I received a recent email from a reader. The writer explained that he is a 24 year-old married chasidisha male stuck in a lifestlye he does not enjoy. Did I have any advice to offer this gentleman as to where to go from here? Should he leave everything he has behind and go OTD? Maybe find a less-restrctive lifestyle than his current one?
I don't have any easy answers for this young man, nor for the many others that will likely get fed up with the Orthodox world for intellectual and practical reasons (it does suck to have insanely strict dietary laws and to have to dress like it's 1643. One doesn't need a PhD in sociology to figure that one out). While I see the advantage of quitting cold turkey, saying "no thanks" to the whole charade, I also see some advantage in staying put and roughing it out. While I certainly think change is necessary and the whole Orthodox world could use a healthy dosage of change, I wonder if it's necessary to go all the way, be brutally honest and say "religion is all a pile of shit." Yes, I think religion is all a sack of bollocks, but maybe there is some merit in allowing some of it. I'm willing to allow it some honorary spot in society, as long as it's taken with a dose of moderation and a whole lot of salt. I'm not saying religion is good, just that, when used cautiously like in Reform or Unitarian type frameworks, it's basically harmless. I'm not saying that our friend should stay religious but maybe a little, at least in practice. Am I advocating for a sort of closet atheism? Absolutely.
You're entitled to consider me a hypocrite at this point. It's not consistent, or intellectually honest of me to be an atheist yet have a soft spot for theism. Neither is it honest, or courageous, of me to be intellectually opposed to eating meat yet eating it all the same. I suppose I have my weaknesses.
Here's my experience: I was really miserable, stifled, and trapped in the frum world. I think that was for the most part because of the insane rigidity of the frum life (think hell x 1,000,000). Leaving that world was a great decision for me because it helped me break out of that cycle of misery and despair into which I had fallen so deeply as a chareidi. I saw no reason then and I see no reason now to sugarcoat my disdain for modern religion and the Modern Orthodox who see me as nothing but evidence that their system is superior to the chareidi one. Yes, your system is superior. So is Christianity and atheism FOR GOD'S SAKE!
I see no reason to kiss up to Modern Orthodoxy just because their assholes need someone to say "told-you-so" to. They can rot in hell for all eternity for all I care. However, the fact remains that I have a lot of family in the frum world--the Orthodox world, as well as in the more modern Jewish denominations. Judaism has a significant aspect of it that is cultural and not religious or supernatural in essence. Some of it I enjoy and may want to keep. Again, I want to retain some connection to my family, and some of that may include pretending to believe, or at least respecting, certain beliefs and customs.
I've made my break with the Orthodox world. I've left it for a few years and am finding my way on my own rather well. I'm in school (which is extremely important to me) and I see a future for myself with one foot in the Orthodox world and one foot out. I'm not saying I'm going back to being Orthodox, just that I will have more connection to it than I did in the past. I will spend more time with my family and make some time for friendships that have lapsed the last few years. I will go from being an outsider to an Orthoprax OTDer within the community. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's what I feel is right for me right now.
Perhaps I would not have wanted to make this step a few years back when I was angry at the frum world for lying to me about everything under the sun and for doing everything to ensure I was so miserable. Perhaps I would not have been able. I may have needed a break for a few years to get some space and a change of perspective. Maybe only after cutting all ties with religion am I able to reconnect in any healthy way. Yet I sometimes wish I had the courage to make huge changes in my past life without completely cutting ties. Giving up most of the craziness of the frum world while still retaining some of its positive aspects. Giving up the kollel mentality (the greatest tragedy in Jewish history since the Holocaust, to my mind) and a lot of the isolationism and the stifling lifestyle while still keeping a little of the love, the kindness, the community.
So I'm going back. Not to the frum world that I left, but to the family that I love and the people that I love. Not to the things I reject, but to the things that I miss. Not to the past, but to the future.
But enough about me. This is supposed to be about our letter-writer friend, who we'll call Avi. Please share your thoughts and advice for him here.
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