Why do I write?

Why do I write

Some people have questioned the existence and propriety of this site. First, no one is forcing anyone to read this. If you don’t like it or you aren’t interested, don’t waste your time here, there is so much out there, go enjoy yourself. Second, regarding the propriety. I acknowledge that my position may make some uncomfortable. Indeed, those who are strictly orthodox may be offended by this, but why does anyone write. In this instance, I write for myself, it forces me to examine my own life. Moreover, I hope that I can help others who may either be on the same path as myself or may be where I am already at the end of the orthodox path and blazing another.

Communication is a fairly basic need. Recent studies have shown that removing one’s ability to communicate can be as harmful as physical torture. The internet, of course, has been a boon to communication, it has allowed for all sorts of people, who beforehand would have been unable to air whatever they think is important to do so. Indeed, what the Church feared most about the printing press is the spread of heretical ideas (not much changes in 500 years).

But, while communication may be a basic need, what about a rabbi communicating about his beliefs or non-beliefs? There is a history here as well. R. Judah Areyeh of Modena, who lived in the 17th century in Italy and was on the Venice bet din (that is, he was an accepted rabbi) had a book which contains a terrific critique of rabbinic Judaism. Modena certainly authored a response to this book, but the response was weak which has lead some to conclude that he wasn’t really trying to refute the findings of the anti-rabbinic work, to the contrary he authored not only the response but the actual book. That would make Modena the first blogging atheist or orthoprax rabbi. By the way, his commentary still appears in the Eyn Yaakov (the collection of various aggadot). Oh and the really orthodox recite one of his prayers on Yom Kippur Katon (the day before the first of the month where the especially pious or those who just like suffering, fast and say special prayers). [Yes, I am aware that he had a gambling problem but none of us are perfect – even Moses sinned.] Thus, to put an Orthodox spin on it, I have asked my rabbi – Modena – and followed him. We are like midgets on the shoulders of giants.

While my day job may force me to be a mouthpiece for Orthodoxy, it doesn’t mean I can’t ever share my own views. This is my chosen medium, this is my printing press, my own mouthpiece for my own ideas. That is why I write.

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49 Responses to Why do I write?

  1. SJ says:

    לא תרשה את המזלזלים לרפות אותך

  2. Lady-Light says:

    Ok, I’ll try a second time. You never answered the questions I posed in my first comment. I really want to know your explanation for certain things, among them (not in any particular order):
    1) If as an atheist, you don’t believe in the existence of a Creator, how in your view did mankind ‘come about’? The universe? Life?
    2) In your opinion, is Judaism “true” (did the events in the Torah actually happen), or is it “fake” – made up, one man’s so-called ‘vision’ or ‘prophecy’ which no one can prove.
    3) What about the major defining event in Judaism, the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, witnessed by thousands, maybe even a million people. How do you explain it?
    4) Is the State of Israel an accident? Or is it the beginning of the fulfillment of Hashem’s prophecy to restore Am Yisrael to its place, and the return of the Shechinah to Yerushalayim which will be recognized by all the nations?

    That’s a start. I am really hoping to hear from you…
    kol tuv

  3. The Way says:

    Hello Rabbi,

    I am happy for you. I am glad that you have found some peace and understanding.

    Perhaps this was addressed already, you’re such a popular guy I couldn’t wade through all the comments: how do you address the issue of participating in the indoctrination of religion and belief upon others?

    I do not intend to imply any judgment on finding a situation and making it work, but I imagine there is some internal conflict.

    Do you recognize the unique position you have created? Your choice of words in a speech or a private conversation may create new alternate paths for others. I wonder how you deal with these issues, how you will deal with these issues in the future.

    Have you considered moving to a more Reconstructionist style temple when your present contract ends?

    Be Well

    • For now, I haven’t considered other temples or the like. But, you bring up a good point. My role is to guide people and understanding what they are looking for, rather than what I am looking for, is how I craft my guidance.

      • The Way says:

        What if they don’t know what they are looking for? What if they are looking for your guidance and opinion because they think you know better, or see it clearer, or understand deeper? What if they follow your advice?

        I don’t know if lawyer or plumber is the best metaphor, perhaps cigarette advertising might be closer. Yes, there is an argument that ultimately each person makes their own decision. But advertising works, thats why they spend so much money on it. And it especially works on kids who are more malleable.

        Thanks for writing this blog. Hopefully as more Jews read this, simply the knowledge of you will influence people’s minds, even slightly. Although that thought might really freak out that jacob stein dude.

        Be Well

      • With respect to education and social skills, you seem to be describing the Chareidi world. I did not grow up Chareidi and nor am I araising my son in that manner. That is the least of my concerns. You bring up an excellent point regarding the little deaths I referenced and I have to say it is a bit of both. Mostly, though, I think they are connected in that if don’t share my secret, if I don’t show him what it really means—or doesn’t mean—he will repeat the cycle, for better or for worse, and I believe it will be for the latter.

  4. Ephraim says:

    I’m not still not convinced you’re real. Lifting material from the Seforim Blog is not impressive:

    …some then argue he was a closet heritic or perhaps in today’s vernacular- Orthoprax. That is, although R. Modena sat on the Venice Bet Din, wrote numerous traditional sefarim, and even authored on the selichot that is said on Yom Kippur Katan, in his heart he really did not believe in any of it.

    The blog still reeks of inauthenticity.

    • David says:

      “I’m not still not convinced you’re real.”
      And yet you persist in arguing with him. Either he’s real, or you’re psychotic.

      • sos says:

        I actually think his tactic here is to goad the rabbi into giving enough of a rabbinical speech that it may be possible to identify him. There is something very “inauthentic” about this “Ephraim”.

    • e says:

      The Orthoprax rabbi has enough tzores without a bunch of blog readers claiming that he’s lying, and I don’t want to make his crazy for no reason.

      But I also suspect that he’s not authentic. His writing ability is on the same level as the average blogger–that is to say not very high. A pulpit rabbi should be able to write better. Perhaps he can write better, but he just doesn’t have the time/energy to produce really polished stuff for the blog.

  5. mekubal says:

    Wow that is a lot of conjecture based on very little evidence.

    However even if you are correct, and he was some sort of agnostic, Orthoprax, which overall seems extraordinarily doubtful, what you miss is that, unlike you, he was at least Orthoprax. He kept Torah and mitzvot. While you do not, as you admit on your own blog.

    Therein lies the fraud of what you do.

    What would you do if you are ever called upon to be an eid for a Ketubah or Chas V’Shalom a Get? If asked as the spiritual leader to blow shofar on Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur?

    Being non-observant you stand in a position where people assume that you are, and thus allow, and even expect you to do things, which by Orthodox law, you are unqualified to do.

    You have said that belief in G-d was not part of your job description, however I am willing to bet that a valid Orthodox Semicha is. Go back and ask your teachers, those who gave you Semicha, if being an non-observant atheist qualifies you for semicha. My bet is if they knew they would strip you of it. So yes you are defrauding your congregants, and your actions have the potential to cause them serious emotional and religious harm.

  6. Yeah, the Orthodox world doesn’t let you communicate your true thoughts, so you need an outlet. I had the same thing, even after I left. I still had so much I wanted to say that I was never allowed to say that it took me a few years to get it all out. Now that I live in a world where I can say what I’m thinking, I mostly just comment on other people’s blogs. 🙂

  7. Only a Jew says:


    I must admit before I write this that it is quite possible that someone has written what I am about to write in other posts but I am A) too short on time and/or B) to lazy to look at a few hundred responses at this time. So I will write as if no one else has before me.

    Unlike many others, your position does not surprise me at all and I believe you are not alone, but might be part of a small number of people in your profession, but a larger number than most people think. How you got here surely doesn’t surprise me either. You were probably at the top of your class. You wanted to sit close to your rebbi–for you it was about the accomplishment, the competition. You learned and studied and did all the required work, but never cared about what it was all about just the accomplishment. Got married, did the kollel for everyone that is slowly destroying our people and one day you woke up and said-wait is there a G-d? None of this surprises me and as I said before there are more of you out there.

    I do think, while you are living quite the dishonest life, you make a false comparison to the lawyer or plumber. Most people in the world accept the fact that due to ridiculous jurisprudence lawyers are by and large dishonest b/c it’s required of them to find loopholes and stretch the truth, and plumbers are, well -plumbers. So to be fair, the true comparison is that you are more like the TV preacher/priest/evangelical who preys on his naive’ know nothing congregants with the appearance of righteousness, all the while laughing at them as suckers and idiots who fill his collection plate. The huckster who lets his little uneducated minions believe they are being led by someone who shares their beliefs, so much so that they up his contract, all the while not realizing he is mocking them each time he opens his mouth because he is in on a secret that only the truly wise can comprehend.

    I wonder if you ever speak from the pulpit about integrity or character. Living a purpose driven life or being able to pass on to your children that a man without integrity is a man who is dishonest at his very core and until he gets some form of congruency in his life, he will always be out of sorts. I have lived the life you practice. I have been that guy who acts one way, but believes another. What a tormenting and pitiful existence and I speak from experience. Does that bother you at all? Or do you justify everything you do by saying that a job that is assumed to be one of Spiritual leadership-and rightfully so- is the same as any other? What do you say to the mirror? Can you look him in the eye? I know it was hard for me to do. How about you?

    Rabbi, I don’t mean this next comment in a disparaging way so please understand from where it is coming and I am by no means comparing you to them nor do I think you should even be in the same sentence as them. However, as a point of illustration, I see you as no different than the Rabbi who steals from his congregation or the rabbi who murdered his wife, or the rabbi who molests a child. I mean it in this way. They all practice one thing and live a totally different life. I understand that in theory you hurt no one and you believe this is a victimless crime (I know you don’t feel its a crime-I do not either), but you are exactly the same in that you live two different lives. THAT is the sadness I feel, not so much for you, but for your congregation. It is THAT life that is the dishonest one. My only thought is if there is no Creator, then why should being dishonest matter or even stealing someone else’s money. I understand it’s unlawful–something the world got from Torah and the Jews–but without laws I think even you would have to agree based on your own belief system that logically, there should be nothing wrong with it? Survival of the fittest.

    I look forward to reading about your escapades and lest you think you are the only rabbi who has felt this way, Jewish history is rampant with others just like you. The only sad part is historically–and I can only base it on history–these sort of things usually don’t turn out too well for either the rabbi or the congregation all the way back to idols in the bait hamikdash.

    With that I will await your response, should you have time, and hope that in the long run, things work out better for you than it did for the others.

  8. So to summarize, you have no proof that Rav Modena wrote the book criticizing rabbinic Judaism, just a hunch. Based on that hunch you have decided that he did and you’re going to use his name and supposed beliefs, which you actually have no proof for, to reject Judaism’s principles.
    How is this consistent with your rejecting the existence of God and Torah MiSinai, chas v’shalom, because there’s no concrete proof? Why one and not the other?

  9. SJ says:

    גרנל אין צרך באפן הכרחי לספרי אחירים או השקפות אחרים ליצר השקפה

  10. ksil lo yavin says:

    whats with garnel and lady light? are you guys seriously asking this rabbi why he rejects orthodox judaism? Have you not been following these orthoprax blogs for years? Like its your first time hearing that someone has (finally!) come to the realization that there is not an ounce of proof that any of this fundamentalist stuff that you believe is true?

    and you ask him for proof that its not true?!?!? upside down world indeed…. (lady light, “how do you explain it?” LOL)

    • Am HaAretz says:

      It appears that Garnel is an “internet forum troll” with a complete lack of tolerance, empathy, or understanding for Jews, specifically those that grew up Orthodox, that believe the Torah is a man-made fabrication. Read OTD’s blog to get a handle for Garnel’s provocational demeanor.

  11. Marc says:

    Not sure that everybody agrees that Modena was an athiest or orthoprax. Scholars have long toned-down that nineteenth-century understanding of his project.

  12. Lady-Light says:

    Ksil (you definitely are), if you read my comment you would see that I ask how he himself explains it: I want to know his opinion. He can answer me and say he believes it’s a fabrication and a myth, and that it never happened. That’s fine: it’s his opinion. He just never answered.

    And why do you make the assumption that “we” have been “following orthoprax blogs for years?”
    You know what they say about people who assume, don’t you? Fits right in with “ksil.” (“LOL”)

    • Sam says:

      Because it’s presumptuous of you to demand that he answer your string of questions, each of which skeptics who have been around a while have been through at length. You want to know what skeptics or atheists think about those things? Google it. If he wants to blog about that, I’m sure he will, but stop feeling entitled to have someone write out at length the basic building blocks of their beliefs to you in a string of yes or no questions.

      • Holy Hyrax says:


        I’m sorry, but I have been on the blogs way too long to think that skeptics don’t prod believing Jews on “why” they believe in what they do. Next comes questions of how a believer explains archeology, the sciences and philosophy. This is a public blog. It is only natural that we ask each other questions. Its part of the territory to ask one another questions on these blogs.

      • Sam says:

        It’s one thing to prod someone regarding something they state that you disagree with. It’s another thing to demand someone answer your list of basic questions unrelated to their actual post, and act offended when they don’t. It’s like looking at a Democrat’s blog post about taxes, and demanding answers for what Democrats think about a list of 5 other basic issues expressed from a Republican point of view. Either google it, or express one time that you would like to see the blog owner eventually tackle these topics. Or one can even bring it up again as a reminder, but not act self-righteous or offended when the blogger doesn’t have an interest in doing whatever the commenter feels entitled to.

  13. Ksil, I can’t speak for Ladylight and I will try to keep this civil. You will certainly note that I have not insulted anyone or made any demands. In addition I am quite aware that most of the comments on this blog miss the point. Our blogger here isn’t interesting in converting anyone to his incorrect point of view. He’s simply expressing what he’s thinking so attacking him would be inappropriate. Asking him questions about his point of view, especially when that point of view demonstrates inconsistency is fair though.
    Please read my comment over again. I specifically note:
    1) Based on a hunch the blogger has decided that Rav Modena was orthoprax and therefore becomes his mentor.
    2) However, when presented with the same level of evidence about Sinai he rejects it as insufficient.
    So why is it that a hunch is okay for Rav Modena but not Sinai?

    • OTD says:

      Garnel, you can’t stop lying, can you?

      >Based on a hunch the blogger has decided that Rav Modena was orthoprax and therefore becomes his mentor.

      That’s not what the blogger said. He simply said “which has lead some to conclude that he wasn’t really trying to refute the findings of the anti-rabbinic work, to the contrary he authored not only the response but the actual book.” He never claimed it to be fact the way you claim Sinai to be fact (not that you consider the creation story in Genesis to be fact. According to you, most of the Bible is lies. But Sinai? Halacha l’moshe misinai!)

  14. SJ says:

    ההבדל שהתורה הוא בחוצ חקי מדע

    אני מתרברב היום btw


  15. Susann Codish says:

    I just stumbled across your blog as the result of a reference made to it by one of my Facebook friends. I’m curious if you, Orthoprax rabbi, have ever read any Emmanuel Levinas. The reason I ask is because it seems to me you’ve hit the point – inevitable to thinking people a la Levinas – at which it is necessary to ditch the old beliefs and enter a period of atheism before resuming a life of more evolved (for lack of a better term) beliefs, akin to Avraham Avinu breaking his father’s idols in order to emerge with a better understanding of Hakadosh Barukh Hu. If you haven’t, I suggest reading his collection of essays, “Nine Talmudic Readings,” and the essay “A Religion for Adults” (1957). These may interest you; they have certainly given meaning to my own practice.

  16. ksil lo yavin says:

    lady, “I ask how he himself explains it” – can you please explain why you dont believe in zeus? or the flying spaghetti monster? or aliens? thank you.

    garnel, you are saying that becasue he infers the beliefs of a man from HIS OWN WRITINGS that its the same thing as wanting some evidence about sinai??? in the words of one of the greatest actors of our generation “dude, where’s my car?” you are losing your sharp-keit with old age. maybe hit a justin bieber concert to bring you back to earth. (not during the 3 weeks tho, chas veshalom)

  17. guy says:

    when did this happen?

    did you sign up for the job knowing this is how it would go? or did you develop this attitude afterward. also when did you stop observing privately?

    if this all predates your signing of the contract-then i would guess your contract w/ your congregants is based on fraud-even if you didnt promise to believe or practice in the contract itself-if this was relied upon by the congregants to pay your salary this could be fraud.

    even if not legally fraud it is certainly unethical to paskin for people who would not come to you w/ questions if they knew. why isn’t that the same as feeding non kosher to those who only eat kosher??

  18. Ksil let’s review this once again:
    1) Our blogger holds the opinion that Rav Modena’s refutation of the infamous book was weak. (Now that generally means it was excellent and the only way skeptics can deal with that is by labelling it weak or apologetics but that’s a digression)
    2) Therefore our blogger concludes that since Rav Modena was not trying, he must have written the original book and didn’t have the heart to contradict himself.
    3) He has not one shred of evidence for (1). After all, the weakness or strength of a given book quite often lies in the eye of the beholder. The same book you might abhor I might quite enjoy. We each like or dislike from our own perspectives. Without (1) he cannot logically infer (2)

    And OTD, hush. The adults are speaking.

    • Am HaAretz says:

      Garnel, is it really necessary to instigate discordance? Provocations only serve to undermine and delegitimize your underlying theses.

    • Sam says:

      But that’s not the only reason for that conclusion. From the Jewish Encyclopedia link I posted:

      “The “Ḳol Sakal” and “Sha’agat Aryeh” were published by Isaac Reggio under the title “Beḥinat ha-Ḳabbalah” (Göritz, 1852). A discussion arose at the time of its appearance as to whether the “Ḳol Sakal” was written by Leon himself or whether, as is pretended in the “Sha’agat Aryeh,” it proceeded from a certain Amittai ibn Raz of Alkala. It has even been suggested with some plausibility that both these works, instead of being written by Leon, were merely attributed to him by I. S. Reggio (see Deutsch, “Theory of Oral Tradition,” p. 39; “Epochs of Jewish History,” pp. 23 et seq., New York, 1894). But a comparison between the ideas expressed by Leon in his “Bet Yehudah” and elsewhere and those expounded in the “Ḳol Sakal” leaves little doubt as to his authorship. Indeed, several of the criticisms, as, for instance, those concerning circumcision and the second day of festivals, are found expressed in the same terms in Leon’s “Magen weẒinnah” (published by A. Geiger, Breslau, 1856), which contains answers to eleven objections to the rabbinical interpretation of the Law brought, according to Leon, by a Marano of Hamburg.”

      From a cursory search, though, I can’t comment on the status of atheism in it. But really, is it so hard to google something before weighing in on it?

    • Am HaAretz says:

      An excerpt from Encyclopedia Judaica, Second Edition, Volume 14, page 408-410:

      MODENA, LEON (Judah Areyeh mi-Modena; 1571–1648)

      As Modena’s manuscripts were discovered during the 19th
      century, they were viewed as attacks on traditional Judaism.
      The early proponents of Reform Judaism looked to Modena
      as a precursor and, in the same tendentious spirit, those who
      wished to undermine the Reform appropriation presented
      him as a gambler, a heretic, a hypocrite, or someone racked
      by contradictions. Trying to make sense of these complexities,
      some have sought to identify him as the personification
      of the Renaissance Jew or the “first modern rabbi.” The fact
      is, however, that in Italy the Renaissance was over by the time
      he lived and to see him as modern is to miss the fact that he
      spent much of his life defending traditional medieval rabbinic
      authority against attempts by the Jewish laity to limit their coercive
      power. Indeed, it may be more apt to view Modena as
      one of the last medieval rabbis and to see the period in which
      he lived as the earliest beginnings of the modern period for
      the Jews.

    • That is not what my conclusions are based upon. Have you read Behinat ha-Kabbalah, Magen ve-Tzina, and the rest of Modena’s books? Or, if you haven’t read the primary material have you read Cohen’s edition of Modena’s autobiography or Fishman’s book? These are, in part, what my conclusions regarding Modena are based upon.

  19. Jacob Stein says:

    Honestly, I don’t understand the point of this blog.

    Is it to prove that there are atheist modern Orthodox rabbis? But it doesn’t, because no proof is given that the author is a modern Orthodox rabbi, or anything else other than a person who speaks English and has an Internet connection. For all I know this is being written by an accountant in Beijing.

    Is the purpose to convert other people to atheism? So when is he going to start doing that?

  20. Lonely Frum says:

    Jacob – I “converted” years ago, I like this blog to not feel alone. Why do you?

  21. sos says:

    These comments are really disappointing. Somehow this blog has gathered every orthodox troll on the internet.

  22. Only a Jew says:

    @ksil–and because it is being published online, questions like that will arise regardless of what teh “rabbi” thinks or wants…want no friction, don’t publish….

    @sos–why is it that you need to name call? It is amazing to me how insecure those so confident in their rejection of 3500 years of history behave. Wow.

    Rabbi-enjoy the new company you now keep…

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