Monday, February 18, 2013

A Prophet For Our Times

A rare photo of MLK addressing a crowd of chassidim. ;)
A few weeks ago the US celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which commemorates the birthday of the renowned civil rights activist. At the time, I set aside some material to read regarding the day's subject matter, one of which was the famed "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", which Dr. King wrote while imprisoned after being arrested for participating in protests against the racial segregation of that city.

It's one of his most celebrated pieces of writing, and justifiably so. Like much of his prose, it's deeply inspiring, eloquently calling upon the populace to take the difficult but morally just path. But it also focuses a lot on the criticisms he'd been receiving from those who opposed his tactics of non-violent protest and who wished he'd take a less confrontational tack in his efforts to effect change. As I read through the letter, I couldn't help being repeatedly struck at the similarities between the arguments which King's opponents (and sometimes even his allies) directed at him, and the attacks which, in our own time, advocates of sex abuse victims so often have to fend off. Despite the fact that they are very different issues, in very different communities, at two very different periods in history, the criticisms are virtually identical. For example, he's questioned as to why he is sticking his nose in matters outside his own community; on why he has to be so confrontational with the established status quo; on the tone of his protests; on why he can't work more in cooperation with the community leadership; on why he can't take things more slowly. And in his letter, he so forcefully responds to these criticisms, highlighting the many entrenched societal and institutional problems that he must do battle with to effect change; problems that are virtually identical to the ones that advocates of sex abuse victims have been dealing with for years.

Over and over, as I read his impassioned appeals lamenting the obstacles he was facing, it amazed me how, if you replace just a few names, places, houses of worship, deities, and the injustice being focused on, it's utterly uncanny how his words could sound like they were being spoken directly to the ultra-Orthodox community of the twenty first century.

I urge everyone to read the original essay in its entirety, but below I've excerpted a number of choice selections that highlight the relevance of his words to the tragic predicament of our current era. Let's hope his timeless message once again inspires a generation to "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

(Note: In various places I've made some minor edits to trim down the quotes, splice together a few related ones that appear apart, and occasionally add emphasis to a phrase.)

  • On those who feel he's an outsider who shouldn't get involved in matters outside his own community:

    I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in."... I am in Birmingham because injustice is here... I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea.

  • On the reaction of those who are more disturbed by those agitating for change than the actual crimes occuring:

    You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

  • On the broken promises made by the community leadership to properly deal with the issue:

    Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation. Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs... As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.

  • On why the agitators have to be so darn confrontational. Why can't they work in cooperation with the establishment?

    You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

    ...we are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

  • On those who praise the establishment for the "progress" it's supposedly made:

    My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals... We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

  • On those who demand that he slow down and give the leaders time to work things out:

    Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

    ...when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

    ...the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is the white moderate who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."

  • On the silent complicity of a community that prides itself on its religious character:

    We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

    I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?... Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency...?"

    In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church.

  • On the moral cowardice of the religious leadership:

    Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue... But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church...

    When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

    In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

  • On the moderates in the community who support him, at least in theory:

    I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice... Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

  • On religious leaders who half-heartedly instruct their followers to comply with the law, only because they are legally compelled to do so:

    I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother."

  • On leaders who explain their silence and inaction with the pathetic excuse of the issue not being within their purview:

    In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern."

  • On how people are reacting to the religious leadership's failure to properly respond to this issue:

    ...the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

  • On those few exceptional individuals who have spoke spoken up against these injustices:

    I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

  • On how when those in authority ignore the people who are trying to deal with the issue less drastically, they risk pushing those voices of moderation to employing more extreme measures:

    I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies...

  • On those who praise the establishment authorities for supposedly "dealing with the situation" so well, while willfully indifferent to that same authority's complicity in the suffering of so many:

    In closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes... I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department. It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation... Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public...but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Empty Words

On the Cross Currents blog, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote a post reflecting on the recent tragedy of Leib Kletzky. He calls on the community to stop turning to rabbinic figures in place of proper law enforcement when problems in the community need to be dealt with:
"It is time to forever bury the myth that reports of pedophilia can be managed and dealt with by committees of rabbonim, even for a short time. It is time to bury the myth that there is a serious halachic barrier to going to authorities to deal with credible reports of such behavior.... Rabbonim cannot handle the issue. We have enough evidence of this."
I couldn't agree with him more. It's very admirable that a chareidi rabbinic figure such as himself is willing to speak out against this widespread communal attitude. That being said, there's a sad irony to seeing such words on the Cross Currents blog, which is one of the unofficial mouthpieces of the Agudah, that august body which claims to represent Torah True™ Orthodox Judaism.

Why is that ironic? Well, recently the Agudah clarified their position on the issue of reporting incidents of abuse. As reported by The Forward, at a conference hosted by Agudah, Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, told the conference that:
"...even mandated reporters — teachers, social workers and people in certain other professions who are required by law to promptly report any suspected cases of sexual abuse — should consult a rabbi before going to the police."
If Rabbi Adlerstein truly means what he says, that people need to stop looking to rabbinic figures to handle these issues, he should direct his words towards those most responsible for cultivating and fostering this attitude - the chareidi rabbinic leadership themselves - and most notably, the Agudah apologists that write alongside him on Cross Currents.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Kotel in 1932

I just came across an interesting YouTube channel called The Travel Film Archive, a collection of old travel footage from around the world. Some really neat stuff there. Of particular interest to my readers might be the clips of old Palestine, and especially the video below, which shows Jerusalem in 1932, and some scenes of the Western Wall (jump to 5:45).

Times were indeed unimaginably challenging for religious Jews back then. I had always been told that the British authorities at the time treated the Jews unfairly, but the footage in this clip is indeed very disturbing. Apparently, the Brits were so cruel that they forced the Jewish men to do the unthinkable, to do something that no Torah Jew would ever be caught doing today - they made the men and women daven together with no mechitza present!

Oh, the horror... the horror....!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Some fun Chanuka stuff

I know I haven't written anything in quite a while, so here's a roundup of various Chanuka related stuff for your enjoyment.

The Maccabeats - Candelight

Miracle - Matisyahu Hanukkah Song Music Video

NCSY 2010 Chanuka Musical Remix

Stewart & Colbert - Can I interest you in Hannukah?

The Original Adam Sandler Hannuka song (sequels here and here)

Dreidel, Dreidel - The South Park version!

Darlene Love - Christmas for the Jews (SNL)

Friends - The Holiday Armadillo episode.

And why not enjoy an original Chanuka story I posted last year?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Better Know A Kofer - Devorah

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben
Just in time for your holiday enjoyment, I'm very pleased to present another great interview by a wonderfully meyuchasdike kofer, Devorah. Devorah is a 44-year-old divorced mom living in Jerusalem with her two kids, having made aliya recently from the US. She left the frum community twenty five years ago when she went off to study in university at the age of nineteen. Now, I know what you're all thinking: "You see! The gedolim were right! College is treif!" Well, I would never be so bold as to argue with that, but before you jump to conclusions, take a few minutes and read through her interview to find out the whole story.


Hello Devorah, and thank you for participating in the series. To get us started, can you tell us a bit about the religious environment in which you were raised? 

I grew up in a litvish, extremely meyuchisdik, family. Both my parents came from very choshev lineage. I’m a direct descendant of the Vilna Gaon. My more immediate ancestors were highly renowned roshei yeshivas, rabbonim, etc. My grandfather was an Av Bais Din and my father a communal rav.

There was a very strong focus on Torah learning and we all did family parsha study on Friday nights. I also did a lot of self-study and by the time I was nine years old it had become my habit to learn through the following week’s parsha together with Rashi by mincha time of the previous Shabbos. During the week I fleshed out my learning with other meforshim. I did my learning for fun and out of a deep desire to absorb as much kedushas hatorah as I could.

In general we were very makpid in the keeping of halochos and somewhat chumradik. Although we lived in a more right wing MO community where my father was rav, we led a moderate Charedi lifestyle. We were allowed to listen to talk radio and occasionally saw a PG movie.

By the time I was around six years old I was wearing at least elbow length sleeves and knee socks. After my bas mitzva I started wearing tights exclusively, high necklines and skirts to well below my knees.

I think that paints a pretty clear picture for us, but is there a specific experience you can share which captures the religious tone in your home? 

Sitting at the seder table and listening to long dry discussions about hilchos karban pesach and thinking to myself, "Hey, isn't this meant to be a discussion of yetzias mitzraim?" Our shabbos and yom tov tables were always focused on halochic issues and my father often discussed interesting questions that he had paskened on. It was very intellectually orientated, but I’ve got to admit, that with the exception of that seder, I did often enjoy it.

Believe me, I know very well how frustrating the seder can be. But can you highlight an example of an idea you encountered that actually made you question your upbringing? 

The sudden realization that the distinction I’d been taught between ‘medaber’ and ‘yehudi’ was just a cultural imposition and not a species barrier. When I started to realize that goyim were full fledged human beings, I started to think a lot about why such intelligent, even genius goyim weren’t converting to Judaism if yiddishkeit was as patently true as I was being told.

Also, despite learning about the crusades and the holocaust, I just could never buy the whole Eisav soneh es Yaakov business. I was very sure that Goyim were all individuals and not pre-programmed semi-automatons. The few Goyim I knew did not seem the least bit dangerous or evil to me.

Was the impetus for your transition primarily intellectual, emotional, social, cultural, or some other factor?

Wholly intellectual! I was very keen on science and took out a lot of library books, and my reading led me to understand that creationism was a mere myth, Noah’s Ark was improbable in the extreme, and the exodus and desert travels had no archaeological foundation. There was also no evidence for a God at all!

Did you ever discuss these issues with anyone?

Around the time I was experiencing my theological breakdown, there was a BT student who would often eat Shabbos and yom-tov meals at my cousins and I’d met him through them. He was a physics student, so when I happened to meet him at the library we got chatting and I bounced a lot of my questions off him. Basically, after trying to prove lack of contradiction, all he could ultimately answer was that faith sustained his belief. But I was finding that all my faith had deserted me.

Over the next few years, I also spoke to several other frum scientists and got no better basis for belief from them.

Despite being a misnagid, I even wrote in desperation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (this being twenty-seven years ago) for chizuk in my emunah, since I thought that with his science background he might have some real answers for me. But I never received a response.

If there was a moment for you when it all suddenly fell apart, how did it feel when you realized that it all wasn't true? 

When I realized I did not believe in God any more I was emotionally devastated and wished that I could just put away my thoughts and get on with my frum life. I was around 15 at the time, and I held on without discussing my apikorsus openly, even going on to sem and teaching in a day school. I finally left when my father started putting pressure on me to go on shidduchim and refused to let me study in university.

But it was all hollow for me and pretty soon I stopped my self-study of parsha and stopped davening except for Shabbos at shul. After a while I stopped saying brochos and krias shema al hamita. However, I was still ostensibly the nice frum girl acing all the limudei kodesh tests and never scoring less than 100% in Halocha.

It was actually rather easy for me to toe the line since I was fairly physically and emotionally immature and had no interest in boys and also did not care at all for pop music. Those were always the chief issues bugging my classmates and getting them into trouble.

Can you highlight one of the very first ways you crossed the halachic line and how you felt about it? 

After I left my family home to study in university, although I did not light candles or make Kiddush I was not mechallel Shabbos and I became a vegetarian. The first time I broke Shabbos was when traveling as a passenger. I had to leave the car after the onset of Shabbos and we had traveled outside the tchum.

It took me a while to act outside the normative Halachic bounds of kashrus and Shabbos, because I was very keen that people should not view me as having left my upbringing for self-indulgent reasons, and I did not want to shame my family.

For many years, for at least a decade after I stopped keeping Shabbos, every time I was in some way mechallel Shabbos I would think about which av or toldah I was being oiver. However, it was wholly intellectual, just something I was cognizant of, and I never suffered any guilt from it.

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

For almost two decades I never discussed my different world view with my family, but also rarely returned to visit them. When I did go back I would wear appropriately long tznius clothing. A few years ago I told my father I was atheist and he accepted that it was a thoughtfully arrived at conclusion for me. We have never discussed it since, and in fact our relationship has been warmer than ever.

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

I feel ethnically Jewish, and chose to make aliya a year and a half ago. I now live in a secular/MO section of Jerusalem. I very occasionally attend a reform shul to give my kids some comprehension of what shul is about, and they recently started going to the Israeli version of RSY (Reform Synagogue Youth) to learn a bit about Judaism. Today, my nine year old asked me what a sin is, since she heard the madrich talking about sin in a discussion about Yom Kippur. Charmingly, my daughter first heard about God when aged five. A kid she met told her that God is a superhero whose powers never get used up! Yup! I told her, I’ve heard of that superhero. She thought I was a really cool mom!

How do you you approach the Jewish holidays with your kids?

Since we now live in Israel my kids are starting to absorb the notion of being Jewish and have certainly absorbed some knowledge about Chagim and Shabbat from their surroundings, school, the youth group, reform shul and my frum relatives. The reality is that even secular Israeli schools teach quite a lot about religion – at least in Jerusalem.

I’m actually rather pleased that my kids are getting to know about Judaism because I feel it might insulate them more from zealous evangelists like Chabad when they get older and go to college. When we lived in America my kids had no exposure to Judaism at all and had they continued that way they would have been prime BT targets.

However, even in Jerusalem there are certainly secular ways of celebrating Chagim. For instance, Yom Kippur to my kids is Bike Day, when they spend all day out on the deserted roads enjoying their bikes and scooters.

What is something from your religious past that you miss in your life now? 

Absolutely nothing that I can think of. Sometimes, I visit frum relatives and although I enjoy spending time with them, I’m acutely aware of how limited their lives are.

Whatever minor benefits might accrue from living such a cloistered, rule laden lifestyle, the downside is a huge sapping of curiousity, creativity and even ethical consciousness.

Are there any behaviors or perspectives from your past religious life that are still dominant in your life now? 

There must be, but I really think individual personality is most dominant, and I don’t know whether my perspective has been formed via my upbringing or personality.

Do you have any strong feelings towards the religious community you came from?

I do not feel in the least bit connected to the Charedi community, but do feel a bond to others who are ex-Charedi.

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

I am a convinced atheist. I cannot even comprehend how supposedly intelligent adults can persist in believing in such an irrational notion as God. It literally boggles my mind. However, when asked directly and I don’t want to be offensive, I sometimes adopt Golda Meir’s answer. “I believe in the Jewish people and the Jewish people believe in God.”

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

The only drawback was the loss of financial support which my father extended to his other children. But the reality is that I’ve managed very well by myself. Otherwise, it was an inevitable transition since I could not live a bogus life forever. I have no guilt since I did not have faith from well before I left. I now live a quiet, highly caring, loving family life.

I have never regretted making the break – not even for a second!

Were there any particular struggles or challenges that you found especially difficult in the transition? 

I made the decision even as a non-believer to pay my ex-husband for a get. He was a secular Jew but so angry that I was leaving him that he decided he would extort money from me for the get. He got the idea after idiot people told him how important a get was to my family. He hard balled for a very lot of money. He knew the get was meaningless to me, but he knew I would never want to bring disgrace upon my family.

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? 

I’ve traveled to more than 80 countries, climbed Aconcagua, camped in Denali, traveled through Amazonia, been on a whiskey sampling tour in the Scottish Highlands, stayed with a Borneo tribe and taken an Antarctic voyage. I’ve also hung out with many incredible and smart people. I can’t imagine doing that as a frum girl.

It is a continuous much appreciated joy for me that I can now genuinely be myself and express myself, and search for true meaning in life and about life through science. Although if I’d stayed frum I could always have snuck into Borders to buy science texts, the ongoing conflict between science and frum hashkofa would have been a daily irritant.

Is there anything that you hope to achieve now which wouldn’t have been possible when you were frum? 

One of my greatest hopes now is to facilitate my children’s development according to their talents and aspirations. One of my daughters is a fantastic singer and dancer and the other a budding gymnast. They have the prospects of going far with their skills and taking part in contests and public performances. I’m pleased that my daughters aren’t restricted in showcasing their talents as frum girls routinely are.

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

How universities (science departments) are all about critical thinking and searching for real answers in contrast with the sophistry that passes for learning in yeshivas.

Also, the fact that people are much kinder and more accepting in the general community than I had ever expected. I’ve been looked after and helped by total strangers whilst traveling, merely because I’m a fellow human.

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

Many of the best and brightest are leaving the frum world, not the dregs as popularly depicted. Most ex-frum people I associate with are intellectually very smart and kind warm people.

It’s also not hard for an ex-frum person to pursue a successful new life in the general community and in fact marriage prospects are enhanced. Once divorced, I found it to be no difficulty to find high quality men to date in the wider community.

How does your life now compare to when you were frum? 

It is much more honest, broader in scope and more fulfilling.

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

I now respect people much more for just being a person. I also have shrugged off warped frum thinking such as respecting people for yichus or money, both of which my family was blessed with.

What’s the best thing about not being frum? 

I can be intellectually honest and think about serious and important things from an open perspective.

What’s the best thing that you recall about being frum? 

Lavish kiddushim with cholent and potato kugel.

Do you have a favorite character or incident from the Bible, and why? 

Hmmmm, I liked the Bnos Zelofchod for their excellent legal reasoning!

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

Not to be snotty!

Do you think there’s anything that the frum world could have done to keep you "on the derech"? 

Accept a rational naturalist way of thinking about the world, but then that would rule out God!

If a child of yours chose to become religious, how would you react? 

I would be a little amazed, but hey it’s her life!

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

I never openly acknowledged being atheist until 1996 when I met Richard Dawkins at an event in Oxford and it broke the discomfort barrier in admitting I was atheist. I actually enjoyed a rather nice chat with him, and he told me that acknowledging one’s atheism was a big deal to many people not just ex-frummers. He made me feel so much more normal about my concern about that.

Like many other thoughtful people I suffer from depression from time to time. However, because I no longer believe in an afterlife I realize that suicide cannot be an option. I have only this one life to live and no other. In this way my atheism helps me pull through my bouts of depression. In contrast, when I first suffered depression in my early teens I seriously contemplated suicide and believed that Hashem would understand my reasons for taking my life.

Are there any parting words you’d like to tell the frum world? 

All parents are entitled to educate their children as they see fit. However, if your child upon attaining adulthood, and after having absorbed at least eighteen years of your values and frumkeit, decides to choose a different philosophy in life, then accept it!


If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors. Don't forget, The Hedyot could always use a gift or two to get in the holiday mood! You can find something he likes from his Amazon wish list.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More Jewish Links

These past few weeks I've noticed quite a few articles in the mainstream press about issues related to Jews and Judaism (and amazingly, they don't have any connection to criminal activities of any sort). Here's a roundup of some that I thought would be of interest:
  • Starting tonight, Union Square in NYC will be hosting a sukka exhibit for two days, after which it will be on display at The Center for Architecture. - NY Times, NY Magazine
  • Christopher Hitches waxes philosophical about anti-Semitism. - The Atlantic
  • A holocaust detective story about a lampshade found in the ruins of Katrina and the search to determine if it was made from the skin of a concentration camp victim. - NY Magazine
  • The old standby of identifying a Jewish home by the mezuza affixed to the front door may no longer hold true. - NY Times
  • The reality show "America's Next Top Model" has a Modern Orthodox contestant, and she's supposedly let down the faithful! - Tablet
  • The New York Times takes an interest in a new Conservative machzor. - NY Times
  • One shul's collection of those embarrassing satin yarmulkas that were given out at weddings and bar-mitzvahs is testament to a forgotten era. - NY Times
  • On why the musical character of the Jewish liturgy seems resistant to contemporary innovations. (Duh. Hasn't the New York Times heard of "chadash assur min hatorah"?) - NY Times
  • A Maine lobsterman reflects on the meaning of Yom Kippur and its relationship to his work. (I wonder if that's as bad as being a Jewish pig farmer.) - NY Times
Photo Credit: Flickr user ..Catherine..

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if your freshly atoned spirit is in a more benevolent mood, feel free to get me a holiday gift from my wish list.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Random Scribblings

I don't have much to say lately, but I thought I'd drop by and mention some recent articles related to my usual topics that you may find interesting.

  • The blogger known as Hasidic Feminist is working on a memoir of her journey and has just been featured in two different sources. An interview she conducted with the BBC can be heard here (jump ahead to the 12:15 minute mark). And she also wrote up a brief chronicle of her journey in The Observer series "Once Upon A Life". It's an enlightening and interesting read, although I do wonder how she can claim that, "I like to think that I am a little different from the others, who sneak out so they can partake in all that is sleazy and salacious." and then later say about herself, "I was consumed by an obsession with everything I had previously known to be sinful." Doesn't really sound so different to me.
  • Ynet printed a well circulated article that highlights the growing trend of secretly-not-frum chareidim: Living in the Ultra Orthodox Closet. Nothing very surprising there, if your head is not as deeply buried in the sand as some chareidim prefer it to be.
  • Ynet reports on an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that a child of a divorced couple whose secular mother has custody must receive a religious education. How come? Because otherwise his prestigious chareidi grandparents would be so ashamed of him that they would sever all ties with the child. First question: I thought the Israeli Supreme Court were all a bunch of chareidi haters, how is this possible? Much more important question: Why the hell is the Supreme Court supporting the prejudices of some bigoted, small-minded chareidim?! If they want to act so horribly, let them suffer the consequences of their choices. Anyway, that kid is probably better off not being around grandparents who can act so callously to their own grandchild.
  • An anxious mom writes in Salon about her struggle to come to terms with giving her son a bris. She expresses really well much of the ambivalence that I also have to the issue. Unfortunately, she does a really lame job of trying to reconcile her difficulties. I'd love to hear a better answer, if you have one.
  • And now for something completely different: A music video about shlugging kaparos - inspired by an actual visit to Crown Heights. (Frummie warning: there's a few brief scenes of scantily-clad women. Try not to look!)
Photo Credit: Flickr user sosij.

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if you feel you need some extra forgiveness from me this week, feel free to express your remorse by getting me something from my wish list.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Better Know A Kofer - Sam

I know it's been a long time since I posted a kofer interview. I had thought about letting the project wind down, but recently I met someone who told me how helpful he felt these stories were to him and how much he looked forward to reading more of them. Well, after hearing that, how could I possibly refuse? So I've whipped up another kofer interview for my dear readers. You'll be getting to know Sam, who comes from one of the most insular chassidic communities ever. Sam left the frum world only a few years ago and now has almost completed his bachelors degree in chemistry. Please enjoy the interview.


Hello Sam. To start off, tell us a bit about the religious environment that you grew up in.

It was literally a shtetal, and a small one. My community is known to be close minded even in the chasidic world. We have a "heilege rebbe" who many people believe can perform miracles, and the entire community revolves around him. When it comes to isolation from the real world, we score a perfect 12 in a 1-10 scale.

Can you give an example?

Ok, so until I was about 12 there was no such a thing as swimming in my community. But when I was about that age they decided that we should be allowed to swim. So we went out swimming, but to be modest all the boys had to wear the long sleeved shirts and long pants. No kidding, we all went swimming dressed up like we were going to a wedding.

Can you highlight an idea you encountered that made you question your upbringing?

When I discovered married people have sex, which was quite late I might add, I was really confused. I couldn't believe that even the most tuma (impure) thing ever was even done by the HOLY REBBE, holy shit!

What was the impetus for your transition away from frumkeit?

It was a combination of intellectual and emotional issues. Let me elaborate. The one major factor that drove me was the emptiness I felt there. Since as far back as I can remember about myself, I always had something in life to look forward to. Be it graduating from class by the end of the year, or my bar mitzvah, etc. Although today, these goals look really silly, it was very real to me back then. However when I got a little older, around 16-17, I found myself not really looking forward to anything. At the time when my peers were dying to get married, for some reason I was able to look past it. I saw marriage as a short cut to death. Because marriage was going to be the last major achievement or change for the rest of my life. And while my children are going to do the same that I did, I figured there is no way to be happy for kids since their life will be as empty as mine. On the other hand, I was really afraid of God and hell so I didn't really think of leaving. I just surrendered to the idea that my life is going to suck real bad. However, at the time, maybe a year later, I began questioning (real questioning) the validity of the existence of God. Some would say my questioning was a result of my unhappiness. I really don't care why I was questioning. The fact is that I had questions and stopped believing. And these questions were real and they are still real. The second I stopped believing the decision was made.

Did anything happen once that decision was made in your mind? How did things change at that point?

I stopped keeping Halacha, I would refuse to go meet people about shiduchim, etc. About a half a year later I heard about Footsteps and I went to them.

How did Footsteps help you?

When I first left I didn't know a single other person who left. I had no idea what to do or where to turn. I was totally lost. If I hadn't felt that I could go to Footsteps when I left, I probably would never have left at all. I'd probably still be there, totally miserable with my life and very likely divorced. Footsteps was my lifeline. They helped me find a place to live, they helped me find a job, they helped me with preparing for and getting into college. They helped me with everything.

What was one of the very first ways you crossed the halachic line?

I turned on a radio on Shabbus to listen to a hockey game. I switched it on, and wow! I am still alive. So I thought maybe god didn't realize what just happened. So I switched it off and on again. I repeated that quite a few times and from that point on I never had any real problem to do any sins ("Aviros," not a virus). And I am doing everything now.

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

I have over 10 siblings. Right at this moment when I am writing this I am staying in my brothers house. But on the other hand I have other siblings that I haven't talked to since I left. My parents do talk to me on the phone and I visit them occasionally, but I have to lie to them about my beliefs. For a recent family wedding, my sister told me that she didn't want me to be there.

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

Religion zero, some aspects of the culture I really like. I consider Judaism a tribe in which I am a part off.

What is something from your religious past that you miss in your life now?

The fact that I didn't have any pressure and second thoughts about anything I did. I knew exactly what and when to do everything, which is not the case today.

Are there any behaviors or perspectives from your past religious life that are still dominant in your life now?

I kinda really like the food and some music. Also I can sway back and forth, like I used to do studying the Talmud, when I study my textbooks.

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

Mostly nostalgia. On the one hand, I think they are unbelievably wrong. I'm an atheist, so I don't agree with anything they do. Even keeping shabbos seems crazy to me. On the other hand, I do miss that place. So in my fantasy I wish I can change them to not be as extreme.

What exactly do you miss?

The strong community life. For us, even minor details about each others lives were familiar to each others families, like how many sleds my neighbor owns. Even the little things I remember, like the way we played in the snow. I don't know why I feel that way - maybe it's just the fact that you miss the life you had as a child. But I don't hate it. I think they're wrong, but I do still miss it in some ways.

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

Not that I can think of.

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

Regrets? Hardly any. Of course there are drawbacks. You have to rebuild your life. In my old life I considered myself one of the top students in my class, and as a result, respected myself a lot and was convinced of my superiority. Now I don't have that same feeling of confidence.

What are some things that helped you get through those difficult times?

The fact that I am able to look back and remember how difficult my life used to be. Anytime I find myself feeling frustrated with my life now, I remember how bad it was for me back when I was frum, and realize that my situation would not have been any better had I remained in the community. I don't just think about it though. I actually visualize the experience of being in that world and how bad the experience was and it helps me realize how it's not so bad now.

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?

A major factor for my leaving was due my desire to go to college. Back then, my fantasy was to graduate, go to medical school and find a cure for cancer. But even then I knew that my goals would evolve. And they did. Now I am much more interested in math and physics than I am in biology. But my goals are still evolving. However the fact that my fantasy of my careers are constantly evolving is something that I am very satisfied with. In short, I am in college studying science, which was very difficult for me to do before I left (if not impossible). In addition, I am enjoying my life, something that rarely happened before I left. And I am actually surprised by how good life is on the outside. I get up every morning and do what I think is right. I don't have to regret half the things I did the previous day. The only regretting going on today is not enough studying.  

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

That people are as nice, and as bad, as in the Chasidic world. All I knew (or thought I knew) about gentiles was that they are a bunch of criminals and drug addicts. Also I couldn't get over the fact that most non-Jews don't bother focusing on Jews anywhere nearly as much as I was told they do. They could hardly care less about what we do.

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

That we are lost souls drifting around a contaminated world confused as shit, only interested in sex, and not worth taking seriously.

Are there any stereotypes about general society that you found to be true?

99.9% of it isn't true.

What's the best thing about not being frum?

The best thing... hmmm... maybe that you don't have to take everything so seriously. Every choice and action isn't considered such a major issue that you always need to be absolutely confident is the exact right thing to do. In my old world, everything had such huge consequences, both now, and for your future olam haba. I always had to be sure I was doing the right thing. Every change a person did, no matter how slight, had ramifications in how they were perceived in the community. People don't judge me that way anymore. Also, now I'm free to consider the possibility that what I'm doing is wrong. Making a mistake is not the end of the world. It's an amazing freedom.

What's the best thing that you recall about being frum?

Winning debates about the Talmud over the Rosh Yeshiva. Even when I knew I was right, he never conceded my victories, but all the other rabbis that were around to hear the discussion agreed that I had beaten him.

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

Disallowing such young marriages. I believe that many of my friends would have make different choices if they hadn't found themselves having to support a family. It's used to trap people into staying.

If you could go back in time, and speak to your teenage chassidish self, what would you tell him?

Use your leverage. I understand now that the adults in my life wanted so badly for me to be properly frum that I could have used that to my advantage and gotten all sorts of benefits for myself. If I would have said, "Let me do x,y, z, or else I'm cutting off my payos!" I think they would have given me what I wanted. But back then, I was so obedient and such a believer that it never crossed my mind to do that. But I think I could have pulled it off.

Are there any parting words you'd like to tell the frum world?

Wake up and consider the fact that other people might have their own real views about life. You don't have a monopoly on reality.


Photo Credit: Flickr user andre_guerette.

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if you'd like to more concretely demonstrate how much you love these interviews, feel free to get me something from my wish list.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Where's the line?

I was at a meal on Shavuos at some religious friends of mine, the kind that are open-minded enough to not really care that I'm not religious; the kind of people for whom I don't ever have to pretend to be something I'm not. Unlike some of my ex-frum compatriots, I don't have any problem hanging around religious environments (well, certain religious environments), and I really don't think less of people just because they subscribe to religious ideas which I disagree with (again, certain religious ideas). But at the meal, something happened which prompted me to look a bit more closely at that fine line between what I consider normal religious behavior and the kind which I think is just short of crazy.

This particular group of people were a typically varied crowd of single men and women from the Upper West Side, most of whom were Modern Orthodox, some only nominally frum, some - like myself - not religious at all. At one point one of them launched into a classic Shavous dvar torah, and began expounding on the tradition of why people stay up learning on Shavuos night.

When it comes to shabbos meal divrei torah, my typical reaction is to just tune out entirely, as in most cases, such divrei torah usually fall into one of two categories, both of which I find utterly mind-numbing: There's the sort where some obscure textual inconsistency is reconciled by dredging up some even more obscure textual reference. And there's the kind where the inconsistency is reconciled by anachronistically inserting the persons ideological worldview into the text. Neither of which I (and to my cynical eye, anyone else at the table) have any interest in really listening to.

But this dvar torah was of a different sort. The guy was not content with simply reconciling an inconsistency, but he chose to invent a new one out of whole cloth, just so he could make his point when trying to address it. Ok, so I've seen this style too, it wasn't really new to me, but what started to grate on my nerves was that he was solving the problem he created by imposing some new-agey pop-psychology ideas onto the mental state of the Jewish People at Sinai. And it was at this point that I started to get annoyed at what I was hearing. Things only got worse when the rest of the table - people who I thought were of a more sophisticated intellectual bent regarding Jewish tradition - started seriously debating the merits of applying Gladwellian quasi-scientific ideas onto the midrashic narrative.

The same feelings surfaced when the conversation turned to why dairy products are traditionally eaten on Shavuos. As I heard supposedly intelligent people seriously explaining how the reason we don't eat meat is due to the dearth of kosher dishes after the giving of the torah, I found myself looking around in amazement, and thinking to myself, "Am I the only sane person here?"

But upon further reflection, I couldn't help wondering, why was hearing these ideas so particularly infuriating to me? I wasn't troubled by other things going on around me. It didn't bother me that they were commemorating the most dubious of historical events - that a nomadic tribe received a set of laws from a heavenly deity who transcribed them to a man who spoke to the being on a mountaintop for 40 days. It didn't vex me that they felt it necessary to make a blessing over a cup of wine before eating the meal or that they found turning on a light switch to be deserving of death. So many of the behaviors and beliefs of the frum person don't bother me at all, yet in this case, and in so many others, when I look at what's happening in front of me, or what's being said by seemingly intelligent people, I can't help wondering, "What the hell is wrong with these people?!"

Where is the line? Why do some things seem acceptable, normal, even possibly healthy, and others seem preposterous, foolish, and naïve?


Photo Credit: Flickr user Norah M

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if you'd like to more concretely demonstrate your love for this blogger, feel free to get me something from my wish list.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim


Once again, the chareidi world is up in arms, stalwartly defending a member of their community. And once again, the person is a convicted criminal.

How many times are they going to do this? First we saw them campaign on behalf of the drug smuggling yeshiva bochurim. Then they rioted in support of a woman who tortured her own child. Then they moved heaven and earth to try to help a convicted cop killer. And now they're pulling out all the stops on behalf of a convicted fraudster. (Even though they're equally despicable, I'm not counting the instances where they also came to the defense of child molesters, since those were on a much smaller scale than these campaigns.)

Like I said regarding the Grossman case, regardless of how you think about the man's guilt or innocence (and in this case, his guilt is not even what's at issue, it's his sentence), the question remains: What sort of screwed up moral compass is directing this community that they continuously demonstrate greater concern for the criminals in their community than the victims of the crimes?

When are we going to see such a community-wide campaign - with tehillim, and kinuses (kinusim?), and political lobbying, and angry protests, and email chain-letters, and slick video productions - addressing the need to report child molesters and those who protect them?

Yes, they truly are a compassionate people. As the Midrash says, "He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the compassionate.” (Tanhuma, Parashat Mezora,1; Yalkut Shimoni, I Samuel, Chapter 121.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holiday Insights

Over the recent holiday I spent some time with my relatives. Like most ex-chareidi people, amongst my decent sized family, I have some relatives which are the kind of frum that I find incredibly annoying, but others are really not so bad. This particular family is really quite easygoing, and so I tend to enjoy my visits with them. That being said, they are still pretty strictly frum, probably placed somewhere in the moderate-chareidi camp, and consequently there arises all sorts of situations with them that remind me just how different my worldview is to theirs. (As an aside, when I spend time with any of my family, I maintain an outwardly respectfully frum demeanor, even though most of them are aware that I'm not at all frum.)

One such incident occurred pretty soon into my visit. I arrived wearing dress pants and a blue dress shirt, which I planned on wearing when yom tov started. While I was well aware that a blue shirt is not the accepted style in their community, I was pretty sure that they'd find it to still be respectful enough that it wouldn't pose a problem. And it didn't, at least for the adults. But the kids... they just didn't know how to handle it! Here's how the conversation went as yom tov was approaching, and they were hanging out with me:
Kids (aged 8 - 10): When are you going to get dressed for yuntif?
Me: I am dressed.
Kids: Very funny!
Me (laughing at their incredulity): Seriously, this is what I'm going to wear.
Kid: Stop it. I know you're not serious. You're not going to wear a blue shirt to shul.
Me: Ok, you don't have to believe me if you don't want to. It doesn't really matter.
Kids: But, but... how could you...? It's a blue shirt…!

What could I possibly say to help them understand? To their minds, it was just totally inconceivable that someone would do something so outrageous as wearing a blue shirt on shabbos. Impossible! It reminded me of the incident when I was still frum where my Israeli 8-year-old nephew saw me for the first time wearing a kipa sruga (a knitted yarmulke, of the style that are typically worn by those affiliated with the Religious-Zionist community). His reaction? "Why would you wear that? Rak chilonim lovshim kipot k'eilu!" ("Only non-religious people wear those kinds of yarmulkes!")

(By the way, the next day, my cousin told me that her 7-year-old wanted to wear a blue shirt too. It's amazing what a corrupting influence I am!)

Another incident: I was sitting in the kitchen, and my uncle was about to have a bite of some pesach cake. He turned to his wife and asked her if he should make a mezonos or shahakol before eating it. (On pesach, some baked goods are made with ingredients that require a shehakol bracha, so the baker (my aunt) would know what bracha it required). She thought for a moment, and then replied, "I'm not sure. I can't remember how I made that one." My uncle immediately declared, "You don't know? Then how can it be eaten?! We have to throw it out!"

As soon as he said that, my aunt seemed to have a very sudden recollection of what ingredients went into the cake, so the crisis was averted, but I was just struck how incredibly absurd his reaction was. To be honest, I'm not really sure how serious he was when suggesting that it be trashed, since it really doesn't take much halachic imagination to figure out ways to eat an item even when you aren't sure what bracha to make on it (e.g. have it after motzi, have it 'in mind' when making a mezonos and shehakol on something else, or he even could have simply asked her to check her recipe!), but just hearing his first instinctive response to some tiny halachic quandary to be such an extreme black-and-white overreaction really highlighted for me the craziness of how halacha makes some people see the world.

Another moment of contrast: At dinner, during some point in the conversation I was telling them about some of my experiences at school, and some of the friends I've made there. I mentioned how I got to know some Iranian students, and how interesting it was to hear their perspectives on current events, and their interaction with American society. When I remarked how I was surprised to learn that they, as loyal Iranians, still find Ahmadinejad to be an absolute nutjob, I was quite amazed when my relatives nodded in agreement. "Of course!" they responded. Wow, I thought to myself. That's not the reaction I was expecting. Have my chareidi relatives really developed the subtlety to not paint all Muslims with the same brush? "Of course," my uncle explained. "He's made life terrible for the Jews there. They can't stand him!"

I was unsure how to respond to his remark, momentarily confused by what he meant, but then it dawned on me what had just transpired: When I spoke about befriending Iranian students, they had automatically assumed that I was talking about Iranian Jews! Realizing this, I just sat there in utter disbelief at what I was hearing. My family were all frum professionals, some of them even having attended college (one even a doctorate), and most having worked in the secular world for decades. How in the world does someone who has all those years of interaction, however tangential it may be to their primary frum life, maintain such a narrow ethnocentric worldview?! Honestly, I was just flabbergasted.

At another point, the inevitable political topic arose, and like every other situation where I've heard chareidim comment on current events, the right-wing tirade against how Obama is such a terrible person, a socialist who is destroying the country, how he's overtaxing them and giving away their money to the poor shvartzes on welfare, etc., blah, blah, was expressed. This wasn't surprising to me at all, but what was amazing was the total lack of awareness of how hypocritical they were in their position. In other conversations, these same relatives had absolutely no qualms expressing exactly the opposite opinion when it came to how the Israeli government is so terrible for always trying to cut back on the welfare allowances that they give chareidi families. I know, it's totally not the same thing at all.

I'm very appreciative of my family. They're all very kind and wonderful, and I'm most grateful that, for the most part, they've never at any time given me a hard time about my decision to stop being frum. But I never cease to be reminded that no matter how 'normal' and accepting a chareidi person is, there will always be a vast and seemingly insurmountable gulf between the worldview of the committed chareidi and my own personal outlook on the world.


Photo Credit: Flickr user barb

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if you'd like to more concretely demonstrate your love, feel free to get me something from my wish list.

Friday, March 26, 2010


These past few years, the chareidi community and its leadership have been providing innumerable lessons to the world about the way a Torah-True Jew lives his life. Let us be grateful to them for all the many things they have taught us all!
  • If they had only been wise enough to ban music that has electric guitars, but had not boycotted a store that had a sheitel advertisement in the window, it would have been enough to show us their greatness!
  • If they had only protested against a store that had a sheitel advertisement in the window, but had not felt it was inappropriate for a magazine to carry an ad for an eyebrow-shaping service, it would have been enough to prove their wisdom!
  • If they had only felt it was inappropriate to advertise eyebrow-shaping, but had not publicly revealed that they were ignorant of basic facts about reality, it would have been enough to demonstrate their brilliance!
  • If they had only publicly revealed that that were ignorant of basic facts, but had not referred to drug smuggling yeshiva bochurim as holy, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only referred to drug smuggling yeshiva bochurim as kedoshim, but did not feel it necessary to restrict men and women to different sides of the streets, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only felt it necessary to restrict men and women to different sides of the streets, but not demand that women sit at the back of buses, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only demanded that women sit at the back of buses, but not beat them when they didn't, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only beat the women when they didn't sit at the back of the bus, but they didn't stone or throw acid at them when they didn't meet the extremist standards of modesty, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only thrown acid at women who weren't dressed to their satisfaction, but didn't break into peoples homes and violently attack innocent women, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only attacked innocent women, but didn't nod and wink at all the financial indiscretion they knew was going on in their community, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only nodded and winked at all the financial indiscretionss they knew about, but had not confessed to finding Bernie Madoff a more inspiring individual than Captain Sully, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only praised Madoff, but not publicly admitted that it was halachically ok to cheat on one's taxes as long as you don't get caught, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only admitted that it was ok to cheat on one's taxes, but refrained from holding an event dedicated to business ethics where the tax cheating Spinka Rav was given a place of honor, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only given kavod to the Spinka Rav, but had not also at that event honored a man who unjustly caused a charity to lose half a million dollars, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only honored a man who unjustly caused a charity to lose half a million dollars, but were not involved in granting special treatment to chassidic prisoners, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only been granting special favors to Jewish prisoners, but had not tried to destroy an innocent persons reputation and livelihood, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only destroyed an innocent persons reputation, but had not banned a book that tells the truthful history of their gedolim it would have been enough!
  • If they only had banned a book that tells the truthful history of their gedolim, but had not covered up decades of child molestation in their community, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only covered up decades of child molestation, but not fought against a bill that would help bring justice to victims of molestation, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only fought against a bill helping abuse victims, but had not issued a psak beis din admitting to witness tampering in an effort to help an accused molester, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only been guilty of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, but had not demonstrated utter disregard for a victim of molestation while showing overwhelming support for his molester, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only shown overwhelming support for a convicted molester, but not chosen to vociferously advocate on behalf of a cold-blooded killer, it would have been enough.
  • If they had only chosen to vociferously advocate on behalf of a cold-blooded killer, but not been virtually silent when a most prominent rabbinic figure was caught in a scandalous adulterous relationship, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only stood by silently when one of their most prominent rabbinic figures was caught in an scandalous adulterous relationship, but had not been frozen with inaction as a rabbi who made efforts to combat the rampant child abuse was bullied into silence, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only done nothing as a rabbi who made efforts to combat the child abuse was threatened into silence, but had not been silent about their chief rabbi's involvement in having a teenager kidnapped and beaten, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only been silent about the chief rabbi's involvement in kidnapping a teenager, but did not support rabbis who fraudulently manipulate hundreds of thousands of dollars from emotionally vulnerable devotees, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only extorted money from emotionally vulnerable devotees but had not laundered money through their yeshivas, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only laundered money through their yeshivas, but didn't operate a kosher meatpacking company that was found guily of fraud and child labor abuses, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only supported the convicted head of a scammy shechita company, but did not also operate an underground organ trafficking operation, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only operated an underground organ trafficking operation, but had not had a prominent rabbi caught extorting millions of dollars from a hedge fund, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only extorted millions of dollars, but had not allowed their constituents to violently riot because of a parking lot open on shabbos, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only allowed their constituents to violently riot on behalf of a parking lot, but not to riot on behalf of a woman who starved her own child, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only rioted on behalf of a woman who starved her own child, but not staunchly proclaimed the innocence of a man who murdered his own baby, it would have been enough!
  • If they had only proclaimed the innocence of a man who murdered his own child, but did not defend one of the worst child abusers in recent history, it would have been enough!
Dai-dai-yeniu… dai-dai-yeniu… dai-dai-yeniu… daiyeinu, DAYEINU!!!

(PS: If you want to pass this on to friends, I made a handy, easy to remember shortened URL for you to use:

Update: Added the part about R' Dovid Cohen saying it was ok to cheat on one's taxes.
Update 2: Added the witness tampering psak and the show of support for a convicted molester.
Photo credit: flickr user mhaithaca.

If you appreciate this blog, please support it by checking out some of the sponsors, or if you'd like to directly enhance my holiday enjoyment, feel free to get me something from my wish list.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The High Price of Religious Defection

Here's a brief profile of two Israelis who left their ultra-orthodox lifestyle behind, and the price they had to pay for it: The High Price of Religious Defection.
Over the 19 years it has been operating, only around 2,000 defectors have turned to Hillel. "There are tens of thousands who have doubts and want out," Paneth says. But only a small number are ready and willing to make the sacrifices that defection demands. For example, most families completely break off contact with defectors. "Some even hold wakes," Paneth says, "as if the daughter or son has actually died."
I guess Der Spiegel can be forgiven for mixing up a wake with sitting shiva. I really wonder though about her numbers. Are there really tens of thousands who want out? How can she be sure about that?

One of the protagonists shares the picture she was painted of what would happen if she left:
"We were contantly told that the secular world was only waiting to turn us into prostitutes or slaves," Mayan explains, "that there was nothing but drug addiction waiting for us out in the modern world."
Sound familiar?