Friday, March 30, 2007

What if I'd Gotten Married When I Was Still Orthodox?

It seems to me that the essential determinant of the divide between the frum skeptics and those of us who left Orthodoxy completely is whether we were married at the time we started having serious doubts. Orthodox culture is such that it's not generally plausible for a man or woman to come out as non-Orthodox without causing adverse consequences for his or her family. These consequences can include divorce, shunning, and even difficulty finding mates for one's children. I have nothing but sympathy for those who choose not to make their doubts or disbelief known even to their families.

Corresponding with a few of these frum skeptics recently, I got to wondering what my life would have been like if I'd married my last Orthodox girlfriend before I'd gone too far down the path away from Orthodoxy.

We would have had an Orthodox ceremony, of course, making it as liberal as I could get away with, but still containing language I could not agree with and some antiquated notions of marriage. I would have suffered through sheva brachos.

After the wedding, I suppose I could have attended shul the way I did anyway at that time in my life: go for the short Friday night service and try to enjoy the singing, and time my arrival perfectly on Saturday morning so that services were just letting out and it was time for kiddush (i.e. socializing.) We would have attended Shabbat lunches at other couples' houses and had them to our own. I would have made kiddush and sat through benching either letting my mind wander while moving my lips or actually saying some of the words to pass the time.

What of my intellectual explorations? Would I have dared to read Dawkins? To join the Internet Infidels Discussion Board? Or would I have settled with a hodge-podge of Jewish mysticism and apologetics? I doubt could have actually believed that stuff, but I probably would have been careful not to look at it too hard. What would have happened when I discovered the J-Blogs?

How would I act at work? Could I ever be comfortable as "the Orthodox guy?" What would I feel about explaining why I couldn't eat bread next week or why I couldn't attend the company social event? How could I answer my gay coworkers when they asked about Leviticus?

And then, kids? How would I feel at a bris? Would I have chuckled to myself during the pidyon haben? Or felt cheated if my daughter only got a simchat bat?

And then, preschool. How would I feel when my 3 year old came home and told me that God is everywhere? And when he asked me to say the shema?

Could I have handled it when she got a little older and asked why her Rabbi said that all non-Jews secretly hate Jews on the inside? Or what the word schwartze means? Or whether I would slaughter her if God commanded me to?

Then what if she asked me why the boys got to learn Gemara when she was stuck in Navi? And what exactly is a "firmament," andyway? And why does God command the murder of women, children, and even sheep? And is it really wrong to be gay?

What if my wife wanted me to start getting to shul earlier? And being a good role model for my children on Yom Kippur? And what if the gabbai asked me to lead the prayers or read from the Torah? What if a friend asked me to be a witness at his wedding and I knew that I wouldn't be a kosher witness because I turned lights on and off on shabbos? Would I start to hate being asked to lead the benching?

And what if my son didn't want to read his bar mitzvah portion? Could I insist? Would I? What if he went to summer camp and came back with a black hat and a well-worn set of mishnayos? Could I learn with him while holding my tongue about what I really thought? What if he decided my wife and I weren't being strict enough about kashrut and that our oven wasn't kosher enough? What if he went to yeshiva in Israel and wanted to stay a second year? A third? To eschew college and become a Rabbi?

Or what if he started reading Dawkins and was asking questions about evolution and the age of the universe? Could I pretend that saying "yom" means "age" solved the problem? What if he honestly believed in Orthodoxy but wondered what the deal was with the Documentary Hypothesis? What if he became an atheist while my daughter became ever more frum?

How long could I stay silent? What would its toll be on me and on my marriage and on my kids?

What of grandkids?

I'm just glad I got out when I did.


Anonymous said...

Since I am one of those who you have been having this conversation with, I'll post my thoughts . . .

Brief background for everyone: I became a skeptic and started not to care for orthodoxy after i was married. currently, i have no real interest, but walk the walk because of the wife & kids. Nobody knows about my skepticism or the fact that I eat non-kosher, do minor shabbat melachah etc.

the wedding & sheva brachot were great. . . because that is where I was in my life spiritually.

At work, it is very weird being the only Ortho guy and being there to answer any jewish questions they have. I don't eat much at comapny functions, but then i will stop and get a sandwich from Subway on my way to clients.

I answer the questions very intelligently . . .from a Ortho perspective even if that is not what I truly believe in my heart.

I don't have the gemarah issue, since as a MO guy, i think girls could learn gemarah.

It is really annoying at the shabbat table to go through my kids parshah sheets when i couldn't care less about the parshah. Like every father, i take pride in their academic achievements and focus on it from that angle.

I don't lead services although I have gotten an aliyah? Is that really wrong?

I go to shul for social reasons, to see friends and generally as a way to kill the day.

If my kids became a rabbi? I guess there are worse things they could be in life. if that is where they wanted to be and where happy, then i would have no problem with them pursuing it.

So what keeps me living this life of inner turmoil? This daily double life always worrying if I am exposed?

it all comes down to the fact that it would be unfair to my wife & kids to have to deal with this possible turmoil. I love them and would not want my world turned upside down.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that women tend to "frum out" after marriage and try to drag their husbands to "grow" spiritualy too - yuck.
I bet you'd have conflicts with your wife too. Would you keep the halachos of tsnius in bed? That is the question.

Baal Habos said...

JA, (See you're back in my bloglines). I recently posted about the reverse. Check out

(BTW, you'll see that I just closed up shop).

Be well.

Anonymous said...

Don quixote -

My wife didn't frum out. She has pretty much stayed the same, i'm the one who has dropped out of the orthodoxy team.

With regard to hilchos nidah, we pretty much keep them. although we do touch to some extent all the time.

Because the women often runs the household, I believe it is easier to remain together if the husband is not frum than if the wife is not frum.

For example, I don't care about kosher, but I'm not the one who does most of the food shopping & cooking. If my wife was not frum, she could refuse to cook kosher for me.

Further, I wouldn't care if my wife didn't go to the mikvah. now if i was the frum one, how could I force her to go if she wasn't frum?

i still think there will be turmoil due to the religious differences, but they would not be as pronounced as if the wife was the non-frum one.

Jewish Atheist said...

rich p:

Thanks so much for sharing that. I don't think frum people who aren't skeptics understand how hard it can be for those who don't really fit in.

Senor Quixote:

Would you keep the halachos of tsnius in bed?

It didn't bother us in college. ;-)


Damn! I always forget to give credit for ideas. Your post is what made me start thinking about this. Best of luck in the future; we'll miss you.

Rose said...

I just stumbled on your blog and love it! Being raised reform Jewish, I kind of relate.

I just wanted to give you props!

Anonymous said...

"I would have suffered through sheva brachos."

Where's the suffering in sheva brachos?!

beepbeepitsme said...

Orthodox judaism, from reading your links, seems as patriarchal as christianity or islam. But that is hardly surprising is it.

Without seeming too much like a die-hard feministo, I really do think that the Abrahamic religions cheat women. They have always been essentially male cults, where women have their place, but their place has been well-defined in order to keep them there.

asher said...

Wow..and Clark Kent thought he had problems keeping his secret identity hidden. What if someone sees you eating at Subway....aha..found out...what if your wife catches you dissing the parsha this week?....aha.....

Having grown up in an Orthodox neighborhood with a father who went to work on shabbat (back then it was called shabbos) I can't understand this angst you guys talk about.

But still...since you talk about it in such a loving way...perhaps there is something that attracts you to it anyway.

Orthoprax said...

I'm not married. ;-)

Jewish Atheist said...

Intergalactic Hussy:

Props to you for the best name I've seen in a while! :-)


Orthodox judaism, from reading your links, seems as patriarchal as christianity or islam.

It certainly was, traditionally, and can be still.


Yeah, you're a unique one. :-) I'll be interested to see how you end up.

Anonymous said...

Well, you pretty much described my life there, JA. Married with kids, but don't care much for religion. It is this very stife which led me to seek out others in a similar situation, and ultimately stumble on your site. I'll share with you and other readers how I deal.

1) In my modern orthodox shul, I have found many others in the same place in life, some more upfront about their doubts than others. We go to shul (late), hang out in the back, shmooze, have a pretty good time - just as one would at a wedding or something, I suppose. For the most part, we don't talk openly about our disbelief, but there is an unspoken understanding with many. If I have to be in shul, I mostly daydream. I once snuck in Friedman's "The Bible with Sources Revealed" which made kriat hatorah so much more interesting :)
2) I have a wife who pretty much knows where I stand, and is as accepting as one could be. She doesn't think much about these things, and enjoys the communal aspect of religion. It bothers her a bit that I don't wear tefillin, and that I find every excuse to leave shul (kids are great for that), but our love for each other is strong, as is our marraige. She has become more liberal over time - we do eat out on vacation for example, but she does feel some guilt about it.
3) As for the kids, I try to answer with an emphasis on spituality (which does appeal to me). I try to steer conversations toward god, the soul, values, and away from halacha and Jewish history as written in the Torah. The kids are still young - we shall see what ultimately happens. A part of me secretely hopes that they will leave the religion, but for the most part, I just want them to be happy.

In sum, living this life of intellectual dishonesty is pretty frustrating, but it could be, and is, much worse for others I know.
My advice to single readers in the process of discovering where you are religiously is to try to become more settled before settling down.

mushroomjew said...

I am another person who got married frum and then got doubts and became a non-believer. At this point, we have agreed that our values conflict so much that we need to divorce. We will be separating soon. However, since we have kids, the problem will never really go away.
My children (ages between 5-10) do not know about my lack of beliefs. I think they would be devestated since they have been brainwashed in school that people who don't eat kosher or don't keep shabbos are evil. They go to a very right wing yeshiva. The crux of our divorce mediation is going to be the children's education (there aren't any monitary assests to resolve). I think we're going to compromise on a modern orthodox yeshiva where at least my kids will get the secular tools to hopefully question their beliefs. I hope they do and I'm not sure how proactive I will be in promoting their skepticism. But my wife is hell bent on them leading religious lives.
Another important point, is that although my life is pretty crummy because I de-frummed after marriage, the truth is that I think I would never have asked skeptical questions if I had not gotten married so young. I would have stayed in Yeshiva/Collel and grown even more fervent in my beliefs. When I did marry, I was thrust into the workforce which exposed me to secularism. Also, the laws of Niddah were a main source of questioning of "God's wisdom" since they were more primitive than any religious observance in Judaism I had known about plus it led me to even more "evil" masturbation which was one of the reasons I chose to marry young.

esther said...

All this talk makes me glad that my forebearers defrummed before I was born.

Avi said...

Rich P, Hello. I am in your situation except that my kids are grown up. My wife is frummer then frum and a really great person to be married to. I believe in nothing. She goes to shul on Shabbos and I go after davening to walk home with her and have some kiddush. I dont believe that mummbling hebrew words will make any difference in my life. . And for that matter if God exists why would he give a damn about anything that I might have to say. Still for the neighbors sake I have to live a frum lifestyle. Not easy living a lie. Avi

Avi said...

Mushroom Jew ( I think that you look more like an eggplant ) LOL. You might wanna talk to my wife Shelly. She does divorce mediation and might be able to give you some advice and or ideas. Avi

Anonymous said...

Avi -

I am learning very quickly that there are many others out there like me. I have made contact with several people (you may become one now too) and it has been comforting to know i'm not alone.

I do go to shul on shabbos, but for social reasons and to just get out of the house for a nice walk. I end up talking to friends most of the time and just reading some articles from israel in a packet they have in shul. I can't even remember the last time i went to shul during the week when it wasn't for a bris.

Personally, I am a huge DIY person and would love to have another day besides sunday to do work around the house. But that isn't happening under my current situation :(

Baconeater said...

There must be lots of Rich P.'s in Israel. I read that 25% of Jews there are Atheist and another 25% are Agnostic.

JA, God saved you from getting married when you were Ortho. You owe him.

Anonymous said...

Well Mr JA, I imagine that your'e a buy in his late 20'a or mid 30's and your pondering your future & the liftstyle you want to maintain. Well I AM YOU only 30 years later but I married ortho and went throught my stages which even included a BLACK HAT for a few years. I read an article in Azure a few months back which described me to a T. I realized that I AM FLEXIDOX. So that's what I am and that's what I'll be and here I'll stay

jewish philosopher said...

I think basically the secret Frum skeptics are similar to secret alcoholics. They know that what they are doing is wrong, they wish they weren't doing it, but they cannot stop.

If they were truly proud of what they are doing were prepared to defend it rationally, they would just tell their wife and move on.

Anonymous said...

By the same logic, most frum people are not really frum because they sometimes give in to their weaknesses. If they really believed that Torah was true they would never give in to their weaknesses. That person lacks the psychological strength to do something in accord with his beliefs doesn't mean his true beliefs are the very opposite.

Anonymous said...

Jewish philosopher, you are so wrong. Can you not understand that people care about the feelings of their families and the practical impact of their actions on their families? That doesn't mean that they are ashamed or that they think that what they're doing is wrong. It means that they are people who are stuck in an unhappy situation with no good way out - either they stay frustrated themselves or they upset their families.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm so happy I stumbled upon this blog. It's nice to know that I am sharing in the universal experience of the great Orthodox believer/non-believer divide.

I too live the double life - my wife is frum, she even still wears a shaitel (ugh... it's the worst) but I love her for so many other reasons that I look past that, as does she when it comes to my lifestyle. But she's coming around, and slowly I'm working on her and showing her why I feel the way I do, without pressuring her to change herself.

She has been surprisingly accepting of my secretive lifestyle, though I suspect that having two children and a loving relationship means that you have to overlook 'certain' things in life if you want to keep the happy status quo .

I too go to shul for the social aspect, and taking my little boy to shul is more a joy than a pain in the neck because it's 'our time' where we walk to shul together in the morning, have a good shmooze (he's 5) and enjoy each other's company.

Schooling is going to be an issue - he's currently in an ultra orthodox school for nursery/kindergarden. It is convenient in that it's so close to home (though I pointed out to my wife that there is a conservative kindergarten right near our home also, but that wasn't a fight I wanted to have at the time), but I anticipate some strife when he has to start first grade, because I will absolutely not have him go to a regular yeshiva. Give me a Jewish day school where the kids are taught to be happy and proud as Jews, not constantly guilty about their actions like I was taught to be.

What do all of you 'double lifers' doing about your kids schooling?