Tipping Point

Tipping Point

Memory is a funny thing and it is often not to be trusted. The thick cloud of history obscures the truth hidden behind that impenetrable wall of yesterday, and our thoughts and deeds and motivations become the ether and vapor we all fear will be our end as well. I was reminded of this while preparing my Drasha for Shabbos, when my son scampered into my office, bursting with enthusiasm and curiosity, with the single-minded goal of inquiring how it was possible for Hashem to have created both the Sun AND the Moon, and also to inform me that he no longer needs to listen to me because Hashem is in charge of everything and everybody, including his Abba. I smiled wanly and told him Hashem can create and do anything He wanted. Isn’t that what his Rebbe told him? He nodded enthusiastically and was on his way. He is young and unsullied, and did not yet comprehend the other obvious question: “Who made Hashem?” I long for him to ask that question to me, to see the kernel of reason and inquisitiveness that will hopefully one day lead to his emancipation. But did I tell him? Did I softly nudge him off this path? No. I kept him, like everyone else in my life, in the dark. And I die a little bit each time.

I don’t have a memory of when things suddenly became clear for me, when all my accumulated knowledge in Torah and Judaism and our way of life stopped making sense. There was no music montage of me abruptly understanding, of a Rabbi walking that lonely road when the proverbial light bulb goes on atop his head, akin to the masthead of this blog. No, it was slower than that. A death of faith from a thousand cuts of reason. But my memories, of my father answering my questions on His prowess, of doing the mitzvot and celebrating the chagim together as a family and a community, those are memories that have remained with me, memories that I cherish above almost all else, memories that have provided the colours and the contours of my life. So I do not ask my son about the origins of It all, nor do I pester him gently about what else his Rebbe said. No, I let him grow up and become part of the system, part of the process, and I watch despairingly each day, each month, each year as he grows into everything I fear he will become. Still, I am fortified by the resolve that he will make his own choices and reach his own conclusions, unaffected by some of my former colleagues who have become Rebbeim in yeshiva in Israel. And when he is ready, when his memory and a worldview are seemingly at odds and he can no longer withstand the cognitive dissonance, he will ask me again, perhaps ready to face that which I have long struggled with, and to confront the uncertainty and doubt that is at the core of what we are. We can then revisit that earlier conversation, and embrace, literally and figuratively, all that has kept us apart.

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143 Responses to Tipping Point

  1. ADDeRabbi says:

    a Rabbi walking that lonely road when the proverbial light bulb goes on atop his head
    Wasn’t that rabbi’s name Paul?

    • Ha! I am not interested in starting a new religion, although in a few hundred years maybe some will view this project as the Orthoprax Epistles.

    • mahla says:

      Paul, not Jesus, is SOOOO the founder of the Christian faith in my mind!

      This has little or nothing to do with the post, ADDeRabbi, but since you posted what you posted I just had to make this comment!

      It surprises me so much that more people do not see this.

  2. Jay says:

    Your post discussed what is one of the most difficult dilemas facing those of us who would love to “escape” from orthodoxy if not for the fact that we’ve already “made our beds” through marriage, community, etc. — what to tell the kids. I have to constantly resist the temptation to plant seeds in my children’s heads that may eventually lead them towards rejecting orthodoxy and even the existence of God. I always feel like I am playing with fire everytime an opportunity for potentially theological discussions comes up. My wife would be devastated if our kids went “off the derech”. Me? Who knows…

    • JDE says:


      Your obligation is to your children, not to your wife. If you’ve awakened from a delusion, it’s your responsibility to make certain they can as well. Actually, it’s your responsibility to do all you can to assure they don’t fall into it in the first place, but I realize there are probably considerations of family, employment, etc.

      • shim (Shimon) says:

        Only if you are 100% sure of the empirical validity of your approach, otherwise its probably more important to let your kids make their own decisions even if the make mistakes along the way. Just like any other life choice.

      • JDE says:

        Only if you are 100% sure of the empirical validity of your approach, otherwise its probably more important to let your kids make their own decisions even if the make mistakes along the way. Just like any other life choice.

        The problem is that bringing them up in frumkeit goes a long way toward closing them off from other possibilities later on – both in terms of their educations and in terms of what they’ll be able to conceptualize themselves doing and believing. He’s coloring how they’ll be able to perceive reality later on.

      • shim (Shimon) says:

        You raise a true point about some types of “frumkeit” but I don’t think that its fair to say that about all shades of practice in Judaism, on the contrary what I am advocating is only adding to the secular standard. By this I mean there doesn’t need to be any lacking in secular education and there doesn’t need to be any racist overtones or disparity between the opportunities that are given to his family but why not add the things that characterize a Jewish home/environment?
        For example:
        1 Bible Study, of course with a critical scientific approach to compliment the traditional commentaries as well as an anecdotal, to the tune of “whats the נמשל?” approach (cover all your bases) after all it is one of the best selling and longest existing books if nothing else.
        2 A Sabbath. A break from internet and any other escape is something that completely secular people do for themselves and their families internal dynamics.
        3 A special diet that focuses on avoiding cruelty to animals and health. (If nothing else it teaches discipline)

        you get the picture. Most of these things are not so much restrictive as supplementary in nature to more enrich life on multiple levels. There need be no reason to brainwash ones kids but on the contrary to equip them with all possible tools that you are able to. One cannot disagree that no matter your feelings the majority of the world believes in a Divine Being so conversely why “color their oppinions” to that possibility either?
        And to preempt those who would ask what about the spiritual components two ideas:
        1 there is a growing body of science (you read that right empirical investigation is another name for it) about what is termed the “spiritual world” which is essentially about the existence of actual measurable effects of intention
        2 even if you are unconvinced by this as of yet look at all the intervention programs in the world AA, GA etc. I believe the basis of their 12 step program is accepting a Higher Power(#2?) and additionally there is an entire section on agnostics and reconciling the two (We Agnostics)
        There may not be anything you feel for/from it but you cannot honestly say there is nothing there at least to investigate.

  3. joel rich says:

    If it does come to that point and he asks you how you explain the existence of the world, you will say what?

  4. Only a Jew says:

    “And I die a little bit each time. ”

    How bad that slow death must feel–the living of a lie, the lack of courage that you stare down every time you look in the mirror. I have at times myself been a coward–unfortunately more than I want to remember, but I never did it at the expense of my children. What happens when your son travels the same lonely road and ends up at the exact same place….and he also was too much of a coward to tell his congregants (something he will have inherited from you no doubt) that they are all victims of a cruel hoax and his utopian enlightenment would free them from the shackles of the hell that is their lives. The hell of memories of family simchot together, Chagim, shabatot, all the prayers they wasted on nothing… then one day you let him in on your secret…what is he to make of the rabbi he was too afraid to let down-the one in whose footsteps he would follow. That your cowardice had led him down the same exact path–the one where he played off the advances of the non jewish model because you never told him about the canard you were perpetrating on those gullible congregants who kept upping your six figure contract year after year… of the numerous friday nights where he was tethered at home with you instead of out on the town working what you gave him to get whatever he wants…. what is he to think of his cowardly father then?

    I feel for you “rabbi”. I know the war that wages inside of you—you must set yourself free–enough living the lie….I have been where you are and it is not pretty–your self talk must be treacherous—let all of your people off the hook–throw away the vestiges of a suckered people you no longer have regard for and take a beach vacation with the entire family–forget the day school education (save the money!!), sell the Jewish neighborhood home and find a bigger one much cheaper in the countryside–let yourself be free… Why do this to yourself? Isn’t it time you finally told the world about the fraud that is your life?

    • YC says:

      “And I die a little bit each time. ” was the first positive thing I read on this blog

      He calls himself Orthoprax and then says he is not

      He says he does his job as a rabbi and does not mislead people, yet yesterday’s post was about being a “spiritual” leader for those who left or are looking to

      He says it pains him ,he even dies a bit each time, yet the pain is not THAT strong otherwise he would stop.

      I am not sure if it is muttar to wish you die a little bit each time, I will not ask either. It is up to you to decide why?

      What about the bracha of Vlamalshinim?

      What would you answer me Atheist Rabbi?

      • Susann Codish says:

        I recommend everyone following this blog read the novella “Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr” by Miguel de Unamuno. It’s about a Catholic priest who has lost his faith but continues to serve his congregation. I especially recommend it to the blogger himself.

        I’m somewhat disappointed that discussions on this site do not distinguish between “true” and “factual.” Events related in the Torah can be “true” – i.e., contain eternally valid insights into the human condition (e.g., Yaakov dividing his camp in half to solve a strategic problem: he must face Esav with a welcoming face – the forward camp – in order not to provoke his brother into aggression by seeming bent on fighting, while at the same time preparing for the eventuality that Esav’s intent is unfriendly by having his rear camp armed to the teeth) – without having to be factual – as nothing before Bayit Sheini can indeed be proven as factual. Why should it bother me whether there existed a historical character named Yaakov ben Yitzhak ben Avraham or not? What earthly – or heavenly – difference does it make? Why does questioning the factuality of Torah equal atheism? Or – why *shouldn’t* the Torah clothe the truth in non-factual narratives? What sort of address would it use? The language of philosophy was invented by the Greeks long after the Torah was written/compiled/handed to Moshe at Har Sinai. Scientific writing came in being later still. It seems to me that, somewhere along the way, someone here chose the wrong term-definition fork in the road and is therefore ending up in a very troubling and unnecessary place.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Great point on:

        ולמלשינים אל תהי תקוה, וכל הרשעה, כרגע תאבד. וכל אויבך מהרה יכרתו. והזדים מהרה תעקר, ותשבר ותמגר, ותכניע, במהרה בימינו. ברוך אתה יי, שבר אויבים ומכניע זדים.

        How does the Orthoprax Rabbi deal with essentially cursing himself or being cursed by his congregation or the cursing by klal yisroel?

    • Am HaAretz says:

      @Only a Jew,
      Would you mind if I disagree with you? There is still a vast sea of meaning and purpose to be found in traditional observance even if one is not a “true believer”. His children’s minds are going to be exponentially more developed than your public school kids that buy into the empty hedonistic values of western culture. Would you purport to label someone depraved who is sheltered from the deleterious side-effects of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll?

      Would you mind if I respectfully assert that your post is infantile and lacking foresight?

      • ExYid says:

        @Am HaAretz

        It looks like you’re forgetting that there is, in fact, no such thing as the perfect upbringing. All growing children are influenced by their surrounds and community, and all children assimilate both the good and the bad from the cultures to which they are helplessly exposed. Growing up as in an contemporary orthodox community grants many positive things, but it also builds in the framework of an inflexible, almost idiotic mindset. Consider the traditional, fully-indoctrinated product of orthodox schooling. He is shackled with the chains of impossible belief. Given evidence that his religion might be wrong – no, his faith defies evidence. Given evidence that his God might not exist – no, his God supersedes logic and consistency. Given evidence that his Torah is cruel – no, his Torah is correct, it is your modern conception of morality that is warped. There is no evidence in the world that can change his mind, because he knows he is right, because God said so, because that was what his teachers taught him. When you come from a standpoint where everything you believe must be correct, then you cannot lose. This man-child (who surely cannot be called a man, when his beliefs have not been reexamined since he was 13) is under the impression that his mind is not the final arbiter of his decisions, that all his life’s choices must be handed over to somebody who understands more, and who knows better. Knows what? The individual is born with his freedom – his soul-crushing, ever-present and impossibly demanding freedom, the freedom that demands that all our beliefs and actions be subject to our own examination – and he willingly gives it up, because he was taught that he should. There is no more powerful force in the world than indoctrination.

        You may claim that this is a better alternative than the secular lifestyle, whose undoubtedly negative influences may be combatted, at least to a degree by decent parenting. I certainly cannot stand in your way to make your choice. After all, you’re free to make any bad decisions you choose, aren’t you?

  5. amldc says:

    Thanks for writing this blog. It is sincerely enlightening.

  6. Genius says:

    Realistically, orthopraxy does not generate a generation of orthodoxy or even another one of orthopraxy. Your children will know everything about you without knowing.

    There’s certainly plenty of hope that, by giving them a wonderful home and experience of being Jewish, you can raise them to love am yisrael and your concept of “yiddishkeit,” but in all likelihood, you are the end of the line in terms of Jewish practice.

    • Is that necessarily a bad thing? But your comment is right on point.

      • Genius says:

        Of course it’s not necessarily bad. In some families it’s good.

        Hillel Halkin is an interesting example, as he describes in Letters to an American Jewish Friend; I can’t imagine that he’d have become a very talented Hebrew-English translator and Hebraist, make Aliyah and serve in the IDF or write the most powerful Zionist polemical work since 1948 if his non-believing father hadn’t taught him to put on tefilin every day.

  7. I don’t understand how you can do that to your kids. Don’t you owe it to them to be honest? I get that it’s hard, but what’s more important?

    • e says:

      I agree. It would be horrifically hard for you to leave, but wouldn’t it help your children tremendously? As Genius wrote, chances are that your kids will eventually stop being religious. Why make them go through it in their twenties or teens, when they’ll feel betrayed by their “cowardly” father? Why not suffer now so that you’re kids will have an easier transition?

      • OTD says:

        >Why make them go through it in their twenties or teens

        Who said he’ll wait that long? He can plant little seeds of kfira anytime. I don’t think he goes out of his way to brainwash his kids, he just may not always go out of his way to make kofrim out of them. Rome wasn’t built in a day. L’at l’at.

  8. OGH says:

    Mein tayereh talmud, I’m so glad you made this decision!


  9. OGH says:

    Note, no relation to XGH.

  10. shim says:

    I guess a question you have to ask yourself is even if you don’t believe in Gods existence, is it a healthy/better thing for them to, even mistakenly? Is there benefit in having a life guided by an uncompromising moral code and belief in a higher authority even if that belief is misguided or incorrect?
    Would you be gratified, or even thankful to Judaism if it helped your kids become Good? and is that maybe its real major benefit?

    • mahla says:

      My partner is an atheist and would be absolutely horrified at what I am about to write. I am an agnostic and I wish I had genuine religious faith. I don’t even know what such a thing feels like.

      If anything they had tried to indoctrinate into me had “stuck,” I would be really grateful for it. But it did not.

  11. Only a Jew says:

    @Jewish atheist: Touche’

  12. OGH says:

    Nor for publication. Thanks for playing along. The more letzanos the better.

  13. YC says:

    Susann Codish
    re nothing before Bayit Sheini can indeed be proven as factual
    The Assyrian period was a few hundred years before that.
    Archeologists would also stretch that date back as well

  14. Ephraim says:

    “I don’t have a memory of when things suddenly became clear for me, when all my accumulated knowledge in Torah and Judaism and our way of life stopped making sense.”

    Because it didn’t happen. Knowledge of Torah and Judaism? You haven’t displayed any of it. Each sophomoric post justify my assertion that you’re a fraud.

    “the uncertainty and doubt that is at the core of what we are.”
    What does this mean?

    • As I have said before, no one is forcing you to read this, if you don’t want to waste your time reading “sophomoric posts” please go elsewhere.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        @Ephraim…Would you mind if I disagree with you? This current post by the Orthoprax Rabbi was the most credible and was surprisingly convincing.

        He has other questions to answer. OP, do you have one son and four daughters? This was implied by the post.

        Are you an atheist in regards to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God? Surprisingly most atheists are not absolute atheists. Most of them are atheistic in regards to the “God of the Old Testament”. Such scholars are usually agnostic or pantheistic, which is very far from pure atheism. Most leading atheists are so theologically infantile they do not possess the proper lexicon to describe their beliefs.

        My suspicion is growing that you are a fraud. Why? Absolute atheism is a logically untenable position, and anyone with your alleged education and intellectual foundation would have no problem seeing this.

        Anyone with a half decent yeshiva education will be inoculated from concluding that atheism is a logically tenable position of lasting value.

      • Dov Kramer says:

        AH: >>Absolute atheism is a logically untenable position<<

        Please explain.


  15. David says:

    What happens when your son does get to the same conclusion on his own, and then finds out after all those years that you actually agree with him? Won’t he be angry that you were misleading him the whole time?
    I wonder what to tell my children– I don’t want to lie to them, and I also don’t want to come out and tell them that I think the whole business is foolish. So far I’m managing to fudge things, but I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep that up….

    • mahla says:

      David, this is such a good comment & is presented in such a non-attacking way.

      • David says:

        Thanks, Mahla– the rabbi has not attacked me or any of my beliefs, so I see no reason why I should attack him or his. Out of curiousity (and it may be that I’m drawing inappropriate conclusions from your picture), what brings you to this blog?

  16. The Way says:


    I empathize with your situation. A few years back my wife and I had a baby boy. At the time (and maybe still) I was too cowardly to not circumcise. Now I regret preforming an unnecessary surgery on healthy genitalia without even the strength to consider not.

    I recognize the situation you find yourself in. However, is it healthy to raise your children orthodox? Do you believe the orthodox lifestyle is a healthy choice? Are you sure your children will have the ability to break away? What if you got hit by a bus tomorrow and your children end up uber-charedi as a twisted memorial to you? Perhaps you will never get the chance for an adult heart to heart.

    Is it reasonable to choose on behalf of your children that they will not date? That they will grow up in a sexually repressive atmosphere? That they will not have the education or socialization skills to make their way in the outside world even if they do ultimately find the ability to leave? Is it healthy for you or them to choose to indoctrinate them into this lifestyle?

    Clearly it is possible to be atheist jewish parents and still raise your children to cherish their cultural and family heritage. As a parent, what is your obligation to your children. Is it not your obligation to raise them in the healthiest manner? Are your little deaths because you cannot share your secret? or is it about forcing your children to repeat this cycle.

    Will you apologize to them? Will you be sorry for the pain these choices will cause if they do grow up and have to rebuild their lives from scratch with all the agony that goes along with having to reject everything and rejected by most everybody they were indoctrinated to believe?

    • 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.

      • The Way says:

        As a former orthodox yeshiva bochur who also did bet medresh in Yerushalayim, I can attest to the fact that orthodoxy, including modern orthodox, is far closer to the charedi world than the secular world.

        Is he in an all boys school? lets look out to the future a bit, which yeshiva will he go to for high school? will his friends be rebbe’s kids or buisness people’s kids? will he find a mate through shadchanim? will he remain a virgin until his wedding night? will he have access to joining school sports teams or learning a hands on trade?

        But let’s even put that aside and listen to your fear:

        So if you fear that your son (and maybe other people’s children too?) will stay orthodox and repeat the cycle, how do you intend to guide him towards a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle?

        I wonder, if a couple came to you for counsel and you realize that the two do not share their lives, that this couple each has secrets and a secret life that they do not share, what would your perception be of the quality and true intimacy of their relationship?

  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??

    • William says:

      If one drops a frog into a pan of boiling water, he’ll jump out.
      If one puts him into a pan of lukewarm water and raise the temperature one degree at a time, he’ll cook.

  18. Shira says:

    “I don’t have a memory of when things suddenly became clear for me, when all my accumulated knowledge in Torah and Judaism and our way of life stopped making sense.”

    Rabbi, would you please write a post with more detail about what things don’t make sense to you anymore? I definitively remember my ‘tipping point’ (or points)… but they were all about emotional, personal, cultural, things… and I’ve yet to find something concrete in the tradition that I feel I can out right reject as not making sense. They may not make sense to me, but only in the way that nothing G-d related is provable, including His existence (which I am still not sure about). Were there inconsistencies within the framework of halacha and Judaism itself that were your tipping point? I’d like to hear about that.


  19. mahla says:

    Okay, this is something theoretical I have been thinking about reading this blog. And this post really made me ponder it.

    What if there was a blog called “The Religious Evolutionary Biologist,” and a lifelong atheist teaching at a major university was describing his struggle with maintaining an atheist facade while secretly becoming religiously observant? That would be so interesting.

    Like, what if his young children asked him “Who made the universe?” and he gave them a very matter-of-fact answer from the academic and non-religious perspective while then blogging “how can I tell my child that I have really come to believe, for many years, that an intelligent and personally interested Creator made the universe?”

    Another point. I don’t know how to phrase this without sounding like I have some agenda, but I absolutely do not.

    There are lots of blogs where people are ‘orthoprax’ or ‘religious atheists’ living a double life. BUT, try to find a blog where people who are raised as committed atheists, or become committed atheists and then BELIEVE … but still pretend NOT to believe … I just can’t find any! That’s also interesting to me.

    Why do you think that is?

    • Shira says:

      Perhaps because Atheism is not an organized religion. There may not be a level of community membership and commitment that comes with belonging to an organized religion… so if an Atheist realizes they believe in God or Judaism, they can just inch their lives over in that direction without having to answer to anyone but themselves (or perhaps their Atheist colleagues at the example University you mentioned). When someone has belonged to a deeply religious group, and the religion itself demands belief (belief in God is a commandment), the ability to stand up and say “I don’t believe in this anymore, I won’t do this anymore” is seriously hampered by the closeness of the community. Its much more difficult.

      An Atheist doesn’t have to reject a command to believe in order to believe in something else. They only have to reject their own logic against believing in God. A frum Jew must reject an ancient command to believe, plus the pressure of living in a tight community that may object to what they are doing.

    • G*3 says:

      There’s a stigma against atheism. Atheists are people to be shunned, people who are weak-willed, immoral, foolish, lying to themselves about God, trying to lead people down the parth to Hell, and they like to snack on babies.

      People don’t react well when you tell them you think God is as real as Santa Claus.

      An atheist who becomes a beleiver, on the other hand, is welcomed, asked to tell his inspirational story of spiritual discovery, and generally seen as doing a Good Thing.

    • David says:

      Mahla, interesting concept.

      I think another big factor in why we don’t see undercover religious atheists is numbers – because there are very, very few. Not many informed, critically thinking atheists become religious, if any at all.

      On the other hand many religious people who begin serious critical thinking become atheistic or agnostic. Most religious people believe simply because they were taught to, in a restrictive, socially coercive environment.

      • Mahla says:

        Hey David, in response to your earlier question about why I read this blog and about my avatar. I am personally agnostic; sometimes I wear hijab as a nod to my cultural heritage, though, and also because any photographs I send home to my family need to depict me in appropriate Islamic dress. :^)

        I read this blog because I am fascinated by comparative religion and I find both religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy really interesting. I found this blog through Frum Satire which I read pretty avidly. :^)

      • Chanya says:

        “Not many informed, critically thinking atheists become
        religious, if any at all.” Completely untrue. There are literally
        thousands of intelligent, college-educated, “critically thinking
        atheists” who have become Ba’aleh Teshuva. They just don’t hide it.
        Religious people who choose to no longer believe may have various
        reasons for wanting to stay in the community (family, etc.). An
        atheist who has become religious, however, rarely has a reason to
        hide it, and doesn’t want to. This is just the same tired,
        condescending attitude that anyone with half a brain wouldn’t
        believe in G-d. I’ve met many incredibly stupid atheists, and many
        brilliant religious people who actually have “critically” examined
        all sides.

    • guy says:

      believing in god and following orthodox Jewish law=requirement for orthodox rabbi as expected by those who pay you.

      not believing in god=not an expected requirement for those who pay the salary of any university professor job I know of

      • Mahla says:

        Guy, I totally agree that there is no university out there requiring professors of the hard sciences to be atheists. However, I really do believe that there are certain academic environments where living openly as a person of religious faith would go over just about as well with one’s professional colleagues and students as being an atheist rabbi.

        That’s why I used the example of an evolutionary biologist.

        If there were an evolutionary biologist teaching in an Ivy League university who matter of factly began to tell people that while he taught evolutionary biology, he did not in fact believe a word of it, and had secretly been a committed young earth creationist for many years, he would probably get the boot.

        At the very least, he would get the cold shoulder.

      • guy says:

        friend of mine is a med student in bible belt alabama. knows of doctors/med students who refuse to believe in evolution-the medical school doesn’t kick them out.

        also ive heard stories about mormon professors of archeology and the like-students kinds of sinker and wonder-but they stay employed.

    • Robert says:

      Mahla, I have been enjoying your comments on this topic. I have recommended this book elsewhere in this thread, but wanted to suggest it to you personally. A bit difficult in places, with complicated bits of science, but well worth the read. The link I’m including you takes you to an excerpt from the introduction to his latest book. Best of luck in your search for meaning.

  20. shim (Shimon) says:

    Interesting point Mahla, I would guess because it is much easier to stop doing something (think of the law of entropy) than to start something.
    Please don’t misconstrue this as a disparigement of non-believers or non-practitioners and especially not you OPR-its much harder to go through the motions without the impetus of belief, at least to my mind.

  21. Only a Jew says:

    I would disagree that an atheist is not a religion–I think the point has been made before that an atheist is far more radical than a believer–the believer believes in something with purpose and a plan while the atheist steadfastly holds to the religion of chance which when you think of it, is as far out there as many claim the religionists are…

    • Sam says:

      >”while the atheist steadfastly holds to the religion of chance”

      What exactly is “the religion of chance?”

      >the believer believes in something with purpose and a plan

      Ah. So basically, the believer believes in a positive claim, and the atheist refuses to accept that positive claim without reason to do so, so the atheist is really worshipping another religion? Got it.

      As a side note, I’m always struck by the irony of this argument– in arguing that atheism is “a religion,” it pretty much implies that religions dogmatically believe goofy stuff.

      • Only a Jew says:

        “As a side note, I’m always struck by the irony of this argument– in arguing that atheism is “a religion,” it pretty much implies that religions dogmatically believe goofy stuff.”

        Not at all–it just implies that to be such a believer in chance is as fanatical BY THE ATHEIST DEFINITION as they want to ascribe to the believer. Their failure to acknowledge that, makes their own argument somewhat intellectually dishonest in the process.

      • Sam says:

        Again, I have no idea what “a believer in chance” is. If you’d like to actually explain that, please go ahead.

        My guess is: “They think the world as we know it came into being by chance.” But atheists believe the world as we know it developed through physical processes that work on chance events to weed them selectively and create the appearance of design. That’s systematic, not chance.

      • William says:

        Chance explains nothing. Saying something happened by chance just means it happened for no descernible reason.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Please allow me to address dogma in Judaism:

        Judaism is not big on theology. We really do not have much to say about Hashem, because we do not know much about him. And he does not share his secrets with us. So Judaism is basically a matter of halacha (laws/guidelines). It is a matter of dealing with mitzvos and dealing with human beings. If you go through the entire Talmud you will find very little of what can be called theology, it is almost non-existent. There are also wide divergences in opinion as to what Jewish Theology is. For instance, our quarrel with reform and conservative Judaism is not a theological quarrel. It is simply a quarrel regarding the non acceptance of halacha as being the basic rules by which the game is played. In matters of theology, it is very difficult for us to come to any definitive statements. There is a famous aphorism from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch from the 1850s, the difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Christianity is a religion invented by man to describe God. While Judaism is a religion invented by God to describe man. It is a little glib, but it does state the point. The point is as the Talmud says regarding the verse in the prophet Jeremiah, so the prophet says, “they have forsaken me” so the Talmud comments, “it is okay, I do not care that they do not talk about me, as long as they observe the Torah and that they are decent human beings (performing the 613 mitzvot), I do not care if they do not have a course about Hashem. In fact, we are probably far better off not knowing about God. God gives us a headache. We can’t understand him anyway. So therefore, until the time of the Rambam, even though there were philosophical works, there was really no “theology” of Judaism. The Rambam came and invented a theology of Judaism, b/c he felt it was necessary. He felt it was necessary b/c of the competition from the Christians who are highly dogmatic, tied up in knots in theology (the Muslims also). The 13 principles of faith was taken from one of the Rambam’s introduction to the mishna. For the next few centuries there would be great dispute whether those were actually the 13 principles of faith or not, but the rambam’s influence was great that he prevailed. So that today it would be almost heretical for someone to stand up and maybe not, maybe that is not a principle of faith, maybe that is wrong. The rambam’s influence was so great the matter is settled, simply b/c he said it.

      • Dov Kramer says:


        AFAIK, the difference between CJ and OJ was more theological than halachic. Both (officially) accept halacha; the main difference was (and I mean was, past tense, b/c it is no longer true for most that affiliate with CJ) whether the Torah was given at Sinai, directly from G-d, and whether the Oral Law (including the method to derive future law details) was given at Sinai along with it.

        If theology played as little a role as you make it seem, there would not be the vast amount of discussion about what the fundamental beliefs (“ikarim”) of Judaism are, and the consequences for not sharing in those beliefs.

    • William says:

      The atheist says, “I see no evidence for any moral order in the universe hidden or otherwise. We’re living in a chaos.” It’s not a religion; there’s no faith.

      • Robert says:

        Atheism requires belief in things you cannot absolutely know, and is an interpretation of the things seen and unseen. It requires an amount of “blind faith”. What concerns me about the issue of the orthoprax rabbi’s dilemna is this. He once believed a certain set of beliefs but, now, has a different opinion of the matter. Who’s to say that won’t happen again?

    • G*3 says:

      As the standard reply goes: Atheism is a religion in exactly the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      • Dov Kramer says:

        >>Atheism is a religion in exactly the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.<<

        True, for those non-stamp collectors that aren't bothered by those that collect stamps, and find their own hobbies (or projects).

        Not true, for those non-stamp collectors that blog against stamp collecting and/or against those that collect stamps.

      • Mahla says:

        Wow, that was a good one G*3! I’ve never heard that before.

  22. Gornishte Rebbe says:

    I say this without judgment because I can’t imagine how challenging it must be, but…
    I believe many comments here are implying something that I am feeling – that while it may seem selfless to live the lie and continue the charade of observance for the good of your family and community, it is in fact selfish.

    Who are you to keep the truth from them? If it was the other way around, and you were a believer, you would be using every opportunity to convince, inspire, motivate people to your point of view. Instead you are taking the safe, comfortable route by not causing any ripples in your family or community.

    In the longer term, as commenters are saying, it will get harder and more damaging. So the sooner you transition out of this the better, for you and your community. You have an amazing opportunity to gently lead them all into a greater level of conscious, critical thought.

    You could use your role as a rabbi to inspire people to think for themselves in small, innovative ways. Be inspired by Rav Kooks writing on atheists as sparks of fire.

    “Rabbi Kook writes, Atheism displays the power of life. Therefore, the real spiritual heroes extract sparks of great kindness from their atheism and turn its bitterness into sweetness. (Arfilei Tohar, § 120)

    The destructive wind of disbelief will purify all the filth that gathered in the lower realm of the spirit of faith… all will grow in purity and strength, in supernal holiness, from the firm, pure exalted kernel, which no negativity can affect. Its light will shine as a new light upon Zion with a wondrous greatness. (Shemona Kevatzim 1:476, Orot haTehiyah, ch. 51, p. 199)

    Although I don’t agree with his conclusions, I respect Rav Kook for acknowledging the sincere truth seeking which drives many atheists.

    You could use transitional language such as ‘We believe’ and ‘Tradition says’ rather than ‘It is true’. You could ask searching questions which cultivate critical thought in your children.

    I think the prime goal should be the gentle encouragement of greater open mindedness in your wife. She is the one with the influence over your children. I’m sure you know the story of Yaron Yadan, the Litvishe baal tshuvah rabbi who as head of a kollel convinced his wife to see the truth gently and then came out to his community and now runs the Daat Emet site.

    Personally, my tipping point moment was in reading the famous Letter to my Rabbi by Naftali Zeligman, and realizing just how little foundation in truth the Torah has.

    May you use this new community to gain strength to take bold, courageous actions, with love, compassion and truth guiding you always.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      Regarding Rav Kook, he has inspired inquiring intellectuals, including at least one Yeshivah-Student-Turned Maskil in the spirit of Malachai, “v’rabim heishiv ma’avon..ki sifsei *kohein* yishmiru daas, etc.”.

      See the following links:

      Re “Daat Emet” and Yaron Yadan, in a way they have done something good for the frum community as indicated below, although they generally communicate in a “mocking and arrogant way”, as was mentioned at the Siyum HaShas, and can thus be a negative force, especially for those not strong in faith. Here is what Rabbi Natan Slifkin wrote on his blog(February 25, 2010), quoting Rabbi Nachman Bulman:

      “Most significantly, Rav Nachman Bulman, ztz”l, an extremely special person (pictured here), was the mashgiach. I had some discussions with him about Torah/science issues. He told me that Daat Emet, who had just started disseminating their anti-religious literature, was doing a service for the frum community in that they would force it to confront these issues. And he read my early writings on these topics, and encouraged me to publish them”.

  23. Amateur says:

    He is young and unsullied, and did not yet comprehend the other obvious question: “Who made Hashem?” I long for him to ask that question to me, to see the kernel of reason and inquisitiveness that will hopefully one day lead to his emancipation.

    I am curious if you have ever really thought about this. Because I really doubt you have.
    Regardless of what origin of the universe you believe in, there is always something which was “not created” by other things.

    Further, any metaphor or explanation we have for how the world works, relies on a circular explanation at the base of that world view.

    The “Fabric of Space” analogy for Einstein’s gravity, relies on the existence of gravity in a larger dimension.

    The big bang, requires the formation /change of elemental mathematical formulas to “work”

    What is a “force” and how does it work? What is it working upon?

    To ask what created god, is like asking what created “math” or “force”

    I had hoped you had better questions for god’s existence than a lack of education in complex physics.

    • shim (Shimon) says:

      I concur in that it seems a weak question in the extreme to say there cannot be a God because there must have been a cause for that Being, when we know that Time is a dimension as well and so only relevant in the physical universe
      I reiterate: The only True thing we can say about God (in reference to His existence) is “I do not know” and go from there. All else is vanity.

  24. Amateur says:

    As a side comment, when I was about 15 years old, I was convinced that the writers of halacha were atheists, because of how little the after life mattered to the system, and for how little they seemed to care about supernatural opinions.

    I’m sure the fact that I was learning from mostly conservative and Israeli teachers was a factor in that thinking.

    • mahla says:

      I don’t know where I got this idea, but before I started reading about Judaism from the Jewish (or even formerly Jewish) perspective, I was under the impression that Jews did not even believe in an afterlife. Now I know this is not true.

  25. natan says:

    I believe Hashem created the believer and the non believer..B’tzelem Elokim..in the image of the Creator..containing the all and everything..including the contradictions..T’A”K”U..it will be revealed @ the time of the messiah..till then..i believe..(it is beyond belief)..
    thank u 4 making an effort 2 communicate the ‘unfathomable’…and i know that the greatest wonders of this journey are beyond words…and hence we have music melody silence..birds..the wind and wonder of it all..and without ‘belief’ we can still love, nurture, be of service..do justice..love mercy and walk humbly with G!D and our fellow beings..shalom..

  26. Ephraim says:

    “As I have said before, no one is forcing you to read this, if you don’t want to waste your time reading “sophomoric posts” please go elsewhere.”

    Sorry. This isn’t about me. It’s about you. It’s your blog, and you’re the center of conversation. Don’t distract attention from the issue. You make a claim, you should back it up- not make ad hominem arguments against those making legitimate challenges. I’m not saying to identify yourself, but to actually give real indications that you have studied Torah in depth. Nothing in your blog indicates any of this.

    Indeed some of your comments seem to indicate a dabbler rather than a scholar:
    “Indeed, the commentators who assert that somehow I missed some philosophical point or another assume that I hadn’t consider such points before. To the contrary, remember I am a rabbi, I do this for a living, so yes, I have gone through the Kuzari, Moreh, Pesach Kron, Aish, take your pick. ”

    Ohhh, that really runs the gamut! Pesach Kron (sic)!? Aish!? You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s not a list a rabbi with your claimed credentials would come up with!
    Here’s a better list- right off the top of my head (and I’m the amatuer):
    “Kuzari, Moreh, Soloveitchik, Kook, Hirsch, William James, Walter Wurzburger, Tanya, Keleman, Kaplan, Ramchal, Ralbag, Crescas, Saadiah Gaon, Belkin, Berkovits, Tatz, Heschel, Hermann Cohen, Steinsaltz, Amiel, Benamozegh,Wouk, Lamm, Lubavitcher Rebbe, Kaufmann, Tzaddok HaKoehn, Leibowitz and many others…”

    Now, don’t distort what I’ve written. Someone can read all of the above and remain a confirmed atheist. But your ad hoc list reeks of amateurism; it’s not the list of a rabbi or anyone who’s really studied. Someone who has studied, will will-nilly sound scholarly even in mundane conversation. And here, you’re writing deliberately, with all the pretensions of scholarship, and you have not written one word that couldn’t be written by some malcontent with two years of Yeshiva education.

    • In light your overwhelming erudition why don’t you go into blogging rather than commenting. You got me I am a total am ha- aretz I can’t tell the difference between a rambam and a ri migash.

      • William says:

        Sometimes one wins a tug of war by letting go!

      • Ephraim says:

        This blog is not about me or any alleged erudition you may snidely attribute to me. Nor at issue is whether I should start a blog. It’s about you and your claims to be a well rabbi who is well educated in Halacha and Jewish thought/philosophy. What your awareness of a couple of Rishonim has to do with your claims of having extensively studied Jewish thought, eludes me.
        You deflect, but you don’t address the issue. Nor have you provided any indication of real scholarship.

    • Puzzled says:

      Well, maybe I’m crazy, but I’m not familiar with a smicha program with that reading list. I’m more familiar with smicha programs that require some knowledge of SA and later codes, MT, and some Talmud.

      • Ephraim says:

        That list wasn’t in reference to Smicha. It was in reference to a rabbi who claims to have studied extensively Jewish thought. Here’s the quote again from our blogger:
        ““Indeed, the commentators who assert that somehow I missed some philosophical point or another assume that I hadn’t consider such points before. To the contrary, remember I am a rabbi, I do this for a living, so yes, I have gone through the Kuzari, Moreh, Pesach Kron, Aish, take your pick. ””

  27. ksil says:

    As several posters inmply and as The Way says “Do you believe the orthodox lifestyle is a healthy choice?”

    This is a key point….while the “truth” is important, it must be weighed against the benefits of living an orthodox lifestyle and raising children in it as well.

    There are many positives, that at least in my view, outweigh the negatives…..so “lying” to your kids about god and torah may be terrible, but there are many benefits that come with it! (family, morals, holidays, meaningful life…etc. etc..) I look at my teenage daughters who are in bais yaakov and while some of the rules they have to live with make me sick to my stomach – at least i dont worry about them geting knocked up!

    • tesyaa says:

      This is a common justification from people who can no longer justify the frum lifestyle. Yes, it’s fine not to worry about your bais yaakov daughters getting pregnant. But think about the alternatives. Think about the price paid for social conformity. The frum life is fine for those who believe in the divinity of the Torah and the authority of the Sages. Contrary to what you write – there are morals and family values in the non-frum and non-Jewish world. You don’t have to live in the 18th century and spend huge sums of money on religious requirement, and expend huge sums of emotional energy trying to conform to an increasingly insular and oppressive lifestyle, to have a good life.

    • Dov Kramer says:

      G-d forbid, though, that the reasons you want your family to live an “Orthodox lifestyle” would validate its theology as well.

    • Miami Al says:

      Really, is there an epidemic of upper middle class Jewish teenage girls getting pregnant somewhere that only Bais Yaakov can save?

      I mean, I’m sure it happens, but not to any of the secular Jewish teenage girls I know. Most of the ones I knew were mostly focused on NOT getting pregnant so they could go to college and meet a nice Jewish doctor or lawyer.

      I think that there are plenty of reasons to want a “frum” environment for your children, but the suggestion that the alternative is that your children will be getting pregnant as teenagers is a little extreme, no?

      • ksil says:

        miami al, the alternative to the orthodox lifestyle is not that “your children will be getting preganant”, but rather you dont “worry” that they get pregnant. That worry seems extreme to you? you know any non-jews with teenage kids?

        dov, i would love to you hear your logic on why the jewish lifestyle “validates” its theology. There seem to be many good lifestyle/religous choices that would yield the smae result

      • Dov Kramer says:


        If this were the only factor, you’d be right, there are other options. But it’s only one factor (among many, and only one factor pertaining to lifestyle too), and the other possible choices to alleviate this “worry” are not really options due to other (obvious) factors (i.e. they contain any/all issues OJ may have, plus more).

      • Miami Al says:


        Last time I checked, pregnancy was a function of biology, not religion. Just like “nice Catholic girls” and “nice Christian girls” can get pregnant, so can Orthodox girls.

        Not worrying about it means either you trust your children, which is a function of parenting style, or total disbelief. Depending upon the school to do your parenting for you seems like a risky endeavor.

        But I know a handful of nice Frum families where the first child was born < 9 months after they were married. Sometimes we have a full size "premmie," sometimes, people just ignore the issue. But then, the families in NYC seem to find it easier to set them up with an apartment in Miami instead of dealing with the shame.

        Religious people violate their religious tenants.

        The fact is, most wealthy upper middle class families with involved parents do not have teenagers that get pregnant, either from abstinence grounded in religious or secular values, or through application of birth control. The segment of people we are talking about might worry about it either way, but it's like worrying about child abduction, it just isn't a statistically real fear.

  28. Ari says:

    I apologize if this was asked and answered already (I just dont have the time to read all the comments)

    1. I am interested to know if you have the same “plumber” theory regarding not sharing this info with your wife and children? As long as you are being a good husband, what does it matter if they don’t really know who you are?

    2. And what if you didn’t feel any love for your family – would you, in the interest of consistency, believe that you are just as good of a husband as long as you fulfill your “husbanding” duties?

    3. I also am interested in your atheism. Forgetting about religion for a moment – do you fully believe that the world around you is just billions of years of cosmic development? That there is no Creator of the trees, human life, etc? I always find that hard to fathom.

    I would understand completely if you told me that you think that God exists but doesn’t have these grand and very specific expectations that Orthodox Judaism (and Conservative? And other religions as well) suggest. But to not believe that there was/is a Creator is hard for me to understand. I grant that your question of “Who created Hashem?” is a good one..but enough to undermine the beauty and complexity of the world suggesting that there is a Creator? Not even close.

    4. I too am a Modern Orthodox Rabbi and I am sad that you didn’t seem to contemplate (or care about?) the impact you would have on a denomination that has provided you with a parnasa by writing this blog. We struggle enough as it is to provide a forum/place/home for people who want to be fully committed to Judaism but also live and engage in the struggle with some of these questions and more. For you to write this blog and indicate that you are Modern Orthodox is unfair of you. I don’t have an issue with you needing to vent – I can only imagine how hard this is on you to feel this way in private and have to live a different public life. Why couldn’t you have made your denominational affiliation anonymous as well? (or maybe that is also a fabrication???) Does your denomination have some relevance here aside from letting us know that you and your congregation aren’t in sync? Couldn’t this have happened to a Rabbi (or Priest and Imam) from any group who no longer believes the tenets of faith he/she is preaching?

    • 1. As I mentioned in early posts, my wife knows something is amiss—something is different for me and about me. Like many people in my position, I have neglected to tell her the unvarnished truth due to the strain it would put on our relationship

      2. I don’t think I understand this point. Not feeling love for my family would be as difficult for me to comprehend as an Earth that is only 5770 years old.

      3. As I’ve tried to explain in a subtle manner, I am an atheist, not an Atheist; that is, a lower case atheist. And what I find hard to fathom, quite honestly, is not that you believe in Hashem or some sort of God, but that you appear never to have studied the arguments and studies that explain how this world came into being, studies that, while at certain points may be uncertain and unclear, are far more reasonable than just assumptions and assertions lumped together by someone in authority.

      4. My apologies if you were offended about my MO identification but it is true and a function of who I am and how I got here. I think Modern Orthodox is going through a rough patch at the moment—the reasons for that are beyond the scope of this post—but the denomination is just as crucial as any other detail as it explains who I am and informs my opinions. And yes, what happened to me could and does happen to all clergy and clerical figures. In this instance, it happened to me.

      • Only a Jew says:

        I have studied them “rabbi” and I believe they might find support in Jewish authorship such as Nachmonodies for example. The difference is Nachmonodies acknowledges a primary cause while science has yet to get there–though they can’t figure out primary cause or who first put the atoms/molecules where they were–but we should wait cuz soon enough they’ll have an answer–my feeling is we should probably know soon since we’ve waited a few hundred billion years to find out…

        What I can’t figure out about a “rabbi” such as yourself is how with all your scholarship, you didn’t come to an evolutionary rabbinic opinion when there is so much out there.

        My question for you “rabbi” and this is for the lower case atheist-can you please explain to me how you NOW see the Torah–who wrote it, when did that come into existence, how did it spread and be accepted by all the people in such a way that they had passed it down from generation to generation even at the end of the sword? Was there ever a temple or do you subscribe to the moslem theory of Jewish history?

      • mahla says:

        Rabbi, thanks for explaining that stuff.

      • William says:

        It’s important to point out that there is no scientific explanation of how the world came into being, just attempts to describe what the process looked like shortly after. Current models go back to within 10^-34 secs, a jiffy for sure, but not to the actual moment. Things apparently must have looked pretty strange then.

      • JDE says:

        Only a Jew –

        1. Your condescension is insufferable. You went out of your way to place “rabbi” in quotation marks three times. Could you have made your contempt any more obvious?

        2. You seem to feel that a first cause is a logical necessity(and your condescension extends to those poor scientists who are simply too deluded to see it). In fact, physicists have known for some time that causality breaks down increasingly the closer one gets to the point of origin. A creator isn’t necessarily mandated.

        You aren’t nearly as clever or insightful as you think you are. You are probably, however, as big an asshole as I think you are.

      • Robert says:

        Sir, may I offer a book for your reading? I do not expect it to sway your thinking one way or another, but it is excellent food for thought and may offer some very thoughtful insight. It is Gerald Schroeder’s work entitled, “The Hidden Science of G!d”. He is a physics trained graduate of MIT. It is an excellent work. Good luck on your difficult journey. May you ultimately find happiness and meaning for your life.

  29. ksil says:

    “Contrary to what you write – there are morals and family values in the non-frum and non-Jewish world.”

    i never said otherwise!

    “You don’t have to live in the 18th century ”

    I don’t! I have nice cars, a nice suburban house, work in corporate america, friends with jews and nonjews alike, enjoy movies, good books, and vacationing. becasue i dont answer the phone, or drive my car on shabbat – i am living in the 18th century?!?! or only eat kosher food!??! please….spending quality time with the family 1 day a week is unbelievable, and i would never trade that for any bacon cheeseberger ever!

    “spend huge sums of money on religious requirement” – on what? private school? thats not just a orthodox thing? what else? an etrog? matza on pesach? c’mon! yuo can do better than that, cant you?!?!

    • tesyaa says:

      Private school – in America, private school is for the socially exclusive wealthy and the religious. There are AMAZING public schools in great communities that even very rich people use, because they are so great. Also, by indoctrinating your daughters in bais yaakov, you are depriving them of the chance to be part of a diverse, tolerant society. No doubt they are being taught that non-Jews are inferior life forms.

      Private school is a huge, unnecessary expense, and you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise. Just look at Tenafly NJ; Millburn NJ; and Scarsdale, NY. The cheapest house in Tenafly (which is a great neighborhood) gets you the same public schools that the guy with the $10 million house uses for his kids.

      Look, you don’t want to leave Orthodoxy even though you may not believe everything – I respect that.

      In terms of the 18th century – you only mention material possessions – very telling. Materially you are living in the 21st century, but your society is as closed minded as any 18th century civilization.

      • ksil says:

        Tessya, I hear what you are saying, however, when you say that I am “depriving them of the chance to be part of a diverse, tolerant society. No doubt they are being taught that non-Jews are inferior life forms.” This is something that (hoepfully) I am addressing at home during their formative years (as a a parent).

        Look, I agree there are big drawbacks – but when i throw the pros and cons on the scale, the pros outweigh the cons, and I feel like some of the cons, (especially the valid ones that you mention) I can address and attack at home – as a parent.

        as the rabbi says, teaching them to think for themselves and use the brain, logic, reason that god gave them to develop their individuality and independence will hopefully show them the light.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        Tesyaa, would you mind if we switched names? You appear to be much more worthy of the Am HaAretz title? Would you also be so kind and forgive my ad hominem argument?

      • Miami Al says:


        Last time I found numbers published was 2005, but then, 20% of school aged children were in private schools. While 80% of those students were in religious schools, 20% were in completely secular schools. Of those 80% in religious schools, it isn’t clear how much was “avoiding the other” a la 1950s Catholic school or modern Yeshiva, and how much was a private school with good morals.

        I have relatives (Jewish) that attended Catholic schools for part of their education. The non-Catholic kids had a generic ethics component instead of Cathechism, and were in a school with strong morals and strong focus on extra-curricular programs (independent Catholic schools) or a strong focus on discipline and the basics (diocese schools). I know plenty of Catholics that were at non-Catholic Christian schools, and Protesants at Catholic schools (the theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are at LEAST as vast as between Orthodox and Conservative Jews — remember, the Jewish Reform movement was a response to the Protestant Reformation, it didn’t happen in a vacuum).

        The point is, plenty of people choose private schooling. And for a wealthy, high income, university educated Jewish family to choose private schooling is no big deal. Private schooling is a large expense, but by the numbers I saw, 4% of Americans were in secular private schools, those CLEARLY had no religious motivations for it. If 25% of the students at religious schools are choosing it for private schooling, that’s another 4% of the student aged population (even half that is 2%). Either way, 4%-8% of American students are in private schooling for non-religious reasons.

        For a wealthy upper middle class Jewish family to choose private schooling is NOT unreasonable. So for such an Orthodox family to make peace with that decision is not a problem for me.

        OTOH, a middle class or lower Jewish family that is driving falling apart cars and neglected dental care, that’s another story, and perhaps the universal Jewish education isn’t ideal for them.

        I find the cost differential of Orthodoxy pretty small, my kids need childcare regardless. My lack of vacation time outside of Chagim is a frustration, but that’s a function of where I work and our vacation policies, not just my being observant.

        If I choose a private Jewish school for my children, it would be as opposed to a secular private school, not instead of a public school. If I can afford private schooling, I’ll decide which one I want, but if I can’t afford it, oh well.

        Private schooling for people that can’t afford private school is a separate problem, but not one from the poster you responded to.

      • amldc says:

        Miami Al- maybe not *you*… we realize your life is pretty darn perfect. But surely you have to agree that the majority of orthodox kids in orthodox day schools are in a system that is fundamentally broken because they are middle- and lower-class. Surely you must agree, no? 😉

      • Miami Al says:


        My life is pretty damned good, thanks for noticing. But it’s through hard work and dedication, clawing for success each step of the way… it’s not a given.

        If you look at the income of “full paying” families in MO Day Schools, you are looking at families in the 150k – 250k range (or higher). That range puts you in the top 4%-7% of American family incomes. Given that that roughly corresponds to the percentage of kids in secular private schools, I think that most Tuition whiners are just that, whiners. They are in the income range where private school is not uncommon. Their Catholic and Protestant counterparts may not all utilize private schools, but it certainly isn’t uncommon amongst elite society.

        Milton Himmelfarb said, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” For the secular Jews, this includes voting with their feet to buy houses in “good school districts” and use public schools, instead of more affordable housing and paying for better education in a private school… I guess it seems like a bargain to them. 🙂

        Should the lower class through middle class Jews be in private schools? Actually, yet, they probably should. We should be setting up Shuls AND Schools in poor areas that these Jews could afford to live in, like the Catholic Church did during the waives of immigration in the last century. An entire generation of Catholics were given Catholic educations AND houses of worship finances by their wealthier brethren, and nobody thinks twice about Catholics in positions of power… people don’t even think of them as a minority group… because the schools helped elevate them.

        However, I don’t think middle class and lower Jews should be living in expensive upper middle class suburbs (or enclaves with in, where ever the wealthy Jews build a Shul) and sending their kids to overpriced mediocre schools.

        But that’s a problem of Jewish leadership, not schooling.

        Life is pretty good if you are in the top earning brackets in America. If you aren’t there yourself, you should try to give your kids the tools to do it for themselves… starting with the best education you can get them.

    • amldc says:

      idk Al, we’re in that income bracket and tuition last year just about killed us. To be fair, we just got to that bracket (we’re pretty young) but we were really struggling (also, student loan payments hit at the same time, giving us a double whammy).

      Most of our friends with young kids are on tuition, barely making ends meet, and their marriages are suffering. Of course, none of that stops them from having more babies and so the cycle continues.

      Anyway, at the end of the day, we pulled our kids out (for a number of reasons beyond tuition payments) and had a lovely year in a charter school. So lovely in fact, that we’re going back for more next year.

  30. real rabbi says:

    a few years ago i had a presbyterian priest who used to come to my classes. after a while he confessed to me that he felt dishonest leading his church. by that time he was only quotiing from the old testament. he realized the lies and ridiculousness of thenew one and wanted to convert to Judaism. I told him like all good rabbis that we are not looking for converts. he can be a good person and go toheaven as hashem loves all human beings as a gentile as well. there is no monopoly that jews have up there and that gentiles have down there. in addition i told him that t i particularly thought it was not rigthe right desicion for him as his children and wife were raised in the church and the transition would be to difficult forthme and not mandated . i did however tell him that he should resign fofrom his pulpit as it was a sin tollie and decieve his “flock” and that was something that was morally wrong and terrible to live with.
    he did so. But he believed in sin and morals. i guess for an atheist your morals are wahtever you choose them to be. as there is no absolute wrong and right that can ever be imposed upon an individula in a world created by chance and led by the whims and desicions of mortals who differ in their perspective. ironic that a priest has more morals then someone who still goes with the title Rabbi.
    do you feel you have any scruples or morals and if so where do they come formand what actual weight do they hold?

    • Genius says:

      Since when do Presbyterians have priests?

    • I commented on one quote of this comment, but mistakenly I replied to the wrong comment, so my comment instead appears under the post of “Jennifer KRieger”. Use the search field typing “anders branderud” to find my comment!

    • G*3 says:

      > ironic that a priest has more morals then someone who still goes with the title Rabbi

      Doesn’t that just say everything about the frum world’s attitudes towards everyone else.

      • Am HaAretz says:

        @real rabbi

        I have always maintained that Jews should be sophisticated enough not to confuse Jews with Judaism itself and rabbis with religion. This is a fact that most non-Jews have not been able to process.

        In ideological warfare, the one that is most like you, but a little different is your greatest enemy and you see this in the Jewish world, in the Torah world.

      • David says:

        Sadly, yes. I suppose you could call it “holding ourselves to a higher standard,” but, in the end, it usually sounds a lot like “despising everyone who isn’t us.”

  31. Jennifer KRieger says:

    None of my business. It’s not for me to condemn your decision to serve your congregation, and you probably do it well.
    BUT… When I look back on conversations with my parents, it’s their honesty and respect for me that I remember as much as anything they said.
    If you are dying inside it might be a good time to start looking for a way to introduce yourself to your family.
    Good luck to you,
    Jennifer Krieger

    • Quote: “he can be a good person and go toheaven as hashem loves all human beings as a gentile as well.”

      (The translations of some words below are for those whom don’t understand the terminology in Judaism.)
      Since many persons are reading the comments, and since the quoted statement contradicts Tan’’kh (including Torah (“the books of Moses”)) ((Yes, it is correct that ha-Sheim loves all human beings.) it is an contradiction, because of that goyim (persons not included in the pact with ha-Sheim (the Creator)) are not promised ha-olam haba (which some would call “heaven”), but according to Tan’’kh will be punished), and many persons take it as an advice and guidance (which would lead them in the wrong direction), I will comment (atheists, agnostics and other persons whom don’t believe in the Jewish scriptures can start with the last paragraph if they want to).

      “Noachides” are according to Tan”kh the same thing as goyim, and goyim are not promised ha-olam haba in Tan”kh. One can learn this by studying the glossary entries in http://www.netzarim.co.il, particularly Bәnei-Noakh, and consulting a Hebrew concordance to make an exhaustive study of what is prophesied to happen to all goyim.

      Quote: “The Nәtzârim Beit-Din were the original Beit-Din who defined the Noakhide Laws as the minimum threshhold requirements to admit a proselyte, thereby enabling him or her to study Torâh with Jews, in the Jewish community, and begin the transition of learning and becoming non-selectively Torâh-observant.” (source: the above Netzarim-website)

      The ancient Halakhah is this:
      The Noakhide should practise the minimum threshold-requirements, come before a beit-din (implying Orthodox) promising to adhere to that requirements and to start doing his/her utmost to observe the mitzwot in Torah non-selectively; and then study Torâh with Jews, in the Jewish community, and begin the transition of learning and becoming non-selectively Torâh-observant. Doing this he/she is given the title geir toshav (a resident-alien)/geirah toshav by the beit-din, and has a part of ha olam haba as long as he/she is doing his/her utmost to keep Torah non-selectively to his/her utmost (this includes teaching correctly about what is required of all of humankind) (which ha-Sheim requires of all of humankind (see Yekhezqeil (de-Judaized to “Ezekiel”) 18 et.al. in Tan”kh).

      The conclusions in the Netzarim-website are in accordance with Tan”kh and the research of the eminent Scholar Louis H. Feldman (Biblical Archeological Review states: “There is simply no one in the world who has a better grasp of Hellenistic Jewish literature than Louis Feldman” , Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World.)

      The conclusion is that a person not doing his/her utmost to keep Torah non-selectively can’t go to “heaven”. A conclusion in perfect harmony with formal logic based on scientific premises (no pseudo science); read the article “ Proof of the existence of an Intelligent and Perfect Creator
      “ in my blog (the website address is: ) bloganders (dot) blogspot (dot) com

  32. David says:

    Thanks, Mahla. If you ever start a blog, I’d like to read it!

  33. Puzzled says:

    I do have to take exception to the name of the blog. You say that you don’t privately observe the laws…so how are you orthoprax? But that’s a minor quibble.

    I’m interested in the comments about ‘how can you not tell your son?’ Tell him what, exactly? It seems to me that what we have are beliefs, and that the biggest problem with orthodoxy is the complete absence of beliefs – they are replaced by claims to truth. Why not, as the OR does, let your son decide? The key, to me, is the critical thinking a child must go through to see that Noah didn’t build an ark – not being told a fact that Noah didn’t build an ark.

    Why do I choose that example? It came up once when I went to a stranger for shabbat. One of the guests taught at a Chabad school, and told us a story about the children learning Noach, and asking uncritical questions. She said she felt very uncomfortable answering them as if she thought Noah had built an ark.

    On another note, the post begins with you writing your drasha. I note that this week is Mattos-Massei, the parsha that first started nudging me off the path, so to speak. How do you drash on this?

    • David says:

      Pardon my jumping in here, but I think “drashing” on something is totally unrelated to whether or not it’s real. I could read my son any of Aesop’s fables, and help him extract the obvious lesson without convincing him that a fox and a crow (or whatever) actually had such a conversation. This is pretty much what I do with Torah stories– I say that the Torah says such-and-such. That much is unquestionably true (the Torah does SAY that). So, what’s the lesson or principle here? I don’t have to say whether such-and-such really happened, because it has nothing to do with whether or not the principle is valid.

      • Puzzled says:

        Ok, yes, that’s my point. What I’m curious about is what the moral of the events of Mattos-Massei can possibly be, if not “kill when God says to kill, and take all the virgins” or “permitted and forbidden are in the eyes of God – after all, it was a terrible sin to sleep with them, but you can kill all except the virgins and then claim the virgins as war prizes.”

  34. Strange says:

    Wow. Although I didn’t have several years of kollel, I also got semicha, learned a bevy of rishonim and achronim (medieval and modern sages — explaining for those who didn’t have this education), tur and shulchan aruch (basic codes of Jewish law), nosei keilim on yoreh deah and orach chaim (central commentaries on the major sections of the above codes), as well as other parts of the halakhic tradition. Tanakh, Jewish thought, etc. I was a rav hamachsir (kosher certifying rabbi) who set policy for local kosher establishments.

    I served as a rav and also did a pretty good job of it, and was certainly not close to being let go or anything like that. I had a daughter, my first child… and gave my notice to the executive director where I worked a few months later as I became convinced that I could not raise her as an orthodox Jew. I STILL feel that I need to be circumspect as regards to my identity because it will hurt people, but I can no longer live a lie.

    I guess I am lucky — I was afraid of becoming you.

    • Miami Al says:


      I became observant as an adult. I was observant for several years and learning with people semi-regularly before I realized that anyone ACTUALLY believed our tenants literally.

      I always read the explanations as a combination of allegory and literal. i.e. When deciding Halacha, we assume that X, Y, and Z are true. My limited learning of Talmud, albeit translated into English, read like a fun logic puzzle from school.

      i.e. Assume that meat and milk can’t be cooked or served together, assume that people use chicken and meat interchangably, and further assume that all but the most minute mistakes are severe, THEREFORE, do not cook or serve chicken and milk together.

      At no point did I actually think that people were ACTUALLY concerned that something bad would happen to them/their souls from mixing meat and milk, just that the rules of the game required accepting that that was true.

      I added Mitzvot because it was our cultural heritage and that was the rules of the subculture I chose to adopt. It was only when discussions of education came up that I realized that many of the people I knew ACTUALLY believed the superstitious nonsense that underlined it. I assumed that we all knew it was a game we played with the rules of our civilization.

      Like you I am relatively agnostic, I have few opinions on the divine. Something created the Universe, and we can call it Hashem (or whatever you want to call it), no problems there. However, adopting 5th century science for the purpose of evaluating our ritual legal code I have no problem with, but adopting that in place of actual science, well that’s just silly.

      So I’m at a crossroads, I like being an observant Jew, I like Judasim as an environment for our children, but I don’t want them educated in an anti-science anti-truth manner, so I have a struggle or two as well.

      The only “organized” Atheism, as your pointed out, are anti-religious Atheists. Most people don’t really think about their beliefs and participate in the culture of their religious, whether Church on Sundays or more intense affiliation. I don’t think people spend a lot of time thinking about it, they think about the rest of their lives, and enjoy the culture in which they participate.

      • Adam says:

        Miami Al,
        I still don’t believe anyone takes it literally, unless they are uneducated in Judaism.

        But Education of young people is a different story. Don’t forget that children still think the “Ninja Turtles” literally live in the sewers of NY and are just really good at hiding.

      • Strange says:

        Thank you for your reply. I truly appreciated your words and actually got a bit of a kick out of them. Indeed, I realized that the few times I was involved in teaching non-orthodox Jews or converts interested in joining the frum community. I gravitated towards what seemed to me more reasonable, meaningful and mostly metaphorical interpretations of tradition, but I realized I was setting them up to fail if I pretended as if there wasn’t a whole world of Jews who have a vastly different world view.

      • Dov Kramer says:


        There are plenty of (Modern) Orthodox schools (as well as a number of almost Chareidi type schools) that teach current scientific knowledge as well as providing a traditional Jewish education.

    • David says:

      What about your wife?

      • Strange says:

        She and I, although we disagree on many things religiously, saw eye to eye on this. In some ways she left the derekh before I did.

  35. Strange says:

    Just some random stuff to earlier comments

    1) Atheism is not a religion. Call it a doctrine or philosophy if you like, but a religion is not the same thing. It is primarily about affiliation with a concurrant commitment to its constituting principles. Religion does have doctrine and beliefs, but also has community, dedicated institutions, traditions and ritual, etc. You affiliate with a religion. I could claim “I am a buddhist” but unless I take refuge vows and join a community I am not much of a buddhist. Atheism doesn’t have much of the sort. There are atheist institutions one can affiliate with but that affiliation is not central to being an atheist.

    2) There are nuanced ways to be religious. I am not an atheist. I am somewhat of an agnostic although I experience God in my life the way I experience beauty in the music of Bach, I can’t prove it and don’t need to. I believe the Myth behind religious culture is valuable as the narrative of a civilization. Rituals are valuable for building a community with meaning. That means not being beholden to every jot and tittle (being makpid for a makhmir deah and therefore shaking my lulav in one specific way) unless I see reason to on the one hand, but happily joining with my fellow Jew for passover on the other.

    Just random musings on your blog and its comments.

  36. tayqoo says:

    Am HaAretz says:
    July 11, 2010 at 11:10 am
    Great point on:

    ולמלשינים אל תהי תקוה, וכל הרשעה, כרגע תאבד. וכל אויבך מהרה יכרתו. והזדים מהרה תעקר, ותשבר ותמגר, ותכניע, במהרה בימינו. ברוך אתה יי, שבר אויבים ומכניע זדים.

    How does the Orthoprax Rabbi deal with essentially cursing himself or being cursed by his congregation or the cursing by klal yisroel?

    .this is a prayer against subversives, not so much our theological enemies

    • Strange says:

      I would add that he can easily get away with not actually reciting v’lamalshinim. How often do Orthodox shul rabbis (as opposed to Cons. or Ref.) actually lead davvening? I think it is fairly rare. I lead on yahrtzeits and once in a blue moon other than that. That is one of the nice things about being in the frum world, everyone (male) knows how to be a shat”z so the rabbi doesn’t have to “lead services”. So therefore our rav here could easily just not say the bracha, or not any bracha (other than perhaps kiddush at home), just shuckle and mumble like most yiddin in shul who davven to fast to say anything anyway and never actually worry about what he says.

      • ksil lo yavin says:

        i dont get it. he doesnt believe in this hocus pocus stuff, so why would it bother him to mumble some hebrew words about that?

  37. “He is young and unsullied, and did not yet comprehend the other obvious question: “Who made Hashem?” I long for him to ask that question to me, to see the kernel of reason and inquisitiveness that will hopefully one day lead to his emancipation”

    Will it truly lead to his so called “emancipation”? It does not seem to have done that for you. Also, why must everything be understood as rational thought. Why is it not OK knowing that there are somethings we simply will not know. Who made Hashem? Frankly, who cares? Why is it not possible to accept that perhaps there is something to being omnipotent? There is the possiblity that G-d is around forever what ever that might mean. You don’t know what the future holds nor what the end is for mankind, so why then is it important and in your words “emancipating” to know when G-d was created?

  38. David says:


    Fair point. As a practical matter, given my family’s situation (I’m a US gov’t attorney and live in the DC suburbs), the whole killing/raping/seizing the booty thing doesn’t come up much in our lives. I suppose, if I were going to give a drash on this story, I’d focus on the naughtiness of the people who pissed off God to the extent that, in His Mercy, He decided to have them all butchered or ravished (or ravished and butchered). The moral, if you like, can be that there are disagreeable consequences for rotten behavior, and that it’s on something like a sliding scale. Don’t clean up your room– that’s a potch in tuchus; undermine the morality of the Jewish people, that’s going to be a bit more serious. I dunno, how’s that?

  39. tesyaa says:

    I used public school as an example only. I do think that if someone is living an Orthoprax lifestyle but doesn’t believe, there might be better things to do with his time and/or money than spend them on religious trappings. The original discussion centered around deception of one’s children. I do not think there is a single yeshiva in existence today that is compatible with skepticism. Sending children to yeshiva is in and itself a deception, and the rationale “at least they won’t get pregnant or dye their hair blue” doesn’t hold water, considering there are other educational options (including secular private schools and public school) that are more intellectually honest.

    • JDE says:

      I agree. Programming one’s daughters for a lifetime of servitude so that one can get a few nights’ sleep is the height of selfishness. Of course, I suspect it’s just a rationalization.

  40. Noam says:

    which aspects of Judaism do you have trouble with? Is it certain aspects of halacha in general? Is it a general issues with the idea of a creator? An active participatory creator? Would you be more comfortable with Deism? Please describe the issues you have…

    Something like this could only happen in Baltimore.

    • ksil lo yavin says:

      baltimore?! how could that be? there is only 1 modern orthodox shul in baltimore – i highly doubt its him

  41. Shades of Gray says:

    “I do not think there is a single yeshiva in existence today that is compatible with skepticism.”

    Yeshivos certainly are trying to give their students a foundation in classical faith-sources(eg, Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah, Kuzari, and Ramban on Chumash).

    In addition, yeshivos were responsible, at least in part, for producing intellectual giants such as Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, R. Yitzhak HaLevi(Doros HaRishonim), R. Chaim Heller, and the like, who could hold their own with Maskilim, at least in their specialized areas. While the average yeshivah bachur will not be exposed to this, the Orthodox world has had great rabbis who engaged the Haskalah with their intellectual output.

  42. Pingback: Emancipation and Other Pursuits | The Orthoprax Rabbi's Blog

  43. DARWIN says:

    This is very interesting stuff.
    It really stirs our minds to think and ponder all the things that we do as religious jews and not just to do them out of habit, which is a good thing.
    I am wondering if Darwin would of announced that he personally doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution would that make him a fraud or is he just trying out a theory on us and if you like it great if not move on?
    I think he would of been shunned and called all kind of names by the world if he would of done this .
    People expect you to practice what you preach especially when in a position of authority.

  44. harchickgirl1 says:

    I simply cannot comprehend a parent signing his daughter up for a lifetime of obligation, obedience, servitude and insular education simply because he cannot find a way of being true to his own beliefs while maintaining contact with his own community.

  45. Robert says:

    To all, here is the latest from an author I like, discussing the latest findings in molecular biology and quantum physics and their relation to the metaphysical. An excellent work, and thought provoking. An excerpt of it can be read here.


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