Cultivating Positive Orthodox Jewish Experiences

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Quick recap: My theory is that belief in God and Torah m’Sinai is not the primary factor in one’s choice to join, abandon, or remain in Orthodox Judaism. The primary factor is how one feels about Orthodox Judaism. There is an infinite number of reasons that one might develop positive or negative associations with Orthodox Judaism that include intellectual, emotional, experiential, and spiritual reasons. Therefore, I suggest that the way forward is to refocus our attention from the overemphasis on beliefs in God and Torah m’Sinai and shift our emphasis to cultivating positive Jewish experiences. We should be giving people the kinds of experiences that make them want to associate with Orthodox Judaism and these experiences should be cleverly crafted and implemented.

Admittedly, this was a bit of an awkward place to pause. The implementation of the theory was open to very broad interpretation and analogies presented in the case for the theory seem to have influenced the kind of suggestions people who agreed with the theory were making. So let me clarify two things that I was not saying before we get to brass tacks.

I was not saying that people who leave Orthodox Judaism leave because it’s easy or fun or based purely on emotion. In fact, I have said many times that it is actually really hard to leave and sometimes people stay simply because it’s too hard to leave. They are miserably stuck. Further, many people discover knowledge that contradicts their religious education and they accept this knowledge as truth. But that’s not usually enough to push a person out of Orthodox Judaism. What happens next is the key. When their newly discovered knowledge is met with scorn and derision by authority figures, or bad answers are given for good questions, or the person realizes that they have been lied to, or when the internal conflict between two accepted truths is too difficult to navigate, the feeling that ensues because of the new data is enough to push someone out of Orthodox Judaism. So when I say people leave because they don’t want to stay, I mean that there are many reasons why someone might not want to stay and very often that feeling is sparked by intellectual discovery. Of course there are people who act purely for intellectual reasons. They are the exceptions. I hope this clears things up a bit.

I was also not saying that Orthodox Judaism needs to be more fun. I was not saying that Orthodox Judaism is just a social club. I was not saying we need more cholent and every Jewish experience should be like NCSY. I was not saying we should simply do a better job marketing Judaism. I was not saying to avoid discussing belief in God and Torah m’Sinai. I was not saying experiences are the only thing that matters. I was saying that we need to emphasize the importance of a positive Orthodox Jewish experience and in this essay I will be explaining what that means to me. I don’t think this will make Orthodox Judaism work for everyone. But I think there are a significant number of Orthodox Jews who would benefit greatly from this approach and I think the risk in maintaining the status quo is great.

A basic paradigm shift needs to happen in Orthodox Judaism for any of this to make sense, but I think it’s an obvious truth that has been ignored for too long.

Even those who haven’t ignored it, don’t articulate it clearly. At present, we all tend to treat our version of Orthodox Judaism as an objectively good thing. The truth is that it’s not objective at all. We relate to Orthodox Judaism in a very subjective way. By definition, institutions like religion must be as objective as possible. But experiences are subjective and no institution works for everyone all the time. Generally, religions consider themselves objective. This is almost unavoidable. But that does not have to mean that the way we practice that religion should be objective. In fact, we already know this is true because there are so many different flavors of Orthodox Judaism. We might do well to have more flavors, but the presence of multiple paths to an accepted truth is enough to demonstrate this point.Linie-kolory-grafiki-1800x2880

Simply acknowledging this reality will make for more positive Jewish experiences. Not everyone enjoys the same flavor of Judaism. Personally, I don’t like cholent and Carlebach kumzitz Judaism. That might be fun for some people but it doesn’t work for me. Some Orthodox Jews think it’s great fun to run around in circles and call it dancing. That’s not for everyone. My point here is that because religious experiences are subjective, we need to acknowledge that not everything that we do will resonate with everyone. Even the “fun” stuff. We need to allow for new outlets and modes of religious expression. We can’t just label everything that wasn’t done in the shtetl as “goyish” and prohibit it. Acknowledging that experiences are subjective will force us to go back to the drawing board and craft experiences that work for Americans. “Kosher” Jewish music has barely evolved in the last 30 years. Not everyone likes that kind of music. Not everyone likes “banging on the table at the Shabbos meal” music. We should be making American sounding music that is inspirational and reflective of our values. Tastes are subjective and in areas of taste and preference we need to be open to new ideas to give more people positive Jewish experiences.

Similarly, there are social pressures to conform to a certain kind of Shabbat meal. Not everyone wants that food every week. Make the food you want to eat. The idea is that if you enjoy your Shabbat meal, you’re going to have a better religious experience. If you resent your Shabbat meal, it’s a bad religious experience. Do the things within the letter of the law that make the experience more enjoyable. This is why I am in favor (within reason) of kiddush clubs. To paraphrase the Talmud, make the shul experience more enjoyable with permissible activities.

Some men are uncomfortable wearing dress shoes, black dress slacks, white shirts, and a black fedora all the time. Some women want to dress modestly, but with more variation and colors in their wardrobe. If you are miserable wearing the Orthodox uniform, I suggest a new wardrobe. You actually are allowed to dress differently. It’s permissible. I promise. So don’t force yourself to conform and be miserable. Do things the way you like to do them and take pride in your own style.

Different Orthodox communities emphasize different ways of observing Judaism. In some communities, there is an emphasis on spirit and soul. Others emphasize Torah study and intellectualism. Yet others focus on chavivut hamitzvot. The mussar movement, chasidut, Carlebach Judaism, Maimonidean Judaism, Yekke style Judaism, and many more are all valid expressions of Orthodox Judaism. Some prefer to focus on emunah and bitachon, others are inspired by halacha, while others love prayer, yet others love mysticism. But rarely do people born into one group experience the style of the other groups. We have to allow for cross pollination and we can’t try to force others (or even ourselves) into a predetermined version of Orthodox Judaism. We have to find a place for individuals on a subjective basis.

For many people, the negative associations with Orthodox Judaism are based on the educational experience. Clearly, our schools need to be good environments. Our children spend 8-14 hours a day in school. If they are miserable for that much time every day why would they stay in Orthodox Judaism? Recognizing the religious experiences are subjective means that schools are not going to work for everyone. Schools have to be more flexible about allowing families to choose schools for individual children and not by family. Opportunities for religious expression need to be as varied as possible. Students should be given choices. Most of all, when a student isn’t happy or isn’t thriving, we can’t just invalidate that experience and assign blame to the student or the parents or the school. Not everything works for everyone. Struggling students can’t be told they are the problem. Their struggles need to be acknowledged. Every school should have the same goal. Students should be happy and love their schools. Everything else is commentary. When children and teens are happy in the place they spend so much time, they are having a positive Jewish experience. I know it’s possible to create an environment of happy students who love school because I’ve seen it first hand at Ateres Bais Yaakov, my father’s school in Monsey for girls K-12. I’ve heard from more than a few parents of Ateres students that their children are legitimately sad when there is no school. That tells me that school is a positive Jewish experience for their children. But it has to be crafted. It doesn’t happen without a philosophy and plan for execution.

These examples and suggestions are the sort of small social changes that I am suggesting. There are others, but I think you can get the basic idea from the examples I’ve enumerated. Taking into account the importance of experiences, we should focus our attention to this subjectively and provide as many good experiences as we possible can. But there is one very specific suggestion that I want to discuss. It is much more ambitious and much more fundamental to our religious experience.

Orthodox Judaism is a highly legalistic religion. Good acts are deemed to be virtuous based on how well one adheres to the law. Going beyond the letter of the law is good because it helps avoid violations of the law. It makes no difference if one feels the spirit of the law or ritual in Orthodox Judaism. If you get it, great. If not, too bad. Halacha rules. Non-Orthodox Judaism attempts, to varying degrees, downplays the importance of the law and emphasizes the spirit of the law. In this model, the emphasis is on how the religion makes one feel and the law is, at most, a suggestion book. There is little attempt to live by the law where it has no spiritual affect on the person.

My ambitious proposal is that Orthodox Judaism should consider the spirit of the law. But I don’t mean to implement the spirit of the law as it is written in our religious tomes going back 2000 years. The spirit of the law is the area of Orthodox Judaism that is most subjective. Taamei HaMitzvot is the most subjective genre with the most creative freedom within the religious teachings of Orthodox Judaism.  For example, the Sefer Hachinuch (13th century) explains the lesson of Shemittah as it related to his milieu. He says that it is just like the Sabbath, as it reminds us not to listen to the heretics who say the world is infinite, rather the religious cycles of seven days and seven years, reinforce our fundamental belief that the world had a starting point with Creation. Six hundred years later, R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) had a different approach. In his view, Shemittah served to remind mankind that social classes based on wealth are false. Everyone is equal during Shemittah. No one is rich and no one is poor. We are all the same. Shemittah is about equality. Clearly, these interpretations would not make sense in the reverse time or place. The heretics of 19th century Germany didn’t emphasize that the world was infinite and the 13 century was pretty much the opposite of the Socialism suggested by R’ Hirsch.

Our current approach to Taamei HaMitzvot, and many others, relies on the assumption that Orthodox Judaism is frozen. In many ways it must be frozen. But not in this area. If we want our Mitzvah observance to have meaning that is relevant to us today, we need to create a version of Taamei HaMitzvot that works for our time and place. Start from scratch. Some of the older ideas still work very well today. But we can still work on new interpretations that speak to us in our native social language.

Recently, there’s been a movement toward a “Digital Sabbath” where people refrain from engaging in digital communication for 24 hours. Some people tried to connect this effort to our Shabbat. Others found this offensive because our Shabbat can’t be about a break from digital devices if we’ve been doing it for 3500 years! But I think there is an honest way to incorporate this lesson into our Shabbat experience. We don’t do Shabbat because it’s our Digital Sabbath, but it is a nice side benefit and it might make Shabbat more meaningful for us. It should definitely be part of the experience. It’s a lesson that speaks to us today. We need more of that kind of thinking.

We also need to refine our messaging for an audience of 4th and 5th generation Americans. It’s Elul. To most of my peers, Elul was when we observed European rabbis or their proteges writhing in pain with fear etched on their face in anticipation of Judgment Day. I don’t think it resonated with anyone. But fortunately, growing up in my childhood home, the emphasis was on ani ldodi vdodi li – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” and dirshu Hashem b’himatzo – “seek out God when God’s presence is most profoundly felt.” Quite a different message. It’s different in two important ways. One is that the message I received emphasizes love over fear. But even more crucially, the message might connect with an American teenager. Writhing on the floor in pain because of a feeling that few teens actually experience falls flat. The message of love and presence resonated with me and I suspect it’s more likely to resonate with other American Orthodox Jews.

We built American Orthodox Judaism on the principles of the mythical shtetl. It worked well for some and was disastrous for others. But the shtetl is fading from our rearview mirror. Our connection to that time is tenuous and anachronistic. Now it’s time to start building our own Orthodox Judaism that resonates with modern Americans. It begins with Taamei HaMitzvos that speak to us today and messaging that works for our sensibilities.

This is what I mean by cultivating positive Jewish experiences. Our rituals and messages need to have meaning and that meaning can’t just be the stuff that worked in Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, or the shtetl. It’s not surprising that those social environments produced specific ideas and emotions that don’t resonate today. We need to try and compose new poetic teachings and modern day flavor to our Mitzvot that make our observance more meaningful today.

This is the way forward. It is our duty to craft this new version of Orthodox Judaism. We can’t just rely on our past accomplishments and scholarship to carry us forever. It’s imperative that we cultivate positive Orthodox Jewish experiences and I think the methodology outlined in this essay provides the framework for the social and intellectual adjustments. Now we just need to do it.

Next essay will discuss dealing with bad experiences.

  • tuvia

    This has been a good dramatic buildup. Really. Well done.

    But, I think somehow you need to ground your innovations in some psychological research and probably halacha.

    If we primarily process experience through our mind, how is Judaism failing the modern mind? There must be some clinical research on how certain environments fail to generate gratitude and positive feelings of well being.

    I guess I’d like you to consult the most cutting-edge literature, and report back with sources and footnotes.

    But excellent work in drawing focus to your site. The blog sphere has been crackling with anticipation for your ideas. That’s pretty cool.

    • The Shemittah example was to demonstrate that the social environment affects our interpretations and those subjective interpretations are not universal or eternal. Also, I’m not interested in changing halacha.

      And thanks.

  • MarkSoFla

    Excellent post!

  • thatguy

    excellent post- except for the kiddush club part. it is disrespectful to step out in the middle of davening to grab a drink with your friends, especially if it means missing krias hatorah and part of musaf. now, if you suggested having a break after krias hatorah for kiddush followed by musaf, that would be a different story. and i have seen one place where they do that.

    • The yeshivos back in pre-war Lithuania had qiddush with a small breakfast followed by a learning session between Torah reading and Mussaf. So there is ample room to make a “frum” argument that this is a pre-blessed non-innovation.

      If I would start my own shul, I would move the qiddush to before Mussaf and shift the rabbis sermon into being a talk during the qiddush.

      We have to acknowledge our decreasing attention spans. Rather than trying to get people to sit still for 2 hours and fail, or to come late because they can’t handle the full duration, I think it is time to accommodate. Especially since there is no actual halachic issue involved.

      • G*3

        When did Shabbos shachris get so long? It certainly wasn’t always this way. Tefilos got added, someone decided that we should lain a whole parsha (or two!) every week, we added a sermon because that’s what the pastors did in Germany, and it seemed like a nice idea…

        I think the problem isn’t our decreasing attention spans. The problem is that the length of shul Shabbos morning got out of hand.

        • Personally, I enjoy spending Shabbos morning in shul. Even when I am not rabbi-ing.

      • Other things my shul would have:

        2- Short thoughts scattered through the service (eg before Barekhu) about prayer. Not the laws, the content.

        3- An ethics clause. When keeping Shabbos needed strengthening, there were shuls that limited receiving honors to people not known to be Shabbos violators. My dream shul wouldn’t give honors to known tax cheats or the like.

        4- Chessed projects — not “just” davening and shiurim. (A “three pillar” religious center.)

        5- A mussar va’ad

        • thatguy

          sounds like a shul i wouldn’t mind joining. not so sure about short thoughts scattered throughout the service though- not my style

  • tesyaa

    What sbout people who sometimes want to go to the movies Friday night, but want to still be accepted by the frum community? Is there a place for such a person? Does any O group explicitly accept this kind of “drop-in whenever you like” behavior? Because this is what a lot of people would like.

    No, we can’t all move OOT where this is more accepted.

    • There are LWMO places in NY where this is acceptable.

      • When Open O began, this — and possibly social initiatives — was their defining feature. Being “open” to all Jews. I was very excited about the notion.

        Unfortunately, other trends in OO caused my desire to support to evaporate.

      • BeSeven

        Is LWMO light-weight modern orthodox?

    • Kenneth Perkins

      What do you mean by “explicitly accept”? Depending on what you mean, ostensibly this could also include Chabad and many Sephardic qehilot.

    • Aharon

      Yes, its called Chabad

  • Holy Hyrax

    I think if you want any sort of change, you need to narrow the “paradigm.” In my experience, what you call for exists already. My community has a typical MO shul. Across the street is a real funky Carlbachian Happy Minyan with no rabbi. Down the block is a Persian Chabad (of all things). Further down is more of a lithuanian shul. And guess what? People go in and out from all of these. The kids growing up know all these places are at their finger types and converse with people from all these places. Simchat Torah has people walking up and own the corridor in and out of different shuls.

    Therefore, I think your paradigm shift needs to happen in the schools. The educational institutions are very much narrowly focused to one sort of hashkafa and so you either fit or you’re miserable.

    • Since we’re specifically not talking about book learning, there is a limit to what we can expect from schools. We need to simultaneously have role models, or else everything the teacher/rebbe does will fade pretty quickly.

      Of course, this is a catch-22. We can’t provide enough adult role models to influence the children without having already solved the problem. BUT, we can at least provide them with examples of adults trying to improve. If kids at least know many adults do try to have meaningful experiences, they’ll retain the idea that it’s important, not a side-line adjunct to the religion itself.

    • Rebecca K.

      I think we live the same place (b/c I live right by the Happy Minyan) and the very thing you describe is one of the things I love about living here: you can have a shul you like, but still respect the folks in the next shul and even attend when you so desire. Your friends can be anywhere from not Jewish to totally Hareidi and everyone pretty much gets along.

      However, I think that within each shul, you’ve got a derech. The tone is set by the rav (or the mission statement or whatever that’s going on at Happy Minyan). The teaching there has a particular flavor. It provides a certain focus, you get support from the kehilla if you want to grow, and so on. I think hashkafic unity is useful in a setting where you can always come and go.

      I personally think that in a community like ours, each school is like those shuls. Each has a flavor, and because there are many schools (bli ayin hara), we can select which one is the hashkafa we want to raise our kids in. This unified hashkafa serves an important purpose, so long as other hashkafos aren’t denigrated. In a community that does not have a variety of schools, everyone can and should be accommodated, but here, that’s not what I’m seeing.

      What I am seeing is something R’ Fink said that I really have to agree with: some schools want a monopoly on educating your family. And when your kids need different things, they should definitely be allowed to attend separate schools with no guilt trips or negative consequences.

  • Garnel Ironheart

    But your solution perpetuates the problem. Being frum isn’t about feeling good, it’s about duty. Teaching people to overlook entitlement, to develop a commitment to the community, to give instead of demand, that’s what needs to be done.

    • Retention is about feeling good. And his “like” is liking what it is we’re committing to. Not liking chulent. To quote REF saying it himself, “we need to create a version of Taamei HaMitzvot that works for our time and place”.

      We also need to refine our messaging for an audience of 4th and 5th generation Americans. It’s Elul. To most of my peers, Elul was when we observed European rabbis or their proteges writhing in pain with fear etched on their face in anticipation of Judgment Day. I don’t think it resonated with anyone. But fortunately, growing up in my childhood home, the emphasis was on ani ldodi vdodi li – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” and dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — “seek out God when God’s presence is most profoundly felt.” Quite a different message.</i

      Agree or disagree, he is talking about making people like being givers. Not reinforcing entitlement.

      need to create a version of Taamei HaMitzvot that works for our time
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      need to create a version of Taamei HaMitzvot that works for our time
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      need to create a version of Taamei HaMitzvot that works for our time
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    • E the P

      Yes but the people who don’t enjoy being frum won’t develop commitment to the community, they just leave. IF they love shul, school, their community THEN we can teach them about selflessness, commitment etc. You have to be in yeshiva to hear the mussar shmooze….

    • tesyaa

      Why aren’t religious people satisfied with being religious themselves? Why do you care what other people do?

      • Holy Hyrax

        Your question stems from American liberalism influence (for better or worse). The idea of the individual. But weren’t you raised observant? You’re asking that question as if you are some secular outsider. Judaism is a national religion. It’s about the ‘we’ not the “I”. It’s about a common mission, the common practices of us a nation built on a common history and beliefs. We are Jewish “people,” so we as a people have to survive FOR that common mission (if you believe in that mission). We function as a community. Since when have we functioned as a whole bunch of individuals doing anything they wanted? That never works. That never works for anything you want to survive past your immediate lifetime.

        Obviously, there is a nice middle ground between giving everyone a tsitsis check and everyone just free styling everything and anything.

        • tesyaa

          There is a whole Jewish community that is very strong despite not observing halacha, so I don’t see the need to stress halacha observance as part of the national “mission” as such. You might claim that the non-halachic community will disappear through intermarriage; if so, that’s your opinion and I guess your need to see others observe follows, but to others, the collapse of the non-halachic Jewish community is far from a foregone conclusion.

          And by the way, what you describe as “middle ground”, others would claim is religiously unacceptable. There are plenty of places where the tzitzis check (or equivalent) is the bare minimum requirement. I chuckle to see that you’ve defined the “middle ground” right around yourself, just like the Centrist himself, Harry Maryles.

          • Holy Hyrax

            >There is a whole Jewish community….

            So what? Stick with what you asked. You asked “Why aren’t religious people satisfied with being religious themselves?” I gave you the answer. You don’t agree? Ok. But I believe that is the answer to why RELIGIOUS people care.

            >I chuckle to see that you’ve defined the “middle ground” right around yourself, just like the Centrist himself, Harry Maryles.

            How can you chuckle when I gave no indication where my ground is? And that middle ground maybe incredibly broad too.

          • Holy Hyrax

            >the collapse of the non-halachic Jewish community is far from a foregone conclusion.

            Who are you trying to convince here? Me or you?

            • tesyaa

              Why would I be trying to convince myself?

              • tesyaa

                To elaborate – as a very young person (brought up traditional but not Orthodox) I totally bought into the idea that only observance could preserve the Jewish people. Yes, I drank the BT koolaid before I could get a driver’s license in any state.

                Over time, I have seen that there are tremendously committed Jews who are not Orthodox. Not only that, but I have Reform & Conservative friends & relatives who are way more enthusiastic about Judaism than I am, and than a whole lot of O Jews I know. So I don’t need convincing.

                Besides, as I argued with Harry Maryles a few weeks ago, O Jews believe in God’s covenant not to forsake the Jewish people. So O Jews already believe that the Jewish people will be preserved through divine means – no need to fear that the Jewish people will disappear. The preservation of the Jewish people may be a problem for non-O Jews, who don’t rely on God’s preservation but on population trends; but O Jews can be confident that God is already taking care of it. It’s completely illogical for a believing Orthodox Jew to fear that the Jewish people will all intermarry & disappear.

                In my opinion, O Jews want other Jews to observe because it validates their lifestyle choices. But I wanted to hear your opinion.

              • Holy Hyrax

                Why would you be trying to convince yourself? “Because statements like this: the collapse of the non-halachic Jewish community is far from a foregone conclusion.” seems like balderdash. Sure, nothing is cemented in, but like Climate Change there are trends and patterns. And it’s those trends and patterns that tell the story.

                >It’s completely illogical for a believing Orthodox Jew to fear that the Jewish people will all intermarry & disappear.

                You hear that Nehemiah and Ezra?

                >In my opinion, O Jews want other Jews to observe because it validates their lifestyle choices. But I wanted to hear your opinion.

                Well, you lean toward being a more cynical person, so I am not surprised you would make that generality, but that’s just my opinion.

                • tesyaa

                  I don’t think it’s cynical to recognize that human beings need validation. Let’s say you buy a house in Great Neck and you’re very enthusiastic about your new neighborhood. Your friend comes to check it out and is seriously considering moving there; stays with you for a few days to get the feel for the place, asks all sorts of questions. Then he buys a house in Scarsdale and tells you how much better the amenities are, how his neighborhood is so much nicer than yours. You’re going to feel deflated. But if he moves to Great Neck and tells you what a great choice it is, don’t you feel validated? And this is just a silly example. If your religion is very, very important to you, of course you feel validated if someone else chooses it, and make excuses (“what a loser!”) if he doesn’t.

                  And if you’re talking about cynical, I’ll explain how I became cynical. I spent 25 years being frum believing (and being told) that the frum world cares about every frum child, yet when my kid had issues in yeshiva, suddenly the only options presented are a shadow (classroom babysitter), special-needs yeshiva that’s totally unsuited to his needs, or public school. And when I put him in public school, he’s treated as a valued member of the class, his teachers recognize and appreciate his skills, and the administration treats the whole family with caring and respect. Meanwhile, the child learns and thrives, and the frum community looks at him as an oddity at best and… I don’t know what at worst. (Soooo happy that years later he’s now taking honors classes in public high school. I never looked back). How does that not make a person cynical?

                  I’m very interested to see Rabbi Fink’s piece about people who have left because of bad experiences. My bad experience was relatively mild – no one was abused. It wasn’t the bad experience itself that made me question, but the underlying lies (that I believed) that the community cares for its own. It doesn’t.

                  • tesyaa

                    Oh, and the yeshiva was NOT nice about it either.

                  • Holy Hyrax

                    >I don’t think it’s cynical to recognize that human beings need validation.

                    No. It’s cynical to imply that that is ALL human beings need and that is their driving force. [emphasis on imply]

                    >How does that not make a person cynical?

                    Look, in the end, it’s a choice. I know many many people that have gone through your crap in L.A. They are angry and I understand. But I also see that their anger and cynicism is focused on something particular, which is the lack of resources that private jewish schools have. Your cynicism just boils over toward everyone and you judge the whole orthodox existence through cynicism.

                    >It wasn’t the bad experience itself that made me question, but the underlying lies (that I believed) that the community cares for its own. It doesn’t.

                    Not at all? Not a shred of kav schut eh? Maybe you should move here!

                    • tesyaa

                      Oh definitely, a bad experience like mine isn’t a reason to leave. But combined with some other events, it was an opportunity to question. Someone else might ask the same questions, search the same sources and actually be strengthened in their faith. For me, the exploration led me to believe the Torah wasn’t divine. I fully agree that a bad experience, on its own, isn’t a reason to reject Judaism.

                      Today, I’m mostly mad at myself that I drank the koolaid in the first place. I did believe it was a wonderful lifestyle full of caring people, and therefore I didn’t question the theology enough. Obviously I went to seminary and had chavrusas and so on, but when I had questions of faith I pushed them down. So I’m not really mad at the community, ultimately, I’m mad at myself for being a sucker. How’s that for honesty?

                      Would my life be better or worse today if I’d never become frum? Who knows? That’s how I can sleep at night.

                    • tesyaa

                      The only way I can truly fault the frum community for my own lack of due diligence is the way it presents itself as perfect. People know there are major problems in the frum community, but they deliberately hide it from outsiders (and kiruv candidates). If the veneer of perfection wasn’t so thick, I might have seen through it.

                      And yes, there are many kind & caring frum Jews, but that alone would not be enough to make, or keep, me religious if I wren’t already stuck. There are kind and amazing people everywhere.

                    • tesyaa

                      Finally – once I’m no longer invested in the frum world being thd best world – I see no reason not to subject the frum world to the same scrutiny and criticism any other group gets. And frum people complaining about cynicism is disingenuous – the frum world is incredibly cynical about just about the entire non-frum world. You yourself are incredibly cynical about “American liberalism”. What’s the reason for that?

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      Again, I am not talking about you leaving or staying. That is an entirely different topic, all together.

                      >I see no reason not to subject the frum world to the same scrutiny and criticism any other group gets.

                      Sorry. I don’t swallow that. There are people that scrutinize, but it do it fairly and know where to be critical and when to praise. Your comment that “O Jews want other Jews to observe because it validates their lifestyle choices,” is simply cynicism plane and simple. It’s for no other reason but to give another swift kick. It’s like we all have those friends that always judge someone’s intention negatively, all the time, no matter what.

                      >You yourself are incredibly cynical about “American liberalism”. What’s the reason for that?

                      If you believe, overall, that the values that emanate from orthodox Judaism is wrong and destructive that is one thing. That isn’t necessarily cynicism. There are plenty of bloggers that know how to scrutinize and criticize OJ and doesn’t lead to cynicism. You happen to be reading a blog like that right now.

                      Anyways, I think we have said all that needs to be said about this.

                    • Holy Hyrax

                      How stupid. Why does it have to show the whole video on the comments instead of just have a link?

                    • MarkSoFla

                      Examining the “road not traveled” is *ALWAYS* counterproductive in life since there is no way to know how it might have turned out.

        • tuvia

          “(for better or worse)”

          I think the problem is deep down we all know it is for the better. But it means the end of Judaism or the Jewish People — which feels sad and not desirable.

          It’s a very hard question. But I do think that the values of Judaism are contrived, and the values of the Enlightenment are a no-brainer. And it is sad and leaves me confused myself. But I go where my gut tells me — away from bad ideas presented as good, and towards good ideas that don’t show a clear path to a good life, but for sure an honest life. Tough stuff.

      • Tracey

        I am fascinated. You tell the frum community to be more like you, but I’m sure you would be the first one complaining if the frum community told your community to be more frum. And you probably don’t even see the hypocrisy of that, because you are so confident that your way is right.

  • BeSeven

    Great essay, Rav Fink! It seems to me that what you’re talking about doing is really what shuls in all the various branches are trying to do (even many Christian churches are struggling with retention and trying to make their congregants feel happier and more at home in church). The only difference is that orthodoxy has to do it within the confines of halakhah.

  • DF

    Nob-believing orthodox stay orthodox for one reason only – their wife and kids. If they were single, they would leave. There is nothing you can do to orthodoxy to change that, because none of the singles that leave have anything against it. As a number of commenters (myself included) have already noted, they are just indifferent to it. Or, if you want to get hung up on semantics, they might even LIKE it. But they don’t like it enough to stay. And you are not going to get these types of singles “liking” orthodoxy BETTER than the alternative, because orthodoxy is simply not built for singles. It’s built exclusively for families. And skeptics with families don’t need appeals to the spirit of the law, or anything like that. (As worthy as that might be, in many cases.) It is kind of sad, but it is true. Orthodoxy is not built for singles.
    Put it this way. If you’re a single guy looking for a vehicle, would you prefer a small Corolla pretty much designed for singles, or a mini-van built for families, that’s been tinkered with in an attempt to make it more palatable to singles? QED.
    (I hasten to reiterate, I am speaking from the perspective of skeptics only, whose relationship with orthodoxy is already on the rocks. Clearly, we are not addressing the many singles and married already perfectly happy within orthodoxy.)

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    “Kosher Jewish music has barely evolved in the last 30 years.” – Yep, I always thought that “8th day” bore an uncanny resembelance to Bentzion Shenker.

  • Charles Lebow

    The question is a very good one and should concern us all. My intuition tells me that the group that is moving away the quickest is the single adult population. Changes in shuls and schools aren’t going to make much impact on them. We have to come to terms with the fact that there are often ten years away from home before marriage and a lot can happen in those ten years. Positive Jewish experiences, real community, quality learning opportunities are all needed to retain and recruit or we will lose tens of thousands. This is where we need to invest.

  • moishela



    Discussion with Moishela (with his family)

    A Handicapped child

    16 Elul 5774 (Sept 10, ‘14)

    I Have Been Given Permission to Reveal to you Future Events

    Oy Mommy, Oy Tatti, what can I tell you? I’m sorry that I have made you in the last few weeks a little bit unnerved, but I must admit that the world is changing at the speed of sound, and from day to day or from minute to minute, we don’t know what’s going to be. We used to live in a world that was at least semi organized. We could predict, sometimes anyway, what the next day or the next minute might bring. Today we are all confused, never knowing where another tragedy, Shelo Naida, another bang will come from. Tatti, Mommy, the next few weeks are going to be very, very frightening. The next few weeks will be full of changes that will make our heads spin, changes all over the world, frightening changes and also frightening happenings.

    By the time we get to Rosh Hashana we are going to all be in a somber mood, a mood for Davening very hard, for begging Hashem to save us and declaring Him our King. So we must prepare ourselves not to be too blown away by the happenings of the near future and always remember the only way to steady ourselves and keep ourselves in a state that we can overcome spiritually and physically the times to come, is by holding on to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, so-to-speak, holding on to the rope, spiritual rope that connects us Am Yisroel to our Creator. So as I said, in the next few weeks until Rosh Hashana there will be amazing new news for all of us, for the whole world and there will be news that people will not understand. They will stand and wonder what in the world is going on, but as time goes on we will realize what the plan of the evil ones really is.

    After Rosh Hashana during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva will be a time of gathering our strengths together and crying to Hashem like we have never cried before. By the time that Yom Kippur comes around, I’m afraid that our tears might have been spent already from worrying what’s going to be, and we will try to squeeze out a few more in order to try to save ourselves. By the time Succos comes we will be quite worn out for our efforts, and I believe that Succos, at least for a short time, will bring a semblance of balance, a semblance of joy in the Yom Tov, but Simchas Torah will bring us back to the cruel reality, and we will dance with the Torah with tears in our eyes. We will hold the Torah close to us so it can’t separate from us, so we won’t separate from it. We will dance and we will dance and we will beg Hashem through our dancing to always keep us close to Him, and we will keep the Torah close to us, and when Simchas Torah is over the real wars will begin.

    Am Yisroel you know that there is something in my words. In the last two or three years you have seen such crazy tragic things happening. We know that the world has become an insane asylum and as Harav Dessler put it the people taking care of the inmates are the inmates themselves. So it’s a world of the mentally ill. There are some Jews which do try to separate themselves from the Sheker, from the lie and on those few Jews the world of the Geula Shelaima will be built by Hashem. We Am Yisroel must hold on and never let go.

    We will go farther. After Succos, Simchas Torah the world will become so so different, so horribly different that it will be absolutely unrecognizable. The only thing we will recognize is our Kesher with Hashem. The only thing that will be real will be our Kesher with Hashem, His Torah, and His Mitzvos.

    Am Yisroel, the ones in Chutz Laretz, the ones outside of Eretz Yisroel, pack your bags if you can. Pack your bags and come. Do so. It’s not an Aveirah. Coming to Eretz Yisroel is a great Zechus, but don’t come if you don’t really want to go higher in your Yiddishkeit. Don’t come just to save your lives, because it won’t work. You have to believe, believe that Hashem is Hakol Yachol. Ain Od Milvado. You have to believe it with all your heart and your soul. You have to believe that there is nothing greater than our Torah. You have to believe that Moshiach is going to come and there is going to be Techias Hameisim and you have to believe in every single one of the Yud Gimmel Ikrim. You must believe in that. That is your ticket to eternity. You must with all your heart and soul believe in it.

    After Simchas Torah there is going to be a giant Birur and that Birur is going to be very hard, but it won’t be hard for those who understand the Truth, for those who cling to Hashem, for those who cling to the Truth. It won’t be hard. So please Am Yisroel please, please if you feel up to it, if you feel that you want to rise spiritually, come to Eretz Yisroel, not Medinas Yisroel, that’s going to fall very soon, but Eretz Yisroel, come to Eretz Yisroel, and even though it could be very difficult and even though you don’t know where you are going to live and even though you don’t know where your income will come from, still you are better off here than there if you truly want to be close to Hashem. If you truly want, for spiritual reasons to come close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, to actually greet Moshiach Tzidkainu then come to Eretz Yisroel now. Anyone with Gashmiusdik ideas about the Geula, forget it. Stay where you are.

    I also want to reiterate that every Jewish soul will be saved. Every Jewish soul that stood at Har Sinai and said Na’ase Venishma, we will do and we will say, every Jewish soul will be saved. Hashem will make sure that even if a Jew thinks he doesn’t accept Emes, in the end he will. Hashem will force him to accept Emes, and he will become a great believer, but he will suffer on the way, but those who are close already, those who believe with all their hearts and souls in Hakol Yachol, in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, in the Ribbono Shel Olam, they will not have difficulties almost at all. It might be frightening to see what’s happening, but they themselves will not suffer. So Am Yisroel, we are coming to Rosh Hashana. Please do Teshuva. Please do Teshuva now. Get your heads straight. Get your minds on the right things. Teach your children how to react when the terrible wars really start. They have started already, but the really bad part is soon to come. Teach your children how to hold on to Hashem. Teach your children what reality is, what the Geula Shelaima means, what the Bais Hamikdosh means, what the Korbanos mean. Teach them not to be afraid because Hashem is Hakol Yachol. He took us out of Mitzrayim, which was an amazing, amazing Ness, and He will take us out of this terrible, terrible Golus and bring us to the Geula Shelaima.

    I want to tell you something else Mommy and Tatti. I love you all very much. I know how much you are doing for me and how you care for me. I know I sometimes make you both a bit upset with my moods. I go a bit crazy myself with the double life that I have been living. One part of my life, a little boy with little boy needs, and the other part of my life I am a greater person a much more adult person. So please I ask you Mechila for anything I have done to make it difficult for you and tell you how much I appreciate how you’ve taken care of me, and how I imagine you will continue to take care of me up to when Moshiach comes. At that time I won’t need your help anymore, Be’ezras Hashem. I know that very soon we are going to see the Truth. So don’t get discouraged and don’t get taken down. Just know that all of our troubles are going to disappear and really you shouldn’t be worried about all these things that are happening in the house, buying and selling apartments, taking care of me, and all the other grandchildren who have this problem, that problem, or the other problem, or my aunts and my uncles that have all kinds of problems. Just know that it’s almost over, almost over.

    To Am Yisroel I want to tell you that when we come to Chanukah we are going to have very great spiritual happenings that will remind us of the Maccabim, that will remind us of our greatness, will remind us of our Bais Hamikdosh, even though we will be very frightened and we will be such a tiny little group surrounded by huge amounts of wild people with terrible weapons, but still our hearts will be full of joy because we will feel again what the Maccabim felt even though we will be terribly afraid. It will seem impossible to ever get out of that situation, but Hashem will help us and we will, and after that will come Asara B’teves and we will mourn like we never mourned before. We will cry and beg like we never did on Tisha B’av, beg and beg Hashem to rebuild our Bayis our Bais Hamikdosh, and not let the Goyim do the most outlandish thing of destroying the Dome of the Rock and instead building Chas Veshalom there a temple to the Avodah Zorah of their new Religion Chas Vesholom, Yemach Shemam Vezichram. That is their plan to build on top of Har Hamoriah, Har Habayis a temple to the Avodah Zorahs, the worst Avodah Zorahs.

    Then we will come to Purim and we will beg Hashem to save us from Haman and we will have a Haman here, a Haman that we will have to be saved from and we will have to fight, fight our fears, beg Hashem to save us from this awful terrible horrific person and his armies and his police. We will have to beg very hard. Hashem will save us.

    He will save us, and then will come Pesach and we will be a tattered bunch of tired people when we sit around the Seder table, with Matzoh and wine miraculously provided for us by Hashem and we will beg Hashem to save us. We will beg Hashem. We will beg Hashem to bring the Geula Shelaima. On Shvii Shel Pesach we will hear the Shofar. We will hear the Shofar and on Leil Haseder each house will see Eliyahu Hanavi, all the Jews that are Emesdik will see him and it will give us strength, but it still won’t be the time of redemption. I can’t go on farther than that to explain, but when we see Eliyahu Hanavi we will know that very soon this terribly long Golus will be over, and we will be finally free. From that moment on, there will be more and greater wars. There will be false prophets and false messiahs, but we will hold on to Hakodosh Boruch Hu and to the seed of Dovid Hamelech, to our Moshiach Tzidkainu, our true Moshiach. He will reveal himself and we Motzai Shviis will walk into the Bais Hamikdosh and be Makriv Korbonos and be happy and be dancing with the greatest joy ever felt in the whole world, even though around us two thirds of the world will have been destroyed, and very few Yidden and even fewer Goyim will survive.

    I have been given permission to reveal to you these future events in order to give Am Yisroel strength and courage to get through these very difficult times. I beg Am Yisroel from the bottom of my heart to feel that every Jew is responsible for the other Jew. Every true Jew feels responsibility for another Jew, feels that he wants to do Chessed for another Jew. That’s how you know he’s really a Jew. I love Am Yisroel so much that just saying it makes me cry, and I beg you please make it easy on yourselves. Come back to Hashem. Take away the Gashmius which is so senseless, all the toys, all the adult stupid toys, all the videos, all the things that make us waste our time and instead put our efforts into growing spiritually. The best way to grow spiritually is when times are difficult. We don’t want times to be difficult, but we must use the future hard times to help us grow. Please let us put our hearts and our souls and our strength, into growing even though around us will be death and destruction. Please keep growing. Please keep coming closer and closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

    Q: Do we have to be afraid of the ISIS?

    A: That group of murderers were created by the Reshoim to frighten the world. They have no real tangible strength. It’s all a farce and the Europeans definitely don’t want them around and probably will try to get rid of them as fast as possible. However they will go underground and they will cause destruction in the world because they as individuals can blow up hundreds of places in Europe, America, not only the Mideast. As an army they aren’t an army. They are just a group of vicious people. They are using the scare tactics of chopping peoples’ heads off, Lo Aleinu, or murdering them in other terrible ways to make people afraid, but don’t pay attention to them. It’s all not something real. Yes people are killed and they are very vicious, but they have no strength and Hashem will destroy them.

    There is nothing to add right now. I’m giving you kind of a preview. Up to now we the autistics, have written many things and they’ve all come true, however, we never really gave a timeframe because people still had to schlep through many years without this kind of Chizuk. There was no point in giving a timeframe, because people would say, “Oh well we still have ten years, so let’s just party until then. We have time to do Teshuvah!” There’s no time now, so let’s do it now now, now!

    There is one more thing I want to say. In the next near future the State of Israel, the Medina is going to crumble. It’s already crumbling from its own decadence. That is what’s going to happen IY”H. Very soon the chaos is going to rage here until the Goyim take over. Then Moshiach will take control from the Goyim and the Geula Shelaima will begin Be’ezras Hashem.