Thursday, June 11, 2009

Better Know a Kofer - Abandoning Eden

I'm very excited to have been given a chance to interview another well-known blogger for the "Better Know a Kofer" series (see the sidebar for other interviews). Today we get a chance to meet the author of Abandoning Eden. Much of her story might already be familiar to those who follow her blog, but here she's been kind enough to share with us even more detail about her unique journey.


Can you describe the religious environment that you came from?

I grew up in a right wing modern orthodox household, in a community in Northern New Jersey. We kept strict kosher and shabbas, my mom covered her hair whenever she left the house (but not when inside), I was not allowed to wear pants and neither did she. We were more modern in that we had a tv and a computer with the internet, although my parents were very restrictive in the type of shows I was allowed to watch, the types of websites I could visit - no chat rooms - and the amount of time we could watch tv or spend on the internet.

My father ran a gemarah shiur out of our dining room every shabbas afternoon and we all went to shul every shabbas, usually on both Saturday morning and Friday night (and sometimes Saturday afternoon too). My dad would daven at home during the week. My parents were very upset when as a 15 year old I started dating someone, because they expected me to “only date for tachlis.” I went to a modern orthodox all girls yeshiva high school.

Can you highlight an example of an incident, experience, or idea you encountered that made you question your upbringing?

Well I questioned Judaism throughout my childhood - one question that came up for me time and again was that Jewish people believe that they are the chosen people and that their religion is the right one - but so does every other religion. So how can we know that Judaism is the ‘right’ religion? I spent a lot of time trying to come up with an answer to that, but never could.

Then, the night before my 15th birthday, I was spending shabbas at the house of a friend of mine from school, and we were hanging out with some friends of hers. One of her friends told me about how he likes to write poetry, and somehow it came up that he keeps strict shabbas - unless he has a really good idea for a poem, and then he would write it down so that he wouldn’t forget it. I knew non-Jewish people, and I even knew non-religious Jews (including some distant cousins), but that was the first time I was aware of the possibility of growing up orthodox and then not being strictly orthodox anymore. Once I thought about that, it was like all my doubts kinda clicked into place, and I realized that if I didn’t think Judaism was the right religion, I had the choice to not follow it anymore! By that summer (my birthday is in May) I was breaking both kosher and shabbas laws to some degree, although it took years before I was completely "off the derech."

Can you highlight one of the very first ways you crossed the halachic line?

One of the first things I remember transgressing in is tearing toilet paper on shabbas. We usually kept tissues in the bathroom, and I hadn’t noticed that there wasn’t any left before using the bathroom. I felt guilty about it and kept waiting for something to happen to me to indicate that god was angry at me for tearing the toilet paper… but it never happened.

How did you family react to your leaving? What is your relationship like with them now?

As those who read my blog know, they have not reacted very well. I first told my parents that I wasn’t religious anymore at the age of 17. My parents initially reacted by being in complete denial about it. When I first told them my dad asked if that meant I ate shrimp now - and I didn’t - so he took that to mean that I was just “going through a teenage rebellion phase.” I had to tell them about 5 times over the course of that year before it really ‘stuck’ with my dad, and I don’t think it ever really stuck with my mother until about 2 years ago.

When I was in college my parents agreed to pay my tuition and dorm fees under the condition that I come home every weekend for shabbas so that they could be sure I was still keeping it. After college, when I moved away to grad school (and obtained financial independence), my mother continued to act as if I was religious (always asking where I was going for shabbas meals and holidays), while I continued to remind her that I wasn’t religious, and then the same thing would happen the next week.

A little over two years ago I started dating my husband, who is not Jewish (he grew up Catholic and is now an atheist like myself). I told my parents about him around 2 months after we started dating, since I already knew at that time that my relationship with him was heading in a pretty serious direction. My parents initially tried to convince me not to date him by sending me all sorts of letters and giving me all sorts of speeches. When we got engaged last year in July, my mother reacted by not saying anything at all (I called her on the phone to tell her), and then saying “I have nothing to say, you know how I feel.” We talked about 3 more times on the phone after that, and the last time she told me that if I wanted to talk to her I could never mention my husband (then my fiancé) or anything about him or our life together. I haven’t called her since then. In January she sent me an email saying that if I choose to get married to my fiancé we can no longer have a relationship with each other. My dad has been a little less extreme, but neither of them came to the wedding and neither of them have met my husband (by their choice, not mine). About 6 weeks before my wedding I attended a cousin's wedding, and my mom saw me and said hello and then did not acknowledge me at all for the rest of the night. My dad tried to get us to talk to each other, which resulted in two minutes of awkward conversation about where we had parked our cars.

I also have 2 brothers - one is very religious and lives in a yeshiva where he learns all day - he did not come to the wedding either and he called me up a few months ago to tell me that a rabbi had told him that if I got married to my husband, either “we would break up, he would convert to Judaism, or he would be dead within the year.” My other brother is not religious either, and he came to the wedding, and was the ring bearer and one of our official legal witnesses.

As for the rest of the family... I haven't told many people in my parents' and grandparents' generation that I am married, just because we don't normally have a very close relationship, and hardly talk at all except at family events. I told one of my aunts, and she never responded to my email. An uncle of mine called me up the morning of my wedding to tell me “Even though we don't agree with your decision, we still love you, you're still a part of our family, and we wish you the best.” My cousins on the other hand have all been really cool about it - surprisingly so. I have now heard many stories of people in my family secretly dating non-Jewish people and not telling anyone else about it. Even my charedi cousin who got married through a shidduch at the age of 18 (and now at 22 has 3 kids because she believes using birth control is against halacha) was very cool about it - we still keep in touch via email on a semi-regular basis, and she sends me pictures of her kids and I sent her pictures of the wedding.

What connection do you currently have to Jewish identity, religion, or culture?

Not much. Many of my close friends are also lapsed orthodox Jews like myself, but that’s not really an identity or culture or religion. I haven’t kept any religious aspects of Judaism since I moved to graduate school 5 years ago. I will sometimes have some Jewish holiday-related food (like latkes on Chanukah or challah with honey and pomegranates on rosh hashana), but I don’t go out of my way to get that stuff- usually it’s because I’ve been invited to a party somewhere or a chabadnick on my campus is giving out food. Lately me and my husband have been talking about our future theoretical children and what we would teach them about our backgrounds - I think I would teach them the historical stuff (like that my grandparents are holocaust survivors, and a little about Jewish history), but not the religion or anything about the culture. We will probably continue to celebrate secular Christmas (gift giving and a big meal, no church or talk of religion) and rosh hashana in our non-religious meal eating way. If I have a boy we do not plan to have him circumcised.

You know, many people would find that, the decision to not circumcise a child, the ultimate act of turning your back on your tradition.

Well, my family has a whole lot of traditions I have turned my back on - for instance, my family has the 'tradition' that men get high-paying jobs (we have a lot of medical doctors and lawyers in my family) while women go to college, then get married, and become a stay at home mom. I've turned away from that tradition, along with all their other religious traditions. Why would circumcision be different?

Personally, I have read and thought a LOT about the circumcision issue, and after much discussion with my husband, we have decided that cutting off part of our future theoretical son's penis is an irreversible decision, and not one we feel comfortable making on behalf of our future children. If they want to be circumcised once they grow up, we would happily pay for the procedure at that point.

But circumcision is characteristically THE mark of a Jew (even for those who are not observant). Isn't it important that your child have that part of Jewish identity?

Well, no, it's not very important to me that my children identify themselves as Jews. I don't even identify myself as a Jew anymore - on surveys when they ask "religion" I now put "atheist." Although most people who know me know I grew up orthodox Jewish... kinda like the way I know one of my friends grew up fundamentalist Christian, but she isn't anymore.

And besides, why can't kids identify themselves as Jewish if they aren't circumcised? It's not like people are going to pull down their pants and do a penis check :)

How do you currently view the religious community you came from?

Probably something close to hostility, but I think that’s because I assume that people in that community will be hostile to me (and most have been), so I am preemptively hostile. I guess a better word would be ‘defensive.’

Do you still believe in some form of God or in some version of Judaism?

No and no.

What are some of the drawbacks of your decision to leave? Do you regret it at all? Is there any guilt?

Well I guess the major drawback is that I no longer have parents that I can call on in times of need, although I have awesome in-laws, and a great community of friends that have been a better family to me then my actual family has ever been. I don’t regret leaving at all, and I don’t feel any guilt at this point in my life, although I can’t say that has always been true (about the guilt, not the regret).

Can you name something significant which you are currently doing in your life, or that you’ve experienced, which would have been difficult, if not impossible, in your former life?

Getting a PhD! Because I was not religious, I did not want to go to Stern college, to which my parents were very adamant about me going (especially since I outright refused to go to Israel for a year of seminary). I lied to my parents and told them that I sent in an application, and didn’t tell them that I hadn’t sent one in until it was too late to apply. I then ended up at a CUNY college, that I originally told my parents I was applying to as a “backup.” If I hadn’t gone to that college, I wouldn’t have taken Sociology 101 with an awesome professor who encouraged me to go to graduate school, I wouldn’t have started doing research with another professor who is still my mentor and close friend, and I doubt I would have ended up on the path that led me to pursue a PhD.

Even if I had ended up here, I doubt I would have gotten through my first 3 years of grad school if I couldn’t work on Friday nights and Saturdays - at that point I was working 7 days a week, 10+ hours a day, and there literally wasn’t any other day on which I could have gotten that work done. I still usually work on Saturdays for at least a few hours. Additionally, there is a lot of networking opportunities I would have missed out on - some of my best professional contacts have been people I have met at dinners with my professors and their friends, and I couldn’t have gone to these dinners if I kept kosher - or at least it would have been awkward and I would be the weird person not eating anything. A lot of conferences I have presented at have been on Saturdays, or have involved travel on Saturdays.

Also, obviously, it would be impossible to have married my husband. And he is pretty awesome. And this summer we are going on a cruise around the Mediterranean sea for our honeymoon, and I don’t think if I was religious I would be doing a lot of traveling to exotic places with no kosher food.

What surprised you most about the world outside ultra-orthodoxy?

Well I was never ‘ultra-orthodox’ but what surprised me most about non-Jewish people and non-religious Jews is how nice people can be! Growing up I was always told that non-Jewish people hate Jews, and that anyone who wasn’t orthodox didn’t have morals and was just interested in materialistic things, anyone who wasn’t Jewish was never really my friends, even if they were friendly they would eventually turn their back on me, etc. And not a single one of those things have been the case.

What is one misconception or stereotype about ex-frum people that you’d like to correct?

That we are all ‘teenage rebels’ who will eventually grow out of it, or ‘bums’ who stop being religious because we are lazy or we are just failures at life. This is not a teenage rebellion - I’ve been living this way for 12 years, and it is impossible for me to imagine circumstances in which I would ever become orthodox again. I didn’t stop being religious because it was too hard to keep religion and I was lazy, I stopped being religious because I stopped believing it was the right way to live. And I only have a year left until I have a PhD from a top 10 university, so I think that qualifies me as NOT a failure in life. :)

Can you give an example of something that has completely changed in your way of thinking since you left?

Gender; growing up I pretty much always expected that I would go to college and get a degree, but that I would then get married and become a housewife/stay at home mom. Pretty much every woman in my family is a stay at home mom, and I never thought that I (or any woman) really had the capability to have a career that would be more fulfilling then staying at home with my kids. This was likely due to the attitude I saw amongst family and community members that girls weren’t as smart as boys, women didn’t have careers and men did, etc.

Now I am married and if all goes as planned, I will be the primary breadwinner while my husband will be a stay at home dad/part time worker. I love my career, and while I will make the time to spend time with my kids, the thought of leaving my career is not even in the realm of possibilities.

What’s the best thing about not being frum?

Well, in general the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want, as long as I’m not hurting other people. Also the food is pretty great - I’m a big foodie, and there are so many foods/restaurants I would never have been able to try if I kept kosher.

If you could change one thing about the community you left, what would it be?

The xenophobia, and the attitude that anyone who diverges from the path of their parents has to be ostracized.

Is there anything else about your life you’d like to elaborate on?

I guess part of the point of this series is to show that people who go OTD are not all failures at life/drug addicts/miserable/whatever, so I’d like to elaborate a little more about my achievements:

Although I almost flunked out of my modern orthodox high school because in my senior year I stopped going to any of the religion-related courses (and I had to retake hashkafa, chumash, and navi finals over the summer before they let me have my diploma), I flourished in college, and graduated summa cum laude from my college’s honors program with a whole stack of awards and honors. I then went on to a top 10 university in sociology, where I have been working on a joint PhD in Sociology and Demography for about 5 years. I am ABD (which means I’ve completed all my program requirements except my dissertation) and I expect to defend my dissertation in January 2010. I have a masters degree as well as 3 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and a few other publications in less prestigious places. I won a major national-level fellowship competition, which included over $100,000 in funds for my PhD program. I’ve taught my own college level course several times, and received excellent teaching reviews. If the academic job market doesn’t fall apart next year, I expect to move on to a tenure-track assistant professorship position beginning in Fall 2010; if it does fall apart, I’ve already been offered a post-doctorate position for 2010-2011.

On top of that I’m in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man who completely supports my career and who takes care of all the housework when I need to work 70 hour weeks (which I do occasionally). I am generally very very happy with my life. When people complain about getting older, I don’t really get it - because for me, every year I’ve gotten older, my life has been better.

Well, that does sound really wonderful! Are there any parting words you’d like to tell the frum world?

Lighten up, and quit worrying about how other people live their lives so much! It’ll make you happier, I promise!


B. Spinoza said...

"what surprised me most about non-Jewish people and non-religious Jews is how nice people can be!"

Did you you really think otherwise? I mean, you did grow up Modern Orthodox in the USA, which means you were exposed to all different types of people, either directly in person, or through television and movies. I personally never really bought the things spoken about non jews in the frum community. It could be because my family never thought that way

The Hedyot said...

> Did you you really think otherwise? I mean, you did grow up Modern Orthodox in the USA, which means you were exposed to all different types of people, either directly in person, or through television and movies.

I can't speak for how this issue is taught in MO circles, but where I grew up the widespread attitude is that the majority of non-Jews are immoral, back stabbing, money-hungry, sex-depraved hedonists. They were preferably to be kept at a distance; if one ever to meet a nice non-Jew, it was either a) an exception to the rule or b) they were just hiding their true nature very well.

To this day, my family is utterly baffled how I can be living in a house with non-Jews. They always ask, "But how can you be sure that they're not some crazy murderer?!" I kid you not. I've gotten asked this numerous times.

I suppose that in MO circles things wouldn't be as bad, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that certain segments of the MO world might have adopted the prevailing chareidi attitudes on this issue.

Abandoning Eden said...

I actually had very little exposure to non-jews before I went to college. I didn't have any non-jewish or non-religious friends growing up, and in fact when I was around 10, one of my best friends' parents got divorced and his mom decided they would not be orthodox anymore (she became orthodox for her husband, who then cheated on her), and my mom stopped letting me hang out with him. As for tv and movies...that's tv and movies, not real life, and I knew that.

My family members DID think that way- I was constantly being told that all non-jews were anti-semetic and would pretend to be nice to your face but would turn on you eventually (It probably didn't help my grandparents were holocaust survivors, and very distrustful of all non-jews- for good reason in their case). I grew up on stories about my parents moving out of brooklyn because they were subject to anti-semitism because my dad wore a kippa, and I actually saw a fair amount of anti-semitism growing up, which reinforced those views. For instance the shul I went to had their front windows broken multiple times, and I remember once when I was very young a jewish cemetery in the next town over was messed with- a bunch of gravestones were knocked over and swastikas were drawn on them. In fact, when I was around 6 years old the neighbor's kid egged our house and screamed out something about 'dirty jews' as he was running away. My parents held all these instances up as examples of how you can never trust anyone who wasn't jewish, and I didn't realize until much later that this was NOT the norm among non-jewish people.

In fact, when I started dating B, my dad sent me a big letter trying to convince me not to date him, and one of the things he said was that B may be secretly anti-semetic and it would come out some day if we had a fight or something. And that his parents will probably never accept me because I was jewish.

That being said, I don't fault my parents for this- I think my parents were just trying to teach me to be cautious based on their own experiences, kinda like a Black person might teach their children to be cautious of racism.

B. Spinoza said...


I too was exposed to these stupid views. Some of my Rabbayim in high school were pretty bad in this way. But I just never took it seriously.

I will say again that my family was pretty liberal regarding the non Jewish world, which obviously influenced me.

I remember we once invited our non Jewish Catholic neighbor to the Pesach seder when I was younger. Which I think is a pretty awesome thing. I don't know how many frum families would do that

DYS said...

B Spinoza:

There's MO and there's MO. I know that my version of Modern Orthodoxy growing up was of the Brooklyn sort and no, we didn't really mix with other people. even if my parents didn't say that non-Jewish people weren't nice, there was a subtle message from community that that was the case (and a not-so-subtle message from rabbeim in school saying the same thing.)

The Hedyot said...

> I will say again that my family was pretty liberal regarding the non Jewish world, which obviously influenced me.

This is probably the key difference. My family fully subscribes to these toxic views. When I was telling my 10 year old nephew about the classes I take in college, he turned to me, incredulous, "You have goyim in your class?!"

Anonymous said...

Thanks Da'as Hedyot and AE, I found that interesting :)

Bruce said...

Hi AE. Thanks for posting --- great interview.

My standard two questions come to mind.

1. Did you consider a non-Orthodox form of Judaism? Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist are generally welcoming of people who have non-traditional and non-fundamental understandings of God. Judaism as practiced by these movements would resolve many of your particular objections to Orthodoxy, although it may create other problems or be undesirable for other reasons.

2. (A sociology / demography question). Of the people you grew up with and went to school with, about what percentage remain Orthodox, identify as non-Orthodox Jews, or are completely non-religious?

Abandoning Eden said...

1) Yep I went to conservative services on rosh hashana and yom kippur for a few years, and I also tried out reform and reconstructionist services. One of my friends is married to a reconstructionist rabbi, and I've gone to many a shabbas potluck at their house. In college I was pretty involved with hillel, and I went on birthrite in college with a Hillel group. I also went to chabad "Lunch and Learns" throughout college, and went to a couple of seder's at chabad.

Nothing about any of these other types of judaism was ever very attractive to me, and I didn't really enjoy being at any of these things, and just felt uncomfortable most of the time, but went for a while out of a sense of obligation. I liked Hillel in college, but that was before I was fully off the derech, and still had a foot in the orthodox community (in part because I was still going to my parents' house every weekend for shabbas). The hillel at my school was also mostly focused on jewish culture, and very little about the religious aspects of judaism. Even so, I don't think I would feel very comfortable there now. In part because I feel that by my presence at these events I am implying that I have a shared common belief system with the people there- which feels very dishonest to me, because I don't.

2) That's really hard to say, in part because I know a lot of people and I'm not about to count them all and calculate percentages, and in part because after I started going off the derech I started hanging out with a group of other people who had grown up orthodox and were in the process of going off the derech, which is a pretty biased group. Probably around 75% of those people are no longer orthodox, although most still self identify as jews. Around 25% went to a year in israel and 'flipped out' as we called it, and/or got married and went back to being orthodox, or never really were off the derech but were open minded/liked hanging with the 'bad kids' and just kept on being religious.

As for people I went to school with...I don't really keep in touch with many people from school, but from what I can tell from facebook, the vast majority are still orthodox. The vast majority of women in my high school are now married to jewish people, have kids, and clearly have pictures of themselves covering their hair, etc, implying they are still orthodox. Of course, not everyone I grew up with is on facebook, and not everyone on it is definitely still orthodox, but it's hard to tell.

People I went to shul with- other then the "Off the derech" crowd that I hung out with at shul (about 10-15 people), everyone else in my generation is still orthodox as far as I can tell.

Out of all the people I grew up, I'm the only person I know of who married someone not jewish. Pretty much all of my OTD friends still only date jewish people. Although one of my best friends (actually, the guy who first told me about writing poetry on shabbas) has been dating a non jewish woman for about 3 years, but she is now in the process of getting an orthodox jewish conversion. My brother also is dating someone not jewish.

Rentsy said...

As a religious Jew, reading your blog (and your interview) makes me very uncomfortable.

Lost her faith, married a goy, and now isn't going to bring her children into the Covenant of Abraham...

You fit perfectly in the catagory of "Meshumad l'Torah b'kula".

It's frightening because this isn't what Jews are supposed to do.

You have totally cut yourself off from the Jewish people. Your children won't even know that they are Jewish. In fact, halachically, they probably aren't.

Let me explain that. When a Jewish woman marries a non-Jew and they separate, we do not require a get. But, the Talmud asks, what if the goy was a member of the lost tribes? (Therefore making the marriage between two Jews and necessitating a get)

The answer is that we do not consider the decendants of the ten tribes Jewish at all, based on Hoshea (4:7)"They have betrayed G-d, for they have begotten strange children."

I hope I haven't come across as offensive. I'm not trying to cause you pain. I'm trying to honestly inform you what this issue looks like from my perspective.

Given that me and you differ on first principles, I don't expect you to be able to understand what I say. Let me clarify that: You understand the content, but you cannot understand what would prompt someone to say it.

Please, though, don't dismiss the horror we feel out of hand.

Abandoning Eden said...

"It's frightening because this isn't what Jews are supposed to do."

O RLY!?! I hadn't heard that! :)

Don't worry, you don't offend me. I understand why you are saying what you are saying, after all I used to believe everything (or a lot of what) you believe. But from my perspective now, your comment is just hilarious.

Ginx said...

"You have totally cut yourself off from the Jewish people. Your children won't even know that they are Jewish."

The Jewish people cut her off. Our children will know their mother is Jewish. They will also be told at an appropriate age what that means. They will be allowed to make their religious decisions independent of us.

I see religion is something adult, like sex. It is not something to trivialize by discussing it with children, it is something for mature minds. I don't care what sexual positions my children are going to try, and I feel the same way about their spirituality.

-Ginx, AE's heathen husband

Shalmo said...

How much does how religious people have treated you impact your views toward God?

In the sense that, would you be more open to believe in God if you didn't come from fundamentalist backgrounds?

jajogluck said...

Fascinating story! It's also definitely a success story and I feel motivated and envious a bit. But I also don't blame myself for falling far short from the achievements AE has made in career and family since I hail from the UO (ultra-orthodox) world and as such it's MUCH MUCH more difficult. I had to learn English at age 19 virtually from scratch.

I'd also like to note that I experienced the VERY SAME thoughts AE had in regard to question of "why are the Jews the chosen nation, and how can I genuinely justify this claim". I spent many hours contemplating this question and it was a significant catalyst in the process that led to my Transtion.

Lastly, about AE's dad warning her that her hubby's dormant anti-semitism might rear its ugly head in a domestic fight. From his perspective he's definitely justified in raising this possibility, but I think that in general this is statistically a serious possibility. Of course, I don't know who AE's hubby is. She knows him best and she may have determined that he's intelligent enough not to become emotionally carried away with antisemitism in such situations.

From my experience, "average" christians (meaning uneducated, sports-obesessed commoners), especially those who live in traditional mid-western and upper-class suburbans WASP communities tend to "gloss over" a lingering antisemitic feeling, just as they do so with their anti-black sentiment. They are civilized enough not to insult such minorities in their face but after having several beers in a WASP party they are perfectly capable of cracking some anti-jewish and/or anti-black jokes.

The only reason I am pointing this out here is that Idon't want potential OTD's to have this glorified image of "mainstream Americans" in mind once they become enlightened enough to know that gentiles are indeed not evil, but then when they encounter lingering antisemitism, they may view that as a reason to "return to their heritage".

Mari bar Rachel said...

"In fact, halachically, they probably aren't [Jewish].

Let me explain that. When a Jewish woman marries a non-Jew and they separate, we do not require a get. But, the Talmud asks, what if the goy was a member of the lost tribes? (Therefore making the marriage between two Jews and necessitating a get)

The answer is that we do not consider the descendants of the ten tribes Jewish at all, based on Hoshea (4:7)"They have betrayed G-d, for they have begotten strange children.""

As a right wing yeshiva educated orthodox Jew and the child of an intermarriage, I must write that although I certainly sympathize with your opinion, I must tell you that halachically you are mistaken.

According to virtually all opinions the child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is a full fledged Jew. See, for example, Kidushin 71b Tosfos D"H "Kan," Yevamos 45a "zeel gali," and the associated mephorshim and poskim. I don't have the time to look up everything right now, but those sources are a good starting place. (Some achronim maintain that the understanding of the Gemara of Rashi and possibly some of the Ba'alie Tosfos result in the offspring being non-Jewish, and there have been isolated incidents if Batei Dinim requiring a geirus mechumra-I believe that the Haifa Bais Din issued such a ruling some years ago-but let me emphasize that the geirus was only a chumra, and a chumra worthy of hilchos gittin at that.)

The absolute only thing proven by the verse in Hoshea is that the husband is not assumed to be Jewish, a point which I believe was never under contention.

Ari said...

My guess is that outside the New York metro area, this mistaken perception of non Jews as uniformly bigoted or depraved individuals, is not as pronounced. This is based on my own childhood "out of town," raised in a fairly yeshivish family. Although to be fair, my parents were balei teshuva, so perhaps their exposure to non Jews made them aware that all people are basically the same.

alex said...

"I felt guilty about it and kept waiting for something to happen to me to indicate that god was angry at me for tearing the toilet paper… but it never happened."

All the chachamim say that this should occur within thirty years of the aveiro.

alex said...

...and let me add, the divine sign of approval, it is taught, must be midah k'neged midah, so that you will eventually either have some toilet paper stuck to your shoe, or it will clog your toilet, or the like.

Josh said...

Yes! This makes total sense! Last week when my toilet got clogged from my fressing at the chulent table at my shul's kiddush, I kept asking myself, "Why?! Why me?! Why is God punishing me like this!?" My faith in Him was truly shaken.

Thank you Alex, for restoring my faith in God's justice.

Yisroel Simon said...

I found the article very interesting. I myself am a Chabad Shliach and have a brother who is traditional but not observant anymore. I found the end of the post where you describe what you are doing in life a nice contrast to the main part. The post as a whole left me quite sad. I hope you can have a meaningful relationship with your family and that you have only happiness in your life.

Abandoning Eden said...

"How much does how religious people have treated you impact your views toward God?

In the sense that, would you be more open to believe in God if you didn't come from fundamentalist backgrounds?"

hmm, well my journey towards atheism was kind of a separate but parallel journey to the one out of orthodox judaism. For several years I believed there was a god, just that Judaism had it wrong. It was only when I was in my early 20s, after being OTD to some extent for over 5 years, that I started questioning whether there was a god at all.

I don't think the way religious people have treated me has impacted my atheism. But I do agree that it has to some extent impacted me becoming not religious.

If I felt like I fit in well with the jewish community, I think it would have been much harder for me to have become openly not religious, because I would have alienated a lot of my friends. But for some reason i never really fit in well with the religious...maybe cause I asked too many questions or talked back to much for a girl or something? :) Not sure why, but I never had a lot of orthodox friends, and when I met that group of other people who were OTD, I finally found a group of people who thought the same way as I did, and whom I felt comfortable being myself around. I'm not saying that's the reason I went OTD (especially cause I was OTD to some extent before I met them, and of all those people I am the furthest OTD at this point in our lives). But it probably made it easier for me to do. Not that it was easy either... :)

Abandoning Eden said...

jajoggluk- yeah I can imagine how hard it must be, and for someone who didn't speak English until 19, you write very well! I was very luck in that my family valued secular education as highly as religious education (they were really into torah umadah, my dad has a Phd in a secular topic, although he got it at YU)

My husband is actually from the midwest, as is most of his extended family. They may have secret anti-semetic views, but if they do, I don't know about them, and they have never made me feel anything but welcome in their homes and in their family. No one has ever really commented on the fact that I'm Jewish at all, as far as I know. I have, on the other hand, gotten made fun of cause I'm an east coast academic (but in a good natured way). :)

Contrast that with everyone is my family, who refuses to meet my husband cause he isn't jewish. Who really cares what people are secretly thinking- I think it's their actions that count.

Abandoning Eden said...

Ari- you may be right, I grew up outside of NYC but definitely within the metro area, and my parents are from brooklyn/queens (both from heavily jewish areas)

Abandoning Eden said...

yisroel- I hope so too, but at this point it is their choice and not mine that we are not close.

The Hedyot said...

Isn't it odd that people are concerned more by some secretive, latent anti-semitism of AE's husband and family, for which there is no evidence whatsoever, more than they are bothered by the overt and blatant intolerance and prejudice that AE's family has shown to her husband and even to AE herself?

chanief said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview Hedyot. AE thanks for sharing with us :o)

Shawn said...


Many thanks for your thoughts and I have read your blog assiduously and appreciate your insight and journey. Having said that, your comparison of circumcision to what women in your family have done throughout the years is patently silly and a bit ridiculous. I might feel similarly as you with respect to circumcision, but an ancient tradition, like DH said, that is practically from the begging of organized Judaism, does not warrant a comparison to a familiar situation that is both contemporary and narrow. Again, congrats on the wedding, and your journey has been inspirational but the way in which you defended your decision to not circumcise your future son--by relying on a hackneyed comparison and vague notion of tradition that your family has for women in respect to professional careers-- was not worthy of comparison to something as heady and as traditionally important to ortho's as circumcision...

Abandoning Eden said...

Perhaps that comparison was flippant. Well then a more serious tradition...for thousands of years (or so they tell me) my family has kept kosher and shabbas. I don't. I don't keep any other part of the jewish religion. Why would I think differently about circumcision and do it for the sake of tradition, when I don't follow any of my family's religious traditions? To me the traditions are all the same- not relevant to my life. I need a different reason besides "it's tradition" to do anything I do.

Furthermore, to me, having my child circumcised would require an even higher level of belief than keeping Kosher or Shabbas, because it is potentially harming another person who can't give consent (definitely harming in the short term, and possibly in the long term), and forever altering their body without their consent, which is against my personal moral code.

Yonason said...

i'm continualy suprised at the level of thought that goes into rejecting judaism...

and starting to be of the opinion that all jews would be better off moving into communities where jews form a small minority. i suspect that it would cut the OTD rate to a tenth or less

the problem isn't that you're rejecting judaism, its more that you're rejecting that monster that seems to thrive in NYC and its surroundings.

they feed you a bunch of lies and when you find out you throw the baby oyt with the bathwater.

and do you not realize that you also believe your way to be the right one? so perhaps your way is also wrong.

(and maybe everyone is wrong, or maybe everyone is right, or just maybe, everyone is fulfilling their intended purpose in the world.)

and btw, nothing wrong with a religious girl getting a Ph.D. My kallah wants to get one, and so do I. (i'm quite proud of her.)

GLorp said...

> i'm continualy suprised at the level of thought that goes into rejecting judaism...

Surprising, isn't it? Since the popular view that most frummies tend to buy into is that it's not rational at all, and purely based on taivos....

> and btw, nothing wrong with a religious girl getting a Ph.D. My kallah wants to get one, and so do I.

Pleeeeease. When are people going to realize that just because one frum community lets its adherents do something, it doesn't mean others also think it's legitimate! When was the last time a frum person accepted the excuse to be meikel on something with an explanation of "Hey, those more modern rabbis say it's ok, so we should be allowed to do it too!"

yoni said...

Surprising, isn't it? Since the popular view that most frummies tend to buy into is that it's not rational at all, and purely based on taivos....

Suprising in that i seriously overestimate how much "rational" thought goes into the decision. . .

but then on, people aren't rational creatures to begin with, and frequently do irrational things because they feel good. For instance speeding durring intracity travel.

yoni said...

to quote my father's favorite T-shirt "lord what fools these mortals be"

Abandoning Eden said...

Yonason- I would agree with you on the NYC thing but for this- when I first moved out of the NYC area to the place I live now (which is not in the NYC area) I at first got somewhat involved in the local Jewish community- which is a lot more open minded than the one in NYC, and Jews of all different denominations/level of belief hang out with each other and actually treat each other like human beings (shocking, I know).

Even so, I didn't find anything in that community that made me think Judaism might be right after all, and even though everyone was very nice welcoming to me, I didn't particularly enjoy hanging out with jewish people and doing jewish things (like shabbas meals, etc), and didn't get any benefit from it really. In fact, it got to the point where I started having panic attacks on the way to shabbas meals on a regular basis..I'm still not entirely sure why, other than that I really didn't want to go anymore but I kept forcing myself to, but after about a year of that and long discussions with a therapist, I decided to stop going to jewish-themed events (although I still hang out with some of my friends I met through those events, and I have attended some things like shabbas sheva brachot of a friend since then).

And perhaps at first when I was 15 I didn't give it a ton of rational thought, but it's been 12 years since then and I am continually questioning and re-evaluating my actions and my belief system. I went back and forth with my level of involvement in the jewish community throughout college/early grad school. In fact once I got to college I had the same thought you did- that I probably hated judaism becuase of my particular experience with my family/ community, so I should try to let go of that baggage and get involved on my terms. But I never really got anything out of it (other than a few friends, which was nice, but I never got anything out of the religious or cultural aspects of judaism). I spent years journaling and blogging about god and judaism (apart from this blog I have an older friends-only one I've been keeping since 2001). At each step along the way (becuase it is a series of steps, and it took years) I thought for a very long time about what my next step would be, what I believed in, etc. I kinda glossed over that stuff in the interview, but hey, I can only write so much. :)

Abandoning Eden said...

Also, I think I could have gotten a phd and stayed frum if I had a lot of gumption and stuck to my guns, etc. However, I don't think I would have, for several reasons, apart from the "going to stern and not actually meeting the people who led me to get a phd" thing.

For one, I was engaged to an orthodox man when I was 21, who was somewhat OTD, but still believed in judaism/god (so he just felt guilty all the time). During our engagement, when i was learning about jewish marriage/ taharat hamishpacha laws, was a time of rapid change in my level of observance (downwards) as I became more and more cynical of judaism as I tried to find a religious justification for all these wedding rituals, and had a hard time finding any.

In part because of our growing religious differences, we broke up about 4 months before we were supposed to get married. Anyways, my point is, he was also very against the idea of me applying to graduate school, and firmly put his foot down and said he would not move with me if I wanted to go to grad school, that his career was too important to move, etc. So if I had stayed religious and therefore married him, i would have been limited to the schools in the NYC area (none of which specialize in my area of focus). If we had stayed together, I doubt I would have gone to grad school.

Anyways, that's just one example among many. I could have gotten a phd, but it would have been a lot harder. If you can do something, but it's a lot harder to do, it's just less likely to get done. It's like that metaphor about a bird cage and racism/sexism/any can look at one pole in the cage and be like "well, how come the bird can't just fly around it, that doesn't look like it could stop any bird from doing anything." But when you have a bunch of poles like that, it ends up being a cage.

yoni said...

part of the issue i think for most off the derech and BTs (and indeed FFbs and born non-frums) is whether or not they were happy in the enviornment of their upbringing.

The damage that can be done by a stifling upbringing is extremely hard to overcome with anything other than the distance and healing afforded by time.

We are, after all, irrational creatures, and as much as we pretend to be guided by higher thoughts, we don't generaly tend to actualize them so long.

reconsidering these things may take decades, not years. If you reconsider them at all.

I am strongly suspicious that almost all off the derech or on the derech behavior relates more to a rejection of what you had growing up than anything else.

and any and all intellectualizing of things is usualy a facade for the same.

The Hedyot said...


I happen to agree. I believe that for most people (but not all), emotional factors play a very significant role in their decision to leave Orthodoxy. (I write as much repeatedly on this blog.) However, this doesn't make the decision any less legitimate.

In addition, the flip side of this idea is that it's just as much a non-rational decision to become/stay frum. Very few people who are frum are so because they've pondered whether it really is right or not. They are that way simply because being frum works for them, and like you say, any and all intellectualizing of things is usually a facade to cover up that fact.

yoni said...

as I have said before, i am not going to begrudge people their going off the derech.

Often the very air of brooklyn makes me want to escape the confines of its viewpoints.

yoni said...

and again, my decision to stay frum, if i had to be honest, was likely largely dependent upon my connection (as a 3-6 year old) with my morah (the local chabad rebbetzin and kindergarten teacher) and my rejection of many of the things going on in my family in the years since i was taken out.

at this point, i'm set in terms of being frum.

and what i watched in public school, the scorn, torture, and ridicule and petty stupidity only reinforced it.

Shimon Bar Yochi said...

"One of the first things I remember transgressing in is tearing toilet paper on shabbas. We usually kept tissues in the bathroom, and I hadn’t noticed that there wasn’t any left before using the bathroom. I felt guilty about it and kept waiting for something to happen to me to indicate that god was angry at me for tearing the toilet paper… but it never happened"

What a foolish comment. Do you think you do a transgression and GOD strikes you with lightening. Geez! Your punsihment will come in the world to come, so enjoy your life now, later, well.... if I only had a front seat in the heavenly courts.

yoni said...

one thing to add, usualy, in my experience, the ones who assert their leaving the derect to be purely intelectual, are the least intelectualy driven of the lot.

I have only met one person who's decision to leave struck me as purely intellectual, and she was quite frankly disturbing.

To put her case mildly, her going off the derech was essentialy a cold, hard, analytical calculation: "My chances of acheiving my dreams are higher elsewere."

there was no fight, nothing. the fight happened after the decision in order to accustome herself to her new chosen life. Nor was there much bitterness by the time i met her.

the decision possessed no more emotional meaning to her than whether or not one uses a4 or letter paper. it just was.

The Hedyot said...


I've met many people for whom the decision to leave was rooted primarily in intellectual factors. They came from happy homes, they enjoyed frumkeit, and they wanted desperately to keep believing, but they couldn't deny what their mind was telling them was the truth.

And even for those people who have a significant emotional component affecting their decision (such as myself), there is still a serious intellectual part that can not be easily discounted. Like I wrote in my own interview, I was very miserable for quite a while, but convinced that it didn't really matter - I still had to stay frum, no matter how I felt. It was only when I started appreciating the flaws in Judaism that I allowed myself to fully act on my emotions.

yoni said...

and then you have people like me, who in general is extremely intelectual (iq 160s) and learned about yiddishkeit only from books, both secular and religious and still intelectualy believes judaism.

i still remember the first time i read about DH at about the age of 7 and thinking "these guys must be idiots! how can they come up with theories so appaulingly stupid?!"

(and mind you i was fairly free with the appelation stupid, i didn't generaly cow tow my opinion to anyone simply because they were "authority" i was far to prone to doing my own research and comming to my own conclusions, and regularly told my teachers that they are wrong.

But then the fact that i was not in a jewish school and was free to approach the sefarim and otherbooks as i pleased may well have made a segnificant influence in my staying frum. (long story) with noone telling me what i had to believe or did not have to believe.