September 9, 2012 On Frummy Ex-Hasidim
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.