Monday, August 01, 2005

So now what?

Where to begin?

As events unfold (as you'll hear about below), even I am beginning to believe that my life is not only fiction, it's bad fiction written by a teenager. Worse, my life is becoming fiction written by Naomi Ragen. And we might be headed into Edgar Allan Poe territory. (An aside: somebody was impressed that a yeshivish simpleton could paraphrase Mark Twain; I suppose that same person is now falling off his chair at the reference to Poe, whose stories I loved as a kid. This astonishment is interesting: some people set the bar really low for yeshivaleit, eh?)

Anyway, my apologies for not providing DBH with the pathos and bathos (more big words, wow!) he seems to crave. I'm telling those parts of my story that there is a point in telling. The rest is none of your business.

So here's what happened. After shabbos last week, my wife called me. She explained that even though she was very angry -- or to be exact, very confused and upset -- she did want to talk. It's just that she had made the mistake of telling her father what the big blowup was about and he was the one preventing me from speaking to her. (He made sure to answer the phone every time it rang.) You have to understand that her father is in tight with the American Litvish Rosh Yeshiva gang and toes the Lakewood line. By the time my wife had decided she wanted to try to figure out together with me what we should be doing, the shver had already sent an SOS out to the whole mafia to try to screw me over good. My whole family was essentially held hostage for a week. (We were at least able to talk once my wife managed to borrow a cellphone.)

Interestingly, the common enemy (her father) forcing us to conspire just to talk sort of created some new kind of bond between us. By this shabbos she was home, over her father's strenuous (to say the least) objections. We are coming to a practical agreement about what I will do and won't do. (Note the emphasis on "do". I get full free speech -- except in front of any of our kids who are old enough to understand, which at the moment is maybe the oldest.)

This is all very much in flux but as you might be able to tell from my slightly chipper tone, it's good for me. I've mostly gotten over the idea that now that I woke up to the fact that yiddishkeit is a crock and rabbonim are mostly clueless frauds (with apologies to those innocents who are offended by that) that I've got to be eating treif. I've come to the not-so-earth-shattering realization that in whatever not frum religion I'll now be practicing, there is probably no mitzvah to do aveiros. (As I read my second post, written at the peak of my anger and which basically says just the opposite, I frighten myself.)

On the other hand, there's no aveirah in doing aveiros either. I'll just do whatever is convenient, which might happen to often coincide with frumkeit, at least in public. The problem is that now that the shver is working with the goon squad to save his family from "the shaigetz", as he now refers to me (until a few weeks ago I was "tzaddikel"; what a difference a few weeks make), I don't exactly know what's going to be with me.

One last comment for whoever it was that said that I must be an idiot for giving up frumkeit because of what a few rabbonim said. (Not that I owe you an explanation.) That was just a trigger that made me suddenly realize what I had been seeing but not seeing my whole life. I know a head counselor of a certain camp who was a child molestor (he didn't dare get near me but I saw it with my own eyes) and half the world knew about it. Nobody said a word because he was a big kannoi and part of the yeshivisher gang. I know roshei yeshiva who are embezzlers and don't even have a vague notion of the difference between right and wrong. I know mashgichim who tell you over "daas toirah" on topics about which they haven't a vague clue. And mainly I know thousands of people (in other words, pretty much everyone I know) whose entire yiddishkeit is based on pure nonsense.

By some self-serving miracle, I managed to go through almost three decades seeing all this and at the same time believing that yidden owned the only key to wisdom and honesty and I never noticed any contradiction. It's amazing what a person can blind himself to if he puts his mind to it.

RAF's article somehow brought this whole building crashing down. Maybe I was mamish at the brink and that article just happened to come along and if it wasn't that it would have been something else. Or maybe it was that the article was so obviously insincere and so -- I can't resist shouting here -- so painfully STUPID that it was like getting hit over the head. Or maybe it's that I used to have so much respect for RAF and especially for RMS, on whose behalf RAF wrote that idiotic letter, that my last defenses were just swept away. I don't know myself. But I do know that nothing will ever be the same for me.

But everything will always be the same for RAF and his whole gang. Because they will convince themselves of any stupidity, even that the world is flat, just to keep coasting along in the only world in which anybody thinks they're hot stuff. What happens to me and hundreds or thousands like me doesn't move them a bit as long as they can look in the mirror and say "yadeinu lo shafchu es hadam hazeh". They are wrong about that too.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Well, obviously I couldn't keep this whole business from my wife for very long. She noticed my behavior was off and we had The Talk. I tried to be gentle and said I was thinking about becoming not frum but didn't tell her quite how far things have gone already. It didn't matter. She went ballistic. She couldn't care less about my 'terutzim' (as she put it). She took the kids and headed for her parent's house. She hasn't taken my calls.

In case you're thinking that her quick reaction is a siman that there were problems already, you are completely wrong. We have (had?) an excellent marriage. She's just very frum and she can't deal with this. I have no taineh to her.

While I'm mentioning a lack of tainehs, I also want to strenuously disagree with those who have said nasty things about the signers of the Slifkin ban and especially those who wrote against RME. I repeat: They represent Yiddishkeit the way it is. It isn't their fault that chazal believed the world is flat and bats lay eggs etc. Do you expect them to lie? They don't have an obligation to say what I need to hear or what will keep my marriage together. They need to speak the truth about Yiddishkeit. If that truth makes people realize that yiddishkeit is only for people who believe the world is flat, adaraba, that shows their yashrus.

As for RME, what do you expect? That he should get up and say that all the rabbanim who are against science are wrong? I don't know if he believes that or not. But even if he does, the matzav is that nobody can say that out loud. I don't expect RME or anybody else to stick their neck out just to say what I want to hear. I would actually find that patronizing.

It is interesting that some of those rabbanim who realize that we can't disregard science and that we can't farenfer all the gemaras that indicate that chazal had faulty knowledge of science are in some sense in a similar position as me. They have now been forced underground with their apikorsishe views. Maybe they tell themselves that they're not underground, they just don't want to be mekalkel those who aren't ready to hear this apikorsus. But that is really just terutzim. Perhaps if they were younger like me, they'd reach the same conclusion as me. I don't know.

Anyway, I'm trying to distract myself. For now, I'm facing a very lonely shabbos myself in this apartment. Nobody knows what happened and I don't want to discuss it with them, so I'll just hang at home. I'm very doubtful that I'll be makpid on this shabbos like last. Seudos I for sure won't have. It'll be tempting to blog but I probably won't. (If I do, I'll say right away how long it took to write it, so those who are makpid on bichdei sheyase also for a yisrael, will know how long to wait.)

A Gitten Shabbos to all.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

To Rabbi Eisemann

Dear Rabbi Eisemann,

I want to sincerely thank you for trying to reach out to me at a difficult time. I have always had great respect for you.

I will not contact you directly for reasons I won’t go into but also because I much prefer that your advice should be for the many people in my situation (and, believe me, there are many) and not just me.

I understand that you would rather speak to me directly because you would like to establish a personal relationship and to understand what’s “really” bothering me. I’m familiar with this as I myself have been involved in kiruv.

Let me first tell you that I am not unhappy in general. I have a good family, baruch hashem, and until now have enjoyed learning and being in yeshiva. The problem is not something else. It is a problem of hashkafa exactly as I said it is.

Also you should know I’m not stam looking for reasons to do aveiros. This Shabbos, even though I consider myself not frum anymore, I was makpid in kala kechamura. I have no special taiva to stam be mechalel shabbos (even though I am full of anger). Unfortunately, at this point Shabbos has no meaning for me but old habits are hard to break (and also I didn’t discuss this yet with my wife).

Anyway, if you really want to help me, I’ll tell you how. The basic question that drives me crazy is this: does a frum Jew have to believe that everything chazal said, including science, is true? As long as I thought the answer is NO, my life was fine and my Yiddishkeit was 100%.

But now that Rav Eliashiv and Rav Moshe Shapiro and Rav Shternbuch and Rav Scheinberg and Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Feldman and many more said the answer is definitely YES, I have a big problem. Very big.

So please tell me:
Are these people Gedolim?
Did they say the answer is YES?
Are the gedolim the ones who decide what we have to believe?

I believe the answer to all three is YES, in which case my life as a frum yid is over. If the answer to any of these three questions is NO, I beg you to please SAY SO NOW BECAUSE IT IS A MATTER OF PIKUACH NEFESH AND NOT JUST FOR ME.

And one last thing: In case you want to speak privately in order to say that the answer to one of these is NO but you are afraid to say it in public, that is the worst of all possible answers. It would mean that you are a coward and that our velt is run by thugs. Please don’t say that if you want to help.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Yes, I Exist

Thanks to all those who commented both here as well as at Bloghead and GodolHador.

First of all, I want to say that reports of my non-existence are greatly exaggerated. I've learned in mussar yeshivas but even there my claims of being a gornisht were met with a sarcastic oikh mir a gornisht. So I suppose I exist (even if some people would prefer that I didn't).

Many people wonder why I don't just become modern orthodox. I'm sure they all mean well. To them I ask the following: Suppose you suddenly realized that what your rebbes had taught you was all based on narishkeit. Would you respond by becoming Conservative? I don't think so.

Why did RAF's letter hit me so hard after all the nonsense that has been spouted already? Until RAF's letter I had fooled myself into believing that this was a battle between kannoim and normals. This was a wake-up call. There are no normals.

But it's not just that I realized that you must believe lies to be frum. Something more important happened. My emunah was always based on the half-baked idea that Jews are miraculous. They're smarter than everyone else, they're more erlich than everyone else. That was the best proof that there must be something real about Yiddishkeit (though I was never quite sure what). RAF's letter wasn't just stupid. Dishonesty spilled out of every word. Dishonesty, insecurity, hollow gaiva. The whole idea that the Jews are better than anybody at anything suddenly seemed worse than arrogant. It seemed nauseating.

More than being disgusted with RAF or any of the others, I found myself disgusted with myself for having lived with so many self-serving shkarim. The first few days, I couldn't bring myself to daven. I couldn't bring myself to wear arbo kanfos. Within a few days not doing aveiros seemed almost unbearable.

If some of you smug wiseguys find this melodramatic, maybe you also don't want to face something. Or maybe you're just spoiled brats who coast through life so anyone actually taking something seriously seems like a drama queen. Here's my advice: don't be smug, it can happen to you.

P.S. In case you're wondering what treif I ate, it was a non-kosher cracker. I thought of trying a cheeseburger but I'm not there yet and it is a bit of a cliche. Besides I'd probably have spit it up and besar nevelah be-chalav isn't assur behana'ah. (On the other hand, then I could've been mekayem the Rambam's nekudah nifla'ah. Hmm.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Letter to Rabbi Feldman

Dear Rabbi Feldman,

Your important recent article on the Slifkin affair has had a great impact on my life. I think you should hear about it.

I am from a very chashuve family and have been frum my entire life. Yet from an early age I have had many questions about hashkafa. I have read many books on science and found them very convincing. It has always been quite obvious to me that the science brought down in the gemara is very often, even mostly, wrong. The world is not flat, the sun doesn’t go behind the rakia at night, pi is not three, there are not two separate urinary tracts, eight month fetuses are not dead, etc.

I’m pretty sure that also you and various other gedolim who claim to believe in chazal’s science rather than modern science don’t really mean it. Unless I’m wrong in assuming that you ride cars and planes and go to doctors when you’re sick.

Anyway, none of this ever affected my emunah because I simply understood that chazal were experts in halacha and agada but not in science. That never seemed problematic as hashkafa since many gedoilim held like that and it seemed like the only possible conclusion an honest person could reach.

But now I’ve been taught by the gedoilei hador that this view is kefirah. It is no longer possible to maintain this view and remain a frum yid. As a result, I have been faced with the decision of either believing that all of modern science is wrong and chazal’s science is right or no longer being frum. I can’t have it both ways. At first I thought maybe only the kannoim held like that but your article made it clear that this is not the case – I have to choose.

I’ll be honest this is a very hard choice. I know that chazal’s science is wrong and that modern science is mostly right (mostly but not always; the whole idea is that if a better theory comes along the old one is abandoned). To say that I don’t believe that would be a lie. On the other hand, giving up frumkeit means for me giving up my whole family and all my friends. I’m not even sure what my wife will do. If she’ll agree, we’ll have to take our three small children out of Yiddishe moisdos and send them… I don’t even know where.

Right now I’m checking into possibilities for how to continue my life. The possibility of remaining frum seems to have slipped away forever thanks to you (and many others like you). Please don’t feel bad. You were only being honest and explaining yiddishkeit the way you understand it.

Now it’s my turn to be honest. With you, with my rebbes, with my family and friends. And mostly, with myself.

-- Eliyahu Zecharia Rabinovich