Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Frum Skeptic Married to Frum Believer- Worse than Intermarriage?

This post is dedicated to Godol Hador, who I gave such a hard time today about his post extolling the benefits of believer status over skeptic status. (Also Hyrax, Chardal, Responding to Jblogs, SL Aronowitz, Jewish Atheist, MikeSkeptic, RebelJew, Satyamanand Un-orthodox Jew, all of whom have indulged me with their own advice- amny hae posts on their own blogs about this.)

I realized that I was frustrated because I'm in search of a solution to this dilemma and find it to be a Gordian Knot. I also realized it's foolish to not want to acknowledge personal fears in this setting a) because my concerns are not unique to me, and b) I'm anonymous at present.

I've had many interesting email dialogues with folks in a similar position to me (see title). I started wondering, although I am blessed with a wonderful wife who understands me and is flexible, whether I am destining my kids to embody either/or or to become jekyll/hyde combination of my wife and I.

I realized that this must be just as absurd as the Jews who intermarry and say they'll raise the kids with "respect for both."

Now, I think it might actually be child abuse to raise a kid frum in OJ schools and then when they get old enough to ask "the questions," lie and forever betray their trust or tell them the truth and pull the carpet from underneath them.

It seems a much better option to enroll them in less than Orthodox jewish schools. But that raises another dilemma. I think that isolation from T.V. is a good thing in large part. I like the emphasis on learning and reading and character trait development to the exclusion of video games and the like. As my kids grow older, I hope I will be able to steer them clear of premarital sex and all the rest. Orthodox schools are not a foolproof innoculation against those concerns but it has statistics on its side. The question then, is do the statistics apply to a family like mine? Shabbos is also great for kids and families, and I have no problem with it.

I just hate being a hypocrite myself and wouldn't want my kids to be enrolled in OJ schools as non-believing skeptics! I don't see the alternative very well, as should be clear.

What do you think is the right approach?

30 Comments:

Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

Know that I am single and, to my knowledge, not a father.

I think the root of the problem with raising children in a UO environment is that UO is a fundamentalist religion. There is no moral/ethical concern that is defined outside the religions dogma. Therefore, if a parent must choose between their child's happiness and religion, the religion is supposed to win.

For example, if a child finds that she is gifted at archaeology, a parent may discourage her because archaeology runs counter to the "Torah true" life.

That sort of life ought to make you sick to your stomach. Work on developing an extremely close relationship with your kids while at the same time do not compromise their education. The worst possible endgame is to have a child who is reluctant to talk to you. How many skeptics discuss their problems with their parents? Fortunately, I crawled out from underneath a rock, so I don't have that problem.

At the same time, however, you can't have a kid learn one thing in school and then hear something else at home. First, it will drive him nuts. Second, like most kids he will blab at school and find himself expelled.

I think that the best thing to do is to send them to a Jewish school throughout elementary and junior high. After that, sending them to a Yeshiva high school is to stunt their emotional development and compromise their secular education. A better alternative, IMO is to homeschool or to send them to a private high school and allow for some sort of Sunday school-type thing.

1/19/2006 12:02 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Really? What's your take on MO schools where they emphasize secular stuff, but still at least give lip service to yiddishkeit? I'm not so sure I want a Godol hador, as great a guy as he is, situation. Also, I bet I'm a lot more skeptical than GH's dad.

1/19/2006 1:50 AM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

Also, I bet I'm a lot more skeptical than GH's dad.

?????????

What's your take on MO schools where they emphasize secular stuff, but still at least give lip service to yiddishkeit?

As much as some of the MO schools emphasize secular education, their yiddishkeit never falls to the level of "lip service." Its not easy in these situations. I know for my kids, we have been looking for schools that emphasize excellent Secular and Torah education. Some of the schools prepare you for a life of being a rosh yeshiva. I am happy to have found a school that preaches that not every kid will be a rosh yeshiva. Some will want to be plumbers, doctors etc. With all that said, it probably does not matter. Because anyone that is skeptic will always have a hard time accepting their child being told lies, brainwashed half the time. Perhaps the solution is not to look into a less orthodox school, but a more conservative school where you will feel more comfertable with your child is being taught.

Its a very hard thing to have to go through. And, there are no easy approaches or answers. One has to really sit down and organize his thoughts properly, and see what he wants. And after all that, it still won't be easy.

1/19/2006 2:36 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

What's your take on MO schools where they emphasize secular stuff, but still at least give lip service to yiddishkeit? I'm not so sure I want a Godol hador, as great a guy as he is, situation. Also, I bet I'm a lot more skeptical than GH's dad.

It's a little late (even for me) so excuse me if some of your comment went over my head.

Despite the vast difference between a UO and MO school in their approach to religious studies, it seems to me that the core of skeptical questions will run up hard against either school.

Is it wrong to think that it is not a bad thing for a child to learn some stuff that may not be true as a kid, and then later allow them to receive a decent secualr education that would either challenge their faith and allow them to choose their own path, or strengthen their faith and allow them to choose their own path.

The things I wish to avoid is my child being totally brainwaished from cradle to post-high school yeshiva/seminary and my child being scared to bring up hashkafic issues with his parents.

Of course I also have one friend who thinks it a moral sin to bring children into this godless world.

1/19/2006 3:50 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

Some of the schools prepare you for a life of being a rosh yeshiva. I am happy to have found a school that preaches that not every kid will be a rosh yeshiva

Get out of my mind! I just used this exact phrase (well, almost exact phrase) in an email conversation with another blogger.

My exact words were "...the Yeshiva system is deeply flawed. People are able to go through it like Drano. Despite that I have sentimental fondness for Yeshiva- pure scholarship and all that, but it is not for everyone. By forcing their children to attend Yeshiva as opposed to normal high school, parents are setting up their children for a fall. For a millenia there was no imperative that every kid grow up into a Rosh Yeshiva, I don't know why things are different now."

I was planning on turning that into a post.

1/19/2006 3:54 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
MO schools also push zionism. Would you have a problem with your kids wanting to do aliyah and join the army to protect the homeland?

MO schools emphasis charachter and not appearance. They encourage their kids to be science experts. They win all these westinghouse awards.
They emphasize tradition. Im thinking that youre skeptic, but you see a value add to being and remaing jewish, including your kids and grandkids?
Maybe they can look at all the things you reject as history that doesnt take away from claims to the land.
Not sure if im making sense, but got to run to work.
Will think some more on this.

1/19/2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>The things I wish to avoid is my child being totally brainwaished from cradle to post-high school yeshiva/seminary and my child being scared to bring up hashkafic issues with his parents.

I owe you a couple of emails, so I apologize for my tardiness.

I understand your wish to avoid the brainwashing, but I don't understand your second issue.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that all of "us" are not sitting at the shabbos table and telling our children that Rivka was three years old--she WAS!--or generally portraying ourselves as fundamentalists who can't be asked questions about religion and hashkafa.

If anything, I'm worried about not undermining my kid's teachers but not letting them be indotrinated with the kind of chinuch that we don't want for them and most especially that ultimately my kids won't want to have a conversation about these things because they think I'm an apikores. But I can assure you that our kids won't be afraid to ask us about dinosaurs unless we somehow purposely pose as haredim, which I doubt any of us are doing inside our own homes.

1/19/2006 9:25 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

(Disclaimer: I have no kids)

Ideally, both you and your wife should be completely honest with your kids. Send them to a MO-lite school, where there is some diversity of backgrounds and beliefs. Teach your kids that they might not be able to say certain things in school because of how the school works, but you shouldn't have to hide your own beliefs from them.

In my MO school, there were always some kids who weren't totally frum believers or even frum practitioners.

And if you like Shabbos and not having a t.v., go ahead and keep shabbos and don't have a t.v. :)

1/19/2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I don't have children, but my wife and I often talk about this situation becuase we continue to live in a MO community.

My wife is essentialy a variant of Deist, but she is very serious about jewish heritage, education, and lifestyle. Our most frequent argument is when I bash the bible for it's inconsistency she will always defend it, for although she sees it as the work of men, she believes it to hold important lessons.

I think when the time comes I will look for a community school. As long as the student body is significantly diverse, the children can grow up seeing all varieties of Judaism and respecting them.

I don't plan on lying to my children. I like the way Kurt Vonegut Jr. was said to have addressed his children's theological questions, "I just got here myself...."

1/19/2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger Me & My Yetzer said...

I don't know if there is general advice anyone can give, only unique advice for your unique situation.

Now to contradict what I just said, let me put in my two cents: You've based your life on this wonderful relationship with your wife, and you are truly blessed to have such a thing. That relationship is the real key to your kids turning out OK. Everything else is commentary, IMO.

Revel in your marriage -- privately and so your kids can see -- that is the key to their foundation for life.

Good luck.

1/19/2006 11:57 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

In college, I took a course in Communist economics. Many strange petitions and activist agitating occurred among the students, but I was no communist, so I ignored them, did not get involved too much with the extremists, and sat in the class. While I learned the communist perspective on money, taxation and personal obligation, I got a full sense of how they reasoned, yet I did not end up any closer to accepting communism. In fact, I found it even more problematic than before, but I came away with a sense that I had examined the subject.

As with any subject, learning ABOUT it, and indoctrinating someone to believe it are very different. I presume that you have no problem teaching your kids ABOUT it, letting them obtain a thorough knowledge of it. If, in the course of learning, your child asks a valid question, there is no shame in saying "I don't know, and neither does your rebbi". Understanding that everything doesn't come out glatt all the time and that we do not have answers for everything is part of Judaism, not against it. In Chasidic yeshivas, they spend much time convincing the students that they are garnisht. :)

1/19/2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

Even in saying "I don't know", you are not lying, even if you think that the answer is clear, but not desirable. What you are saying is that I do not know how this can be reconciled with the desirable answer. Perhaps someone wiser can one day clarify it.

1/19/2006 12:12 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I understand your wish to avoid the brainwashing, but I don't understand your second issue.

Not a single skeptic friend of mine (or myself) has discussed hashkafic issues with their parents. I am not talking about 5 year olds bringing home a parsha sheet, but young adults just starting their real lives.

1/19/2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...

I have a similar problem myself, though without the kids thing (yet). I have been dating an Orthodox girl, and it is a problem since she is a shtetl bunnie, and I am an apikorus. We really get along well, but she comes from, continues to be, and desires, a more religious lifestyle than I do. So we probably won't be able to work it out.

The Day School was perhaps the most ominous aspect of compromise, even in theory. Who has that kind of cash? Agnosticism creates a lot less debt.

1/19/2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Actualy RTJB, I am a partial exception to that rule, I had a talk with my parents, and while I didn't come out and say I was an atheist, I did question some of the basic tenents of faith.


My mom send me some articles from a famous Rabbi explaining how the wolrd works..I wrote the post "Katie remembered" in response to it.

My dad on the other hand appears to relativly savy with logical fallicies and even pre-empted me in the conversation with such addages as, "yeah, that's just appeal to authority."

somehow he stayed within orthodoxy but I think he has been a closet skeptic, at least in some areas.

1/19/2006 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

Is it wrong to think that it is not a bad thing for a child to learn some stuff that may not be true as a kid, and then later allow them to receive a decent secualr educationM

It depends. Certainly, my kids are going to be taught things that I believe to be down right wrong. But if the child sees that there is a consistency of religious practice in the house, he might well, not be troubled when you're ready to explain to them the actuall truth and that it is not exactly how their rabbi told them. If one the other hand, each parent holds significantly extremely opposing positions, its going to be hard, in my opinion for the child to reconsile everything when he gets older.

I do believe part of the solution is in what Me & My Yetzer said, about showing the love in your marriage and that your differences do not conflict with your love. This can at least help.

1/19/2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"The Day School was perhaps the most ominous aspect of compromise, even in theory. Who has that kind of cash? Agnosticism creates a lot less debt."

Not too sure about that. You have to hand it to OJ schools in that the kids turn out pretty good. If a kid has lot of problems it's the parents' fault in my opinion. Sending a kid to a public school in any city is insane. Not even a consideration. But a secular or conservative private school? Secular has many of the same problems that I seek to avoid.

Not sure what they do in conservative school. But it's ironic- I doubt I ever would have become a conservative BT- they are too wishy-washy. And ultimately, I would probably be quite skeptical of 99% of what they teach as well.

1/19/2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

I am a total hypocrite for wanting the benefits of OJ without believing in OJ, aren't I?

1/19/2006 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why in the world would want to steer your kids clear of premarital sex?

1/19/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

I am a total hypocrite for wanting the benefits of OJ without believing in OJ, aren't I?

The enigma of BTA for me is that he pretty much has the moral/ethical code of OJ and therefore rejects major aspects of popular culture yet has theological positions that usually come with a more relaxed attitude towards popular culture.

1/19/2006 3:35 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"yet has theological positions that usually come with a more relaxed attitude towards popular culture."

Not sure how atheism comes from popular culture. Haven't seen Nietsche on the bestsellers list lately!

And I don't think an openly atheist president would ever get elected.

No, popular culture reinforces at a minimum some sort of god and heaven paradaigm for the masses.

I am surprised that I am enigmatic at all. It seems almost predictable that I would end up this way. I was attracted to OJ because it was moral and not guided by what was "normal" or popular by societal standards.

I also had a dormant Jewish identity- having always considered the fact of my jewishness important on some level, but essentially not expressed. Plus I wanted to marry a jew because I hated any hint of christianity and christmas and the like.

But, to me, once one studies OJ at all, it is just as unbelievable as any other religion. And all the sophisticated rationales for why we do this or that are ultimately laid bare as dogmas passed down by the high priests of bygone eras.

1/19/2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"The enigma of BTA for me"

Chardal- would you agree with this statement-

"The basic elements of OJ (let's say Rambam's 13 ikkarim) are objectively hard to believe unless one has been raised to believe them or has spent many hours internalizing them."

1/19/2006 5:06 PM  
Blogger Me & My Yetzer said...

I am a total hypocrite for wanting the benefits of OJ without believing in OJ, aren't I?

Welcome to the club.

A hypocrite isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's often just a negative spin on a term usually considered positive: a pragmatist.

And if you believe OJ produces a better kid, then you do believe in it, in that regard at least.

1/19/2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

yes, MAMY, that's where I'm leaning at the moment.

1/19/2006 5:59 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

The enigma of BTA for me is that he pretty much has the moral/ethical code of OJ and therefore rejects major aspects of popular culture yet has theological positions that usually come with a more relaxed attitude towards popular culture.

Chardal, you seem to be conflating pop culture with skepticism/atheism, which is really very bizarre.

From my viewpoint, OJ adopts many aspects of pop culture- maybe we should start with Jewish music, cuisine, and materialism?

The OJ I know is entirely lacking refinment in any of these areas.

1/20/2006 3:39 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

My theory is that the value of living in an OJ lifestyle outweighs questioning and abandoning the lifestyle. Those who have "left the fold" do seem to be a rather unfulfilled lot.

While I can appreciate the debates about what constitutes belief and about what the actual role of the ikkarim are(for an exhaustive treatment, see J. David Bleich “With Perfect Faith”), I connect most with your last statement.

Let’s face it, if the Rambam had gone on to numbers 14, 15, etc. (e.g. ‘I believe … that at the end of days, man will subsist on bagels and lox…” or whatever, I’m not trying to be irreverent) then there would be the same emotional investment in sustaining those beliefs as well – regardless of how far fetched they may be.

And I think that, by and large, you’re right. Those of us who have left, did so partly because we did not experience the same benefits in committing to these beliefs (or, to be fair, developed stronger emotional supports outside of OJ). As such, we are a group who have faced not only a crisis of faith, but also a crisis within our emotional and social support system. Of course, this is the same mechanism which BT’s go through in reverse.

Ultimately though, we can rebuild our support systems, shed our need to cling to irrational beliefs and find our own moral, spiritual and emotional paths.

rebeljew
I think 12 and 13 are the biggest examples of "if you aren't rased that way, then you won't believe it".

I agree. I really think that, given the right training and social/emotional reinforcement, you could teach kids to paint themselves red and practice cannibalism.

1/21/2006 4:08 PM  
Anonymous joshua said...

The obvious answer is to start Orthoprax yeshivas for our kids--for kids of parents that love frum Yiddishkeit but don't necessarily believe in G-d.

The problem is that since this will be the first generation of such students, we don't yet have a pool of like-minded rebbeim to teach there.

1/22/2006 10:58 PM  
Anonymous onionsoupmix said...

joshua- frum yiddishkeit is way too hard if you don't believe in God. Especially for a teenager who wants to fit in.

And thanks for bringing this topic up, by the way. I am married to a fully " all the way" Lubavitcher guy and we have four kids. Often I do feel intermarried. He does talk about midrashim at the shabbos table as if they are real and doesn't understand why I would want to suggest to the kids that maybe the sun and the moon did not actually talk to each other. Is love really enough ?

1/23/2006 12:24 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Onion Soup! Your blog is terrific. I have the livejournal format, though...

How the heck do you stay married to a chabadnik? I'm sure he's a nice fellow, but they are so messed up, I wonder how they function in the world at all.

Were you married very young? From a chabad family? You really seem to know your skeptical stuff and obviously you are using your "binah" (excellent post) more than skeptical sourcebooks.

Being married chabad, where they worship the rebbe like jesus and believe the whole gemara and kabbala and commentaries were given at sinai, and let's not forget that the Sun orbits the earth per physics genius Rebbe- yes- you are married to another religion.

I'm glad I'm not in your shoes. So what are you going to do? How do you blog, at work?

I am probably going to stop posting on the blog but, I'll keep an eye out for your comments. Have you been to godolhador's blog? You'll have a field day.

I'm not sure what you mean by "love" being enough. My wife will work this out with me, but that's more than love, she understands exactly what I'm talking about, it just doesn't bother her too much and she loves the community stuff, and shabbos and the like. I like certain things as well, but hate the backwards theology. When you get right down to it, skepticism is a slippery slope. Right now, you are mocking midrashim and Artscroll answers to why there's a shelo asni ishi bracha. However, read "who wrote the bible" and a whole assortement of other books, and many posts on godolhador and other blogs, and you'll quickly see that even believing in the divine literal authorship of the torah is as foolish as believing in a midrash. Torah is all myth and myth is just another word for midrash.

I doubt you'd go as far as I in your skepticism. You seem to be a believer, but you just have a more modern hashgafa than those nutty chabadnicks.

Not sure love will do it. Your husband needs to grow a brain and get the heck out of chabad. If not, you have an very tough life ahead in my opinion. I hope I'm wrong.

1/23/2006 1:20 AM  
Anonymous onionsoupmix said...

I am specifically not reading the proofs on the authorship of the Torah. Sort of because right now, I still want to stay married. If I reject chabad but still stay within the boundary of general Orthodoxy, I have half a chance. But I am quite sure that if I did read that stuff, I would drop out of this religion completely. Truth be told, just reading pshat chumash makes me wonder how God could have written this stuff. My husband tries to keep his blinkers on so he's not aware of the depth of the divide. He doesn't read my blog, for example.

But to be fair, he's on the more normal side of chabad. If there is such a thing. He doesn't believe in the rebbe as moshiach, for example. He's pretty smart also, but just has that all-encompassing thing of " if I don't understand it, it doesn't mean it's not true- just that I haven't reached the right level yet". For the mean time, I want to try and stay married. Don't know how things will be when the kids get older and start taking sides, though.

1/25/2006 5:15 PM  

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