Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 16 October 2009

Obsession With the Past

It's an interesting feature of human psychology that when a person makes a significant lifestyle change, he often develops a strong dislike for the culture he left behind. The depth of this emotion often correlates with the feeling of security the person has about himself and his new choice. Those who are comfortable with their sense of self and their choice often have far less resentment towards where they came from while those whose switch was motivated in part by a lack of self identity can develop a viscious hate of their former lives.
Tali Farkash's latest piece for Yediot Acaharonot points out something interesting I've noticed about the off-the-derech phenomenon which is one major are where this phenomen manifests. Yes, it also occurs when people make the right choice and become frum but in a far stronger way. As Farkash notes, based on a recent 2 page spread in the Israeli newspaper by a woman who had left the Gerrer way of life:
Sarah, previously a pious Gerrer hassid and currently a pained secular divorcee mother of two, spread her story across the pages of Yedioth Ahronoth to show anyone who still had any shadow of a doubt in their mind just how hard it is to be a woman, and haredi on top of that, and a Gerrer hassid on top of that. With the precision of a plastic surgeon, she deconstructs the enigma called a "modern newly secular person." But even here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps it is just a feeling, but those who leave religion never really leave, they escape. To Tel Aviv, to a commune in the Galilee, to a kibbutz in the Negev, to the media. Or, like a beloved childhood friend of mine, they choose to put into action the over-played expression and escape to Honolulu, leaving me sending her signs of life via email.
Out of all of those I have met who have left the religious way of life – and I have met quite a few – not one of them became a "conventional secular person" with a Mazda 3, two kids, and a monstrous LCD in the living room across from the sofa. They are always something a little different with a lot of pain.

Yes, yes, I've heard all the lines. Of course there's a lot of pain. Imagine the lie that religious Judaism is, according to these people. Imagine all the years the person suffered by being denied their free choice in food, entertainment options and sexual partners, all the time they spent actually believing that God created the universe and that the Torah is true.
Of course, baalei teshuvah go through this as well. Imagine all the years the person lost by living a secular lifestyle when he could have been raising the purity of his neshamah, all the lies he was told by his teachers and friends about how real freedom means treating all values as relative and putting one's sense of material satisfaction first.
But somehow, the bitterness that one sees with lapsed Jews doesn't exist in the same way with the newly religious. Yes, most baalei teshuvah are dismissing of Reform and Conservativism and view secular Judaism, especially the chiloni culture with disdain. But one doesn't see the constant vitriol that the lapsed crowd seems to possess abundant amounts of.
For some, it seems that their entire new life is defined by hating where they came from. They talk of nothing else. If they want to say something positive, they praise the false prophets of their new culture who in turn never actually say anything confirmatory about atheism but rather spend their time attacking religion. Most of the time, however, it's attack after attack on their old way of life, accusations of coercion and a demand to be left alone even though no one's attacking them.
I wonder why it is that baalei teshuvah develop far great intellectual variability than that, spend more time leaerning about their new lifestyle instead of worrying about and assaulting the lives they came from. Certainly people would all agree it's healthier to move on, so why don't some?


Rye said...

So it occurs to me that after reading this blog, I might have to define myself as BT. I have always resisted that moniker because I have stereotyped BT's as heavy on the T aspect. I am more of the B than the T. I don't have a sense of lost time, or regrets about the '94 Chapoutier Rasteau I quaffed in 1996. I am fascinated with the amount and quality of public knowledge that exists about our people. The choices are endless. I can satisfy my curiousity on any subject I desire. So, now I play by the rules. The rules were already there, I just didn't have a guide to point them out.

My question after reading this blog isn't why don't they let go of their anger, but rather why don't they appreciate the education and opportunity they had in the first place?

Off the Derech said...

our life's purpose is uncovering impostors like yourself, and allowing others to see the truth. People like you have spent the last few thousannd years lying to vulnerable innocents, and upright atheists like myself work to reverse some of the historic damage you've done. Have a little respect.

Garnel Ironheart said...

See what I mean, Rye?

David said...

It's not always so easy to "move on," for any number of reasons (friends, neighbors, family, etc.). Also, secular society has its faults, but it rarely claims to have all the answers. You want to leave secular society? Nobody will care, and most will wish you well on your "journey." You want to leave a religious society (and I'm not singling out OJ here), then you're going to be told how you're angering and betraying God, how you're turning your back on everything that's really important, and how you're defective and confused and need help. And this follows a fairly lengthy period of time where the person has probably experienced a great deal of inner guilt about his or her own lack of belief. In the end, by the time the break comes, the formerly religious person probably feels a strong sense of having been either betrayed or duped by his own past belief system. Just a guess, mind you...

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Quite reasonable but on the other hand there are those who leave the secular system and are taunted by their friends for becoming a religious fanatic and all the other insults that go towards religion. It's true there are no hard and fast rules.

Izgad said...

"I've noticed about the off-the-derech phenomenon which is one major are where this phenomen manifests."


David said...

No doubt there are those who leave the secular system and are taunted by their friends (if they still bother to maintain secular friends after having 'seen the light'). However, it has been my experience that secular people (with the exception of militant atheists, who are, in their own odd way, quite religious) tend to be more tolerant of other people's belief systems.

Not Brisk said...

Garnel, I really enjoyed this post

Garnel Ironheart said...

Thanks NB!

Anonymous said...

I think that this behavior most likely comes from the fact that deep down those who go off the derech really know that they are doing wrong but their yetzer hara has the better of them and they feel the need to justify what they are doing.

I have also noticed that those who go "off" seem to have confused Jews with Torah -- and feel that if they can find flaws with religious Jews [and yes, they are there since we are only human] then they can justify ignoring Torah. Very poor logic, but what they are doing nonetheless.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

A major distinction between the move to religion and the move away from religion is based on the fact that within religion there is an outside individual who is declaring what you must do. That is why, in the movement off the derech, one of the most significant issues is that of autonomy -- and this also is why autonomy is often, by the religious of many varieties, associated with the devil. What you will find with many who go off the derech is that they have one (or sometimes more) person who really affected them by being an autocrat and imposing their will upon them " in the name of God." In the end, their anger is really personal. As they may speak about Torah, it is really this dominating individual with whom they have issues and, because this person came across as speaking for the religion, they put together the person with Torah.

The real answer is chanoch hana'ar al pi darcho, teach the child according to his (or her) way. There is a role for autonomy within Torah -- a very significant, important and necessary role. There are many paths within Torah. The only way that one can find his/her personal path is through an educational system that does not try to impose its specific way upon others but teaches the many paths within Torah and gives the individual the autonomy to choose the path that is appropriate to them. This is, I agree, a somewhat simplistic presentation of the system and how one is to exercise this autonomy within Torah, i.e. even choosing a path for oneself, involves much more explanation then I can present now, yet recognizing this importance of autonomy is most significant. It is the attach upon autonomy that leads so many to become even hateful of Orthodox) is simply a crime.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

David said...

Rabbi Hecht-

I'm curious as to whether you think that Orthodoxy (in one form or another) is "for all Jews."

What is the appropriate response in the case of a person who is both born as a Jew and self-identifies as a Jew but honestly rejects Orthodoxy for reasons of belief (i.e., not accept the idea of a divine Torah)?

Toby Katz said...

In the majority of cases, a person who goes off the derech does so because of serious problems in his family and/or serious learning disabilities that prevent him from fitting in in the yeshivish world where learning is valued above all or in the MO world where academic excellence is valued above all.

If you can't hack it in school -- that's known to be a major danger sign for going OTD. And if your parents are horrible, abusive people or even just "merely" highly dsyfunctional, that's another big danger sign.

In contrast, the majority of BTs have good relationships with their parents and other family members (other than the conflict that just becoming religious sometimes causes) and did well in school.

People leave Torah, in the vast majority of cases, not because they were intellectually convinced that it was false but because they suffered trauma in the Torah world. Hence the vitriol.