Monday, May 16, 2016
Passionless Judaism- On the differences between the Charedi and MO OTD experience
What more can be said about the OTD phenomenon? So much has been written about it from every perspective, from memoirs to sociological studies to essays examining why Orthodox jews leave the fold. Is there anything left to be said?
I have been thinking about the differences between the many charedim I know who left the fold, versus those from the Modern Orthodox world who left religious observance. Although there are many differences, there is one particular difference I keep seeing. Many, if not most of the charedim I know have a strong emotional feeling about the community they have left, and about religion in general. Quite a few, continue to struggle with, or against, the world they left. Some turn their feelings into organizational work, trying to help others who have left the fold, or those who are still observant. Organizations like Footsteps and Yaffed are just a few examples of this phenomena. Others write about their reasons for leaving, and the mixed emotional feelings they have about the way they grew up. It is not unusual to have OTD Shabbos meals, where zemiros are sung, and traditional foods are on the menu.
By contrast, in the Modern Orthodox world, those who leave seem to leave more quietly, almost as if they have left nothing behind. They rarely continue to be involved in any Jewish organizations, and show little, if any, signs of resentment. To be sure, there are some obvious reasons for these different reactions. While charedim have often been raised in communities where they were not offered the educational, social, and professional skills to make it in the secular world, Modern orthodox jews grow up in a milieu which makes transitioning far easier. Many have gone to the same colleges as their non-religious and non-Jewish peers, and have received an education that makes the switch that much easier. While there might be some degree of resentment about aspects of how they were brought up, for the most part, the people I know from the MO world have left easily, and without much of an emotional struggle. However, there is, I believe, something more behind the different reactions, something that to my mind speaks poorly about the MO educational experience.
I recently read a book that dealt with the philosophical development of some of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement. These leaders had either grown up in religious families, or were one, or at most two generations away from religious ancestors. As each of them struggled to figure out what it meant to be Jewish when one is no longer religious, they struggled mightily with the mixed emotions they felt for the religious world that they knew. They had feelings of pity, nostalgia, and anger. They channeled these emotions into the creativity which led them to be leaders in creating the Zionist movement in terms of political thought, culture, and religion. As I finished reading the book, I couldn’t help but wonder again about the MO people I know who have left without experiencing these same feelings.
For good and for bad, the charedi educational system gets their version of Judaism into their students bones. There is a thick, almost viscous religious, cultural, and emotional sense of what it means to be a frum Jew. When you watch charedi kids daven in school, there is an energy that is generally lacking in MO schools. In charedi yeshivahs, Torah learning is seen as an ideal, and any boy who succeeds in it, is seen as a star. I’ve noticed that even those who are not successful learners, often internalize the message to the degree that, later in life, they financially support yeshivos and kollels. In the MO world, we are not succeeding in giving over this sense of connection. Too often, the davening is not inspiring, and the Torahlearning is seen as, at best, another academic discipline to master. For those who want out, the religiosity they have experienced is easily shed.
Rabbi Lamm once said, talking about Modern Orthodoxy, that our goal should not be “to be moderately passionate, but rather to be passionately moderate”. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we are not only failing at what he suggests our goal should be, but even at instilling a moderate amount of passion. It is beyond time that we figure out how to do better.