Tuesday, June 07, 2005

How I Left Orthodoxy

Several people have written me to thank me for my blog and to tell me that they hold beliefs like mine, but haven't been able to leave Orthodoxy for various reasons. Although I know my story won't make the trip easy for those who decide to leave, perhaps it will be of some help.

I'll begin after my year at a yeshiva in Israel*, which is where my journey away from Orthodoxy began to gather steam. I was about twenty years old, having known no institution or community beyond the Orthodox ones. Growing up, virtually all of my friends, classmates, and potential adult role models had been Orthodox, so I didn't really know what I was doing. I was scared, but it was becoming more and more clear that I had no choice. I no longer believed in God or the mitzvot and hadn't enjoyed going to shul in years, so I had to either swallow my fear and get moving or live my life knowing I'd never be completely true to myself.

The first thing I did was enroll in a secular University, which might be the perfect place to make a new beginning. I fell in with a mostly Conservadox group, whose Judaism made me feel instinctively at home and whose open-mindedness allowed me some freedom. I dated a few women ranging from semi-Orthodox to almost Orthodox who weren't put off by my atheism.

I gradually began to engage in those behaviors forbidden in Orthodoxy but which didn't conflict with my morals.** I started playing sports on Shabbat and "graduated" to watching them on television. I began to eat dairy out*** with my Conservadox friends. I stopped wearing a kippah, but put it on whenever I went home to my old neighborhood or to a kosher restaurant. (Since Orthodox people are often most likely to violate their stated beliefs for sexual behavior, my sex life didn't start to be, but rather continued to be, non-kosher.)

After college, I moved to an area with a sizeable Orthodox population and half-heartedly participated socially in the community. I had a lot of trouble, because I hated going to shul, but social life revolved around it there. Eventually, my last semi-Orthodox girlfriend and I broke up (for mostly unrelated reasons) and I realized I had to make my break. Somewhere around this time, I began eating non-kosher meat, and a few months later, started sampling pork, shrimp, cheeseburgers, and everything else. I kept kosher at home until I moved out of that apartment.

One day, I gathered up my courage and sat down to have The Big Scary Talk with my father. I told him that I was no longer religious**** and that I was moving to a less Orthodox area. He was very upset. First, he seemed to be in simple denial and then he tried to talk me out of it. I told him that I had to follow what I believed in and he said he understood, although he remained obviously disappointed. I said goodbye and went home, leaving him to break the news to my mom, who I sensed would be less upset.

Over the next few months, I spent some time with my parents, including a Yom Tov, when we had a lot of time to talk. I tried to explain how I felt and why I had made the choice I had, although I didn't spell out my atheism. They didn't disown me, but they continued to be disappointed, telling me that they wished they'd been better parents and that if they had it to do over again, they would raise me differently. They didn't explain how, although I think they meant they would have been stricter with me and sent me to a more right-wing school. I tried to convince them that it wasn't their fault, but without much success.

It made me sad to know that my parents were disappointed in me. They showed it not just by telling me so outright, but also by obfuscating when religious friends and family innocently asked them how I was doing. They didn't say so, but it was somehow implied that I continue to act religious in their presence. Of course I was willing to not watch t.v. at their house on Shabbat, but having to park my car around the block to come to Yom Tov meals which they invited me to made me feel that they were ashamed of me. Which, of course, they were.

Eventually, I came to the realization that even though my parents were clearly embarrassed by me, it was not my fault. I was being true to myself and I had gone out of my way not to hurt anyone unnecessarily. If my parents couldn't learn to accept me as I was, it was their failing, not mine. It still hurt, but it didn't make me feel guilty anymore.

It took me a couple of years to build any sort of real social life, since I no longer fit into my old community and still felt like an outsider in the secular world. Eventually, I started making good friends at work, and then friends through those friends, and finally I didn't feel so alone. I began dating, choosing to date only Jewish women, at least for a while, to prevent my parents from exploding. (I don't think my father would forgive me if I married a non-Jew. If I were already in love with a non-Jewish woman, I wouldn't break up with her because of his wishes, but although I find his attitude bigoted and immoral, I'd rather not fight that battle with him if I can avoid it.) Eventually, I found a great non-Orthodox Jewish woman whom I love.

I remain relatively close with all of my Orthodox family and some of my Orthodox friends. As I've become more comfortable with who I am, it's become easier for me to deal with them. I refrain from arguing religion with them (which is why this blog serves as a good outlet for me) while not allowing them to guilt me into religious activities I don't wish to participate in. I don't rub my lack of religiosity in their faces, but I don't deny who I am, either. I think my confidence shines through and most Orthodox people I know from my former life seem to respect me.







* It's common for Orthodox Jews to spend a year at a yeshiva in Israel following high school.
** My morals essentially consist of The Golden Rule, which means I have no ben adam l'makom rules (i.e. rules which govern Man's relationship with God, e.g. Shabbat or not wearing wool and linen), but several extra ben adam l'chaveiro ones (those which govern Man's behavior towards Man, e.g. helping the needy and not stealing.) I may expand on this subject in a future post.
*** That's Orthodox vernacular for eating anything but meat products at non-kosher restaurants.
**** Orthodox people generally use "religious" and "Orthodox" interchangeably.






Edited to add: Here are some resources for people going through this experience:
The Frum Skeptics Group mailing list.
Hillel, an Israeli organization which helps haredim who are trying to get out. (Not affiliated with the more well-known Hillel organization.)
Internet Infidel's Discussion Board. A discussion board for atheists, many of whom are formerly religious.

58 comments:

mushroomjew said...

Wow.
JA, thanks for sharing your story.
I really admire you for your courage and your desire to be true to yourself.
I am happy for you that you are leading the life that you want to lead. Much success!

-Mushroom Jew

Enigma4U said...

JA,

Your post made my eyes well up with tears. I admire your courage and your sincere efforts not to hurt your family by choosing to live your life the way you see fit. It took me a while to figure this out, but Orthodoxy is a cult in many ways, and clearly acts the part when faced with members who reject the cult's teaching. I am glad that everything turned out well for you and that you have managed to create a new and satisfying life for yourself. At this point in my life, making the changes you have made is not a reality, and so I am fused into a lifestyle I do not believe in, carrying on a charade that is tiring and frustrating. Almost daily I struggle with what you've managed to overcome, and to be honest, I am envious of you because the bravest thing I have managed to do about my situation is probably posting this response (anonymously, of course). Reading about your trials and tribulations, knowing that there are others who have struggled with this, soothes a lot of the pain of being a closet atheist stuck in an oppressive society. Thank you, JA, for sharing your story and your thoughts with the rest of us. I wish you much luck and happiness, and peace of mind.

Jewish Atheist said...

enigma4u, if you're unable due to circumstances to make similar changes in your own life, there's no reason to blame yourself for lacking courage. People have to make tough choices and yours is admirable, too. I know of someone who is not only outwardly Orthodox but a relatively prominent member of his community who does not believe. He does it for his family. He seems like a relatively happy and well-adjusted guy -- he doesn't believe, he hangs out with the more intellectual, liberal Orthodox people, and he does what's necessary to keep up the "charade." I hope you find happiness whatever choices you make.

I've been assuming that you have good reasons to stay. If it's just fear holding you back, then perhaps you should work on it. :) Orthodoxy is like a cult in some ways; it's hard to leave and the community shuns you (to an extent) but leaving is best if you can manage it. If the cult is holding your family hostage (metaphorically, I hope!), though, perhaps the best choice in a bad situation is to not rock the boat. I don't know.

heshy said...

As an orthodox Jew from Brooklyn I disagre with your posts.First of all unless you are a passionate orthodox Jew NOT a modern orthodox superficial jew will Judaism have meaning.I have seen modern orthodox kids into baseball,football and other foolish sports games thay follow.They put their emotions into low class ball players,movie stars,secular low life singers and call themselves modern orthos.If your walls are covered with pictures of goyisha ball players instead of Rabbis your a weak jew.

hayim said...

Interesting ... I find myself in agreement with all the commentators here, at least the gist : as an orthodox Jew I feel I have to disagree, but I can't help but respect your honesty and integrity.

Pinchus said...

To Heshy,

Your claim about modern orthos not having any “meaning” in their Judaism really speaks more about the lack of meaning in an area of your own. Who are you to determine where a modern orthodox Jew or anyone for that matter is standing in this world?

The harsh attitude in your post, which I’ve been getting in truckloads for my whole life, is in part what is driving me to question my own emunah. I can’t explain loud enough how every time I hear self-righteous garbage from my own parents mouths about other Jews that are not doing our version, I feel more and more hopeless and sad about them ever accepting me if I choose to frei out.

And even though I got a lot of complaints about my parents, I need them in my life and don’t know how to live without them if they were to ever decide to reject me. I don’t mean for any of this to sound like a personal attack on you. It’s not, but I just wanted to pour my heart out on this matter because I don’t yet have the guts to have this kind of argument outside of the internet.

I also want to thank the Jewish Atheist for today’s post because it was very good.

heshy said...

To Pinchus
I have a son and if he would frei out I would disinherit him.I would turn over my real estate I own to my local rov and his family before I died.I may sound extreme.4 YEARS AGO my son was about 14 and had a situation where he had the wrong friends and I almost lost him.I was ready to do whatever means it takes or whatever it costs just to keep him a frum yid.Miracles happened and today he learns Torah day and night.Yes I did pay money to the right people to be ontop of him and Thank G-d it worked otherwise I would of left all my millions to the local rav and maybe to several yeshivas.Those parents who let their kids listen to garabage music are making a mistake.I used to search my sons room every night checked every phone call record he made.Sometimes if parents see their kids involved in illegal activity which Thank G-d I didnt have, they should hire hitmen to break their legs.A kid with broken legs for 6 months will not be able to roam around with bad elements.Sounds extreme well I am.

Pinchus said...

Hey Heshy,

Extreme is one way to put it. Condoning the intentional breaking of a kid’s legs to save him from the “bad elements” doesn’t sound like a very supportive or logical way to get him into successfully living a Torah life. And going through your kids things will only teach him to better keep his secrets and to possibly create an even greater web of lies about his life to throw you off track. Everybody needs some level of privacy in their lives. I know this from experience for having very nosy parents that are all too concerned with my choices. If they weren’t so judgmental and wanted to actually LISTEN to me I wouldn’t need to feel the shame of having to hide stuff that in a normal secular world would be no big deal.

BrooklynWolf said...

Heshy,

I can tell from your post that making sure that your children remain frum is probably the most important thing in your life. I can certainly understand that concept, as it is extremely important to me as well.

However, don't you think that if (C"V) your children go off the derech that disowning them would only cement that path for them? As long as you hold out communication and love, there is always the possibility that, by example, you can bring them back. But by kicking them out and locking the door behind them (so to say), all you're doing is guaranteeing that they never return.

Of course, you also realize that breaking your kids' legs will land you in jail and, in all likelihood, your kid in protective services, where they might end up who knows where...

The Wolf

Enigma4U said...

Pinchus,

I invite you to join a forum for skeptics just like you. You can find us on TheFrumSkepticsGroup on Yahoo, and you can join anonymously. I think you will find it useful in your struggle with emunah.

Heshy,

It's the fanatic, irrational and myopic mentality of people like your that confirms my belief that Orthodoxy is a cult. I won't even try to convince you that there is meaningfulness in life outside the cult because as a card carrying cultist, you are beyond reason and logic. I pity your children who you feel you have to protect from the evils of the outside world, to the extent of physically harming them. I'm grateful to be living in a country that sees such actions as unlawful, but I shudder to think of what a country run by religious idiots like you would look like. You make the Ayatollahs look moderate.

heshy said...

to enigma4u
I was being very moderate in my view. I would advise parents to put exlax into their renegade kids drinks so that if they did go hang out in cars with bad secular elements they would turn the car into one big toilet.This would cause their children to lose respect in the eyes of the bad elements.YOU MUST BE TOUGH LIKE NAILS WITH KIDS TODAY.If I opened a school I would choose a south American country that I can pay off the government and this school will make renegade kids into religious zealots.HOW YOU ASK. I lock each kid in a cage with a 24 hour mussar tape playing over and over again.I feed them bread and water.In one year their minds will be free from all the secular garabage that entered their head from the outside society.

BrooklynWolf said...

Or they'll hate you and your version of "Yahadus" so much that they'll bolt the minute that they're able to and never look back.

You catch more flies with honey...

The Wolf

heshy said...

WOLF OF BKLYN
I would open a school in the deep jungles of some far away country and totally brainwash every kid for years if need be.Parents would thank me.Each kid is isolated into a seperate cage.They will hear avigdor miller tapes and pesach krone tapes all day and nite piped in through the ceilings,

Pinchus said...

Heshy,

Your posts are so over the top, I am starting to really think you are just joking around. At least I hope so.

heshy said...

IM REAL.
IM SICK OF THESE SO CALLED liberal modern orthodox pshycologists spreading their diseased ideas into normal society.These sickos tell parents its ok to let your kids wear torn jeans as long as hes sleeping in your house dont harm the little rascal.Let him sit on his cell and gameboy intendos all day just dont abuse him verbally.Id hang the psychologist on the same tree Hamen was hung from 2500 hundred years ago.KING SOLOMON SAID HE WHO SPARES THE ROD FROM HIS ....... yOU GOT TO BEAT THESE PUNKS INTO LINE.i GUARANTEE IF i WAS POLICE COMMISSIONER THERE WOULD BE NO FRUM PUNKS HANGING OUT FRI NITES SMOKING WEED.What kids need is to be brainwashed yes brainwashed,just as they are being brainwashed in the bad way from tv they need to be reprogrammed and brainwashed into judaism.And Im not talking baloney Judaism like kach or kahane foolishness or other alian ideas.They need TORAH JUDAISM IN ITS TRUE SENSE. NOT MODERN ORTHODOX FOOLISHNESS OR SEMI ZIONISTIC PROPAGANDA,tHE REAL THING torah judaism. And thats only available from the real jews the black hatters the true ben torahs not the wishy washy gush katif,organ donor,womens minyans jargan.The real thing is Torah,Belief in G-d that he runs everything,Belief that men are men and woman are woman and no one changes their roles.This is Judaism all the rest is trash,falsehoods and political correctnes in the eyes of the secular bafoons.

mushroomjew said...

Heshy,
Your comments are very disgusting. I think there is hope for you because going to such an extreme usually means that you actually have some doubt. Why else would you be reading this blog? Surely you don't expect to change the minds of freethinkers like us.
Calm down a bit, and open your mind to reason.
Otherwise, stop spitting out your poison and move to Iran.

-Mushroom Jew

Pinchus said...

Heshy,

Maybe you are so adamant about your black hatter brand of Judaism because you secretly somewhere deep down inside are too afraid to ask the questions you want to. I went through a phase not too long ago where I started to become a robot about my observance, but only because I wasn't being honest with myself because I was too afraid to even ask the big questions. I am not as afraid right now and feel a little better about things even though I am scared of what my family and friends are to think if they were to ever find out that I am entertaining the idea of living a secular life. Things aren't always so clear.

Mis-nagid said...

Not only is Heshy real, but I know his address and phone number. He really does talk and think like that. In a memorable set of posts on DovBear, he explained how the Holocaust was punishment for the Reform Jews:

"Heres what I learn from the holocaust:
The reason why womens heads were shaved in the camps was a punishment for not having their hair covered.
The reason Jews WERE experimented on by nazi DOCTORS is because they put their faith in medicine.
The reason music was played as Jews were killed was because Jews put their emotions into german music.
The reason the kristelnacth began on fri nite because Jews violated the Sabbath.
The reason Jews history was distorted by the Nazis because Jews turned away from their historical beliefs.
The reason G-d turned his back on the Jews because 1 year before holocaust Jews marched with sighns stating OUT WITH G-D OUT WITH THE RABBIS.G-d got out and let nature take its course.The nazis had the power to carry out their terror to show Jews who didnt believe in hell that hell came down to this world.If a Jew eats pork in this world he will be having a live pig eat his tounge.A jew who intermarrys like kissinger will be chained to his non jewish spouse and it will be like dragging along a dead smelling carcass."


I feel dirty just for having quoted that.

See here and here for the source.

Kyaroko said...

Of course he's not real. How can somebody who claims to be truly frum spend their days blogging? Why waste your precious time arguing with heretics and goyim? He should be off studying the Torah and desecrating churches. When I read shit like this, it makes me hope that there is a hell. If you are who you repeatedly say that you are, I hope that your grandchildren all marry Catholics so that you'll disinherit them. That would be a great blessing for them.

SAHM4yrs said...

Heshy, I can't believe you're serious. I want my kids to stay frum, too, but would never consider such actions, even though my husband's an apikores who I wish would either come back to Hashem or let me out of our marriage.

YCR said...

sahm4yrs

How are you so different from heshy? He also would destroy his family over frumkeit. I cant believe YOU are serious.

Coco50 said...

sahm2yrs - That's so sad! You have kids but you want out of your marriage? Just because he's 'apikores' doesn't mean the end of a marriage. He won't "let you out" so I'm taking that to mean he wants to stay with you. He obviously still wants to be with you and make it work. I've known couples like this. It's a growing pain that they push through, a difference they learn to deal with. My parents divorced. It was a similar situation. Trust me, you do not want to do that to your children.

AnonyOne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SAHM4yrs said...

ycr and coco50, I'm trying to save me and my kids from his atheistic rants and behavior. He says he'll behave like a frum Jew at home, near me and the kids, but he frequently doesn't. He told them Uncle Moishy's a bad man, and one kid repeated, "Daddy said, Uncle Moishy's a bad man" at my grandparents' house. Some secret atheist he is, huh?

Trust me, I wish he was still the guy I married. Since he's not and is making my life miserable but blaming me and my "brainwashing" for it, doesn't that count for something towards trying to leave?

Anonymous said...

Sahm,

He'll remain your children's father whether you stay together or divorce, so I don't see how breaking up your family will fix the problem. I also don't understand how anyone would give religion priority over keeping a family intact. Philosophical differences is such a weak reason to deprive your children of a loving home and ruin their childhood (and maybe the rest of their lives, too). What one believes should have little impact on a relationship. And by the way, I tend to agree with your hubby: Uncle Moishy IS evil - all his songs are ripped off covers of other artists, for which he never credits ;-)

Orthoprax said...

Heshy,

"If your walls are covered with pictures of goyisha ball players instead of Rabbis your a weak jew."

I was a Modern Orothodox kid and as a kid my walls were covered with dinosaurs and images of the planets of our solar system. (Still are btw ;-) )

Chana said...

Heshy is a very ill man.

Therefore, any of his rants or ravings are to be seen as the confusion associated with the sick.

I pity him, and I hope he gets better.

Somehow I doubt it.

Out-of-Towner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BrooklynWolf said...

I wonder what his Reform guests would say about his postings in this thread...

The Wolf

Jewish Atheist said...

I deleted Out-of-Towner's comment because it included a phone number for Heshy. If Heshy wants to give his own number that's fine.

The original comment (minus phone number) was...


Out-of-Towner said...
This Heshy guy is for real. In fact, I saw him with my own eyes (tall, dark & handsome, by the way).

I went to his house in Flatbush last Shabbos and had a great time. He was actually a very nice host, fun conversation, lively company, a bunch of guests who were Reform to Orthodox and great food.

He lists in Blueprint and bangitout.com
His # is (xxx) xxx-xxxx

BrooklynWolf said...

Actually, JA, Heshy himself gave out his phone number and address over on DovBear's blog.

The Wolf

heshy said...

I say what I write and if you would of heard what I told my 30 reform guests out of the 36 guests you people would of panicked.First on Passover seders I invited only reform guests and did not allow anyone who is orthodox in.Because most orthodox would never stand for listening to me till 1245 am and not eating.The reform all sat with their mouths open.I told them exactly why G-d killed the son of Bill Cosby and why G-d allowed the Arabs to begin the intafada.I went through story after story how and why G-d did what he did.Theyy were amazed.I was moved by seeing the sincerity.There were 2 reform Jews who never attended a seder in their lives.There were college kids who were so shaken up they came back next night with their family members.It was very intense and you could not hear a pindrop.It ended both nights at 330 am
I think the most moving comments were when some reform Jews came over to me and said they now want to go study Torah.The reason you people are cynical like most modern and materialistic orthodox types are is because you think your so smart.You think you are smarter than the great Rabbis.You think you are smarter than the Torah,your not.You let the secular world dummies from freud to darwin graffitti your brains.Only the great sages know the secrets of life,all others are emotional run puppet monkeys.

Pinchus said...

Heshy,

The views expressed in your posts makes me want to frei out as soon as possible. I think I'll watch tv on Shabbos for the first time.

heshy said...

pinchus you havnt heard nothing yet.You want to watch tv go ahead.The penalty for violating shabbos is stoning.In the good old days stoning consisted of being thrown off a 2 story building very similar to what the arabs did to the 2 Israeli reservists at the beginning of their intafada.Then a big stone is rolled off and usually kills the person,and if not the rest of the people throw smaller stones till hes dead.Today there is no high Jewish court but the 4 death penalties are still in affeect.Someone who needs to get stoning ends up in a car crash torn to pieces,or ends up falling off a rooftop similar to what happened at world trade center.A person who violated capital laws like violating shabbos,homosexuality or other capital crimes can do tsuvah as long as they are alive.But once you die and go to the next world the punishment is carried out for every time you violated shabbos,you get the penalty of stoning.When they say that hell came down to this world with the holocaust you havnt seen nothing yet.

Chana said...

Pinchus,

If you allow Heshy to make you do anything, then you are allowing a very ill man to direct your actions.

Surely that's not what you necessarily want?

Heshy- your words are poisonous. You know why God killed Bill Cosby's son? How? Does God send you messages through a TV screen? Do you hear voices in your head?

I'm feeling unwell, too, just now.

Orthoprax said...

I think Heshy is funny. He would be a great character on some Saturday Night Live bit.

Heshy, I wonder, before you were Jewish were you a born again Baptist? I swear, I can hear the southern twang in your voice.

Enigma4U said...

Orthoprax,

I don't see any humor in Heshy, and his brand of fundamentalist and violent religion actually scares me. You many find him funny because you think he is just an over-the-top loony, but to me, his rhetoric is reminiscent of Khomeini and bin Ladin. What is frightening to me is that I have a feeling that many people in our cult don't really perceive him as a nut case, but rather as a zealously religious (albeit a bit misguided) individual, much like many Muslims perceive the aforementioned examples of fundamentalist rhetoric to be the messengers of God/Allah.

heshy said...

WHAT a Shabbos it was.
I had Jews for cheeses over and worked on their heads till 3 am
I didnt tell the other guests who was there as I didnt want a whole debate going on.Im ready to reprogram not only the lost sheep among secular jews but especially the modern orthodox ones.They need it more than the hebrew christians.come to my house for shvous at 930 dinners and 12 noon lunch,

Orthoprax said...

Enigma,

Fanatics can be funny _and_ scary. It's the two pint, 5'2 wannabee theocratic dictators like Heshy who amuse me.

They remind of super-crazy super-villian Batman characters.

Uh oh, the Riddler and Penguin are planning on brainwashing Gotham?
Holy wet socks, Batman!

Chana said...

"and worked on their heads till 3 AM"

Frankly, that's appalling. You obviously do not respect the people you "teach" if you can refer to them like machines that have to be fixed. *shudders*

BrooklynWolf said...

Ignore it, Chana. The more he talks, the more I'm convinced he's a fake, phony and fraud.

The Wolf

heshy said...

Im real but I wont be posting here anymore as its time consuming and I need to reach a large audience.I wish you all a great summer.
yours truly heshy

moshe said...

Jewish Atheist, your story only explains how your overwhelming lust and social inconvenience turned you away form Judaism, would you be kind to share with us your intellectual arguments against G-D, if any, that convinced you to take this path. I feel sad for you life struggle!

Orthoprax said...

Moshe,

In cases like this the philosophical issues come before the outward change. JA didn't need to mention all the arguments because he's writing for an audience who knows them all too well.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/Rabbi_Gottlieb_Tapes.html

then talk about philosophy

Anonymous said...

what kind of apikores could possibly call uncle moishy an evil man. chas v'shalom!!! uncle moishy is a tzaddik one of the lomed vov tzaddikim who support the world and one of the lomed vov jewish musicians who support the world. next time, maybe you should give a bissel thought before you call someone as holy and amazing as uncle moishy "evil." Kosherin yom tov.

letmeout said...

JA,

I know it was nearly two years ago now that you posted your story but thank you so much for doing it. I also come from a frum background, and like you I think my doubts started when I was in Israel in a midrasha for a year. After that I went to university, and it was whilst I was there that I ceased believing and then ceased practicing. I met there my husband, who comes from a reform background, although he had grown more observant. We have now been married for two years. We live in a fairly Jewish area, not far from my parents, although not is quite such a religious area as they do. I don't keep shabbat in the traditional sense, although I don't do what I think of as work (first university work now job work) on shabbat, and leave work early on fridays, and I still don't eat non kosher meat. Like you I am an atheist, but I haven't been able to free myself sufficiently from the brainwashing of my past to completely let go.

What really upsets me though is that my parents don't know. They assume I'm like them. I think deep down they must know we're not so frum. They know we don't often go to shul, they know we eat out vegetarian. But I have never been able to discuss it with them. I have to pretend and to lie about so much of my life. It's an hour walk to them, so we drive there on shabbat and park a few minutes away. I lie about what I spend my saturdays doing. It's not just to them that I have to lie, but also to my aunts, uncles and cousins. And it's making me so miserable and depressed. My family have always been very closed and cold, and never able to discuss anything emotional or difficult. Ever. This is why it is so hard for me to even imagine talking to them. It would also be so difficult for me with my cousins. And embarrassing for my parents. I feel so much freer and happier not being frum than being frum but the constant lying and pretending is making me truly miserable.

So well done to you for having had the guts to do it, and thank you for sharing your story. It's nice to know I am not alone in this situation.

Shlomo said...

You know that you are truly free when your memories of your yiddishkeit seem as if they belong to someone else.

It takes about 20 years to get it out of your system.

This topic will always engender controversy. You are not alone, but also not in any way original.

Zahava Pasternak said...

I have a song on my blog written for my dear brothers that went off the derech. Please read it, okay?

www.zahavapasternak.blogspot.com

Sh'muel Natan said...

Hi JA,

Now i'm happily modern orthodox, but i think you've got courage to at least not be a hypocrite. I know so many in my shul who are just frum because their parents want it that way, and as soon as they pass on, they are off the derech. But, please don;t firget your jewishness- there are so few of us out there.

Also, that "Hershy" guy really annoys me. We have a saying (I'm a Jew from Greece/Turkey): "You're the ones who know which locusts are kosher, yet forget about ahavat yisrael". Seriously, didn't your Rebbe teach you about it- we have the duty to love all jews, frum and non-frum, believing and non-believing...

Anyway...

Rabban Gamliel said...

The last place you should have become an atheist from is from science books. If only you had applied the same skepticism to scientists who are coming up with human responses to data that keeps on building up. We have more questions than answers nowadays and it is human for various scientists to try to see us as having the answers at hand. Science will give us the answers I feel but they will present a more grand universe. That being said I'm glad you came out of the closet. People shouldn't be in closets. Clothes should but it is human for parents to be disappointed. Think of how parents who are trying to raise their kids as parents should with particular values feel when their children go off the derech as they see it. You have to judge people as much as possible (and this is for us all) on the side of merit. Anyway good luck. Science isn't standing still and since you built put your atheism around it you will probably go through some searchings some more as we all do.

Yosef said...

I don't get it. I clicked on this link because I thought it would tell me why you left Orthodox Judaism. It just tells me that you didn't like shul and then that you became atheist. But why didn't you like shul? Why did you decide that there was no G-d at all? Why are you sure that the Torah isn't from G-d? I am thinking of leaving Orthodoxy myself, but my struggle is that I am NOT atheist but am disappointed with the politics which is Orthodox Judaism.

Anonymous said...

I work in jewish outreach. I grew up orthodox. Only now am I getting so many answers to difficult questions. Don't make an emotional desicion. Make an intellectual one. Go to a discovery seminar with Aish Hatorah. There is so much out there. Check out simpletoremember.com, a great website with lots of answers. Not all orthodox jews impress me either. The way I explain that to myself is that everyone has struggles. That is why we are in this world to overcome our struggles. If Orthodox people would be perfect then why would they be in this world. Everyone, including Orthodox people are in this world with an evil inclination. It is a good thing to search It is a healthy sighn that you are thinking human being. Good luck in your search

chip said...

Hi,

I read through your post but I have to confess that It's hard for me to clearly read anything related to being religious in straightforward way. I guess I just get too crazy when I hear about anything to do with being religious.

Introducing my story would be a very big headache and take too long to write if it wasn't in a book. In some ways it involves a mentally ill father who proclaimed himself to be a hassidic rabbi, nutcase yeshivas that don't notice kids who are miserable and probably suicidal and decades of my life spent trying to break free of the nightmare called orthodox judiasm. All in all I would attribute my story and much of the madness found in certain jewish community to the atrocities in Europe half a century ago and the state of people who survived that.

Ok well besides for rambling on about my life I guess there is only one thing I'd like to mention about your story. You say that you left orthodox judiasm and in your own way you deem it to be controversial and disturbing. I agree that amking any such change in a persons life is hard and I could understand the challenges involved. But personally I believe that there is a very big difference between being orthodox (and breaking away from it sometimes) and being jewish and just believing in the Torah and G-d and accepting that, realistically, not everyone is meant to keep every mitzva and tradition. I don't have anything against people who aren't religious and I'm starting to reconsider saying I am. After all to me most of what people call orthodoxy has disturbing roots and in the end is just a particular movement which in my case really got screwed up. Having an identity of being Jewish and accepting the truth of Jewish history is another story.

David said...

There are different types of people. Some have personal problems/complaints with the practical every-day parts of religion/orthodoxy which cause them to leave. Then there are those with philosophical questions and skepticism which leads them away from religion. Many of the latter claim to be open-minded and enlightened. They claim to be seeking the truth. Yet I wonder, did they ever seek answers from someone competent. Someone equally versed in Torah AND science/philosophy? Not just in one of those areas. The orthodox world Baruch Hashem now has plenty of college educated, extremely intelligent scholars who are able to clear up questions a skeptic might have. For example, how about an orthodox rabbi who grew up reform, has a PHD in Mathematical Logic and was also a Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University? Someone like that might be a good place to go with your questions about god/religion/torah...
One such person is Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb. He is a rational, intellectual person who addresses all major "conflicts" and questions that skeptics or seekers might have in a calm, clear and logical manner. You can read some of his articles at www.dovidgottlieb.com
He is not the only one, Ohr Someach, Aish Hatorah and Gateways are well stocked with knowledgeable, educated and open minded scholars capable of debating anyone.
Then again, there are people that use "questions" as an excuse to do whatever they want. they are not necessarily looking for answers.

alexandra said...

David- while I admit that many leave orthodoxy for emotional reasons, I think I can say quite condifently that I did not.
I am an affirmed atheist. In my home and while in Bais Yaakov I set out purposefully to have talks with Rabbi Mechanic, Rabbi Boteach, and Rabbi Orlovsky, plus tens of other lesser known Rabbis. I debated with Rabbi Srebernik, one of the founders of Aish Hatorah. I read Lawrence Keleman's book, and I listened to all of Rabbi Gottlieb's speeches.
And religion- along with the arguments attempting to validate it-is STILL woefully, woefully incompetent. Even I can see that, and I'm only fifteen.
There are varying levels of incompetence, of course. Some Rabbis had no idea what they were talking about, while others were far more versed in apologia and were able to keep the argument running. I completely understand some people falling for the pseudo-intellectual lectures and postulates and rationalizations. I fell for it for a while, too. But when I really started to study, to think, to analyze, I realized their many flaws. The 'strongest' argument is the Kuzari argument, and even that does not hold water for more than a few minutes. Every.single.argument with a Rabbi INVARIABLY ended in a modus vivendi. They couldn't respond, and so agreed to disagree. And do you know why? Because the arguments are simply lacking. They just aren't there. No matter how hard most of the world wants to believe in the Judeo-Christian myth, it just reeks of paucity and falsehood. The arrogance of your assumption- that you are obviusly right, and thus we are all just emotionally-propelled children who were burned by politics or whatnot- is frankly offensive.
Maybe I am being too hard on you. I'm sure you mean well. However, just wanted you to know that you we are NOT all ignorant of the philosophical and intellectual debates with regards to religion (and atheism!). I would venture to say that many, many of us are well-versed in them- perhaps more so than the average frum Jew.
So thanks, but no thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alexandra,
I appreciate you're reply and I commend you for the amount of research you've done. I apologize for implying that you're positions are emotionally motivated. Truth be told I was actually referring to a different atheist friend who refuses to approach people like Rabbi Gottlieb which I think is pretty closed-minded and immature and it's people like that whom I consider emotional atheists.
Talk more soon. Gotta go.

bishulakum said...

Interesting story that probably is reflective of many who made the break, your exit timing was good. This is perhaps a question for another post do you think that Bishul Akum is just another ingenious artificial constructs created by the rabbis to ensure religious or defacto racial segregation and xenophobia.