I am so confused I don’t know what to think. When I started studying about Judaism with you, it sounded so beautiful, sweet, and positive. I met so many nice people who warmly welcomed me into their homes. I wished I could have that Shabbat experience, faith, and love in my home.
Now it is a few years later. I have become much more observant, maybe even what you would call “Orthodox.” I see the flaws in the community. I see that lots of people are not sweet or warm. I see judgmentalism and rudeness. I feel kind of deflated. Why didn’t you tell me?
Let me begin by expressing my dismay at your disillusionment. You seem not only dejected and therefore possibly stunted in your Judaism, but also that you feel I have done you a disservice by not opening your eyes to the flaws and difficulties of observant life in advance.
WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME
Imagine that you are dating a guy that you are really excited about. Finally, you feel like maybe this is Mr. Right. He’s kind, sweet, thoughtful. You meet a married girlfriend for coffee and fill her in on your life. She says, “Oh, honey, they all start out that way. Let me tell you what married life is REALLY like. He’ll leave his stinky socks on the floor and gain 15 pounds. He’ll ignore you when the football game is on and burp loudly even though you hate it. There are going to be times that you’ll wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea. And THAT,” (she drops her voice ominously) “is with a GOOD man.” (Deep, long-suffering sigh.)
Has your friend done you a service or a disservice? Is she right?
You schedule a meeting with a new school for your kids. You meet the director of admissions who shows you around, and extols the virtues of the school. You ask good questions and get good answers. You like the look and feel of the school. Everyone seems to really like it there. You join.
After a few months you start to notice it’s not all roses. There seems to be some underlying tensions between some of the administrators that filters down to staff satisfaction. Some of the policies of the school don’t sit well with you. But you still like the school in general, and are happy to spend the extra money to send your kids there.
Was it the job of the director of admissions to inform you of the politics and every policy of the school? If a friend would have filled you in on all the behind-the-scenes negative stuff, is it a favor? Is it right? Would it have changed your opinion?
GIVING UP ON THE ORTHODOX
Is there any institution, school, company, family, religion, community, city, that doesn’t have flaws? That doesn’t have negativity? That doesn’t contain people who aren’t good role models? Does that mean the institution or community is inherently flawed?
Here’s what Elie Wiesel said on the subject:
“A credo that defines my path:
I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.
Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one, therefore, turn away from humanity?
The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves. Or not.”
You wonder why people in the Orthodox community are flawed. It’s because humanity is flawed. But let’s not give up on Torah, on mitzvah observance, on humanity. You may wonder why the religion didn’t “make” those people better. It’s because religion can’t “make” anyone anything. A
religion can’t make someone better, because he has to do the work to bring it
from his head to his heart to his actions. Free will is the arbiter
here and I don’t think anyone would want it taken away.
So, to my dear burned out friend.
Remember the day you discovered your parents weren’t perfect? Didn’t know everything? Wasn’t that devastating? But now you probably see that although they’re not perfect, they did much good and taught you a lot.
WHO ARE THE “REAL” ORTHODOX?
I hope that you can see the meaning and beauty in the life that Torah outlines despite the fact that not all its adherents lead wonderful lives. I could extol the virtues of the mitzvah-observant “lifestyle” and even its community with so many examples of truly incredible people who lead beautiful and wonderful lives, both in and out of the limelight. But this is neither the time nor the place to do so, because you know they’re there. You’re not talking about them. You’re talking about the others.
Who are the “real” Orthodox? The great role models you encountered at your gateway to observant life, or the poor role models that you met later on in your journey? I can’t answer that because Orthodoxy is a human invention. But I will say this:
To the extent that a Jew is following Torah, his actions will be beautiful.
Because the same Torah that says to keep kosher, enjoins us not to judge those that don’t.
And the same Torah that says to have humility and modesty begs us not to gossip about those that don’t.
And the same Torah that pleads with us not to neglect Shabbat forbids us from embarrassing another human being.
When you find Jews who are keeping all the man-to-God commandments, and are neglecting the man-to-man commandments, you have the most toxic, ugly mix possible. You have a classic chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). You have before you a person for whom there is a total disconnect. For whom his relationship to God is stunted, confused, or dead. For whom Judaism is in his body but not in his heart. Maybe he is keeping the external ritual laws out of habit or social pressure, but this is incomplete and warped Judaism.
But this is the human condition. You are disillusioned, yes, because to think that Orthodoxy can magically transform us from all our human flaws of impatience, rudeness, judgmentalism and the rest – is, indeed, an illusion. When you sign up for Orthodoxy, you don’t buy a KGB of rabbis who force you to comply with anything. You’re on your own, there. And if you want to keep Shabbos and be rude, yes, you will have the free will and the space to do just that.
WE ARE REAL PEOPLE
Did you know that Orthodox people struggle with the same character flaws as everyone else? WE ARE REGULAR PEOPLE. We are trying, but we’re not perfect. We are learning, but we may not always apply what we learn. We are all different. We are not lumpable together. Our rabbis and teachers constantly tell us not to judge. Although we sometimes fail, can we try together to succeed?
I know we’ll both be richer for it.
Very well put. Thank you Ruchi!
So beautifully said!
This is excellent, Ruchi. I found the school metaphor particularly applicable, and an actual real-life issue. How much of the inner workings of any group should one divulge. You're right, no group is perfect, but that doesn't mean it won't be right for a family taking a look at the school–flaws and all.
I love it Ruchi!
I love it Ruchi it gives me great strength.
This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Thank you for your inspiring and heartwarming words.
Ruchi, is this an actual letter you've received, or is it a manner of summing up what you often hear?
Actually in both cases I admit I don't have all that much sympathy for the complaint or the complaints.
Firstly, you can't expect EVERY person to be lovely, warm and welcoming. In every community of probably every religion (or workplace, or school class, or political party, or neighborhood) there are nice people and utter idiots, and I guess even Jews are not immune to that, EVEN if they are Orthodox 🙂 Unless the writer/complainer is 5 years old, they should probably already know that.
Secondly, in this year and age it's hard to go into something blindly. Even if every single person the complainer met in Ruchi's family/community is wonderful, you can easily find many accounts of people who went off the derech, or gave up on converting, or are bitter about their community. I'm sure studying with Ruchi (or Rabbi X, or Y, or Z) is a wonderful, enriching experience, but shouldn't the complainer rummaged through available information a bit more, find more than one teacher/guide, just to know what it looks like in other places/eyes? I'm not saying it would put her off, I'm just saying – read different accounts and see if in your heart the pluses outweigh the minuses. Make an informed decision.
Thirdly, and this may be more of a psychoanalytic approach, but this complaint sounds more like "I just want to have your family/community" than "I want to follow your faith". I'm afraid it's not enough to go into Orthodox Judaism to grant a loving family and good friends…
Maybe this comes out a bit harsh, and I apologize for that. But I am not very patient with people who don't take time to look into what they are getting into and then look for someone to blame. Ruchi, from what I read here you did a great job in guiding her (I presume it's a her). There was certainly a Rabbi along the way to discourage her 3 times (if she's converted) or less observant friends to tell her she's crazy for going Orthodox. It just wasn't your job, and I don't see why you should apologize, like she seems to demand.
This is loosely based on an email I received this week, and is a composite of things I've heard from other people.
Interesting point that in today's age enough information is available to anyone wishing to make an informed choice.
While I'm here, I'd like to thank all the above commenters for your kind and warm words. Really.
I had a teacher once who said "Don't judge Judaism by the Jews. People make mistakes, whether they are Jewish or not." I'm not sure I 100% agree with the first part (there has to be SOME role model, someone living up to the ideal that Judaism espouses), the second is definitely true. Amazing post, I hope you don't mind if I print this one out.
Not at all. I would love it. I've commented before on this truism. I don't either agree with it, while sometimes true. A "religious" person has to accept the responsibility of Judaism indeed being judged by him.
I love this post. As a BT, I've met people who feel this way, and it can be hard to reconcile. But you're 100% right that the biggest disconnect comes from people who follow man to G-d, but not man to man. Such an interesting post!
Thank you, Keshet.
You make some valid points, but so does she. It's really hard as a BT/convert to look at some parts of the chareidi/yeshivish community which seem to be stuck in the 1950s. It's difficult to see women willfully accept inferiority not only for themselves but for their daughters. It's difficult to see people be so machmir on things that they forget about mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro. I could go on but I'm guessing you get the point.
Finally, to blame a BT/convert for not doing their due diligence before becoming frum is terribly unfair. One cannot possibly see all the warts. It's especially unfair when one has just been sold a Cadillac version of frum life.
Elisheva: I don't think I'm reading the same post as you are. Where's the blame?
I think Ruchi and others in her line of work are sort of in a bind. They're trying to teach people Torah, but those people may have confused the Torah with whatever Orthodox Jews do. Most Jews who are devoted to the Torah consider themselves Orthodox, so it's hard to live a life dedicated to the Torah without an Orthodox community. But that Orthodox community is not Torah; its members are subject to other influences, both psychological and external. So consider the perspective of someone who believes in the Torah's ideals: Do you say, "Well, there's no perfect community that really lives up to these ideals, so it's not worth teaching anyone what the Torah really says"? Or do you teach them what the Torah really stands for and hope that your students will find their place with like-minded friends, ignore the judgmental, rude people around them, and maybe even influence the community?
DG, elisheva seems to be responding to W's comment above.
elisheva, why are you equating mitzvah-observant with being chareidi or yeshivish? There are so many ways to follow halacha without being part of that community. It's not the only right way, and it's certainly not for everyone. As far as women accepting inferiority, I'm not quite sure what you're referring to. If it's about women not getting an aliya or the like, that's across the Orthodox board, not particular to chareidi or yeshivish.
It's a matter of degree. Sure, if your friend doesn't tell you that your husband won't pick up his socks and he might argue with you over the toothpaste cap, that's not a big deal and being angry with her for not disclosing fully is silly. Not so if your friend forgets to mention your prospective spouse has a mental illness for which he refuses to take medication.
And if the administrator of the excellent school neglects to tell you fifteen teachers have quit recently and he expects this number to rise- eh, you might not be so accepting as if he just forgot to tell you about some minor staff dissatisfaction.
The same with religion- If you meet a few rude people in the grocery store, you can and should write them off as people who aren't taking religion to heart or maybe just people having a bad day. On the other hand, if you are personally affected by serious wrongs that flourish only because their version of religion allows it to, it's much more difficult to write off. For example- a child molester in a certain community is protected because of the prohibition of mesira. A battered woman doesn't leave because of the stigma of divorce, or worse, she tries to but becomes an agunah. An impoverished and unwell mother doesn't use birth control because she wants to live up to her community's ideals of having children each and every year. If you are affected by these, it's not so easy to discount these as human frailities.
You can discount the above examples by saying they only apply to certain communities or that the people in my examples are at fault for twisting religion, but I hope you don't. The above are serious problems and ones that are fostered at least by some interpretations of Judaism. Importantly, relatively large factions of the orthodox world may subscribe to the above ideals.
In short, at some point, the way people behave becomes Judaism, especially if they rely on religious teachings to support their actions.
If that's your definition of Judaism, then don't teach Judaism, teach Torah.
If a community goes against the Torah to protect a child molester, is that a reason not to teach Torah? Should Jews be denied access to the Torah because some people twist it until it's unrecognizable? Or if non-observant Jews ask me where they can go to experience Shabbat, should I send them to the rudest, most judgmental people I know so that they don't get too rosy an impression?
I know I'm getting defensive here. But do we have to wait for all so-called Orthodox Jews to become perfect before introducing others to their own heritage? I think you're exaggerating with your analogy of 15 teachers leaving. I've never been in Cleveland (which I assume is where Ruchi's letter-writer is), so I don't know what the Orthodox community there is like. But in any case, the people I know aren't teaching Orthodoxy. They're teaching Torah.
I agree with MP. Part of teaching Torah to people who are becoming more observant is helping them integrate into the Orthodox community. If your community (or other communities that they may someday join) has any serious problems like the ones MP mentioned, then they need a heads-up. You don't have to scare them off, just to let them know so it's not a shock when they encounter these things.
If someone decides that they're not going to be Orthodox because of these problems, better for them to find out now rather than after they have made major life changes.
Sure, but at what point do you tell them? My instinct would be to wait until they're thinking of joining such a community. Not every Orthodox community is like that. If they're likely to join a Modern Orthodox community, why warn them that they might be turned off by the most extreme right?
Also, in this post, Ruchi, you try to equate commandments relating to interactions between God and man to commandments between man to his fellow.
This equality is not supported, either by halacha or normative orthodox practice. A person who does not keep shabbat is treated very differently in halacha and practice from the one who is regularly unkind to others.
DG- most of the people becoming Orthodox are not joining the MO groups. Statistically.
MP is absolutely correct on all counts.
Nicely written, MP.
In addition, I think there must be a distinction made between isolated acts and attitudes of individuals and systemic problems that result from community-wide norms. Is the individual who misbehaves or acts badly ignored, chastised, or encouraged (either implicitly or explicitly) by the community at large? And what is the role of community/rabbinic leadership in addressing these issues?
Miriam, how is it being O and divorced? Or is it not a stigma in your modern-O world compared to how it sounds like it is for some others?
SBW, in my experience the stigma against divorce is mild in the modern O world, nothing like what might be experienced in Haredi communities. Marriage is the Jewish ideal, and ending a marriage should only be done with much thought and effort towards fixing the marriage, but these are values that I think most readers here would support. My rabbi knew my reasons for pursuing a divorce, and supported that decision.
It can be lonely being a single adult in a community geared towards families, and there seems to be a pervasive (noted by friends in communities throughout the US) sense that divorced men need sympathy, support, and Shabbat invitations in a way that divorced women don't. Shuls don't necessarily know how to treat a female head-of-household; schools frequently don't have mechanisms for multiple addresses/contact names, etc. But overall it isn't a big factor.
(There was one person, though, who flatly categorized my daughter as a "bad" girl, from a "bad" family, who socialized only with other "bad" girls, because both my daughter and her friend came from divorced homes. That stung, a lot.)
A lot to respond to here.
1. MP, you cite three very painful and difficult examples.
"For example- a child molester in a certain community is protected because of the prohibition of mesira. A battered woman doesn't leave because of the stigma of divorce, or worse, she tries to but becomes an agunah. An impoverished and unwell mother doesn't use birth control because she wants to live up to her community's ideals of having children each and every year. If you are affected by these, it's not so easy to discount these as human frailities."
Let's take them one by one.
a. Mesira is not meant to be used to protect an evildoer. Mesira is a method by which a Jewish community, where legal, prosecutes its own, as in cases of small financial disagreement. Where the concept is used to protect a criminal, it's a bastardization. Communities and institutions failing to deal with sexual molestation responsibly is big problem – for EVERYONE (Penn State covered up, too – with no religious overtones there. What was their excuse? Not mesira.). Insular communities are often slower to catch up to social problems – this is a problem, indeed.
Forgive me, but this is all I am going to say on the matter for now, and once again, I reserve the right to edit comments as I see fit.
b. Battered women stay with their husbands in many communities. This again is a HUMAN problem. The stigma of divorce in the Orthodox world as someone mentioned seems to me, at least, to be shrinking, as it's becoming far more commonplace. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? As far as becoming an agunah, I defer to DG's comment. A bad person can twist halacha to do bad things. The community is mandated by halacha to put all the pressure at its disposal to bear on the "bad man" who is withholding a get – if American law allowed it, they would threaten his life for making his wife an agunah.
c. If you have more children than you can handle, stop! If you want to use birth control, go for it! Who's stopping you? No rabbi is going to pry into your private life without your permission. If "community norms" are wrong for you, find a new community. Find a new rabbi. There are so very many points along the spectrum – find the one that works for you, as tesyaa said. I understand that this is hard, maybe even very hard, but is giving up on God and on Judaism the answer?
2. MP. You can't use Shabbos as an example because Shabbos is considered a "sign" that you believe God created the world and that you subscribe to an halachic life. Let's use kosher instead. How does halacha deal with the non-kosher keeper vs. one who regularly embarrasses others? Is there a difference?
The books of prophets are loaded with examples of those that were great in Torah scholarship but had poor character traits. They did not do well in life.
3. Finally, MP, you say that statistically people are not joining MO communities. Are there stats on this stuff? Can you elaborate? That is really interesting to me.
How does halacha deal with the non-kosher keeper vs. one who regularly embarrasses others?
I can't speak for halachic treatment, but in ANY frum community, the person who eats a cheeseburger has a MUCH lower status than a person who makes it a habit to embarrass others. I don't think you can argue otherwise.
I can. A person who habitually embarrasses others is a social pariah. A person who eats cheeseburgers probably didn't fully understand (not just cognitively, but deeply) why not to. I do not speak only for myself. I speak for thoughtful Orthodox Jews everywhere.
Ruchi, I think Tesyaa is talking about status as an observant Jew, not approval. (Tesyaa, correct me if I'm wrong.) If you eat cheeseburgers, society doesn't consider you to be in the category of an observant Jew, even if you treat people well because the Torah told you to. If you keep kosher but habitually embarrass people, others will consider you an observant Jew.
I'm not sure how many people are in the first category, though. I think most people who treat people well because it's right do so because they personally believe it's right, not because God said so. In contrast, the only reason for keeping kosher is the Torah (although I can think of other reasons for avoiding cheeseburgers).
But if you do keep kosher but habitually embarrass people, your social status will be pretty low in the sense that no one will want to be around you.
Most Orthodox Jews that I know would never respect as a leader someone who excels in the ritual laws but not in interpersonal laws.
Correction: I think most people who ignore the ritual laws but treat people well because it's right do so because they personally believe it's right, not because God said so.
I totally agree with you that someone who isn't careful about the interpersonal laws would not be respected as a leader. As evidence, the stories about great rabbis always emphasize how caring they were and how well they treated absolutely everyone.
What DG says is true; but I also think that an Orthodox Jew who succumbs to temptation and is seen eating a cheeseburger through McDonald's window will have a much harder time socially than an OJ who habitually speaks lashon hara. Whose kids will have a harder time in shidduchim?
If you're right, it's probably because the assumption is that it's easier to avoid McDonald's than to refrain from lashon hara. The people doing the judging (which, as Ruchi has pointed out, they shouldn't be doing) know that they, too, are tempted to speak lashon hara, whereas they have no great desire for a cheeseburger. Also, it's hard to come up with an excuse for eating the cheeseburger, whereas it's easy to come up with one for lashon hara on the spur of the moment (I needed to say it for my mental health, the other person really needed to hear it, it wasn't really derogatory, etc.) — until a moment later when you remember that yes, the laws of lashon hara apply to you, too.
Ruchi, I'm not upset you didn't publish my comment fully. I'm just somewhat disappointed. I'll get over it pretty fast though 🙂
Anyway- it's true that good people will find a way around the strictest, most unfortunate, interpretations of Jewish law. That's nice. But it doesn't negate the fact that these concepts are supported by halacha, as interpreted by many significant Torah scholars and Orthodox leaders: Mesira, Agunah, limitation of birth control unless desparate. Because these concepts are supported by many Orthodox leaders, you can't just dismiss them as misguided or inapplicable.
It's also very unrealistic and simplistic to say: just find another community. A baal teshuva who becomes frum in a certain community through a particular approach, whether chabad or MO or yeshivish or ultra orthodox – that community and that approach *is* orthodoxy for that person, is Torah. To just pick up and move is abandoing a whole way of life and a person can't just switch derachim that easily. In many people's minds, they might as well abandon the whole venture entirely.
An analogy: an immigrant comes to America. He has a bad experience, a really bad experience. He is robbed and beaten for his skin color and his wife is harmed and his children are traumatized. The police do nothing, they tell him that's the way it is in this city, we all hate immigrants, you guys are the wrong color, suck it up honey. So the immigrant is upset. He complains and he is angry and disappointed and he says why oh why didn't anyone tell me about this problem in this country and what a horror and this whole thing is supported by the police! The enforcers of American justice are acting like this! Maybe I should leave. Maybe I need to go home to my country.
And you tell this man: Just move if you don't like your town. Stop complaining! This is not America, it's your own sad little experience and I'm sorry that the police were a bit rude to you, but that's no reason to leave this wonderful and great country of ours.
Is that an adequate response to this person? Is that what you'd really say?
Re: which groups boast of the most BTs? I don't have statistics, but it's generally accepted that MO does not emphasize kiruv as much as chabad and yeshivish streams. So it stands to reason, less BTs would find them.
tesyaa, the visual that your comment provided gave me a great giggle. The hapless Orthodox Jew, overwhelmed by temptation, scootching through the golden arches for his cheeseburger fix, then, spotted, busted, through the window by none other than Yenta the matchmaker…Oy!! A Saturday Night Live classic, for sure.
Seriously, does this ever happen? No.
But in all fairness, your question is a valid one. Because eating non-kosher generally takes you out of the realm of Orthodoxy, whereas gossiping does not. Is this fair?
Well, firstly, if gossiping made you unorthodox (no pun intended), there would be no one Orthodox left in the world. It's not humanly possible to NEVER do it.
Secondly, as I said in my original post, Orthodoxy as a separable subset of Judaism is a human invention. In Hashem's eyes, who is more guilty, the one who gossips because of temptation, or the one who eats cheeseburgers out of temptation? Presuming both *know* (both cognitively and deeply) that it's wrong. What I have learned is that both are very, very serious offenses. I don't know which is worse. Maybe no one knows, except Him.
MP, thanks for understanding. You're good like that.
Do you know what I would tell that immigrant? I'd say:
Hi! I am so, so sorry that this horrible, unethical, illegal thing happened to you. Maybe you didn't realize it, but you landed in New York. New York is very exciting, with a ton of people and a lot of opportunity, but it has its downsides. It's dense and extreme. It's very expensive and people are kind of self-centered due to the sheer numbers.
There are other places in the US that are not New York. True, they may be less cosmopolitan, have less shopping and restaurants and less opportunity, but they're warm. Kind. Caring. Safe. Your experience there will be totally different. New York is not bad, but neither is it for everyone. I would hate for you to equate American with New Yorker – they are not equal.
Please? Won't you try out Cincinnati, or St. Louis, or Hamilton, Ontario? I have friends there. They're really nice."
Yes, that's what I would say. Great analogy btw.
And the link about MO kiruv was really interesting. Personally, I was a little disappointed – the topic was better than the article. I WISH the MO community would do more kiruv.
Loved this…I could've written something just like it, from a Christian perspective! Maybe I'll add it to my blog post idea list 😉
I'd love to read it when you do.
As a convert, I can definitely understand where Disillusioned is coming from. Leading up to my conversion, Rabbis tried to dissuade me, as is the custom, but they emphasized only the difficulties of persecution, not within the community itself. I have BT friends who, as is also the custom, are brought in with words of love and kindness, and therefore they are not warned of any downsides at all. Here is where I have sympathy for a BT; when things get tough for me, I know it was all my choice, but Orthodoxy really is often presented as the answer to everything in life for a born Jew.
Ruchi, you made some really true and excellent points. I can only say that I wish all Orthodox thought the same way. Please understand that what makes it especially hard for converts and BTS is that the tolerance and understanding you speak of rarely works both ways. While you are right that no one is perfect, when a convert slips up, he/she was never sincere. When it's a BT, it's whispered that they are frying out, going off the derech. And because suspicions bubble just beneath the surface, many people do not want their children marrying someone new to observance.
I can't speak for Disillusioned, but I know that I have been disillusioned by an emphasis on ritual and a neglect of kindness in certain Orthodox communities. Just as the Chofetz Chaim felt that his generation had forgotten the laws of lashon hora, I sincerely feel that this generation overall misses the importance of kindness to strangers. That being said, there are wonderful Jews in each community, and I am thankful that the Internet has allowed me to build my own little community of support online. I encourage Disillusioned to do the same, because it really does help fill in the gaps. BH, we will learn to love each other as G-d loves us.
Amen!! Thank you, Kate. I am sorry for the difficulties you've experienced.
That's why I follow the Torah, but have as little to do with the community as possible.
Maimonides said "One who separates from the ways of the [Jewish] community, even though he did not transgress any sins, but has separated himself from the congregation of Israel, not fulfilling mitzvos (commandments) together with them nor being a part of their tribulations nor fasting on their [declared] fast days, but rather he goes about his way as one of the Gentiles of the land as if he is not one of them — [such a person] has no share in the World to Come." See torah.org for more on this.
AQ, you seriously need to consider finding a community in which you can thrive. I'm sure that such a place exists.
I'll try to give a more personal perspective later, but for now I wanted to simply provide a link to a magazine that devoted a recent issue to kiruv and a pointer to the article that has seemed to spark the most interest.
DG- there is no "Torah" by itself. The concept of Torah in a vacuum doesn't exist. Torah, for Orthodox Jews, is synonymous with Orthodoxy, as practiced in every generation, as interpreted by the rabbis of the time.
And it's not just some people. Like I said, a large percent of the orthodox population adheres to many of the above concepts. There's a stigma on divorce in almost all Orthodox communities and every Orthodox person adheres to the concept of the Agunah. In many chassidic communities, birth control is seen as only for the unwell and incompetent parents who can't handle another child.
You want to argue that's not Torah? Fine. Like I said, Torah is not a concept that stands alone. It is the sum total of orthodox practice in any one generation, at least for the orthodox. And if there are large factions of Orthodoxy that interpret Torah in a way that causes, or may cause, social harm, that's the Torah for that generation.
No. If people who consider themselves observant go against the Torah, they're still going against the Torah. Yes, the concept of the aguna is part of the Torah, but in most cases today the women referred to as agunot (i.e., not the classic definition) are victims of abuse by human beings. The Torah tells us not to oppress each other. So how can the men who refuse to give their wives a divorce be the true representatives of the Torah? As for stigmas, those, too, are human failings (and my guess is that the stigma is less today because there are so many divorces).
I agree with DG.
I tell this to people very very early on. "Just a heads-up: At some point in the near or distant future, you will meet obnoxious Orthodox Jews, and Orthodox Jews who have any negative character trait and human failing you can imagine. We're not proud of it, but that's just the way the Bell Curve crumbles. And except for Rabbi Koval, most rabbis have at least one personal imperfection. Sometimes two." They usually chuckle, as if they OF COURSE know that this must be the case. Yet putting it out there in the open cushions them against the disappointment that will come.
The thing that members of the Orthodox community need to be especially careful about is when the rudeness seems to be more than incidental; it seems to be MANDATED by the demands of the religion itself. It rarely is, yet the impression is there, especially when it involves non-Jews or unobservant Jews; People acquire an impression that it is the Orthodox viewpoint itself that requires or at least tacitly accepts rudeness to "outsiders".
That's a great way to prevent disappointment without scaring anyone off. Well said!
Tee-hee! I would agree with Sarah, and also that Rabbi Koval is the only perfect human being, ever. :O)
I would add that when I attend lectures or classes within the Orthodox community, the speakers are always, and I mean ALWAYS talking about not judging, not gossiping, giving the benefit of the doubt, and acting with kindness. It's not for lack of education. It's just really hard to do all the time…
Ruchi- you censored my comment by removing what I wrote about a community protecting a molester, even though I did not identify either the community or the molester.
I don't know how we can discuss these important issues if what I wrote is unacceptable. Oh, well.
I am trying to edit comments that contain what I understand to be lashon hara in order to allow the general message to come forth without publishing specific or identifiable negative information about others.
Is there any way the comment could be edited or rewritten to remove identifying details? I don't think you're necessarily trying to whitewash Orthodox Judaism, but censoring a comment could be interpreted as such.
Thats what I did: removed identifying or specific information and left the message intact. There are also some specific issues that I am not willing to deal with on the blog. This may be wrong of me, but nevertheless it is my blog and I am not ready to take on every ill within the Orthodox community single-handedly here.
I want to thank my reader who gave me permission to do that. You know who you are.
Questions about rudeness: Are O Jews proportionately ruder than other people? Is this related to the NYC connections (I have the impression that NYC figures large as place of residence or origin for O Jews, and NYC has a reputation for rudeness). And apart from that: do O Jews find their OWN community ruder than the rest of the world, or is it just appearing that way to outsiders? Maybe the so-called rudeness is a matter of cultural norms (like the greeting issue). In some areas of Europe, for instance, people appear to me to be rather rude, but for them it's more a matter of being direct and not saying things they don't mean (like instead of saying with a smile "nice to meet you" at the end of a dinner party, they simply say an unsmiling "Goodbye".) To each other that is just normal, although if they have visited the USA they realize how it must look rude.
Good question. I think objectively OJs are NOT ruder than other people. I am excluding a subset of OJs who do treat non-Jews and non-frum Jews less politely than they treat their fellow OJs. I am actually more charitably disposed to people who treat everyone with disrespect, as opposed to people who only treat certain people with disrespect. With people who are rude to absolutely everyone, this is just a (negative) character trait. People who are aware enough to differentiate are the ones who are actually truly rude.
According to Deborah Tannen, a scholar who specializes in conversational styles, people in some places speak faster than people in other places. New Yorkers in particular speak very fast. When you speak fast, your pauses within your speech are also shorter. That means that when a New Yorker is speaking with an Alaskan, say, the New Yorker will assume the Alaskan has finished and will start speaking. The Alaskan thinks s/he has been interrupted by a rude New Yorker.
Regarding your last sentence, actually, they probably wouldn't realize it looks rude. They're more likely to find the Americans really annoying and insincere.
Interesting, DG. I talk very quickly. And I do interrupt some, unfortunately. But maybe I am perceived as interrupting even more than I actually do, for the reasons you state. AND I can report that I sometimes experience slow-talkers as passive-aggressive, because it feels like they hold the floor, so to speak, without using it.
I like Tesyaa's idea of being "charitably disposed to people . . . who are rude to absolutely everyone"!
I'm from New Jersey but I live in Ohio and I always feel like I am interrupting people. I never thought that it might be because I am used to a much faster pace of conversation, but that makes a lot of sense. It seems to really bother some of the "slow-talkers" in my life!
A poster commented that Ruchi should apologize for not telling her the "TRUTH" about Orthodox people. The reason that person feels this way, is because unfortunatly his outlook on Orthodoxy is wrong.
Although Kiruv people like to seduce Jews into othodoxy by showing how beautiful we are. It is not the ultimate reason to become Orthodox. The real reason is because we realize that this is the absolute truth and there is no other way.
Why didn't you tell me?
Imagine that you are dating someone and you are really excited. This is THE ONE, the bashert Hashem meant for you, your zivug, the one you were part of before Hashem split male and female into two people. You talk to your friend about it, and this is what they say:
"Marriage is about more than the exciting high you get from your intended. Hashem did not make us to be on a high all the time. A good marriage takes work. You have to accept that there will be lows and well as highs. You have to accept that there are times one or both of you will have to settle for less than you want so that both of you can be partially satisfied. That doesn't mean there won't be good times – of course there will be. And you may well find that the good times are better because of what you had to go through to get to them again.
The other thing to remember is that you aren't just marrying your bashert. You're marrying his whole family. And it is a big family. There'll be people you come to love, and people you really don't like, but you're going to have to find ways to deal with all of them. And your relationships with them will also be subject to the Law of Good Times and Bad.
I think this advice, whether given to a person in love and contemplating marriage, or an equivalent speech given to someone considering becoming Orthodox is both more honest and more likely to be helpful to them down the line than a bland 'Yes he's wonderful, you're so lucky' kind of talk.
You are right. Well put.
You have a beautiful way of saying all of this.
This sort of disillusionment is so familiar, both from a little of my own experience, and from talking to dedicated people in a variety of religious communities. It isn't limited to Orthodoxy, or even to Judaism. Perpetual seekers, who go from one community to the next, seem to be trapped by this process of enchantment and disillusionment, each time presuming that whatever their new community is, it is the Real one, where people aren't just regular people, they've really been transformed. It's tremendously sad, in its way. But we have to take our spirituality in the company of other flawed human beings. Nevertheless, for someone who hasn't been heavily involved in a serious community before, I can see why this happens.
Thank you, Maya. "Enchanted." That's the opposite of "disillusioned." Good way of summing it up.
For me personally, there is a huge difference between religious Jews in Eretz Israel and here in the diaspora (in this case New York). The religious Jews in Israel tend to be more sincere with kavanah. The ultra orthodox live very modest lives, the religious Zionists sacrifice themselves for the state. From my experience, albeit anecdotal, they are just more genuine.
Let us try hard to stop the egel hazahav from infiltrating our lives.
Sadly, after 2 years in an eruv, I find the letter writer's sentiments spot-on. I now simply identify as "Jewish" and often attend Reform services.
Every community has its flaws. True that. But, as a BT, it seems that many in the Kiruv world advertise the Orthodox Jewish world as flawless.
What would you have liked to hear, as an aspiring baal teshuvah?
They're afraid people might get a bad impression of Judaism. It's essentially a matter of not washing your dirty laundry in public. I don't know that anyone actually claims Orthodox Jews are perfect, though.
Ruchi, this is an awesome post, and I love reading everyone's comments. I have to say I have rarely felt this sense of disillusionment simply because before I was frum, Orthodox Jews were portrayed to me in such an awful light (close-minded, racist, you get the picture…) that when I actually met a real life frummy, I was so pleasantly surprised that I actually found myself contemplating the life. So when I see some of the undesirable aspects of the community, they don't bother me as much because they are still SO MUCH better than how they were described to me when I was younger.
There's also status. I've experienced it personally and also heard many stories about that. One friend, FFB, whose parent was in the medical field: he was called with emergencies in the middle of the night but never got an aliya in his shul because, apparently, he wasn't considered as having sufficient status. The way singles are treated — as if they were problems to be solved at best and invisible at worst. One friend of mine, a BT (as I am), asked me not to let it get around that she was a BT because she didn't want her chances of a good marriage damaged in the community she had chosen to join.
This, too, is something that we need to warn people about: there is a hierarchy, and once you join the community, unless you have the good fortune to be wealthy or marry someone with high status in the community, you will be close to the bottom of it.