Monday, May 22, 2006

What It's All About

I was recently informed that I had an honorable mention in Gil's recent presentation at the RCA convention. He spoke about the effect of blogs and how important it is for rabbinic figures to be aware of the issues related to them. You can see a PowerPoint slide here. In line with what I saw Ben Avuya and Godol Hador do, I'd like to give a little introduction to any newcomers to my blog, and explain to you a bit about who I am and what this little endeavor is all about.

I myself am no longer a religious Jew, at least in the traditional meaning of the term (which I consider being a halachically observant person). I grew up in an Orthodox home, not one which would be classified as Chareidi, but also not what would be termed Modern Orthodox (MO). We were strictly halachic, but with connections to all the various frum communities and groups that existed, and I don't recall us subscribing to any practices or views which I considered too extreme. Maybe I was just too young and ignorant to know how we identified ourselves, but that's how I remember it. In any case, after childhood, my formative teen years were spent in black-hat yeshivas, and throughout high school I became increasingly more right-wing in my thinking and practice, which closely paralleled a similar change that was occurring in my overall family. After high school I discovered a more moderate form of Orthodoxy, which greatly appealed to me on certain levels, but which also triggered a serious crisis in my views of what it means to be a frum Jew. That crisis was averted and eventually I adopted that more moderate approach and spent a few years in a yeshiva which helped me integrate that philosophy into my life. I stayed that way for some time even after leaving the yeshiva, but soon after leaving the confines of that closed world, I found myself in a new environment, one consisting of many Jews of a much more MO background. Despite an initial ambivalence, I found myself feeling much more comfortable in their company than my old society. Over time, I gradually shifted to living in that more MO world, and remained there for around 4 years. That period was a very eye-opening experience for me, one which I learned much about things I was never exposed to, and which shattered many stereotypes that I had previously considered to be sacred truths of life and Judaism. Eventually, as a result of a variety of changes that were occurring within myself, my commitment to halacha began to wane, and in due course, different aspects of frumkeit were abandoned. At this point in time, I can no longer honestly consider myself a halachically observant person.

To better understand my motivations here, a more in-depth background of my transition is necessary, but it will take too much time to explore for now. Suffice it to say that over the course of my high school years I became a very committed right-wing/yeshivish/chareidi/black-hat kind of person. I completely and totally subscribed to the views they taught me. On issues of secular studies, modernity, interacting with MOTOS, halacha, the primacy of learning torah, Zionism, Modern Orthodoxy, listening to gedolim, and all the other issues upon which lines have been drawn in the Orthodox community, I had fully adopted their views. I implicitly believed all they taught me as absolute and objective truth. I believed what the gedolim said was da'as torah. I knew that the yeshivish/chareidi view of how one should live their life represented the one true derech of Avodas Hashem, and that everything else that considered itself a version of Orthodoxy was just a compromise at best, and a corrupted distortion at worst. I believed all this fully and wholeheartedly.

That was all many years ago and since that time much has changed for me. Although at one time I firmly believed in the goodness and rightness of all aspects of my chareidi lifestyle, eventually, after much honest deliberation, exploration, self-reflection, meeting many different sort of people, and learning new ways to think about and view the world and Judaism, I became aware of many deficiencies in my life, my thinking, and my self. I discovered how weak many of the pillars of my faith really were. I discovered how poorly my religious upbringing met any of my most important and basic needs. I found gaping intellectual breaches in what I had previously thought were strongholds of logic. I discovered glaring holes in our tradition.

After allowing myself to step onto this alternative path which was so different from the one I had initially been following, I encountered other issues which had nothing to do with me personally, but which sowed further doubt in my mind as to the rightness of that former derech. I was shocked to discover how so many of the foundations of my identity were based on lies. I became aware of how people who were charged with my best interests ignored them to pursue their own agendas. I came to understand how so much of what I thought was a divinely inspired way of life was a combination of half-truths, distortions, cover-ups, deliberately maintained ignorance, normal societal development, and sometimes even outright lies. I found hypocrisy and inconsistency. I came to see just how lacking those who I trusted as paragons of virtue, honesty, and spirituality, really were.

That's what this blog is about. It is my voice and my feelings about how I think the Orthodox life that I came from is inadequate. Many of the ideas I express here are personal and subjective. You will generally not find logical arguments disproving the existence of God, or showing how the Bible was written by man. That's not to say that those issues don't play a part in my transition. They do to some extent. But my focus here is rather on how for certain people, for people such as myself, the Orthodoxy that I was raised with can simply no longer work for me.

When reading my entries you will see that I point to many different factors that contributed to who I am now. Family upbringing, personal experiences, societal difficulties, intellectual arguments, communal issues, and many other factors have all played a part in my development. One day I hope to develop all these disparate ideas into a coherent presentation that can clearly show the buildup and breakdown of how these issues affected me. Another day perhaps.

For now, you're welcome to read my incohernet ramblings in their original and contradictory form. Read about my experiences in yeshiva and how they adversely affected my perceptions of Judaism and Torah (link, link). See the manner in which many of the sacred ideas of my former lifestyle deteriorated (link, link, link). Later on I explore the realization of discovering how inadequate my upbringing was in preparing me for real life (link, link). I discuss my efforts to undo the flawed manner in which my mind was trained to think (link, link, link). I share some of the ways my family deals with my change (link). I explain why I don't like certain yomim tovim (link, link). I speak about my struggle to construct a new way of practicing Judaism that is devoid of the painful relics of my past (link). At times I also focus on certain specific and common issues which plague the frum world (link, link).

This blog was originally intended as a personal project to give myself an outlet. It was never meant to be a soapbox. Despite that, at this point in the process, I feel that I want others to hear the things I have to say. The things I'm writing about are not just about me. The experiences I relate are those of thousands of others who feel the same. The dissatisfaction I express is widespread. The frustrations, resentments, and discontent of those like me is a festering sore that the frum community has ignored for far too long. (Just one more unpleasant fact they prefer to deny and consequently sweep under the carpet.)

For myself, the issues I explore no longer hold such significance. I have left the community and have very little interest in returning to it. But I want you all to hear it because it's about you. You are the ones who are causing all these problems. You are the ones that are forcing scores of youth to grow up unhappy and miserable, feeling they are worthless. You're the ones that believe that your lifestyle is the path to the most happy and fulfilled life that a person can wish for. And you need to hear just how wrong you really are. Judaism might indeed be beautiful, but what you're giving us is damn ugly. It isn't fulfilling, it isn't enjoyable, and it sure isn't something we're going to put up with when we finally have an opportunity to escape it. It isn't the outside world, or the Internet, or movies, or striped shirts, or chalav stam, or Rav Kook, that make us want to get out. It's you. You need to hear that loud and clear. You are what's making us hate Judaism.

Yes, I am biased, and subjective, and at times quite bitter. But I am a product of your society. And I am not an aberration. I'm not alone. There are plenty of people out there who have left just like I have. And there are plenty more who would love to get out if they could find a way. And I believe that there are many more that are not yet at that point, but who are on the inevitable path which will eventually bring them to that sad realization.

Ignore me if you wish. Marginalize me. Reject my ideas as the angry rantings of a cynical and irrational individual. I don't claim to always be entirely objective. But what I do say, absolutely and unequivocally, is that even if my views are subjective, they are worth listening to. Even if they are biased. Because your system is failing. Whether or not it's objectively the best, the most true, the most holy, the most whatever, on a subjective level, it's failing dismally. Objectively or subjectively, the fact of the matter is, it's not working for far too many. Emotions might not be rational, but they are real. And in the calculus of what shapes our commitments and attitudes about our religion, they are as important - if not more so - than cold, hard logical arguments.


rebelmo said...

You are the man

Could not have said it better myself

mike said...


I am truly sorry that you could not find more fulfillment in the world of MO. I have and continue to find much satisfaction living as an MO-including the dialectic that is part and parcel of the MO existence.

Is there not anything you miss about religion? Do you not have any cosmic questions that can only be answered by religion-in our case Modern Orthodox Judaism?

The Hedyot said...

> Is there not anything you miss about religion?

I haven't really left religion. I've left the community. I've left the halachic lifestyle. And no there's not much that I miss. If I want to make a bracha on something, or go to shul, then I do so.

Do you not have any cosmic questions that can only be answered by religion-in our case Modern Orthodox Judaism?

Sure I have questions. But what sort of questions can only MO Judaism answer? Anyone can give an answer. Just because it can answer a question, doesn't mean it has a correct answer. Anyone can tell me what the purpose of life is. But no one answer can be proven more right than the other.

Anonymous said...

You say you are "biased "and"subjective." I don't think so. Your views have resulted from an objective evaluation of what you have faced. In some sense they are subjective, but what's wrong with that?

I hope those newcomers who are reading this will take the time to go through your archives. Many of the posts are well worth pondering.

Another Anon

The Hedyot said...

Thank you Anon. Yes, I agree that I've tried to come to my conclusions based on fair evaluations, but I'm also trying to counter those who will undoubtably accuse me of bias, and show them that even with whatever bias I may have, my opinions should still be considered.

Thank you for your encouragement.

lakewoodyid said...

>You are the ones who are causing all these problems. You are the ones that are forcing scores of youth to grow up unhappy and miserable, feeling they are worthless.....

Aahh. It feels much better now, right?

Now you can fully enjoy McDonalds and your "partners".

Its all the fault of "the system".

You'll tell God, what the heck you want from me, THEY caused it....



The Jewish Freak said...

LY: Yours is the attitude that DH is talking about. Is this your approach to kiruv?

& said...

Now you can fully enjoy McDonalds and your "partners". you have any reason to believe that he's doing that? And if not, might you want to refrain from suggesting it lest you be wrong (or, per lashon harah, even right)?

The Hedyot said...

> do you have any reason to believe that he's doing that?

LY is basing that on a comment I made at a different blog. The McDonalds part is understandable, as I admitted that I eat at non-kosher places, but the weird line about "partners" is a misunderstanding he concluded based on my saying that I live with non-Jews as roommates. Sadly, even after I told him he was misunderstanding what I meant, he prefers to make such statements. Oh well, let him do his thing, it's not surprising. I know better than to engage him in debate (usually).

lakewoodyid said...

>Yours is the attitude that DH is talking about. Is this your approach to kiruv?

Hedyot understood my comment very well. He even told me so on DB.

Correct, Hedyot?


I truly apologise if I mis-understood your true intention about "partners". I'm Sorry.

And I admire your truthfulness in admitting that my info was based on your own comment on GH

lakewoodyid said...

>I know better than to engage him in debate (usually).

Uumm, recently you've been falling for it...

Anonymous said...

LY,I hope you take this as some friendly advice.

I 've read many of your comments here and on other blogs. You seem to have a tendency to beg the question that's at issue. If you want to persuade you might want to try to engage the points the person actually makes. .

IAnother anon

lakewoodyid said...


Constructive criticism is what makes us better people.


The Hedyot said...

Lakewood Yid - You're welcome to say whatever you want in your comments, but to call what you wrote above "constructive criticism" is ludicrous. Your words there were so clearly dripping with condescending scorn. (Not that I particularly mind, I just don’t think such can be passed off as “constructive criticism”.)

Ben Avuyah said...

Great Post, Hedyot, I love the way you nail two very important issues. First, the haughtiness of the yeshiva "derech", the absolute certainty of the devout, and the willingness to condescend on any other derech.
And Second, the deflector sheild, the inability of the yeshiva world to ever recognize it's mistakes. As long as they are on the "pre-aproved" path, they feel they cannot be held responsible for any adverse consequence.....

I am glad you took the time to show them otherwise !!

lakewoodyid said...


Sorry I wasn't clear enough. When I wrote "Constructive criticism is what makes us better people", I wasn't refering to my comment about you. I was refering to the 'anon' (12:59 am) who criticised me. My response to him was that I accept his criticism.

Generaly, I don't write comments "clearly dripping with condescending scorn". Being that you are a former yeshiva guy who has willingly taken the other path, I took the liberty of responding sarcasticly to your post which was basicly blaming the 'system'. I figured you'd be able to handle it. As you even admitted - "Not that I particularly mind".

Anonymous said...

I read Gil's PowerPoint. Two key points disappointed me.

1. The issue of addiction. Yes, it's true. One can get hooked on the information and conversations available over internet at the expense of dealing with "real" people.

2. Gil totally missed how 'blogs are a "natural" tool for rabbis and communities to get their own ideas out.

Ben Sorer Moreh

Anonymous said...

I meant to say

read Gil's PowerPoint. Two key points disappointed me.

1. The issue of addiction. Yes, it's true. One can get hooked on the information and conversations available over internet at the expense of dealing with "real" people, but how different is this from getting hooked on "learning" Torah day and night, to the exclusion of virtually all else?

2. Gil totally missed how 'blogs are a "natural" tool for rabbis and communities to get their own ideas out.

Ben Sorer Moreh