, in some way, be able to assume the lifestyle of a religious Jew once again.

28 comments:

Shlomo said...

Gut gezogt!

The seychel that doesn't permit color works in a sort of out of control fractal. So every halacha, every minhag, every Dvar Torah, every psak din, and every single moment of their lives are lived recoloring the world to suit their stinted view. They spend each thinking hour devising ways to further subdivide and categorize things. That's not all bad, but the measure they use only allows for two choices.

I grew up around those who saw life that way. They may have known better maybe not, but they assumed the challenges of the goyishe veldt would be too powerful for their children to survive, so they over-chinuched us so much as to the perfection of their way that we became emotionally incapable of clearly perceiving others. That stupidity overflowed into viewing other minhagim, chasidim, and versions of Torah Judaism. It's almost forgivable when it comes to telling children what NOT to do, but when it becomes sinas chinom, it has gone way too far.

Those who are physically color-blind do not deny that other colors are visible.

I have been asked why I didn't move to JudaismLite rather than leave altogether. My answer is not based in the black/white thinking. I simply reject any notion of any transcendent deity of any kind.

Good article. Yasher Koach.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

As far as I can tell, this attitude is by design. Why should they prefer that you defect to a more moderate camp? It is impossible to grant legitimacy to another camp which has attractions because that just leads to defections. Perhaps some of the thinking is that you'll eventually come to your senses and come back home, because they've inculcated a sense that its either a chareidi lifestyle or you'll want to chuck it and get to spend shabbos afternoon doing the errands you were unable to run during the week.

Anonymous said...

I think it is completely unfair of you to consistently defame an entire community due to your bad experiences. On the one hand, your disilusionment with Judaism is supposedly a result of the intellectual questions that you claim cannot be answered, and on the other hand, it is the fault of the educational system for presenting a one-sided and childish view of the world. Anyone who thinks differently than you is gullible and foolish.

This picture may sell well in some fantasy world, but the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands of intelligent young men and women who freely think, debate, question, challenge and confront the grand questions for which you somehow cannot find satisfactory answers. Perhaps you don't have the proter tools, and maybe you were cheated as a youth, but let's be real - you are not the only person in the world who knows how to think - and we are not all blubbering idiots.

The Hedyot said...

> As far as I can tell, this attitude is by design. Why should they prefer that you defect to a more moderate camp?

I agree. But my point is that when a person decides not to go to that more moderate camp, and rather reject it all, they have no one to blame but themselves.

The Hedyot said...

SL - Thanks for your feedback. Like you say, we're all different in how we've become who we are.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>I agree. But my point is that when a person decides not to go to that more moderate camp, and rather reject it all, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Well, naturally we all make our own choices. But we are also products of conditioning from outside forces. I don't know if on the grand day of yom ha-din (bear with me ;) ) it will fly or not to say "I was traumatized by my rebbe" or "The bobby pins made me do it," but the fact is that the picture you present , while impressionistic and personal, is not without merit. The conditioning does tend to convince people that this particular view is the "real" Judaism. You know, the old saw about the "shul I don't daven at" being Orthodox.

McOrn said...

"My educators have successfully turned me off to any forms of Judaism which are not theirs, and theirs is altogether objectionable on so many levels. As I see it, I am left with only one course of action in this regard: to completely leave behind the religious life."

So let me get this straight...When it comes to following orthodoxy you won't listen to your educators and be orthodox, but when the issue is being MO (which you agree has some validity) you suddenly find the urge to follow your educators as they have told you that is not the proper "orthodoxy."

The Hedyot said...

> So let me get this straight...When it comes to following orthodoxy you won't listen to your educators and be orthodox, but when the issue is being MO (which you agree has some validity) you suddenly find the urge to follow your educators as they have told you that is not the proper "orthodoxy.",

You’re touching on an issue that I mentioned in the original post at GH, which I left out here. I said there:

Of course, many may now ask the obvious question: "Obviously, to my chareidi-trained mind, completely leaving frumkeit is definitely viewed as worse than being MO, so if I'm not ok with being MO, I obviously should not be ok with totally leaving. It doesn't make sense!"

It’s not exactly the same as how you formulated it but I think it’s essentially the same issue. There’s a number of valid explanations for the inconsistency. See if you can figure it out.

moshe said...

If you are truly seeking to find spiritual meaningfulness in/with your life, I would think that you should really dig deep down within your soul and find the strength to once again explore and embrace some form of modern orthodoxy. Analyze it honestly and critically. I feel that if you would properly understand that MO is all about living with and even embracing conflict , and that some issues can not be resolved by our limited human intellect, you may come to realize that it is indeed a good "fit" for you.

The Hedyot said...

> If you are truly seeking to find spiritual meaningfulness in/with your life...

Moshe -
If you had said to me "If you are truly seeking to find a halachically meaningful...", I would agree. But, everyone has different definitions of what constitutes "spiritual meaningfulness". Your insistence on adopting a halachic approach, albeit a modern one, is merely a reflection of your bias.

click here for more info said...

Lakewood yid is a kofer

moshe said...

DH said:

"Your insistence on adopting a halachic approach, albeit a modern one, is merely a reflection of your bias."


DH:

You are correct. But please excuse me for assuming that if were to look for spiritual meaningfulness in your life, you may want to try orthodoxy again, just a more rational one than the one in which you were reared, and rejected.

Kyaroko said...

Hey DH,

I'm responding to your comment on my blog.

I'm glad the ticket got settled! I would have really lost faith on our justice system if you'd have been asked to pay for that.

And regarding our apparent lack of interests... I have a few connections to the frum and ex-frum community. AND you'll notice that the heading on my blog states that I have many interests. I just haven't blogged about all of them yet!

dbs said...

I can relate.

I think that the thing which is being missed by GH is that the MO community is not less dogmatic. It is simply more lax in its adhearnce to it's dogma. Not going to mincha is not the same as being tolerant of the idea of Torah not being divine.

lakewoodyid said...

Hi there Mr. Hedyot.

I'm sure glad you enjoyed my comment. It must have brought back some memories of the good old days (can you make smileys on blogger?)

Hey, at least I brought some joy to a fellow jew. I'm sure you do remember the power of Simcha.....

Shira Salamone said...

I'm not even frum, and what you're saying upsets even me!

Believe it or not, you can learn from the Reform. About a century ago, they published a siddur called the Union Prayerbook that eliminated almost all Hebrew. Some 70 years later, they published a prayerbook called Shaarei Tefilla that not only brought Hebrew back, but actually put in on the same page as the English, alternating back and forth, therefore almost forcing their congregants to at least attempt to pray in Hebrew.

You can also learn from the Reconstructionists. The original Reconstructionist prayerbook, published in the 1940s, eliminated the second paragraph of the Shema. The new Reconstructionist prayerbook, published in n the 1980s, brought it back.

Please don't let yourself be persuaded that you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Orthodox world needs thinkers.

And maybe, just maybe, you need the Orthodox world. Think about it. And maybe, someday, give it another try.

The Hedyot said...

Shira -

I'm sorry to hear that I upset you, but you don't seem to be understanding what I said. I don't at all think there isn't value in other forms of Orthodoxy besides chareidism, and even non-Orthodox forms of practice. I feel one should be open to, and learn from all avenues of knowledge. I think that there are many worthwhile facets to chareidi life, as there are to MO, or to reform Judaism, etc. In fact, I specifically said that there are many aspects to MO religious life and thought that I admire. The issue is not at all about finding value in forms of Judaism other than chareidism.

The issue is however, about what approach I can bring myself to adopt as a true and right religious path for my own life. And in that regard, I have only one real option.

Just to clarify in case it isn’t obvious, I’m speaking pretty generally. Despite my position, I still have numerous spiritual and Jewish experiences in my life.

Shira Salamone said...

It's the "only one real option," part, the black and white, all-or-nothing part that upsets me. Everything else is of value, but it's for the rest of us, not for you. All I'm trying to say is that I hope you recover, eventually, from having been so thoroughly brainwashed. (Hope you don't mind my describing your experience in that manner--no offense intended.)

Shira Salamone said...

Perhaps I would make myself more clear if I spoke in terms of your (possible) future--would you want your children to go through the same indoctrination that you went through? Maybe it's time to break the cycle, to give any future kids whom you might have some options that were denied to you.

The Hedyot said...

> would you want your children to go through the same indoctrination that you went through?

Shira, I don't know what to say. I hope that was rhetorical. Because if you honestly don't know the answer to that question, then you've never understood a single word I've said.

> Maybe it's time to break the cycle

Can't you see that that's exactly what I've done?

Shira Salamone said...

"you've never understood a single word I've said.

> Maybe it's time to break the cycle

Can't you see that that's exactly what I've done?"

Maybe I really don't understand, but, no, I really can't see that you've broken the cycle. Here's what you said:

"My educators have successfully turned me off to any forms of Judaism which are not theirs, and theirs is altogether objectionable on so many levels. As I see it, I am left with only one course of action in this regard: to completely leave behind the religious life."

From my perspective, you've simply gone from one extreme of your childhood indoctrination to the other, from "black(-hat)" to "white," from chareidi to "completely leav[ing] behind the religious life," from all to nothing, simply choosing the "wrong option" of the only two options that you were ever offered. I don't think that that approach breaks the cycle, I think it perpetuates the cycle. Your educators said that all other forms of Judaism were inauthentic, and you still believe them. You protest vigorously against their indoctrination, but you let them have the last word.

A friend of ours who grew up in a rigorously secular-Yiddishist home decided not to teach his children Yiddish, but to send them to day school and let them learn Jewish religious texts and traditions and Hebrew, instead. He saw, from his own experience, that there was no future in a purely cultural Judaism.

If you reject all forms of religious Jewish life, what, exactly, are you going to bequeath to your children by way of a heritage? Surely you can see that bagels and lox are not much of an inheritance. I would hope that your children would have an opportunity to try gray, instead of either black or white, rather than being deprived of any form of religious Judaism because their father has rejected all forms of religious Judaism.

The Hedyot said...

> I don't think that that approach breaks the cycle, I think it perpetuates the cycle. Your educators said that all other forms of Judaism were inauthentic, and you still believe them. You protest vigorously against their indoctrination, but you let them have the last word.

I see what you're saying. I guess what I'd say is that even though for myself, I can't adopt a specifically mapped out religious path, I don’t care if my children did. Like you acknowledged earlier, I only don’t consider it right for myself, because of my ingrained biases, but for others its fine. I said that I find much value in all forms of Jewish life, and I have nothing against those who incorporate those values into their lives. So I won’t object when my children do so, and I hope to encourage them to do so (in some way). Despite how I can’t escape the feeling in my own life, I have no intention of teaching my children that chareidism is the only right way to be a Jew. In fact, forget about the future -right now I don’t ever tell that to anyone. Even though that notion is somewhere inside of me, retaining it’s hold, I’m constantly struggling to escape from it.

> Your educators said that all other forms of Judaism were inauthentic, and you still believe them.

I think what you’re failing to understand is that just because I admit that that what my educators taught me still has a hold on me, it doesn’t mean that I believe it to be true in any real sense. Without getting into the complex subject of what belief is, and what motivates people to certain actions, I would suggest to you that choosing a certain course of action does not indicate belief in it’s rightness (consider the overused example of smokers who choose not to quit, but know very well how much damage they’re causing themselves). For my own personal self, for reasons that are relevant specifically to me, I can not adopt any specific mapped out religious path. But I have no objection to those who do (in the right way), and still admire plenty of religious people.

> You protest vigorously against their indoctrination, but you let them have the last word.

To my mind, my vigorous protestation is the last word. As long as I am working to eradicate their ideas, they have not claimed me. True, throughout the struggle the idea is still dormant in me, but of course – during any struggle the opposition still has some power over you, otherwise there would be no struggle!

Shira Salamone said...

"even though for myself, I can't adopt a specifically mapped out religious path, I don’t care if my children did. Like you acknowledged earlier, I only don’t consider it right for myself, because of my ingrained biases, but for others its fine. I said that I find much value in all forms of Jewish life, and I have nothing against those who incorporate those values into their lives. So I won’t object when my children do so, and I hope to encourage them to do so (in some way)."

Okay, now I feel a lot better. I'm relieved to know that you intend to give your children broader options in the practice of Judaism.

"I think what you’re failing to understand is that just because I admit that that what my educators taught me still has a hold on me, it doesn’t mean that I believe it to be true in any real sense." I guess that, sometimes, theory is easier than practice. Oy.

"As long as I am working to eradicate their ideas, they have not claimed me." Amen. Keep up the good fight.

Shira Salamone said...

I should warn you that kids have a way of surprising you.

When my older sister, I, and our two younger brothers were roughly 13, 11, 9, and 7 respectively, we held a "kids' conclave" and laid down the law to our parents--we'd learned in Hebrew School that Jews weren't supposed to eat pork products, and solemnly forbade them to bring bacon (their only "pork cheat") into the house ever again. They listened. And then some. About 15 years later, they finally went kosher.

Don't assume that you'll be able to get away with sending your kids to shul. Sooner or later, they'll notice that you aren't with them. So be prepared to be flexible, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your children's Jewish identity may depend on it.

Besides, who knows what your thinking will be a decade from now? I returned to (non-Orthodox) Jewish practice in my mid-twenties because it upset me to think that I might be forgetting it. My husband was in his early thirties when he started "shul shopping" again. So we take it with a grain of salt that our son doesn't have much use for Judaism, at the moment. At least he still makes kiddush whenever he's home from college.

I hope that you continue writing, reading, and searching. You never know whether all of the above will lead you.

Jewish Thinker said...

There is a middle groung GH's philosophy (no offense) seems as black and white and dogmatic, as that of lakewood yid's. Teke Gosse theory for example. While it is possible that god created the worlld in that way, I too find it unlikely. I disagree with lakewood yid's supposition that god's logic is different than ours. God ascribes and follows the rules of the torah, as far as I was taught, even in my Charedi yeshivot. This deceptive god thingy i sno good. There are however plenty of feasible explanations offered by the rishonim. The integral thing to judaism is "Naaseh V'nishma". We will do without asking questions - this is integral we will trust that his word is truth no matter what. however, equally integral is V'nishma , we will make a point of understanding. To allow our beliefs and emotions to drive our intellect, is according to many, the chet of avoda zarah. The ramchal equates the intellect with the soul. Indeed, this is what separates us from the animals. To be machmir for the sake of being machmir, and adding halachot abandons our intellect. however many "MO" people - and I use this term only to refer to what your perseption of MO seems to be - do much the same in the opposite. They immediately assume things that do not seem rational or scientific are false without giving them the intellectual scrutiny and consideration that they deserve. The "MO" element you refer to ascribes to "Torah u'madah" as being equals, rather than Torah being the primary source, and madah (science), something that can allow us to gain greater insight to the working of god's world and to help enhance the torah. To assume all scientific theory is correct even when it flies in the face of Torah is hubris. However it is okay to say that science understands A, and though it seems to contradict the Torah, that is only because A - the scientists got it wrong (feasible), or B - we don't understand the torah well enough. We never revise torah for science, except when a ruling is based on faulty science.I will have to post on this at some point.

Anonymous said...

Hedyot, why don't you try living in an MO community? You may find that surrounding yourself with such people helps you see it as a legitimate way of life.

The Hedyot said...

> Hedyot, why don't you try living in an MO community?

Sigh... Don't people actually read what I wrote before commenting? Quote: "The truth is that Modern Orthodoxy actually appeals to me in many ways, and I'd probably be ok living that lifestyle and adopting that approach to viewing the world, and viewing Judaism, (hell, actually, I was ok doing that for almost 3 years)..."

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't realize that this meant that you actually lived in an MO community.