On Frummy Ex-Hasidim

On Frummy Ex-Hasidim

Ex-Hasidim in a synagogue crying when the topic of arranged marriage is raised

Imagine if Ex-Hasidim had a shul! It would be desecration of the holy apostasy! God forbid!

But still, I wonder, maybe? Because there’s obviously a sizable enough population of ex-hasidim to fill up Rodney and sing cheeree-beeree-bum. And because a synagogue has always been important to Jews – regardless of degree of observance. It has been much more than a house of worship; it has been the home of culture, tradition and social cohesion for Jews on all religious wavelengths, especially at times of internal transition.

Maybe not actual four walls and an ark and a female cantor in shorts and horns, but can Judaism and Jewish identity be an honored and a celebrated part of life of the Jews who leave radical orthodoxy? Should it not? Oftentimes I hear sentiments from those who left extreme Judaism about not relating to the Jewish identity, or about a desire to be as far away from the trauma of religion as possible. Understandably, Judaism can evoke feelings that can be upsetting among many people who feel they have been oppressed by it. To others it’s just irrelevant. There is an evolving identity as a group of OTDers to be sure, but it doesn’t seem to be about Judaism per se.

We don’t hear Hallelujas from OTDers extolling the Jewish nationality. It’s interesting that the subject is so present in the OTD dialogues but it is also not very actively celebrated. I wonder often why that is, because for me, Judaism is one of the most valuable things in my life. I struggle to articulate why, but still, it’s an inner warmth I can’t explain. I cherish my heritage, the richness in my experiences, the incredible Jewish history, the cycle of holidays and rituals, the honor to be part of a people so much larger than me. It gives my life and my family meaning. I cannot describe the many ways in which Judaism enriched my life so far, even while radical Judaism sneered and hissed and licked me with its ugly side of fanaticism. Judaism is the focus of my studies and the subject I find most relevant to me. Hasidic Judaism had its glaring faults, but it also had its wonderful elements, and if it instilled in me anything, it is the knowledge tattooed into my very being of the Jewish experience. These parts that contain happy childhood memories, valuable moments on life and society, these are the parts I have scraped together, packed up, and took along on life’s journey as the important link between my past and wherever life takes me.

I often feel like not many share my passionate commitment to our heritage, even while we share other very strong convictions about the societies we left. It’s interesting that I’ve heard many ex frum identify themselves with the Haskalah, the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries Jewish Enlightenment, but if we compare the Haskalah and the current wave of “enlightenment” we find that the Haskalah’s main convictions towards progressing Judaism are missing in today’s generation. It’s true that the Haskalah was about reform and rationality but many of their beliefs were foremost “Jewish” and they sought changes for their people. From Mendelssohn to Gottlober to Perl, these powerful figures of the Haskalah were not only religious, but their primary concerns for reform were their concerns for Jews and Judaism — they sought to promote education, revival of Hebrew, Zionism, critique Biblical grammar, promote literature. (They also sought economic progress, the end of the traditional garb in efforts to make Jews more “civilized” and less oppressed race.) They argued their ideas by referencing Jewish texts, the Morah Nevuchim, Talmudic aggadata and by trying to demonstrate that Hasidim “corrupted” the original holy texts. It was with Judaism and God as the ultimate authority. Of course, Maskilim differed from orthodox rabbis and earned the title Maskilim not for naught — they did after all promote change which goes against one of the main orthodox tenets. But still, they fought for change within Judaism, not out of Judaism. This, I think, is absent today.

But I assume what’s appealing to us in the Haskallah is the rational, intellectual, movement that is about shattering superstition. Still, a bookish intellectual movement is essentially a very Jewish one. Then again, I guess if we can call OTDers a movement it would also be essentially a very Jewish one.

PS: This post is on a serious topic: Judaism. Comments on baths and bath-water and naked babies are considered inappropriate and perverted for this sacred conversation. I respectfully ask you to shut off naughty mouth for the duration of this “service”. Commenters who do not respect the nature of this conversation and refer to said nude bathers will be thrown out with the bathwater. You know who you are. Amen.

  • Shragi Getzel
    Posted at 16:25h, 09 September Reply

    If Congregation Non-Shomer-Shabbos doesn’t have to have four walls, perhaps in exists already? Online, in congregations such as this one?

  • Groynem Ox
    Posted at 19:35h, 09 September Reply

    So much of our heritage is magnificently rich and fulfilling, it’s a shame so many have left it all behind, and have thrown the baby out with the bath water (or worse, have thrown out the baby and kept the bath water, but that’s a whole other topic).
    Immigrants have done the same in previous generations, it wasn’t until multiculturalism became popular when young people began to embrace what their grandparents shed as soon as they stepped off the boat. There’s still some work to be done before we have Shtetl pride month celebrated at college campuses, but we’re getting there. Maybe it is this generation of maskilim with their unique understanding of both worlds who will bridge the devide between the shtetl past and contemporary American Judaism. It is my hope that sooner or later a plethora of communities will form to reclaim their culture and fill the gaping void within their eternally Jewish hearts.

  • rokhl
    Posted at 20:25h, 09 September Reply

    I would like to say, from the non-hassidish side of things, I hope that Mr. Ox is right. If you look at the great works of European Yiddish modernism, they were all created by young men and women fleeing their (mostly) hasidic upbringings and trying to find a way to synthesize their new, modern life with the best of the traditional world they grew up in. Writer and enthnographer Sh An-Sky (The Dybbuk) supposedly ran a halfway house for escapees from the Vitebsk yeshiva!
    Alas, WWII destroyed this attempt to create a middle way of Jewish life between tradition and total linguistic assimilation.

  • insideontheside
    Posted at 23:03h, 09 September Reply

    another thought provoking hit.
    i wonder if we can have a synagogue without the plaques of remembrance to remind us of the past and to ensure a future? Can one create a temple out of a tent? is there a way to set down roots with a mishkan instead of a mikdash me’at?
    can we yell at our children to be quiet during our ruminations of our estatical ghosts?

  • Leo
    Posted at 23:10h, 09 September Reply

    Great post! OTD represents a negative – “OMG, can’t believe they deprived me of bacon my entire life!” or slogans like that. If anyone wants to move on but lacks the rebellious anger – and many do – the least they’d want to is to associate with fellow OTDs.
    And that’s where Shragi Getzel is mistaken. There are a great many – and I’m talking intellectuals who grew up in open communities – who have moved on, but don’t even have FB accounts. They still find beauty in Judaism, and not everything HAS to get the “You’re an apologetic” response.
    While seas don’t split and rivers don’t turn to blood, it’s no reason to leave it ALL behind.

  • Itim Chalimeh
    Posted at 07:42h, 10 September Reply

    it would be wonderful if… but as we were taught that this none-believing de-ligion does not have a “zechis kiyem” the roots and cause us not strong enough for it to go on…
    done would say this is true to even the modern orthodox and others add they could go on in titer way add long add there is the extreme orthodox to compare itself not to be…

  • yeshivaforum
    Posted at 07:58h, 10 September Reply

    It would be nice. With whatever level of belief and/or traditions we’re all individually comfortable with. And to Itim Chalimeh, why does it have to last? It is what it is. It would feel good now to have a non-pressured environment with comforting familiar things we all grew up with. Thats part of us too. Why do we have to stifle parts of ourselves to fit into the world?

  • Itim Chalimeh
    Posted at 08:10h, 10 September Reply

    yeshuvahfru u r right. this concept of everlasting / future-oriented / etc.. is embedded in me and many of us by default…

  • Woodrow
    Posted at 11:33h, 10 September Reply

    One reason there’s not so much need for a Haskalah today is that we have the liberal streams of Judaism (and also modern Orthodoxy, sort of), which do some of what the Haskalah once did (trying to preserve Jewish civilization while adjusting it to modernity).

  • Yoav
    Posted at 12:48h, 10 September Reply

    As others have noted, I’m not sure there’s that much to do in terms of reviving the Haskala per se – traditional Judaism has been deconstructed already, notwithstanding the efforts of those who choose to indentify with it. It seems to me that there is one worthy project left for those who still feel lured by tradition yet transcend its inevitable limitations, and it is the hardest one of all – the comprehensive reform (or perhaps abolition) of the rough edges which cut so sharply into the life of our inestimable ba’alas habayis and her fellow travellers. It is this aspect of the haskala that can be brought back to life and it is here where its work lies unfinished. And only those who are united in a profound attachment to their heritage, as opposed to merely being affiliated in animosity have the tools to really embark on this avodas hakodesh.

  • פיני פרדמן
    Posted at 21:45h, 10 September Reply

    ס’שטעלט זיך א מנין מעריב אינדרויסן. דא דיסקוסירט מען קוגעל רעצעפטן. לאקשן קוגל איז אויף די אגענדע. אסור לדבר!

  • Moe
    Posted at 17:58h, 11 September Reply

    There is no comparison from today’s OTD to Mendelssohn and the Haskalah/Reform movement.They were all highly intelligent and well learned in the talmud,tenach etc.While today’s OTD are mostly uneducated problematic kids.Most of them have schavcha kap to learn and didn’t pick up much in school/chedar/yeshiva

    • Leo
      Posted at 18:38h, 11 September Reply

      Moe is right. Of course there are exceptions. But for the most part that is the case. Oh, sure, there are many smart ones who leave the fold, but the OTD clan stands for nothing other than rebellious anger and hate (perhaps rightfully so) which any intelligent human wouldn’t wanna associate with.
      Shragi Getzel, it’s his opinion, and mine, and asking for where the study was published is, well, unintelligent.
      Here’s some food for thought: seeing the OTD community, many chose to stay in the fold.

  • Shragi Getzel
    Posted at 18:01h, 11 September Reply

    What study is your statement based on? And where is that study published?

  • Shragi Getzel
    Posted at 18:44h, 11 September Reply

    It’s your opinion too Leo?
    It’s my opinion that in the heyday of the Haskalah/Reform movement most people left for the same reasons people are leaving today. Your picking Mendelsohn and comparing him to the kids who who didn’t do well in yeshiva is unintelligent.
    What would you say to the charge that today’s frum people cannot be compared to R’ Chaim Brisker or the Chozeh M’Lublin, today’s frum people are only in it because they like cholent and kugel? Is that an intelligent argument? Does it prove anything?

  • S.
    Posted at 19:05h, 11 September Reply

    Mendelssohn never left.
    In the old days people were chaleshing for intellectual stimulation, so they turned to Moreh Nevuchim and devoted their greatest intellectual efforts to our own literature. Today if you are chaleshing for intellectual stimulation you can, you know, go check out some books from a library, or order from Amazon. Or matriculate to college.

  • Marrano Chassid
    Posted at 19:36h, 11 September Reply

    Unfortunately for us OTD’ers, we are indeed trained from a young age to think in black and white terms i.e. either/or thinking and not and/also. As others have pointed out this isn’t the only way that we are talking to each other (and to ourselves for that matter) on chareidi terms. The very name OTD with all it’s negative connotations should be the first thing to change.
    Closeted OTD’ers, having never been acknowledged to exist by the Chareidi establishment, indeed have no name or label within the community. Some call them Kofrim Apikorsim etc., but when people see them being observant all these names lose significance. By and large people see them as equal Apikorsim as the guy who claims the current Rebbe can’t do a moiyfes. The real names they have, such as Orthoprax (or Marranos?), are names the OP community has chosen for themselves.
    Shpitzele, in the spirit of your caption contest, how about a “naming contest” for this community that you’re suggesting?

  • Moe
    Posted at 15:41h, 12 September Reply

    Shragi Getzel,
    Its not a study but a fact.Of course there is some exception notice how i used the term most OTD.
    Its a fact that most OTD who leave didn’t make it with the studies and were problematic in general.
    The Haskalah some of them learned in Volozhin,brisk and were great learners.

    • Shragi Getzel
      Posted at 16:23h, 12 September Reply

      R’ Moe dear,
      You just repeated yourself in different words so I’ll repeat myself in different words to you.
      You postulated that whereas most maskilim of old were highly intellectual non-problematic members of society, most of today’s OTDers are not intellectuals but rather they are problematic.
      You say that today there are exceptions to this rule, and I ask you; where did you get this rule from? You cite Mendelsohn and some unnamed maskilim who learned in Brisk. How many maskilim can you name who were intellectuals? 5, 10, 20? The rest left for the same reasons people are leaving today.
      Mendelsohn and your Briskers were exceptions in their day too.

  • S.
    Posted at 16:59h, 12 September Reply

    Moe, what is the point of your observation? I mean, what are you trying to get at?

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