Thursday, November 03, 2005

Guest Post from Holy Hyrax

This post is from Holy Hyrax. Love the moniker. I encourage all of you to post as well. As you will soon see from reading this fascinating post, there are a lot of interesting stories to tell.

This post is dedicated to those that through dishonesty, cowardice and blackmail, would try to shut other people down for their opinions in their search of truth, instead of meeting them head-on in discussion.

This is my first time posting, so please have mercy.

Now you shall all hear the story of the forging of the ring of power. Oooops wrong tale. It’s my turn in telling everyone my little B.T. adventure. I have been a Bal Tshuva for about 4 years now. As far back as I can remember, I was interested in Judaism’s rich history, culture and I was extremely proud to be one of the “chosen people.” I eventually went to lectures and then to the seminars. After that, I was hooked, and by what, by Bible-Codes. I start keeping Shabbat, taking more classes all the while jumping up and down with joy knowing my Torah is from God because of my amazing bible-codes, but my doubts would eventually start to come around after reading some pretty hokey, apologetic stuff in the Chumash. When I would confront the rabbis about it, they would give me an even worse answer. I eventually turned to other books, the first one being “Who wrote the Bible.” The way I look at it is that to be fair I should look at both sides, just like what a judge would do in front of two lawyers. I started to read other materials and books. Three years ago, I went to an Israeli Yeshiva in Jerusalem to get some questions taken care of.

HA! I look back at it and realize what a huge waste of time it was for me. How many of these people actually heard of opposing arguments? All they seem to know over there, is the great proofs presented by Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak (now available on DVD folks). Only the few college trained Rabbis new anything of the Documentary Hypothesis and their arguments were more in the line of: “Well who are these critics to interpret OUR scriptures.”. I’m sure if any of these yeshiva boys knew of any of the opposing arguments they would have packed their bags and left. But they DON’T know about it. They CAN’T know about it because like what an OU Rabbi once told me, “The majority of Jews in school just don’t know how to handle topics of this magnitude.” Two years ago, I left. I stopped keeping kosher, stopped Shabbat. I stopped everything to do with Judaism.

So here I am today. I have an orthodox wife and I’m still grappling with my life. I love my wife dearly with all my heart and I realize how hard all this is on her. (There honey, are you happy? I mentioned you  ) How do you go back once that bubble has burst. It’s like living your whole life, only to be told you were adopted. You feel like your entire life has been a lie. The truth is I believe in God. I always have. But for the rest I just don’t know what to do. I get depressed; I cry and even wondered if life is worth living if you’re constantly perched up on the fence. Unlike B.T.A., I have this desire to come back. I don’t want to throw in the towel. I don’t think I am ready to come up with a game plan for my families’ life with me being an OTD BT as B.T.A suggested. But there is something inside me that tells me Jews are unique. There is something “different” about our history. Can it truly be Torah?

My brain eventually kicks in and has to remind me of all the contradictions and all those lovely apologetic answers that I so do love to hear. Here comes my favorite part. When I open up to others (which I don’t do anymore) I always get: “It’s only your ‘Yetzer Hara’ taking hold of you. My “yetzer hara”? MY “YETZER HARA”? Is anyone else sick of hearing this? I don’t even know where to begin with that. Is it my “yetzer hara” that wants me to search for some sort of truth? I don’t get it. These religious people that I approach used to be secular. They know what it’s like to try to find truth in an objective matter. What happened to them? Oh ya… I forgot… the seminars. Our how about this one: “Why don’t you just stop reading those crazy books.” AARGGH. I cringe in agony when I’m close to religious people, both because of my anger and my jealousy. I hold back words such as: “You guys are all a bunch of morons.

Do you honestly believe all this? You really believe all these rabbis have Ruach HaKodesh and know everything?” But my heart also aches and I think how much I wish I was part of them. So now I’m stuck. One thing for sure is that I have decided to stay away from over the top UO people, even if that means curbing time with family. I’m afraid that my anger, even hatred sometimes towards them takes over all other emotions. I guess the person I have most anger towards and even hatred toward is God. More than one occasion I have cursed at him wondering what curse he has put on me. How can he just leave me in the gutter like this? A rabbi that I like and even one that I consider a friend once told me that it does not matter what I do, I will always have doubts. That is how I am wired. That is my doom.

Perhaps this is all really some sort of blessing in disguise (a very, very big disguise). Another facet of my life is what will happen with my children in the future. But that is a discussion for another post, if B.T.A. ….uh, I mean his great lordship B.T.A. would allow me that honor. I know this is a long post, but tough. B.T.A is paying me by the word count and I have rent due. So far he owes me $1,024.

The 20th Letter

Hat tip to Mis-nagid for suggesting turning my long-winded comment in response to a Rabbi's concerns about frumkeit into an actual post. I won't edit it much for the time being:

Here is Inni?'s post:

Inni? said...
BTA,Thank you very much for setting this forum up.I have only just discovered the wonderful world of blogs. (and what a bittul z'man they are!)I myself became BT at school I never actually attended a BT yeshiva. I did, however, spend many years in a well known MO Yeshiva.I'm not sure if this is wise, but I am going to admit that I also took semicha. But after all this time i find myself in a very difficult place. I'm not sure I believe any of it any more. So here it is - I'm a Rav who thinks the whole thing, potentially, is a very clever, man made,intellectual edifice designed to chain us to a guilt ridden, patriarchal boys club!I'm married with kids and to be honest I feel quite trapped. Any suggestions?
9:56 AM

BTA said...
Inni, Welcome, and I commend you for being open.

Before I reply, I will say this disclaimer: my opinion is just that, an opinion. I have no training or experience helping others in our situation, I only know that once I opened the door to doubt, the whole process took a certain trajectory.As I said in the first post, it can be pretty disconcerting to doubt OJ, because it is just so all-consuming. And, sure, it's easy to find tons of information and writings to support sceptical views, but where do you go from there?

Nevertheless, the more honest I became with myself, the better I felt, because at least I knew what challenges I had to deal with. Also, you absolutely did the right thing by telling the details you did. However, that being said, you are new to blogs and must follow a few guidelines. Don't disclose where you live or hint at it. Don't name anything in terms of yeshivas, etc. Right now, you could live in NY, London, Baltimore, Israel, who knows? So that's number one. Don't say how long you've been married, how old your kids are, how many you have, how old the oldest is, etc. And you'll be fine.

Now, with that huge blog piece of advice out of the way, here is my take, and I really hope others out there will think through their responses and respond as well. It's easy to say "go for it, go off, since it's all bull anyway!" or "just find another Rav/daven for emunah" etc. Guys, please take what has been given factually and speak from there.

Ok. First, you are not the first Rav to feel as you do. Have you ever read the 19 Letters by Rav Hirsch? If you read the student's first letter, which is a critique of OJ from the perspective of a thoroughly enlightened German Jew in Rav Hirsch's time, it will strike you as amazing. It says it just about all on the money.And it was written by Rav Hirsch! He wrote both the Naftali side and the Ben Uziel side. He could perfectly enunciate why one wouldn't want to be frum. It is so thorough and devastating. Some kiruv rabbi gave me that book to read and it had the opposite effect on me- because the first letter was so much stronger than any of the responses in the rest of the book.

Take your initial comments. They are expressed the following way by Hirsch: "The religion turns all of life into a continuous monastic service, where even the minutest details are referred directly to God." The hundreds of daily brachas such as asher yotzer come to mind. I remember asking a rabbi, where does it say that god commands us to do nitilas yadayim? Isn't that a false statement? Same for hallel. The same reply always follows: in the mitzvah of "listening to the rabbis." Well, the miztvah is actually to listen to the sanhedrin! They lose all credibility with answers like those.

There are also some interesting things I read in Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo's books, Judaism on Trial and Thoughts to Ponder. Of course he is an OJ rabbi, but also a Phd from Oxford in philosophy. So, it was interesting that in one of the books (I could look it up for you) he says he was surprised by a very established chareidi Rav in Israel asking him "how can you believe all of this with all your training? It's all I know and I'm finding I believe it less and less." I'm paraphrasing.

Something tells me, Inni, that you aren't the first Rav to have doubts! One more note. It is historical fact that the super-choshuv Lithuanian yeshivas prior to the holocaust were filled with atheists. The reason given was that this was the only place they could go to train their minds, since college was not an option for them at the time. But, it goes to show that you are not "a sign of the times" or an anomoly.

Even in the gemara, there is the famous story of the sage who went off the derech when he saw a boy die falling out of a tree. The boy was fetching eggs at his father's behest and was first shooing the mother bird away. Both kevod av and shooing the mother were associated with long life. The gemara says he was a fool for going OTD for various uncompelling reasons, but again, we are talking about someone from the holiest generations walking away.Now, all that is just to let you know you are not crazy and there is a ton of information out there. I do think that there are a lot of very sceptical Rabbeim out there who have learned to stay with it and their questions because of the other beneficial aspects of yiddishkeit. Look at Rebel Jew's post from the other day. It sums up the "stick with it" mindset of a sceptic who stays on the derech.

But you are a BT, a truth seeker. You may lose all interest, if you are black and white like a lot of us, if you lose the illusion of it all being true. In fact, you may become quite embarassed for believing it at all. I did at first. I really beat myself up, "how could I have fallen for this, it's so obviously full of holes?!"

I liken it to the Wizard of Oz. Once you see it's just some feeble old guy behind the curtain, you realize how much so-called emunah was really just superstition, with its concommitant hopes for good fortune in life as a reward for being a good boy.

Now, that aside, you have a lot at stake here. You are married with kids and unlike me, you are a talmud chacham. You didn't specify if this is your career or not. But you are quite invested in this. I think the time has come to ask some difficult questions as well. How much of your questioning is due to or triggered by unhappiness in you marriage or with other aspects of your life?I know my doubts were not triggered by the desire for lobster, but rather for simply hating davening from day one and not finding it getting any easier. Having davened in english for the first few years, I know what these prayer are supposed to be saying. I would look around the minyan during Kedusha and say, "look at these guys," going up on their tippy toes and supposedly quoted angels- this is insane! And the fact that it is standard to daven at lightning speed, that also was bizarre. Doesn't it matter to know what you are saying? I realized most folks turn off their minds and just press on, after all that's what a mensch does, right? Be a team player.Of course, the 39 melachas are pretty hard to swallow as well.

Learning is emphasized because when you learn, you read in between the lines as well as the lines themselves. You get all kinds of subliminal messages from the gemara or the commentators about just how important it is to get it right. The Wizard,er...Hashem is watching, and he'll be verrrrry angry with you. Or worse, whatever your doing won't "count" and you'll lose out on "points." Just look at the chofetz chaim's halachic writings for example. Written in the last century, they are nevertheless imbued with fire and brimstone fear of god's wrath. That's pretty hard to have these days.

I'm here to say there has been no wrath, and if you want to talk about divine retribution somewhere in the afterlife, fine, but that isn't what the torah says in the shema for example or in any of the curses in dvarim. I, like many non-believers like me, am "blessed" financially and with a happy life. In fact, I look at my circumstance and realize that, the more constrained I would have been, the more I would not have had the luxury of doubting. There are a lot of rich Jews who do kiruv and show off their fancy houses to potential converts. These prospects think "hmm, maybe god will bless me, too." Yes, it is quite common I assure you.

Now all I've said may have set you back to your Rav training "these are all klutz kashas, I know the answers for this stuff." So my question is, why aren't the answers working any more? It is to do with a midlife crisis (desiring new women or experiences) or is it to do with the religion itself?Have you spoken to rabbeim who specialize not in halacha alone, but also in all the questions of judaism? Of course don't say which ones.

I know I spoke with some very smart and also respected rabbeim in israel. They would be perhaps one tier below american gedolim and thus one or two tiers below the gedolei torah in israel. But they spoke english and they knew secular subjects. And they weren't kiruv clowns.And, the interesting thing is- unlike the kiruv clowns who knew so little, these rabbeim validated all of my doubts! They didn't threaten how hashem would give my whole family cancer and the like. They understood. They are nevertheless passionate about learning and frumkeit. I think they find it incredibly stimulating, and being scholarly, that does it for them. They feel you can come to believe it is true through learning, but they acknowledge you can also come to the conclusion it is not true through learning.

In other words, they are circumspect and don't lay claims to proof like the lightweight Akiva Tatz's and Kelemen's of the world who thrive on sophistry.I think given your situation, you owe it to yourself to try to find a way to have it work, perhaps less frum. You can't just shake up everyone's lives overnight. And, if you have already made that effort, then let's talk further. But it sounds like you've only recently begun to have serious doubts.Your relationship with your wife is the guiding factor here. If you feel the relationship is going nowhere, it could just be the religious doubting and frustration. If you can work it out at all, you should, for your kids sake and hers. Divorce is a devastating thing, but sometimes it is the right thing. Anyway, I hope I did your post some justice with this reply. I hope others will chime in.

And no- this is not bittul z'man- this is life. You can get back to learning for learning's sake when this is a little more clear.
4:18 PM