Aryeh’s Story

Aryeh is 21 and was raised in Seattle. Today, Aryeh considers himself to be an atheist, but a human before anything else. In many ways he identifies more with his hunter gatherer, primate, and non-mammalian ancestors than his more recent Jewish ones but feels a cultural kinship not related to religion for his fellow Jews.

Hi Aryeh, what was your family’s religious background?

Raised by Aish parents, so orthodox. In my teens I became devoutly yeshivish (black hat) and eventually developed my own mix of Chassidus, Kabbalah, and Yeshivishness.

How was it like to be ‘raised by Aish parents’?

Like everything in life, it was terrible and wonderful, and deeply, deeply, bizarre.

Ironically, it provided me with a lot of the values that eventually lead me away from Judaism – ideals like seeking truth above all else, standing up for what you believe in, the primacy of knowledge and its ability to relieve others from suffering. It also made me fiercely confident in my belief in God – I watched my parents convince many people to become observant of judaism and grew up convinced that there was objective proof for its claims. It wasn’t just a religion, it was reality – I remember my father saying those exact words. It also exposed me to some of what proselytizing can necessitate – for example, when convincing people to accept the 613 commandments, you’re taught not to mention the genocide or the slavery and whatnot first. On the plus side, having 30-100 secular people at the shabbos table every Friday night taught me a lot about people and how to communicate with them, as well as giving me a taste of the outside world. I feel very close to my fellow OTD’ers, but even closer with those who made the journey out of Aish families (of which there are many – it is hard to keep kids in the bubble when you’re letting the influence of the secular world into your home, even when it is to convert them. It’s the same with Chabad families).

What made you become a devout yeshivish person?

I took religion very seriously. I was deeply inspired by it, and wanted to serve God as well I could. I haven’t met any other OTD people who took it as seriously as I did. I chose to go to the most intense yeshivah possible because I wanted to become a Rabbi, and spread the good word. I even fantasized about being moshiach, or at least one of his good friends. I cried to God, and begged his forgiveness for various assorted sins such as masturbation, walking more than four steps without washing my hands in the morning, and not spending every possible moment of the day studying Torah . I stayed up until the early morning learning. I gave up movies and music and tried my best to fit their mold. I did have a personal version of God that I defended against yeshivah as well – I was very into chassidus and kabbalah and would often have my books confiscated by my rebbeim. So there was a kind of double layer of intensity there – intense pressure from friends and rabbis, and then my own personal relationship with God, whom I would speak to constantly, often more than any of my friends. The Yeshiva world seemed the most devoted to Torah, and Torah was what i wanted- so i jumped in without thinking.

So where did things “go wrong”? 🙂

It’s impossible to point at any one thing. I started getting into science by sneaking in iPods full of educational podcasts into yeshivah during my last year. During my last year of Yeshivah in California I would hike nearly every day and learn about nature, which made me feel happier than any amount of gemara ever did. I had one English teacher in the early years of yeshivah with whom I learned about science and some philosophy, and my conversations with him were always disturbingly more interesting than my chavrusas were. After high school, I became very depressed, and when I looked to God and Torah for help, it was only exacerbated by the guilt, the pressure, and the ignorance i was surrounded by. I constantly struggled with the faulty logic of the gemerah- when id point out its irrationality my rebbe would say that i had a ‘goyishe kup’. Eventually exploring a previously prohibited combination of philosophy external to judaism, such as Buddhism, Existentialism, and Psychedelic literature, provided some healing. The array of new ideas offered something i had sought in vain for in judaism- paradigm shattering experiences so large i had to rearrange myself to make them fit. But these things were not earned, and this profoundly disturbed me. For example- these plants that helped me so dramatically grow naturally out of earth, they evolved out of our planet just as I had come to accept I did. Meditatio, too does not subscribe to the reward/punishment paradigm-, the experiences I had were not earned, they were uncovered. From then on, I began to feel that bliss is not something to be earned or bestowed, it is a human birthright, accessible to all. The idea that the wisdom I had found in Buddhism wouldn’t be the first words God spoke to his people was the first real strike of doubt in my mind. What kind of God has this knowledge and hides it? How could my people be the chosen ones if they can’t even figure out something as essential as peace of mind?

There were a few specific thinkers who really practically changed my life and perspective. Discovering them was  an incredible experience – I truly was on a quest for truth, and I knew I had found it in these ideas. Alan Watts, Terence Mckenna, Carl Sagan, Sam Harris, Aldous Huxley, and the words of many many others were fuel for a fire that burned in me the way my Rebbeim described the greatest Rabbis learned. I felt everything I was told I was supposed to be feel about the words of Torah when I read their words. I would write furiously, read furiously, and then experience blissfully their perspective, in meditation, isolation/sensory deprivation tanks, in nature, and in daily life. I had one or two friends at different stages of this process as well, on  parallel journeys. Talking to them was a very big part of speeding up the process for me, but for the most part it was an intensely solitary process, as i was usually in different countries than them.

This process, and the ideas that I encountered along the way, brought up a lot of old questions, ranging from moral ones like “do homosexuals really deserve to die?” to logical ones like “how the hell did kangaroos cross oceans to reach Noah’s ark?”, to spiritual ones like “why does staring into the eyes of a deer feel more Godly than learning what is supposed to be his holiest publication?”.

The philosophical and and intuitive issues I had wouldn’t have been enough alone. Once I was introduced to the concept of rational thought I really had to figure this out on that level. I was home for medical treatment and had access to the Internet and began watching debates and reading books on the subject. I watched dozens of hours of debate with the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse, which was when a lot of the logical wars were won. I had one friend who was on a similar journey, spiritually, philosophically, morally, and logically, and that was hugely important to the process as well. The loneliness and alienation is probably the most painful part. Having your context for existence punched out of your lungs is one thing; being the only person you know who knows what it feels like is another.

Around this time, I volunteered for a frum organization devoted to helping kids with cancer. I remember one day a kid from the camp died, and the staff were telling the children to daven harder so that god wouldn’t take any more children. I knew then something had changed in me. I didn’t see God’s grace and mysterious ways. I saw dying kids, often with diseases caused by scientific ignorance, whose parents were cousins, who didn’t bother or know to check for genetic diseases common in the inbred ashkenazi gene pool, suffering immensely. Telling them they weren’t praying hard enough seemed terribly abusive for the first time.

After that summer, I went to Israel to speak to the same Rabbis who had convinced my parents to throw away their secular lives and devote themselves to ending “the spiritual holocaust of intermarriage.” I needed to bring them my questions and see if they had any answers. This was their job, after all. I’m sure I wasn’t the first kid who came to them with questions. My father insisted he had done the same and was convinced. I needed to see for myself. Over the course of a few months, I spoke and debated with them. It was a fascinating experience and mostly disappointing. I was raised being told there were proofs for orthodox Judaism’s claims about reality. This trip confirmed, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was false and that my moral and philosophical issues with Judaism had no satisfactory resolutions.

Could you give us a glimpse behind the curtain of your debates with these kiruv Rabbis?

One of my favorite moments was when this rabbi was arguing intelligent design to me by giving the classic example of how amazing the human eye is (despite the fact that a quick google search reveals that it has very few frames per second, can see only a very limited range of light, and is wired completely backwards). I paused for a second and pointed at his glasses. “Rabbi, you’re wearing glasses. Obviously, something’s gone wrong.” It’s a great metaphor for the whole experience really. They were great at spouting rhetoric and arguments that had the appearance of being well thought out, but at second glance were laughably illogical and deeply flawed.  One rabbi shouted at me, in a crowded coffee shop, that he would murder and rape his wife and children if God didn’t exist. That was a fun night. Others were much more respectable and moderate, but when I pressed them hard enough, for long enough, and took their logic trains to their last stations, we always arrived at the same place: blind faith. And that was never going to be enough for me. Not with so much evidence against it. Not one rabbi could give me a good reason why we really needed to commit so much genocide in God’s name, or why it was ever ok for Jewish fathers to sell their daughters into slavery, or why every year, millions of infants die while their mothers beg their respective Gods to spare their children. They have some great matrix metaphors, but again, when discussed for more than an hour, the kiruv stuff really falls apart. They were not really willing to do or respond to research, which stopped a lot of conversations in their tracks. They were specifically comfortable with circular logic, which is impossible to point out to someone who hasn’t seen beyond it. You’re dealing with a very infantile twisted sort of logic that mimics reason – the only way to disprove it is to wade deep into those waters and point out the issues one by one. The response is usually belligerent repetition of the faulty logic, and that’s where it gets really exhausting. With my yeshivish Rabbi’s, even that would have been impossible- you simply cannot convince someone  who does not value reason to value reason using reason.

At the end of the day, they were people, which meant some got mad, others sad, and others didn’t really care either which way. I used to speak to my rabbis only in third person, and this really shattered the illusion of grandeur that can create. The other thing I saw again and again, and was impressed by, was the tenacity of cognitive bias. These rabbis had everything to lose if they were wrong, and it showed. There was one rabbi, however, whom I spoke to, who I saw I was really getting to. I realized in one moment that my doubts had spread to his mind, and I saw genuine fear on his face. I got scared too. I was in a lot of pain, as my world came crashing down on me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that to this man, who had a wife and children. I stopped pushing him so hard, and watched his cognitive biases erase the fear, as he assured himself things would be ok. It was a powerful lesson for me. I knew what it felt like to bury doubt; I had been doing it for years. To watch an adult man do it in front of me, in real time, was a powerful thing to witness, Especially because these were the rabbis that had convinced my parents- and thus were at least partly responsible for my existence in the first place.

What are the most positive aspects for you of going OTD?

Yahweh, as Dawkins put it, could be the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. For me, leaving his shadow meant leaving behind a great deal of shame, paranoia, pressure, and delusion. I live a less deluded life, in line with what is as close as possible to what I perceive as the truth. Perhaps more important than even that, though, is the loss of meaning.

A lot of the positive aspects of being OTD are born from the loss of unnecessary bullshit. As religious jew, I believed my life to be the most meaningful possible life one can live. Now I know that life is a fantastic bizarre mistake, and that meaning is something we make for ourselves, like tea or art or air conditioning. This is incredibly liberating. The stars are no longer pretty decorations in god’s pretty terrarium, but rather massive nuclear furnaces in which everything I have ever cared about were cooked. I don’t have to be alive. I can opt out whenever I like, without fear of eternal punishment. Every moment I stay is my choice, not a commandment. I count the loss of the afterlife, too, to be a gain. I was nothing a lot more time than I was something, and I will lapse back into nothingness within the next 80 years or so. Makes this whole affair a lot less of a burden. It’s real freedom. The experiences I had with psychedelics were also astonishingly powerful and healing. With psychedelics, I experience honestly and completely every cliche I had ever heard about feeling at one with the universe, at peace with myself, and in love with my fellow beings. I finally felt, not just intellectually, at home in the universe, not a stranger banished from eden but a product and part of the universe the way a fruit is a part of a tree. I really felt that, in my bones, and came for the first time to love my primate body and the squirmy-comfortable sensation of being an organism. I shudder to think of dying without having had such experiences, which I count among the most spiritual, most meaningful, most liberating moments of my life. I can finally be the person I daydreamed about being, and I’ve only been out a year. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

One final gain I must mention is the wonderfully queer pleasure I can now experience of changing my mind. Once you step out of the rigid thinking of belief, you can constantly have your mind changed through conversation and research. Knowing I will never stop doing that means knowing I will probably be unrecognizable to my current self in a few years. I’ll die and be reborn again and again in a certain way. It makes it a lot more fun, and a lot funnier.

When we met in Israel a few months ago, we indeed found a common interest in meditation. What does meditation mean to you and what could it mean for people who are going through life changes like yours?

I’d like to preface whatever I say here by saying that, while it has changed my life quite dramatically, I do not currently have a ton of experience with meditation, nor do i have a very devoted practise or respectable understanding of buddhism and/or modern mindfulness. Most of what I say here is paraphrasing the ideas of people who do.

I believe that there is a baby in the bathwater of religion – and that baby is the secret tip of maslow’s hierarchy: above the need for food and water and safety and community resides the need for self-transcendence. The respected neuroscientist and author Sam Harris discusses in his book ‘Waking Up’ how nuns, monks, rabbis, and priests, when put in MRIs, tended to show similar things happening in their brains as they prayed. Meditation has a comparable effect, without the need for spiritual mumbo jumbo, dogma, and shame. More often than not, when you are raised frum, you are told that Jews have the monopoly on spirituality, on being Godly, and on true peace of mind. For me, engaging in meditation disproves that, scientifically and experientially. Scientific research has confirmed dozens of benefits of meditation – from better sleep to less anxiety, from better athletic performance to a literal increase in grey matter, from enhanced creativity to increased susceptibility to awe – but the real benefit isn’t as concrete as that. The real benefit promised by practitioners of meditation is a fundamental shift in how we relate to ourselves and the world.

Religion isn’t the only lie we were brought up with. There are plenty of other flawed human constructs that are, while incredibly powerful tools for the growth and organization of our species, (as explained brilliantly by Yuval Noah Harari in ‘Sapiens’) cause immense human suffering, for example concepts such as free will and a self. From a meditator’s perspective, these too are illusions to be shattered, and if the claims of buddhism are to believed, for some this change is more or less permanent.

Judaism is often all about commemorating the past, undoing the sins of the past, explaining the past, in the hopes that we will build the temple in the future, live in gan eden in the future, be out of exile in the future. The present moment is extremely neglected. Meditation gave the present moment back to me. I do not mean to claim that I am free of anxiety or the notion of self or anything as radical as that, but the edge has been taken off. For me, meditation allows for a sort of atheist spirituality that is far more meaningful than anything I had as a slave to Yahweh. It gives me the best possible chance of letting go, really letting go- of everything, including my preconceived notions about meditation. It is a continuous practise, to unlearn something new everyday, to embrace every facet of life without resistance, to return to the primacy of direct experience, to improve the only thing we have at the end of the day- our subjective experience of reality.

To people going through changes like mine, I highly recommend it. Cliches are cliches for a reason. Change really can be embraced. It’s easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it not worth trying. The insights and perspective changes meditation brought were powerful enough  that they acted as a catalyst for my most serious doubts. No God worth taking seriously has this information and hides it from his chosen people. I couldn’t accept that he would.

Another big part of what meditation is to me is the exploration of consciousness and self. The spiritual truths Buddhism holds differ from Judaism’s ideas because they are accompanied by evidence. Buddhism is among other things, a science of mind. You do not take anyone’s word for it – that’s religion. Here you have your own experiences – that’s spirituality. To me this process is very well complimented by psychedelics. Again, you don’t take anyone’s word, no matter who their father is or how many days they spent talking to God on a mountain. You eat the plant. You have the experience. And unlike meditation, you are guaranteed a powerful experience every time. It’s extremely hard to put into words what these experiences contain, but given the opportunity, I could go on for hours about them, as they contain some of my most treasured memories, exciting epiphanies and cathartic moments of healing. But like meditation, it helps one rediscover what was stolen from us by religion – the primacy of our direct experience.

How has your family and environment reacted to your new derech?

It hit my parents the hardest, and in the beginning it was terrible. The fact that they were raised secular is both a blessing and a curse. They sacrificed a lot and believe in a way that only a baal teshuvah can, and they project that onto me. I was the only son planning on becoming a rabbi, and the only one as inspired about and committed to Judaism. On the other hand, they left behind secular family who they still make an effort to maintain a relationship with. So the idea of secular family isn’t completely strange to them, as it may be for Frum From Birth  families. In the beginning, they freaked out, and responded with judgment, condemnation, threats, and guilt i came to expect hearing about other people’s stories.  Now it really is an ongoing process, but one that is moving in a positive direction. In recent weeks, a real shift has occurred- they apologized for their initial reactions over the past year or two and come through with real change. Its overwhelming and tastes of the same cognitive dissonance I experienced in the beginning of this process- radical change is such a bizarre yet consistent reality of life.

Besides my parents, there was my siblings – my sister who was wonderful about it, and my younger brother, whom i’m headed home to soon and does not yet fully know. I’m quite concerned about telling him, as i think it will trigger the same sort of crises I experienced in him, and he’s far younger than I was at the time. But I can’t hide the truth from him.

I lost most of my friends from yeshivah. We might as well live in alternate realities. With them, it really is that black and white. But I’ve found my new secular relationships, and friendships with less intensely Yeshivish Jews, to be far more fulfilling and supportive than any yeshivah friendship.The religion I was hurt by in yeshivah is very different than the ones my parents and many of my friends practise, though it is not without its own similar issues. It is definitely more extreme with certain people and sects. I had this one friend, my best friend from middle school till after high school, with whom i was extremely close – telling him I was OTD was like telling him I had cancer. We tried to meet up when we were in the same city, and I really honestly tried to connect, but he was so insecure about his beliefs that just seeing me without a Kippa was obviously too much. We haven’t spoke since. It’s a terrible loss, but in my new friendships outside the shadow of God, a new, uncensored, unregulated form of friendship is born. A friend in God’s world is a temporary thing and not a priority. In the real world – the one where we are shooting through infinite space on a tiny rock lit by a giant nuclear explosion made by mistake – choosing to be someone’s friend is a very special thing.

How do you see your future?

Wow, and I thought that last question was hard to answer!

I’m figuring that out as we speak. After coming to Israel to talk with these Rabbis, I ended up finding friends here, and during that incredibly hard time, I learned what friendship really was. There was one period where in the space of a short span of time, I told my parents I was going off, had my first breakup, and was forced out of my apartment by a terrible landlord. I don’t know if I would have made it through that without those friends. Standing outside with everything you own at your feet, along with the shattered remains of everything you believe in, and pieces of your heart you didn’t know you could lose, in a country that feels more and more foreign everyday… it’s unspeakably lonely, not in a romantic way, but in a deeply panicked and horrible way. My friends carried me through that in many ways, and It’s very hard to say goodbye to people who express that sort of love and selflessness.

So I spent over a year here, and am so grateful to have spent it with such wonderful people, but now I know in my bones I need to step out of Israel and move on to the next chapter of my life. I want to see the world I was deprived of. I want to discover the education I was tricked out of, and I want to live a life completely outside of the Jewish bubble. Israel is not a great place to do that. So I am headed to America. I have a job lined up at a sensory deprivation tank facility, which is a sort of dream job for me. It looks like I’ll probably be going to college, which is as terrifying as it is exciting. I truly love to learn, now that I can pick the subject matter. I have discovered a deep love for science, for philosophy, for psychology, anthropology, history, and literature, and I have years of reading to make up for.

I haven’t lost the idealism being raised by kiruv parents comes with. I still want to spread the good word. Just different words. 

What would you like to achieve by writing a book?

I want to make this journey less daunting for kids like me. Being raised orthodox is hard enough. I am not even fully in the healing phase yet – it’s been a full year and I still feel like I am still discovering exactly how deeply this ideology messes with a child. Leaving can and should be easier. I wish I had someone who had been through it to tell me I wasn’t alone, that I’d see beauty I couldn’t imagine on the other side of my fear. So if you’re reading this interview, take it from someone who did it, from all of us: this is possible. It’s been done in a thousand ways and there are people waiting for you on the other side. And we’ve got bacon.

The OTD story is a relatively new one, and I’d love to see it it more often told, so why not do it myself? Books shaped me into who I am today, liberated me from oppressive ideas, gave me an escape from the prison of my yeshivah, and connected me with like minded people, across cultural, temporal, and mental barriers. I’d love to be on the other side of the pen.

Books were a huge part of my journey. I’d actually like to name a few here that I’d recommend to anyone on this path: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, Food of the Gods by Terence Mckenna, Waking Up by Sam Harris, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The Science of Enlightenment by Shinzen Young, My True Type by A.J Drenth, and Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

I love talking about my story, and these issues, so anyone with questions can feel free to email me at aryehslevine@gmail.com

19 replies
  1. samuel artman
    samuel artman says:

    I love reading stories like this. I was brought up OJ and went to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva for 10 years. I’ve been OTD for 45 years now. I immediately became a “seeker” for TRUTH and happiness. Not by belief but by experience I’ve come to “know” that discovering the answers of where we come from, where we go after death and what we’re suppose to be doing while we’re here is knowable. We can experience infinite Bliss. I’ve studied many paths and have come to feel that the Yoga Philosophy of Advaita, non-dualism holds the greatest wisdom. Many teachers on Youtunbe….#1 is Ramana Maharshi. It seems what scientists are discovering today, yogis knew 6,000 years ago. SOOO AMAZING. Best of luck to all. I wish everyone only the greatest possible bliss…Sam Artman

    Reply
  2. Peter
    Peter says:

    I am surprised that you would post such purile crap. A kid who read Sam Harris has got it all figured out. There is nothing in this article other than arrogant spew, and it behooves this website and the author here to actually bring some real arguments. This kid listened to YouTube debates and they became his mantra. His points about Judaism are based on his experience and are not even true. His points about atheism are borrowed and shallow. His referencing depression (coincidently just before he began to go OTD) is barely referenced, although clearly could have been part of the reason he suddenly “saw the new light”.
    Are we really going to have to listen to another child talking about Yahweh as a genocidal Gd, while the kid is choosing to become part of, and singing the praises of the west……the most destructive and murderous society mankind has ever seen???????
    And on top of this…I have met this kid. He doesn’t slisten to anything or anyone unless it suits what he wants to hear then and there.
    Stop dignifying this crap.
    What are you guys doing?????

    Reply
    • Aryeh
      Aryeh says:

      I love you Peter

      I love how many question marks you use

      I love that your bothered by the way socities treat each other

      I love how you know to always ask for evidence

      You’re a cool guy

      Reply
  3. Jeffrey Alhadeff
    Jeffrey Alhadeff says:

    Aryeh,

    I’ve watched you through this process and had a sense fairly early on from our conversations of where you were headed. I’m happy to see that you have found some peace. That’s a rare gift.

    For those of us who find bliss in the here and now in a theistic tradition, your essay is a good reminder of what religion gone wrong looks like. Like most atheists I read, much of what you find disagreeable I also find disagreeable. Or in other words, much of what you associate with Judaism I see as foreign to Judaism. Resolving all these issues might be an unpassable chasm, thanks to our mutual cognitive biases and past experiences.

    For many, religion is an escape from thinking about hard issues in an honest way. That is a great tragedy. Your story reminds me to stay challenged, honest, and open. And for that, I’m grateful you took the time to share.

    Much love.

    Reply
    • Aryeh
      Aryeh says:

      Thank you!

      I agree that religion can be practised in extremely different ways, and that some ways avoid a lot of the harm others might. I am so glad this is this case and applaud moderation when I see it. Im glad I know religious jews like you, it gives me hope that the more insidious forms of the religion may lose their membership to a kinder more modern way of engaging with their beliefs.

      Reply
  4. Kg
    Kg says:

    While our ages are generations apart I was deeply touched by your words. I am not OTD and still live a life devoted to orthodoxy – I had my psychedelic experiences before frumkite! Nonetheless I feel your sadness, anger, alienation and exhilaration. FYI Sagan was deeply religious and many of the greatest thinkers of the ages integrated the belief in a higher power while searching the world of science for “different” approaches and reality bassd answers. There is a baby in the bath water! Your journey sounds challenging and filled with wonder! Carry on.

    Reply
    • Aryeh Levine
      Aryeh Levine says:

      Thank you for your kind words, KG. I have to disagree with you RE Sagan and other great thinkers though. This was a subject I debated many a time. Sagan was not a theist or deist, but a pantheist- as were great thinkers like Einstien and Watts. None of these men entertained the notion that there existed a God who was an author, or who cared about human behavior in any way. He was not deeply religious, though he was deeply spiritual. There is a very big difference between the two. The journals, writings, and recorded interviews with these great thinkers prove this fact beyond reasonable doubt. Listen to his pale blue dot speech in particular, where he points out the fallacious and arrogant nature of organized religion when contrasted with the yawning infinity of the universe.

      As I say in my interview, I do believe there is a baby in the bathwater- though I was waterboarded by said bath water for so long, I still value the baby enough to wade back in and wrap him in my arms. The baby is not, however, Yahweh. It is us, in all our wonder and horror. We are the baby in the bathwater, and we are enough.

      Reply
  5. Akiva Coughlin
    Akiva Coughlin says:

    Hello Aryeh,

    It requires faith to be an atheist. I think in time you will find that faith in atheism is also lacking. Perhaps a better position is agnosticism, which is simply recognizing that you don’t know.

    In terms of knowing G-d, I would encourage you to explore the nature of randomness. If you search and explore, you’ll find that the world is not random. This is how our Patriarch Abraham came to know G-d. I was also blessed in such a way and my faith is built on the knowledge of G-d.

    Much success in your journey.

    Reply
    • Aryeh Levine
      Aryeh Levine says:

      Hello Akiva,

      I think we may have different definitions of the word ‘atheist’. This word, it seems, means many different things to many different people. For me, it means that I do not believe in a theistic God. I think such a God is an illogical answer to questions that are either asked the wrong way or have far more compelling solutions. It does not require faith to have this position. It is by definition a lack of faith- at which I arrived using reason. This is not a Kantian, 100 percent certainty, but then again, nothing really is. We can still do our best.

      I am, however, agnostic about other things- science has yet to explain a lot about the universe, (which is part of why doing science is so exciting) for example, we don’t have a good explanation for what consciousness is, so I am agnostic about the possibilities that bring to mind. To me though, none of those include the God of Abraham. There are many reasons for this, but here I will mention only one.

      One of the most important stories about Abraham is the Parasha of Akeidas Yitzchak- the binding of Isaac. Depending on your nussach, you might say be saying it every day before Shachris. It’s in most siddurim, and is a fantastic explanation for why we unfortunately see so many Frum parents abandon their children for rejecting Judaism. The question those parents are faced with is simple: The Torah or their children? Using faulty circular reasoning, they look to the Torah for the answer. And the Torah does answer, very clearly, in this story of our Patriarch Abraham.
      God tells Abraham to murder his son. Abraham does.
      Or at least he tries his best.
      Like an abusive spouse, God stops Abraham at the last second, saying it was just a test.
      Abraham is rewarded greatly for trying to murder his son.
      For many Frum people, the Torah’s answer is clear, and being true believers, they act accordingly. They place the Torah before their children, for the God of Abraham.
      I’m really not a fan of that, and neither are the abandoned children of said parents, who face impossible odds, sometimes so unbearable they choose to take their own lives. This has happened far too many times and I have yet to see the God of Abraham swoop in to prevent those children’s deaths the way he did for Isaac. I’m not a fan.

      In regards to randomness- what an amazing facet of nature! I was astonished to discover, as I hungrily catch up on my education, that the classical laws of physics don’t cover the whole megilah- when we get down to the tiniest of particles, our seeming solid world reveals itself to be, in the words of Richard Feynman- one of my favorite Jewish Atheists- to be ‘a giant mess of jiggling things’. These ‘jiggling things’, it has been proven, behave randomly, so in fact, the world is indeed very random. We are constructed of an astonishingly large amount of random tiny things. I don’t know about you, but I think that is a better story than any I have read in the bible, though that one where God tortures a nation for the mistakes of their leader in ten different and creative ways is pretty metal.

      Much success in your journey as well!

      Reply
  6. Sammy
    Sammy says:

    Hey Aryeh, You are a brilliant guy, and wonderful writer. You are articulate and easy to read. As you continue on this journey called life remember, it’s yours! Your journey is not a relative journey, and your opinions are not relative to anyone else’s opinion. Your parents may have worked for Aish 15 years ago, and you problably would have been 5 or 6 years old when they used to have 30-100 guests on Shabbat. How much that impacted you is really your decision. I also grew up in an Aish house and choose not to assign blame but to celebrate that expereince (You chose to expand your opinion to chabad as well, and this author knowns hundereds of happy adjusted Chabad families. Remember your examples of exceptions really do prove the rule). As you mature you will learn that you do not have to step on those around you to carve out your own life. You project your insecurities on those you talk to as if they are their insecurities and not yours. It’s ok to be on a journey, but a “scorched earth” policy that says everyone around you is incapable of handling your brilliance is haughty, immature, and so full of emotional baggage it’s painful to read. If I was your best friend from childhood I also would not want to meet you now, and not because I’d be afraid of your arguments. Oh, and by the way, I also don’t want to read a book full of anger and projection. So recognize what your parents, friends, teachers and life have given you and then write your story. That may be interesting.

    Reply
    • Aryeh Levine
      Aryeh Levine says:

      Wow Sammy, those are some tough words. they are also contradictory- am I ‘A brilliant guy, and a wonderful writer’ or am I ‘so full of emotional baggage its difficult to read’? As it is so often life, the truth lies between two extremes. I think I am a good writer, and that there is definitely some emotional baggage in my words, though I tried my best to keep it out of this piece. I definitely do not think people around me are ‘incapable of handling my brilliance’ if anything, they often just get bored with my monologues. I acknowledge that there are many frum people who are far, far, smarter than I am- being smart does not free one from bias, so I can still ask whether or not they are correct. I definitely recognize what my friends, parents, and teachers have given me, and for the good, I am deeply grateful- for the not so good, I am grateful as well.

      Reply
    • NT
      NT says:

      This!
      Reading journies like Aryeh’s infuriate me to no end. I don’t have time to write a long response so I’m going to focus on one issue that continues to bother me. The OTD community get angered by the fact that they are abandoned by their families and communities. But I ask, Who abandoned who?! The authors parents sacrificed their lives to help teach people what they saw as true. They gave up the comforts of their lives to give to others and raise children in the way they saw true. The author took all of that and threw it away. I don’t know this exact case but in many instances like these, the children spit in their parents/teacher faces. Those same parents that fed, cried and gave up their lives for their children.
      Again, I ask, who abandoned who?

      If those that choose to leave would be respectful, and act the way that is important to the value of a the family that raised them, I doubt this would become as big of an issue that it is today. Do whatever it is you need to do in the privacy of your own home while respecting those that would take a bullet to their head for you. If your new beliefs are so strong and you hold them so dear, there’s no need to challange those that think differently then you. I hope that one day you have the wonderful experience of loving children, a love so deep that only a parent can understand. I also hope that they follow your dreams for him/her.

      Reply
      • Aryeh Levine
        Aryeh Levine says:

        Hello,

        I would like to address you by name but it seems the more negative commenters really treasure their privacy. If you are infuriated to no end, I would definitely recommend you stop reading about journeys like mine. There are a lot of them.

        You ask who abandoned who. I will tell you. The frum parents abandon their children. I know many OTD and all of those whose parents cut them off wish it could be different. I never spat in my parents or my teacher’s faces. If I did, that wouldn’t be grounds to cut me off for life. I answer again. The frum parents are abandoning their children. When we come out as atheists, we don’t say we want nothing to do with our families anymore. Our families often do. This isn’t a debate, the facts are clear.

        I did not throw away everything my parents gave to me. I kept a whole lot of it. My parents taught me how important it is to be giving, to learn to laugh at myself, to stand up for what I believe in, and to ask questions, among thousands of other things. I will always be grateful to them for that. I did throw away certain things. Most children do. It doesn’t work the way yeshivish people say it does- the best of humanity isn’t behind us, it’s ahead of us, as hopefully, we continue to improve and edit out certain unhelpful things.

        Your logic is a double edged sword. You accuse me of the sin of throwing away what my parents gave me- but isn’t that what they did when they left their secular parents home? It works both ways. the truth, however, is more nuanced than that. They didn’t throw away everything. They too kept important lessons and left behind others when they switched ideologies.

        I do respect my parents., and I love them dearly. I know with certainty that they would indeed take a bullet for me. They’re certainly taking some shit for this little interview of mine, and I love them for it.

        I do believe there is a need to challenge others thinking. It’s how humanity grows. Im glad people challenged mine. I think my challenges have helped moderate Jews clarify their differences with more orthodox ones, and that too is valuable as well.

        Thank you for what I am sure is a well-intended wish but if I have kids, I won’t want them to follow my dreams for them. Good parents, like mine, accept that their child is an individual, with the right to follow their own dreams.

        Reply
        • NT
          NT says:

          Thank you for your recommendation as I think you are correct that I should stop reading stories like yours. I think deep down I am waiting to find a reason that makes sense to me as to why this has become rampant in our communities. But I will take your recommendation and no longer try and understand. Every person has their own journey and I will focus on mine.

          That being said, the situations that I am privy to, the frum parents are shedding many tears for the loss of their children. They have begged and pleaded with their children to come to their homes respectfully – i.e. Dressed according to standards that are important to them, not be mechalel shabbos in front of other children in their home and these children have refused. They then tell people that their parents don’t allow them to be in their homes. One case in particular, the child told her mother she will be coming this way (dressed inappropriately according to the families values) or not at all. She claims her family disowned her!
          Respect goes both ways. You mention the double edge sword. Of course you are right! I bet if you asked your parents it was done with utmost respect. They didn’t threaten not to come if non kosher is served etc. I know of many baalei teshuva and ALL have amazing relationships with their parents.

          You are correct that asking questions is important and very much encouraged, however, from your article it seems like it was more of an attack. You came in with an agenda and to perhaps embarrass your teachers in order to justify your actions. It does not seem from your writings that it was done just so you can understand.
          Your parents seem like very special people and I’m glad that they value your individuality and let you follow in your own dreams. My parents are just as wonderful and because of that we share the same dream.

          And yes, I treasure my privacy. Nothing to do with negative or positive comments. I always do.

          Reply
          • Aryeh Levine
            Aryeh Levine says:

            I would never recommend that you stop seeking to understand. As one of my favorite off the Derech Jews, Baruch Spinoza, said: “The endeavor to understand is the first and only basis of virtue.”

            I will attempt here to aid in the process of understanding- these children, told by their parents that they must dress and behave in certain Torah- dictated ways do indeed feel as if they have been abandoned by their families, and in a way, they have been. These parents have placed the Torah before their children, and have abandoned their child in the sense that they will not allow their child to enter their home as they are. These parents did not give born to a frum child- they gave birth to a child. That the child does not conform to the dress codes and does actions that are permitted on one day and forbidden the next should not be grounds to be barred from entering her own home.

            My article was not my way of asking questions. I have already asked my questions. My article was intended as a way to tell my story. I intended to attack certain aspects and sects of Judaism, because, I feel that they deserve to be attacked. Too much unnecessity human suffering is going on, too many kids are dying as a result of what is going on in the Chinuch system, it cannot be ignored. If my teachers from yeshivah are embarrassed by what I wrote here, it is no one’s fault but their own. I barely mentioned them in the article- the things I have seen them say and do could fill a book, and it would not be a fun read. Though I believe they mean well, and do some good, the amount of harm they are causing is tragic.

            You say you are seeking for a reason why this is so rampant. I give several in my article, but I will restate a specific one here since you mentioned my embarrassed teachers: What is going on in the Chinuch system is nothing short of child abuse, and abused children, thankfully, are often able to eventually escape their abusers. This statement would be true even if children in the system were not being sexually or physically abused with horrifying frequency, which they are- emotional abuse is common as well. Until that changes, you will continue to see scores of us leaving as soon as we are able.

  7. Rabbi Anon
    Rabbi Anon says:

    Hey Aryeh,

    I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you when you were at Aish, I kept myself hidden in the last year I was there. And would only talk to people about the question of belief if they sought me out. I went through a very similar process in life except in reverse. I found myself starting from where you ended and ending up where you started. I’ve read some literature you mentioned and some you didn’t. I actually experienced a lot of what you mentioned with some of the Rabbis at Aish, which is why I hid myself as I didn’t fit the model of discussing philosophy. I am really curious to actually learn what your take aways were from those rabbis and how the discussion went. I live in California so if you still live there maybe we could meet. I am not interested in convincing or converting but it sounds like I could learn a lot from you. I do my best to stay intellectually honest and if your interested in a free coffee I’d be glad to buy one for you. I’m going to put an unknown email of mine up here as I’d like to remain anonymous from the outside world at this point. If you can’t meet for coffee maybe some email correspondence

    Reply
  8. Sammy
    Sammy says:

    Hey Aryeh,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to every post. There is no contradiction between brilliant and emotional baggage, or a “good writer” and “difficult to read”. They coexist perfectly in your writing. Because I do believe that you are highly intelligent I will assume that you got my point despite not responding to it. But here it is just in case (yes, that is contradictory). You have a take down attitude, perhaps from your days of arguing in the Beis Medrash that makes you believe you are in a zero sum game. I believe in God, so I am on the other side of your argument and know that there is no point to my “take downs” with atheists, and nor do I feel the need to argue with you. I think life leads each of us on a unique path with unique challenges, my challenges are not yours, and your challenges are not mine. Live YOUR life. Our Torah ideology does not as you put it “deeply mess with a child”, and as you discover the world, and live your life I think you will find that this ideology serves us in life far better than any other.

    Reply
    • Aryeh Levine
      Aryeh Levine says:

      Hello again Sammy,

      I’m not sure which point you made that I did not respond to. In terms of my ‘take down attitude’ i definitely do have some major issues with religion, particularly Orthodox Judaism, even more particularly ultra-orthodoxy- Yeshivish and Chassidish Jews have the most damaging ideas that do indeed ‘ deeply mess with children’. I have witnessed and experienced this firsthand, in many different cities across the world, so many that I do indeed feel it is necessary that these ideas be ‘taken down’. Just one example would be religious ideas about physical violence as an appropriate method of child discipline. I have seen the effects of the practical implication of this horrible belief, long ago shown by science to be not only counter productive but deeply damaging in the long term. I can confirm that it does indeed deeply wound children emotionally, long after the cuts and bruises have healed. King David was wrong. He who spares the rod loves his children. The fact that needs spelling out is horrifying. The abuse in my own story is of a more emotional nature, but research has shown the long terms effects of such abuse is in most ways identical to physical abuse. It too was a result of religious ideas I maintain deserve to be ‘taken down’ as you put it.

      I am living my life. Part of that is writing about my life, telling my story, and hopefully improve the lives of others by helping to point at issues that need solving, and to possible solutions.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *