Fear, Not

Fear, Not

Of all the noteworthy things I’ve gleaned from the comments to my actually existing and in laying out where I am coming from and what my perspective is, it was not the vitriol—unfortunately, that is a standard and hallmark of blogging in general—nor was it the confusion at my willingness to continue to participate in a practice in rather meaningful way, a practice I clearly have moved on from believing in. Rather, it was the shear number of people who just don’t know, who are, forgive the hackneyed expression, sick and tired of being sick and tired. The overwhelming feeling that I sense is that of fear.

Fear is a tricky thing. Everyone feels it, whether it be the clichéd upside down stomach or the tingling on the back of your neck; it is ever present, lurking in anticipation, and we often succumb to it, allowing that we have no other choice. In reading and responding to all the comments on this blog and elsewhere, it reminded me of when my knowing sense of fear suddenly collapsed like the proverbial straw man that was my life. What fear was ever-present for me? God, of course. I feared angering him, upsetting him, letting him down. I followed and obeyed and cried and danced and shuckled, all out of a fear that bred devotion and sacrifice. I spent years learning and studying everything and anything that was said to be His word and His will, all in a vainglorious effort to do no wrong. This is not a post on the trope of Yirah vs. Ahava; that is an argument and discussion fit for a post-high school yeshiva dormitory, not for us here. When I look back at what my beliefs used to encompass, of the fear that drove me to do things and not do things that violated all of what my core was telling me was wrong and egregious, I recognized that fear is a far from a powerful tool of contemporary Orthodox Judaism; it is its driving force. Fear of God, of reputation, of social standing, of shidduch, of shul membership, of whispers, of being to frum, of being less frum. All of these drive any close knit and insular community, of course. But once that fear is gone, removed through an excruciating cocktail of knowledge and reason and understanding, what is left behind?

When I started on this path, I left my fear behind, as if I was leaving the Old World on the Mayflower for Jamestown. But my family—my wife, my children, my congregants—they still live in that space, confused, conflicted and concerned.  They are afraid. And I, tethered to this place and to this experience, am fearful right back.

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82 Responses to Fear, Not

  1. Jacob Stein says:

    But aren’t you still fearful, of being honest and losing your job?

  2. S. Benson says:

    I would offer that technically it is not fear as much as it is anxiety: an anticipation of what may happen in the future. It “feels” the same but they are different psychological processes. What WILL happen if you lose social standing, if one is too frum/not frum enough, etc. is anxiety; the mugger with a gun pointed at your head? That feeling is fear.
    Many who went “OTD” got past their anxiety and went on living their lives. Many orthodox got over their fear and have moved on to a more nuanced approach to belief. Belief doesn’t have to be relegated to an either/or proposition: some of us don’t approach orthodoxy as fear of God the Bogeyman [or fear of SIN as is the case with Christianity] versus atheism. There is room for a God of other characteristics.
    Of course, the question for most is what is truly motivating them?
    I would offer that it is not simply anxiety. Too many are orthoprax out of habit, custom, inertia, conformity, and a lack of awareness. What about the one who is orthoprax but aware? Reminds me of Mordechai Kaplan.

    • Am HaAretz says:

      Who would you say are the “gedolim” for the “orthoprax world”?

      • S. Benson says:

        I don’t think there are any, for obvious reasons. The closest I could come-up with is Kaplan but he died about 30 years ago. Judaism without God, Sinai, or halacha and reduced to a series of “cultural practices.” Shame.
        Of course, the Orthoprax Rabbi may be one and I would add that I doubt he is the only one out there.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        I think you misunderstood. Which people are openly Orthoprax and well-known?

      • S. Benson says:

        None that I know of.
        I don’t think it is a tenable position, especially for a congregational or teaching Rabbi. IMO, to publicly espouse (“preach”) a position that you don’t believe is difficult over the long run. It’s probably easier for “lay” members who go to minyan occasionally, keep Shabbos (for the most part), and just “go with the flow” in the community. I don’t know how an introspective, honest person can maintain a public position and espouse a creed he doesn’t believe in.
        I’ve been reading some biographies of Kaplan and think he may be more emblematic of the process: started in yeshiva, established Young Israel (not that YI would admit it), but moved more to the “left” over the years to the point that he was “OTD.”
        In other terms, how does a Preacher not preach the Truth?
        Famous story from the French Revolution about the leader of a faction who saw his people in the street and asked “where are my people going? I must lead them!”
        Rabbi, how do you lead your people to a Sinai you don’t believe in using a map (Torah) that you don’t trust?

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Benson you are missing the point again. This question is open to everyone qualified to answer. Mordecai Kaplan was the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, the left-wing off-shoot of Conservative Judaism. He might have been Orthoprax and panentheistic, not be confused with pantheism, but as stimulating as this movement might be, it certainly leaves much to be desired.

        Who are the so-called spiritual leaders of Orthoprax these days? Obviously someone who wants to keep their job is not going to publicly preach Orthoprax if they are leading an Orthodox Kehila…poshit.

        Where do Orthoprax turn that have embraced the Torah way of life, but not the fundamentalist dogma? It seems there are many people with here with similar beliefs, but do not know where to turn.

      • Strange says:

        R. David Weiss Halivni would have counted and indeed he was the marah d’atra of a shul in manhattan for a bit.

        There are several options who publically call themselves Orthodox but plenty of Orthodox yiddin would call them Orthoprax.

        Although he might not admit it I think R. Saul Berman may count as well (although I don’t think he has the learning of Halivni). I would probably include R. Daniel Sperber (although that may not be fair but I have my doubts). R. Avi Weiss perhaps as a political gadol although he is a figure head and would never pretend to be a talmid chacham. I guess R. Dov Linzer as well who from all accounts is something of a genius. Some of the Kibbutz Hadati Rashei Yeshiva may count from what I can tell.

        A difficult addition because of his egal side would be R. Joel Roth.

        Then there are basically any lubavitcher who is also a talmid chacham… ok just a joke.

        None of these examples, even Roth who is just a rigorous Conservative rabbi, would ever call themselves atheists and are theologically in a different place then the mechaber (author) of this blog.

      • Dov Kramer says:


        It is unfair to imply that any of those on the liberal side of Orthodoxy are really Orthoprax.

      • Strange says:

        Dov –

        The internet is a terrible place where one can never be sure exactly what the other means. Did you mean I was being unfair or the “Orthodox yiddin” I was reffering to were being unfair? I never claimed they were Orthopractic at all (with the exception of R Halivni, but that is hard to deny, just read revelation restored) rather that many Orthodox Jews see them as examples of Orthopraxy rather than Orthodoxy.

        Personally I don’t think it is unfair for different groups of Jews to create their own criteria for self-definition as “Orthodox”. I have no problem with a Centrist Orthodox Jew choosing for himself or with his community the meaning of Orthodoxy and then defining Liberal Orthodox Jews out of the pail and I don’t see that as unfair at all. They disagree. I also have no problem with libveral Jews saying “no we are Orthodox too”.

        I do think there are some cases like R. Yitz greenberg (who I should have included on my list!) who publically has stated beliefs that are so hard to reconcile with any semblence of Orthodoxy as to make identifying as orthodox difficult.

      • Strange says:

        I will say though that I did leave an opening for the possibility that they may be Orthopractic in their own self-definition even if publically they don’t say so, in that way I implied that they “may” be examples of Orthopraxy rather than that they are such examples. But I think anyone who gets to be acquainted with what they have to teach (I flirted with Open Orthodoxy for a bit as a possible comprimise for my lack of Orthodoxy in general… it was still too Orthodox) can’t possibly avoid at least wondering if they fully identify as Orthodox.

  3. Ephraim says:

    Another pedestrian post. Sounds like something lifted from Auslander without the humor and neurosis. And it again indicates you’re a fraud and probably had little formal education beyond the Yeshiva level. Write something smart to convince me otherwise. (Or at least write something that sounds like it comes for someone living the life of a rabbi. But you don’t really know that life, do you?)

    • Eli says:

      Why the hostility? Where’s your curiosity? Or are you only interested in your own views?

      • Am HaAretz says:

        What is Ephraim really saying “l’chora”? OPR is not yeshivish enough to be legitimate. Maybe if OPR misspelled every other word and said “mamash” in every sentence, then he would be legitimate.

  4. Abe says:

    “And it again indicates you’re a fraud and probably had little formal education beyond the Yeshiva level.”

    Why that should be perfect for an Orthodox rabbi.

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    “This is not a post on the trope of Yirah vs. Ahava; that is an argument and discussion fit for a post-high school yeshiva dormitory, not for us here”

    It *is* fit for discussion by someone holding a PHD in psychology. See the following article by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin(pages 5-6), discussing the pagan conception of a Diety, which some, sadly, relate to Hashem:


    “Such was the ancient concepts of the gods… the world was populated by numerous powerful, capricious and unseen creatures who controlled the
    destiny and fortunes of mankind, creatures who were spiritual only in the sense that they were invisible and immortal but were material in every
    other sense…. They could look benignly on human affairs or they could
    vent their anger… Men paid homage and brought sacrifices… in the
    fervent hope that the gods would be appeased and would not bring misery
    and sorrow to mankind (Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman, 1995, pp. 18-29).”

    Two notes:

    1) The article shows a good balance of Ahavah vs. Yirah, in general.

    2) See, as well, an extrordinary comment in footnote # 20 by R. Wolbe regarding other common anxiety-inducing issues in youth.

    My own contention is that, possibly, it is not only the developmental issues themselves(ie, a desire for pleasure) which might cause “Off the Derech”, but rather a lack of dealing with sexuality, in general, in terms of personal feelings, and in terms of emotional and psychological depth, rather than only in terms of mussar and spiritual terms(which is vital as well).

  6. cp says:

    Do you really believe that you’ve reached a point of no return and that you’re finished believing in God (if you ever did)? If you have been tormented by these things for a while, why suddenly give up and stop thinking? It seems to me that if you’re a thinking person, then you will continue to wrestle with this question on and off perhaps for the rest of your life. That’s what thinking people do. They go through these painful times of doubt. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to belief, because you can’t prove one way or another (despite numerous attempts in in previous comments here and in general). There have been much smarter people than all of us here who have debated this issue quite convincingly on both sides. I choose not to believe that the foundation of what has brought my family and me to the point where we are today is all based on a lie.

    • OTD says:

      >But at the end of the day, it all comes down to belief, because you can’t prove one way or another

      Fine. No one knows if there’s a God. Some like to guess and say that there is, and some like to guess and say that there is not. If you’re okay with belief in God, why are you not okay with non-belief in God? If it’s all eenie meenie minie mo, why are you so sure of yourself? Double standard?

      >I choose not to believe

      ‘Nuff said.

      • cp says:

        I think we’re sort of on the same page. People can believe what they want. The major problem that I have is that there might be an atheist who is occupying the pulpit of an Orthodox synagogue. That’s just plain fraud. In the simple legal text of standard Constitutions and by-laws of Orthodox synagogues, the rabbi is required to follow halacha. This person, by his own admission, does not. That’s usually grounds for dismissal.

    • OTD says:

      >The major problem that I have is that there might be an atheist who is occupying the pulpit of an Orthodox synagogue.

      I don’t see what’s so bad about a rabbi being an atheist. To paraphrase Hillel, “if only more were like him!”

      I think the Orthodox world has far worse problems than heresy. Not only that most are too afraid to question and therefore their belief is a joke, and not only that most who do question end up disbelieving. The rabbinate is full of corruption. Read some of the juicier blogs, and you’ll find a never-ending daily stream of the worst kinds of scandals and abuses going in the Orthodox world, often by the highest powers. Child molestation, infighting, stealing, racism, the list goes on and on. Do you think a person who treats others well but does not have a belief in a deity is worse than someone who behaves like a pig but at least claims to have a strong belief in God?

      This Orthodox obsession with belief and faith is offensive for a umber of reasons. One is that it makes questioning almost an impossible task. Another is that it focuses so much on ideology and largely overlooks ethics. R’ Yisrael Salanter said your friend’s gashmius should be like your ruchnius, and Hillel said the entire Torah is just a peirush on “love your neighbor as thyself.” This current Orthodox obsession with belief and faith is not only ripe for abuse and hypocrisy, it entirely overlooks what most of us would probably agree is the key feature of religion, and that is to teach people how to be ethical. It makes the tafel the ikar and the ikar the tafel and that is, to me, the greatest crime of most fundamentalist, dogmatic religions, and it’s the main reason I’m a flaming atheist. It’s also the number one reason why people like me get so disillusioned with your religion, even before getting into intellectual problems.

    • EMET49 says:

      I think that if the OPR is correct than the foundation of your family’s life is not a lie but it is a falsity. A lie implies intention. Disbelief of the Sinai story and the whole concept of Hashem does not imply that the humans who crafted the story were lying in their writing. They believed it and, certainly, had been told the story orally. However, per the OPR, it was false, not a lie.

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    Here is another PHD holder–Dr. Yael Respler–who traces **some** of the OTD problems to a lack of balance of Ahavah vs. Yirah; clearly, this is mature and sophisticated discussion, rather than one only for “post-high school yeshiva dormitory” students:


    “I truly believe that a person’s relationship with Hashem is closely connected to his/her relationship with his/her parents. Often times in my practice, I find that when someone does not have ahavas (love for) or yiras (fear of) Hashem, he/she generally does not have a good relationship with his/her parents. Furthermore, when someone has a relationship with his/her parents based on fear, I frequently see that this individual’s relationship with Hashem is based on yir’ah. Those I observe who have a relationship with their parents based on ahavah and yir’ah, by and large have that kind of relationship with Hashem. While you did not mention your parents in your letter, I wonder if some of your feelings are deeply rooted in the way you feel about them.”

    • Am HaAretz says:

      Shades of Gray – You make some very insightful points. Nicely done. I agree with you that there is a corollary between a child’s relationship with his/her parents and our Creator.

      I firmly believe that your theory holds true if you are talking about a person that has not been exposed to philosophy, science, and biblical criticism. Once you expose an uninitiated mind to the works of Spinoza, Voltaire, Darwin, Marx, Freud and other geniuses of their day, then your theory falls by the wayside.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        I agree that she’s not dealing with the intellectual part, and it doesn’t look like she’s speaking to such a person. However, perhaps emotional aspects can help some OTD, or secular Jews in part feel closer to Judaism.

        Someone can study, say, Freud and see Judaism as totally secular, and even be anti-Jewish; somone else, with a love of Judaism and Jewish community, will be more positive, and possibly be open to other intellectual arguments, such as those psychologists who are more supportive of religion. Even if one still has some, or alot, of cognitive dissonance due to intellectual aspects, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and certainly from a religous perspective there is “the light of Torah can bring back to better”.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        I agree that Torah is not “all or nothing”, though some in the Charedi world disagree.

        Flexidox/Orthoprax is the way to go in my opinion, but it is a much more difficult path than people care to recognize. Someone who is Orthoprax recognizes the beauty of the Torah way of life but is not fully Orthodox, because in many ways they are intellectually aligned with rabid anti-religionists such as Spinoza, Voltaire, or Hitchens.

        I want you everyone to truly appreciate how special it is to be Orthoprax. We are people whose intellectual repertoire simultaneously embraces the entire gamut of Jewish Thought from Moshe Rabbeinu to Baruch Spinoza. Orthoprax people want all the benefits of Torah without sacrificing their intellectual honesty. The Torah has segments that are sublime and at times many of us flirt with the idea that it is a Divine document, but once we sober up from our temporary theological delusion, we remember that this fabrication is of mortal and human origin.

  8. R. E. L. says:

    Without disagreeing on your larger point, i.e. the large role fear actually plays in Orthodox society, I would argue that the “trope” of yirah vs. ahava is exactly on point. It may be that ahava is given too much lip service and not enough practice, but it is certainly the case that some Orthodox Jews’ religious experience is one of love and not fear.

    • Am HaAretz says:

      A relationship with the Creator motivated by fear is inferior to a relationship motivated by love. Love is superior to fear. This is Judaism 101.

      The influence of living in a predominantly Christian country has taken its toll on Jews growing up in America.

      Fear is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. Christian claims are so ignorant and implausible, that the early Church fathers were forced to threaten people with Eternal Hell for non-compliance. In order for such a ridiculous “New Testament” to grab a foothold on the minds of so many people, an even more ridiculous claim was made to scare people into compliance (i.e. accept Yoshke as your personal lord and savior or burn in hell for eternity). Are you willing to take the chance if you are wrong?

      Keep the filth from Christianity out of Judaism. This is not to say the Jewish People have nothing to learn from Christians, but the indoctrination of fear into our youth is a very dangerous path and it serves no purpose other than producing zombies that do not think for themselves.

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    So there should be no confusion about what I meant before, I quote below** from an excerpt from Tzelem, which can be adopted by parents as well, as opposed to in schools.

    This is very related to this post, in terms of talking about unecessary anxiety.

    This is also distinct from mussar, or limiting exposure to destructive media content, the emotional aspects, being necessary compliments to both of these two latter vital elements. If the community would deal with the emotional aspect which exists independent of the media simply due to human development, perhaps some of the OTD issues would be solved as well, and we wouldn’t have Chasdim on Unpious.com discussing such issues as much.
    “Additionally, even in the absence of a highly sexualized modern culture, the total void of any systematic education which addresses such a fundamental part of personal development within a Jewish context is problematic. Children and teenagers in yeshiva day schools require more information, guidance, direct conversation and opportunities to ask questions about issues of intimacy and Judaism that are so often on their minds”


  10. Shades of Gray says:

    “I agree that Torah is not “all or nothing”, though some in the Charedi world disagree.”

    I wasn’t arguing in favor of the acceptability of Orthopraxy, as you are(it may be better than nothing, but it’s not where someone should aim to stay, from an Orthodox perspective). But be that as it may, a better balance of “Ahavah vs. Yirah” can certainly help people from going OTD, and possibly, help some to be more open to other intellectual alternative approaches, than those which challenge the Torah.

    • OTD says:

      Shades of Gray: >a better balance of “Ahavah vs. Yirah” can certainly help people from going OTD

      You talk as if going OTD is a bad thing. Admittedly, you’re entitled to be wrong, but for someone who is on the fence or aiming to be open-minded, how would you propose to support that? The fact of the matter is the majority of the Earth’s population, including the vast majority of Jews, do not see being Orthodox as a good thing, and would probably consider OTDness far more preferable to living an Orthodox life. Once you get rid of your bias and Orthodox assumptions, what’s left? And how is it fair to expect others, especially children, to share your assumptions and biases, again, considering that most of the world’s population does not see eye to eye with you. Don’t you think it’s a lot more fair to show children all kinds of ways and freely allow them to explore and choose religious paths which are most meaningful to them, as opposed to expecting and demanding that they share your fear/love ideas and Respler nonsense? And if yes, is the entire Orthodox community not guilty of violating this basic human right?

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “You talk as if going OTD is a bad thing. Admittedly, you’re entitled to be wrong, but for someone who is on the fence or aiming to be open-minded, how would you propose to support that? ”

        I do think that to be Orthodox is a good thing(perhaps I’m bias), although I’m not judging anyone who is OTD.

      • OTD says:

        >I do think that to be Orthodox is a good thing(perhaps I’m bias), although I’m not judging anyone who is OTD.

        Well, as I’ve said, the majority of the world disagrees with you. Maybe we should both spend more time proving why being Orthodox is a good or a bad thing (or maybe just allowing everyone to choose the path that’s best for them, after being given ALL the information, like yeshivas will never do), instead of assuming it.

        You say you’re not judging anyone, but you seem to hold that OTDs had bad relationships with their parents and have sexual issues (because everyone else is just SO well-adjusted lol). i dunno.

    • Am HaAretz says:

      This is the typical arrogance I have come to expect from the Orthodox cult of intolerance. Tolerance is just not in the vocabulary of a Bible Thumper.

      What if I said my ideal position would be to cleanse humanity from all religion? What if I said the ideal position from someone who is Orthoprax is to DESTROY and CLEANSE all religion and fairy tales from humanity? That would be rude, so I will not say it.

      Do you see how rude and offensive it is to share comments construed as arrogant?

      Christian proselytizing is often performed out of insecurity of one’s own beliefs and/or because said Christian will only be “content” if they spread their beliefs to others. Orthodox Judaism has adopted so many of these undesirable traits of evangelical Christians. Often I cannot tell the difference between an Orthodox Jew and a goy off the street.

      As an Orthoprax Jew, I go out of my way to accept all PEOPLE that are not engaging in activity that is harmful to me. The majority of Jews are not Orthodox and for good reason. Did you get the memo? We are no longer living in the Bronze Age AND all religion was fabricated by mortals. Shkoyach!

      • Shades of Gray says:

        I’ll wish you a good night; I’m not trying to win this exchange.

        I can say that I think deeply about many of the same questions you do, and try to treat others with dignity in discussion–Orthodox or not.

        I was raised to think that Orthodoxy is correct– sue me if you like, or find someone else who can explain Orthodoxy’s positions better than me 🙂

      • Am HaAretz says:

        I also wish you a goodnight. Take everything I say with a grain of salt. I am venting a little bit as I transition out of the Ultra-Orthodox world.

      • Dov Kramer says:

        >>Did you get the memo?<<

        I believe that "memo" was written by humans, so not everyone accepts its divinity.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        >>>I believe that “memo” was written by humans, so not everyone accepts its divinity.<<<

        Thank you Dov for the comment. I appreciate you taking the opportunity to showcase your affinity for witticisms, but your logic is fundamentally flawed. Who claimed the "memo" was divine? You made a false claim by establishing a false premise.

        Perhaps you should examine your head. It appears a mind virus is occupying your thoughts. You are currently under the grips of a theological delusion. And like all delusions, the person who is delusional is unaware.

  11. Yoni says:

    Wow, what a wonderful blog. I fell off the derech about ten years ago and managed to live a ‘devout’ Orthoprax lifestyle during much of that time, all the while knowing that it was a sham. I grew up in black hat yeshivas, studied in Israel for two years, and continued learning throughout my college years.

    My public departure is still on-going, but in grades. I don’t wear a kippah, I eat in non-kosher restaurants even in my home neighborhood, but I don’t (yet) violate Shabbos publicly. My kids go to Orthodox yeshivas but I’m experimenting this upcoming year with a more left-leaning Hebrew day school (spousal approval to be determined).

    My biggest dilemma (or my wife’s) is what to do with this marriage we’re in. We both love each other and have made a comfortable life together, and my stubborn inability to live the (phony) outward OrthoPrax lifestyle has the potential to change all that entirely.

    I’m not convinced that giving up my stable life is worth the trade-off of having to sit in shul every week, but I’m beyond that now. I haven’t gone in months, and the spousal nagging has decreased over time. When her parents are around I try my best to pretend (ie I go to shul, sometimes, and wear a yarmulka – my own parents already know the extent to which I’ve departed) which goes a long way in keeping my marriage stable.

    All of this is such a new experience. We are both feeling our way through life like a blind man with no cane. It sure makes things interesting.

  12. Jacob Stein says:

    Fear can be a positive thing. How about fear of illegal drugs, fear of STDs, fear of lung cancer caused by cigarettes?

    The question is, is the fear of God rational or not. I certainly think so.

    • Am HaAretz says:


      Interesting examples that you use, which appear to give me a logical opening to say the following:

      I fear lung cancer from smoking cigarettes, therefore I DO NOT smoke.
      I fear addiction and brain damage from using drugs , therefore I DO NOT use drugs.
      I fear STDs, therefore I DO NOT sleep with random partners.
      I fear God, therefore I DO NOT believe in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.

      I am an atheist in regards to the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. The Jews killed God, remember, therefore God is a dead Jew, like the Lebavitcher Rebbe.

      North Korean citizens also are indoctrinated to think that Kim Jong Il’s deceased father is God. Wow now you know something the plurality of Chabad has in common with North Korea.

      • Dov Kramer says:

        If you really “feared G-d,” the parable wouldn’t lead to not believing in Him (which would be like not believing smoking leads to cancer, etc.).

        To follow the logic you started, you should have written:

        “I fear G-d, therefore I DO NOT do anything that would arouse His wrath.”

        Of course, you could have written instead:

        “I love being healthy, therefore I do not smoke, drink, do drugs, or sleep around. I love being like the Creator, therefore I do not do anything that glorifies the physical while diminishing the spiritual.”

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Dov you missed the line of reasoning. J Stein was quoting examples of things that most reasonable people avoid coming into contact with at all costs because of fear.

        Thus I extrapolated God as an example of something to avoid at all costs. Any cult professing to absolutely know the will of God is something to be avoided at all costs, including rabid atheism. The truth if you are interested in searching for it lies somewhere in the middle.

      • Dov Kramer says:

        Allow me to repeat:

        Fearing G-d is to not believing He exists the same way that fearing getting lung cancer from smoking is to not believing smoking causes it.

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    “but the indoctrination of fear into our youth is a very dangerous path”

    I argued that a better approach of Ahavah vs. Yirah is needed, and for dealing with children and teenager’s fears and emotions better(including sexuality, in the approach of Sarah Diament and others), but I am **not** throwing out Yirah!

    Rabbi Avroham Eliyahu Kaplan of Slabodka and Hildesheimer Seminary in Berlin wrote a monumental essay called “B’Ikvos HaYir’ah”, concerning which R. Yechzkel Sarna, a well-known ethicist wrote that “this essay could have been written by one of the fathers of Mussar…this is not an essay, rather a unique synopsis of immersion in profound thoughts and ideas”.

    Here is a partial quote from the link(admittedly, it takes work to accomplish what he discusses!):


    “Yir’ah is not anguish, not pain, not bitter anxiety. To what may yir’ah be likened? To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable. And the fear tied up with them is pleasant too. It does not impede the freedom of dance… It passes through them like a spinal column that straightens and strengthens. And it envelops them like a modest frame that lends grace and pleasantness… It is clear to the father that his son is riding securely upon him and will not fall back, for he constantly remembers him, not for a moment does he forget him. His son’s every movement, even the smallest, he feels, and he ensures that his son will not sway from his place, nor incline sideways – his heart is, therefore, sure, and he dances and rejoices. If a person is sure that the “bundle” of his life’s meaning is safely held high by the shoulders of his awareness, he knows that this bundle will not fall backwards, he will not forget it for a moment, he will remember it constantly, with yir’ah he will safe keep it. If every moment he checks it – then his heart is confident, and he dances and rejoices…”

    • OTD says:

      This is the cheesiest stuff I ever read in my life.

    • Am HaAretz says:

      Once again you bring a nice mushel. This nearly inspirational example of Jewish Thought deserves analysis. There are many types of fear. The excerpt exemplifies a fuzzy, feel good, childish fear that aptly portrays the infantilism permeating too much of Orthodox Jewish Thought.

      What if I am about to have intercourse with a married woman or make a shady business deal or slaughter a pig at the kotel on Yom Kippur (ahh, bacon). I should be concerned about not dropping the hypothetical child on my shoulders? What kind of naurishkeit is that?

      If I had intercourse with a married woman, I would fear that she would get pregnant. I might also fear that her husband would retaliate against me.
      If I made a shady business deal, I would be afraid of the consequences of getting caught.
      If I slaughtered a pig at the kotel on Yom Kippur, I would be afraid of getting assaulted by the kanoyim praying to a stupid wall filled with filthy, unscrupulous beggars.

      I remember one absolute moron telling me that I would get struck by lightning for rejecting the idea of na’aseh v’nishmah. That guy had authentic Jesus-like fear indoctrinated in him from his youth. This is the type of fear that Biblical Literalism requires, and the obscurantists pretend like the fuzzy, feel good fear is all that is required.

      I do not fear this man-made God at all. I fear ignorant Orthodox Rabbis that are using the fabricated Torah as a vehicle for parnassah, and are trying to indoctrinate my family.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “The excerpt exemplifies a fuzzy, feel good, childish fear that aptly portrays the infantilism permeating too much of Orthodox Jewish Thought.”

        I don’t think that it’s infantile.

        If you find someone who exemplifies this balance of “fear vs. love” well, rather than just read about it cursorily, and you are willing to appreciate how people’s mindsets are different and unique, it could be easier to appreciate the classical Jewish value. Then again, you are free to disagree.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Balancing fear v. love of God and appreciating the steps to achieve this balance is wonderful in theory. The difficulty is that some of us do not desire to live a lie. Look at the primary sources. Read Chumash. Read Mishnayos. 3000+ years of distillation has produced a nice tradition, but there are still many remnants of the antiquated and barbaric origins of a tradition commencing in the Bronze Age.

        It is already difficult enough to be a Jew in this world. All intolerance is incorrigible, but the intolerance displayed by the Orthodoxy is utterly reprehensible.

  14. Ava says:

    It’s sheer, not shear.

  15. Jacob Stein says:

    “The Jews killed God, remember, ”

    That must have slipped my mind.

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    “You say you’re not judging anyone, but you seem to hold that OTDs had bad relationships with their parents and have sexual issues (because everyone else is just SO well-adjusted lol). i dunno.”

    Not all OTD’s have issues with their parent’s or have sexual issues(I have no idea of the statistics), but from the perspective of trying to *prevent* OTD, it certainly is important to take that into consideration when educating children. As far as frum people, I never said there are never any issues with these or with other pathologies–there clearly are–just as there are well-adjusted people in both the frum, and in secular communities.

    • OTD says:

      If you think OTDness is a mental illness, fine, just say so. Your saying you don’t judge us implies you accept us and see nothing wrong with it, which you clearly do, as you claim we have sexual and parenthood issues. Yes, it’s very generous of you to concede that not *all* of us are so disadvantaged, and that you have no statistics that support the claim that *all* of us are messed up. I imagine, of course, that you have studies that show that at lest *some* of us are messed up?

      Oh. I see how this works. First you assume that Orthodoxy is correct. What follows is that there is probably something wrong with those who are not Orthodox, especially those who are off the derech. It is thus semi-logical to conclude that those who are off the derech most likely have daddy and sexual issues. Or something. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      Reminds me of my favorite words from the Shabbos davening: Dracheha darchei noam v’chal nesivoseha shalom. not!

      • Shades of Gray says:


        For the final time–I am not judging you!

        Each person is an individual, and for all I know, you are better than me, and than many people in the Orthodox world in various ways. I am just expressing my opinion–and I do not represent Orthodoxy– on some issues, which may or may not be correct, so feel free to disagree.

        All the best!

      • OTD says:

        My point is just that for you to assert that OTDers have sexuality and parenthood issues is evil.

        That is all.

  17. HaMasorti says:

    The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts, in 1620.
    Jamestown was founded, in what is now Virginia, in 1608.

    The Mayflower, being full of virulently Calvinist Protestant Separatists, would have been most unwelcome in Anglican Virginia. So it is probably for the best that the Mayflower never set sail for (nor arrived at) Jamestown.

    That is all.

    • G*3 says:

      To make it worse, the Puritans abourd the Mayflower were not fleeing in fear from persecution in England, but had left England for the Netherlands, then the Netherlands for the New World looking for a place where they would be free to persecute anyone who didn’t adhere to their very strict fundamentalist religous rules.

  18. Anonymous says:

    You spelled sheer wrong. I’m not really inclined to take you seriously. With the amount of education you claim to have, you should know how to spell basic middle-school words.

    That being said, you still have not given concrete reasons for your lack of belief in God. As someone who was formerly OTD and thought she was never coming back, I think that you have to admit that there’s always a chance.

    However, I also don’t think that there’s anything wrong with an Orthoprax rabbi as long as he believes that Judaism holds some value. You may scoff at some of Chazal’s decisions, but you also have to concede that they were from an older, and perhaps smarter, generation. The arrogance that you appear to have is appalling, and I wouldn’t want even a genuine Orthodox rabbi to possess that quality.

  19. ima2seven says:

    I have been following your posts. I am shocked and amazed and intrigued, but mostly sad. It sounds like a sad situation to be in for you, your family, and ultimately your congregation as well. Many of the comments people have been posting (and there are so many!) make me sad as well.

    I just wanted to say that the contemporary Orthodox Judaism you describe isn’t mine. It hasn’t been my experience, and my relationship with Hashem is not based around fear. I do not live in fear of standing out (I do) or being too frum (I am) or not frum enough (I’m that too.)

    I wrote a piece called “Aseh L’cha Rav”, about how my Orthodox, very Orthodox Rabbi makes me continually feel more connected to Hashem. Not fearful, not scared to be honest.

    It seems to me that if you are so completely done and are not struggling at all, then why the blog? The struggle itself sounds like some kind of relationship to me. I hope you can find some answers. I don’t think you seem to be getting them from most of your comments.

    I also wonder how your understanding of Orthodoxy as based around fear has created that feeling in your congregation as you describe it. Or at least encouraged it? I hope your congregants can “Aseh L’chem Rav” in such a way that their Rabbi can help them feel prouder, happier, more loved and motivated and in awe of Hashem every moment of every day, without making them feel inspired or motivated through fear. What a burden to relate to G-d through fear.

    B’hatzlacha; I hope that somewhere you find and really feel the joy.

  20. Holy Hyrax says:

    Orthoprax Rabbi

    Do you believe some fear is a good thing? You know, like a healthy fear of parents for example?

    • Fear, as every emotion has its place. For example, the New York Times recently ran an article on how blowing one’s top can be a good thing. I do, however, think that a realtionship should never be based upon fear. Thus, I don’t think a fear of one’s parents is a good thing, reverence perhaps but fear seems to be too much. Unless you mean fear of disappointment, and limited to children. Perhaps, in that case, depending upon other relationship factors, that is, if they have a loving, nuturing relationship and the child respects their parents to the point that they want to emulate them and the child is fearful of failing, that may be healthy. Again, with emotions and relationships it is hard to generalize (although, admittedly, I am a bit guilty of that in this post).

      • Holy Hyrax says:

        >I do, however, think that a realtionship should never be based upon fear. Thus, I don’t think a fear of one’s parents is a good thing, reverence perhaps but fear seems to be too much.

        Why not? Like what you said, everything has its place. I am not talking about rattling in your boots at your parents, but I think a healthy fear is good. Reverence, is a great thing, but I think it takes discipline to properly achieve it. I believe in the mean time, some sort of fear, (ie, a separation almost of knowing where you are and where your parents are) is needed. Maybe we are saying the same thing here. So maybe that is how fear needs to translated to God. To know our place in front of God like we know our place in front of our parents. To fear disappointing them Both. Maybe fear, even, is needed. We are only human and sometimes we want to do the wrong thing. A fear (a very primitive form), when push comes to shove will often force us to do the right thing. We were all kids once and its due to fear that we listened to our parents and ended up doing the right thing (whether our selfish human needs at the time wanted it or not)

      • I think we are essentially saying the same thing. I only ment to distinguish between fear that is borne out of violence or the like versus fear that is borne out of reverernce.

  21. Eli says:

    I’m very surprised that all the comments seem to assume the “question” of God’s existence is cognitive. Can’t someone experience the reality of God in their life? Is it belief that “answers” the “question”? Can’t we be open to the possibility that one can actually experience God’s presence here and now? It can happen.

    • Yitzi says:

      Eli, in response to your question: All of our experience is cognitive. Our emotions, our sophisticated ideas, our simple “instincts”, etc. What experience does not have its origin in our brain? What do you mean exactly?

      If you are referring to what is generally called a “mystical” relationship to G.od, then I would say that this is also cognitive but of a different order to say the argument from design. The problem with the mystical approach is its inherent subjectivity. If Judaism, like all religions, is inherently a communual, social experience, how do you communicate mysticism? It would seem almost antithetical to the mystical experience which has some affinity with the prophetic. Mystics, like false prophets, have been dismissed as crackpots because their mystical and highly subjective relationship to Hashem cannot be taught. Establishes religious authorities have generally seen mystics as dangerous because they implicitly or explicitly claim a special relationship to the divine. I therefore don’t dismiss your idea that mystical experiences can happen but I don’t think it is generally a part of the institutional manifestations of our faith.

      • Eli says:

        Yitzi, I’ve been thinking how to answer your question.
        If one uses “cognitive” to mean occurring in the brain, then yes, all experience is cognitive. But that’s not how “cognitive” is generally used. When we look out at the world, we’re not thinking “All this, all this is in my brain.” Deducing, reasoning, thinking about God based on Torah passages gets us to a lifeless abstraction, a vague and formless Maimonidean kind of God.
        I’m saying something different. Throughout history, there have been Jews(and I believe others) that have experienced God’s presence directly, in dreams, sometimes in the same room with themselves, so to speak. Not just the patriarchs, but rabbis in “the orchard” or the Baal Shem who claimed to have had a conversation with the Messiah. I believe he really did. When I was younger, I had some experiences, not so exalted as the previously mentioned, but real nonetheless. I’m sixty now and almost died last year, and I’m not so reluctant to keep the knowledge of the possibility of these kinds of encounters with God unspoken of. I believe there have been others like me. A person experiencing an existential crisis where transformational forces are at work in his/her life, open to the possibility that God can reveal Himself to them, wanting more than anything for that to happen, and willing to be very patient is the kind of person God “visits”. It’s something God does for his own purposes, not something we can make happen. I didn’t “merit” my encounter with God; I’m not a particularly good person. It just happened to me. I’ve puzzled over their meaning for more than forty years while I’ve blundered along living my life. Just knowing that He’s there and He sees us, sees me, has affected me. I don’t what His purposes are. But I pray every day that His will is illuminated in my heart so I can do it. Keeping the mitzvot helps me do that.
        One last thing about what the fear of God was like for me. Imagine walking along out in the country side and turning around and seeing a three hundred foot tidal wave looming over you, just hovering there. That’s the kind of fear one has when God appears.

  22. Ephraim says:

    Why is it that the comments here are much more intelligent than the original post? Could it be that our blogger is an ignorant fraud?

    • Am HaAretz says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying Ephraim, but lets dig a little deeper in the sugya. Most people that go off the derech are much more educated in the secular fields than rabbis.

      The quality of education at yeshivas in North America is utterly frightening. I would conjecture that the majority of yeshiva kids graduating from high school are between 2-8 years behind in secular studies. Their ability to communicate on paper is non-existent. Spelling. Forget it. Math. Never heard of it. Most of them do not learn how to type.

      If the rabbi had better employment opportunities, then why would he have any problems leaving his kehilla?

      I am not convinced that the blogger claiming to be an MO pulpit rabbi is a fraud, and I am not convinced that our blogger is authentic. Only time will tell.

  23. Shades of Gray says:


    In response to your previous comment, I quote from page 2 of the linked article. This may apply to *some* not *all* , and even to those, in *part* not a *complete* explanation, as OTD is a complex issue.


    “Much attention has recently been paid in the frum community to those youngsters
    who act out their emotional distress by rebelling against yiddishkeit. I contend that
    perfectionism is, in effect, an internalized version of the same phenomenon. Rather than rebelling, these youngsters react to their feelings of failure, rejection and disappointment by trying to be perfect, in a desperate attempt to gain the recognition and acceptance that they lack and so desperately crave”.

  24. Mahla says:

    I hope the Orthoprax Rabbi posts again soon. I would like to hear more about his journey from belief into wherever he is at now. I would also like more commentators who are actually Orthodox Jews to comment more on why they think he is a hoax.

    By this I mean, not attacking him, but just laying out why they believe so.

    • David says:

      OK, out of curiousity: 1) who are you? 2) what’s with the headscarf? 3) why are you curious about what Orthodox Jews think?

      • mahla says:


        1. Who are you?

        I’m Mahla. :^) Don’t know quite how else to answer such a broadly worded question. No offense meant with the brief answer there!

        2. What’s with the headscarf?

        I was technically born as a Muslim, hold dual citizenship with a ~very~ strictly Islamic country & sometimes wear hijab as a nod to my cultural heritage. Also, to send pictures back home to my family; if I were not in ‘proper hijab’ my personal photographs could be intercepted & could not reach my dad, sisters & brothers when I try to send them. Presently, I am agnostic but very-open minded. I am very curious about various religious practices.

        3. Why do you care what Orthodox Jews think?

        I am curious what Orthodox Jews think because I’m not one, and I’m also not psychic. Obviously, Orthodox Jews are going to have a MUCH more informed & nuanced take on this this blog than I am.

  25. Yitzi says:

    Bottom line: Much of Judaism makes no sense but from a sociological point we need to continue to keep shabbos, mitzvos et kacher because otherwise we will disappear! Even if you think it is nonsense, remember that Jews and the entire world are better off with a more diverse religious landscape. Imagine if the whole world were one form of Christianity? How boring!

    • G*3 says:

      Is it worth it? Is maintaining a diversity of religions worth the costs of a OJ lifestyle? Is it even worth it for somone who’s entire religious effort is going to church a few times a year? Just do that it won’t be boring?

    • S. Benson says:

      If it is a Judaism without God or Torah and it is merely a sociological phenomenon, then what is the harm is disappearing? Species come and go. Ethnic groups, tribes, and groups come and go. Why not the Jews? Is society so much richer because a fraction of a percentage (I think Jews make up ~0.2 % of the world) are Jews? And *maybe* 0.06% keep some form of kashrut? Do Jews add so much diversity to the world? Remember, too, that it is only in the “western” world that Christianity is the majority. Let’s not forget Muslims, Hindus, etc.

  26. Sarah says:

    you write: Fear of God, of reputation, of social standing, of shidduch, of shul membership, of whispers, of being to frum, of being less frum.

    well, which is it – spiritual fear, or social fear? if you’re grouping them all together (notably the first) then your version of fear of G-d isn’t spiritual, it’s to please those around you too. I agree with you – who needs that? I think many take a wrong turn once they ascribe too much godliness to the humans around them.

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