Wednesday, May 27, 2009


After writing up my answers to my own 'kofer interview', it got me thinking about the past a lot, and the experiences that I went through all those years ago when I was still frum. Back when I was younger, and struggling with the challenges of making sense of the frum world I wasn't fitting into, I actually wrote down a lot of the thoughts that were going through my head at the time. My purpose in writing them was not because I ever intended to share them, but simply because attempting to transcribe all the confusing ideas onto paper helped me make sense of it all, however slightly. It helped me clarify and untangle the disjointed mess of new ideas, old beliefs, personal biases, and unclear motivations that were constantly battling each other in my mind. So, after thinking about all the things I had shared in the interview, I figured it might be worthwhile to take a look at some of those writings, and see how they appear to the very different person I am now.

It was a surprising, but quite pleasant, discovery. Because, amazingly, so many of the journal entries seemed to express exactly the sentiments that I had described in my interview, and in many of my previous posts. It's been almost a decade since I wrote some of those things down, and the pain of that period has indeed subsided, but my memory of that difficult time has not let me down. The doubt and confusion that wracked my thoughts were indeed very real to me.

I thought that it might be interesting to share some of those emotional/intellectual battles I was trying to work through back then. Below is one brief stream of consciousness that I committed to writing. I'm not absolutely certain, but I believe that it was written when I still had both feet firmly planted in the yeshivish world, but was probably a few years out of high school already. I've decided to reproduce it here without changing it in any way from the original. Please keep in mind that this was never intended to be read by anyone other than myself (in fact, I didn't really intend to read it myself. The act of writing itself was the point!) so it isn't entirely grammatically correct or even totally coherent at some points. It isn't meant to be an eloquent essay, or some articulate statement of skepticism. It is just a very fleeting glimpse into the mind of a pained and confused young man.


Somewhere in the last five to seven years of my life when I was in yeshiva and hearing the message of "learning is the most important thing in life" etc.. I somehow became antagonistic towards that idea because somehow I felt that it was putting me down, disregarding me, and those who encouraged that idea were stepping on me. Consequently I became antagonistic towards those people. Nowadays, it seems that anyone who is a self respecting Torah Jew (and G-d, who most definitely is a Torah Jew!) subscribes to that idea and if I am against that idea then, in effect, I'm against a Torah philosophy, which brands me a heretic. I don't like to be a heretic. (Although I don't particularly mind seeming like a heretic.) Therefore I want to find out and figure out exactly where the tension of this idea and my personal feelings lies.
This is how I feel it is. It's like this: They're yelling at me "you're wrong! you're wrong!"
And I'm saying "No! Stop it! Stop hurting me!
And their saying back: "We're not hurting you, you're hurting yourself by not agreeing to us, by not joining us."
I'm in this world and I'm constantly hearing things which I feel are putting me down. And I want to distance myself from these things because it hurts me. But the problem is that it seems that this is a Torah-true idea and if I want to distance myself from it and not accept it then I'm somehow a traitor and a heretic.
So I want to figure this out once and for all because I can't go on living like this where I have to be part of a society that I feel hurts me and if I break off from that society I'm not able to live with myself (both from myself and from outside myself)
It could be put like this. There seems to be an idea - from what I have been taught and instilled with is the Truth - that I am somehow something which is to be somehow disregarded. And it's not a simple matter for me to ignore it and say "Na, probably not, it's probably only someone's personal idea.", because it seems to be that everyone who is someone seems to be saying it. And I also can't somehow say that all these people who are saying it are a bunch of fanatics, because it's been driven into me - very, very deeply - that these are the people who are speaking the truth.
Is it true that I have to associate and be a part of that which I feel hurts me?
To answer that I don't have to associate with it - isn't an alternative. Because it's something which has been driven into me is part of the fabric of my existence.
The only other answer is to redefine it into something which doesn't hurt me (and remain consistent with what everyone seems to be saying it is).
And that's somehow what I've been doing this past while. I've been saying that learning isn't the most important thing and that it's only an aspect of a larger picture. But it doesn't seem to be working because I'm still hearing these messages, quite often too, that it's really learning, learning, learning.


Rudy said...

Wow, a glimpse into the mind of a kofer in the making. You were a pretty damn good writer even back then. You're obviously intelligent and talented, so all that kefirah aside, what was the real problem with you and learning? It just didn't interest you? Undiagnosed learning disorder like ADD or something? You were sent to the wrong type of yeshivah? I feel there is something missing to this story.

The Hedyot said...

You know, after reading this over, I realized that in these few short paragraphs are captured a whole bunch of the fallacious and problematic views that are subscribed to by members of chareidi society. Let’s parse it.

> when I was in yeshiva and hearing the message of "learning is the most important thing in life" etc...

Well, this one is pretty self explanatory.

> I'm in this world and I'm constantly hearing things which I feel are putting me down.

Here’s the feeling of condescension that is widespread in yeshivish circles towards those who aren’t learners.

> if I am against that idea then, in effect, I'm against a Torah philosophy, which brands me a heretic...

The black and white thinking that if you don’t subscribe to every detail of chareidi hashkafa then you are obviously a krum apikores.

> There seems to be an idea - from what I have been taught and instilled with is the Truth...

It’s not just another idea that I am taught. It is THE TRUTH! TORAS EMES!
> it seems to be that everyone who is someone seems to be saying it...

Who hasn’t heard this one when trying to dispel some ridiculous chareidi idea? “All the gedolim hold this way...”

> ...that these are the people who are speaking the truth.

And aren’t the gedolim the guardians of truth? How can their views be disputed?!

> it's something which has been driven into me is part of the fabric of my existence.

Like I said, this is not just another idea, but rather one of the ikrei emunah!

> I'm still hearing these messages, quite often too, that it's really learning, learning, learning.

No matter how much chareidim may claim that there is a more moderate message being told, the fact is that the primary and most emphasized message that comes through is the one of "Learning, learning, learning."

Dave said...

A hard read, but honest and insightful glimpse into your struggles . . . I kow this is beside the point, but I am also wondering about what Rudy wrote. Is it that you were weak in learning (which is confusing because you are obviously extremely bright) or just didn't care for it and were put down for your disinterest?

The Hedyot said...

> what was the real problem with you and learning?

I've written quite a bit about this in prior posts. See Shavuos In My Past and
On Dealing With the Problem of non-Learners. The basic gist is that I never had the proper training in learning, and over the years no one really addressed that problem in a serious way.

G*3 said...

I just read the posts you linked to in the last comment, and I can really relate. You could have been describing my experiences in yeshiva, except that I never even learned to fake it. I went through high school thinking I was stupid because I couldn't learn gemmara, and that I was 'bad' because I didn't want to. My rabbeim pretty much agreed with me on both counts. One even suggested that perhaps I didn't have the proper attitude towards learning and asked inconvenient questions because I had been corrupted by reading non-Jewish books. (Novels, not philosophy.)

Learning-as-the-purpose-for-existence still lingers in the back of my mind, despite my certainty that it is a self-serving philosophy that evolved over millennia among those who learned.

Freethinking Upstart said...

Did you edit out the yeshivish or didn't you speak the language?

The Hedyot said...

Didn't edit anything. For some reason this one didn't have any yeshivish in it. A different one that I was going to put up actually had quite a few yeshivish words, like stirah, hachra'a, etc. I can't explain why they were totally absent from this one.

Anonymous said...

How can you be a koifer, it's againt the Torah and halacha!

j said...


Why did you delete my comment?
I thought you do not censor:)


The Hedyot said...

Didn't delete anything. Must not have gotten posted due to a blogger glitch. The only thing I usually delete is spam. Just post it again.

Rational? said...

I have just read the 'kofer interview's and as a newcomer to the blogging world (this is my first response) forgive me if I overstep my bounds. In introduction; I consider myself a religious rationalist who identifies with many of the questions that many people who go OTD have as well as to many of the reactions that answers that have been given provoke. Both my parents are baalei teshuva and as such had a firm system of beliefs that provided meaning to ritual yet did not have the background to articulate this meaning in a way I could understand. This led me at a young age to ask the questions associated with those going OTD and becoming baalei teshuva (ironic how the questions are similar). The answers that I got were along the lines "because Hashem said so who are we to question?" and "we don't need to understand." What are we? Sheep to blindly follow to the slaughter? If the rabbis I asked don't know then we are indeed the blind following the blind! Coincidentally (or was it?), it was at this time I met a Rabbi who was knowledgeable regarding religious, secular and philosophic realms, he told me to read the Rambam and even helped me read it (my hebrew was not good enough to translate the profound ideas related by the text) and answered all of my questions not only with logic but also without actually forcing his perspective on me and letting me come to my own conclusions which differ in many ways from his own. Some of my biggest questions were answered during this time. For instance, the reconciliation of modern science, of which I have a keen interest (I am studying for a B.S. in Biology with intent to continue to med. school), with religion. I started with struggling to find the meaning of the Rambam's statement "look into the world (nature, science) and discover god" and found that while it is true that many phenomenon that had been touted as miracles have quite mundane causes, the more one learns about these causes the more questions arise. To this end I have come to the conclusion that there will always be a "god of the gap" and that each discovery is an excuse to rationalize miracles and an opportunity to pull back and look at the intricacy of the world and its inhabitants sustaining existence. In fact the most mundane cause is in reality a complex and intricate balance, a miracle in its own right. The questions I had regarding the creation of the universe where put to rest by Dr. Gerald Schroeders books, "The Science of God" in particular. Thus, these among other questions of faith were settled via logic; albeit many a dichotomy where a "leap of faith" was required; such as the "god of the gap" where I think it is more logical to believe in god rather than huge coincidence. Logic which is irrefutable (although assumptions are not) has led me, in every instance, to two mutually exclusive solutions, either the whole of the cosmos is a mere happenstance of cosmic proportions or it just looks like that. The odds of creatio ex nihilo occurring without deific influence are astronomical at best but yet it did occur and thus two equally sound, mutually exclusive solutions are logically presented. I chose what I see around me yet see the logic of the other solution while denying its truth. The spirituality of ritual is a more complex argument that builds on the existence of an infinite being and the deific origins of the Torah but that is not relevant. I would like to comment on the truth about the hypocrisy I see all around me in the jewish communities. We profess a love of all mankind yet shun our brothers over ideological differences to the point of vitriolic cruelty all the more so non-jews! Most of my non-immediate family is (or was) non-religious to the point of barely associating with the label jew let alone any kind of observance and it pains me to see such (unfortunately) stereotypical treatment foisted upon them.

Rational? said...

(sorry! ran out of space) Hatred stems from ignorance and with a society closed off from outside contact by stereotypes and taboo ignorance abides. I can respect that people could want to shield themselves from the perceived moral corruption outside from outside society yet this does not excuse uncivil behavior. If everyone respects each others morals, beliefs and ideals there can be a civil interaction and a communication of ideas that will not need to be so guarded.It is my fervent wish that this comes true in the near future and that jews can reside in peace with their neighbors regardless their level of observance or creed.

Eyekanspel said...

Thank you for this post; it was very enlightening. I went through the exact same thing you did (or perhaps I should say I am still going through it). I didn't deal with it the same way you did (throwing out the whole thing) because I believe in the Torah and truthfully I don't see how my emotions can affect the validity of an outside thing. What I see happening to many people (you included) is a rejection of Orthodox Judaism because the person's emotions have convinced them that it is not true. If there was no way for me to make Judaism work for myself, and if I was confident that I would never fit in, I must admit that I would do the same thing you did: throw in the towel and disregard all of it. I think making everyone learn all the time is just plain stupid, and not what God wants from us at all. Fortunately, it doesn't seem that I am the only one who feels that way (among Orthodox Jews). If I was the only person who felt that way and I felt out of place because of it, I would leave Judaism even if I felt it was the truth. As usual, when I write long comments they get somewhat incoherent and I start rambling, but I hope this made some sense.

Yonason said...

i very much understand much of what you went through.

really what this represents is the problems with any sort of cookie cutter system, where if you don't fit the exact mold, you are deamed entirely bad. (99% kosher is 100% traif!)

this is a problem in my opinion. I'm glad that i found my besheret when i did, and found someone as crazy and out of our [lubavitch] mold as i am.