Documentary on BBC about Stamford Hill OTD People

Off the Derech, Heart and Soul – BBC World Service

The charity helping Orthodox Jews who want to break away from their faith

Skepticism

I think skepticism is part of my nature. I have always been one to question and probe, but until my last year in high school, I hadn’t thought to question my belief in god or the practice of my religion. During that year we had a weekly “mishmar” class that dealt with Jewish philosophy and that is where I started to hear both my fellow students and myself start to express doubts. I think that is very natural at that age, and at the time I felt like my rebbe provided me with some good answers, though I continued to seek deeper theological understanding. I really wanted to understand what god was. This type of probing was too intellectual for the seminary students and teachers in my year in Israel program, and my belief began to founder, while at the same time I felt compelled to increase my stringency in halakhic observance. The upshot I guess of the seminary experience was to learn what god supposedly wanted, but not what god was. I started coming up with my own answers, that I later learned were similar to Spinoza’s god is nature. It helped me keep davening and I remained observant. Though I flirted with conservative Judaism for a bit, I kept coming back to orthodoxy, where I was most at home. I skirted the edge of orthodoxy, however, and stopped following chumras, reinterpreted and accepted the most lenient opinions, and became increasingly disappointed with the clash between my liberal, feminist views and the orthodox establishment. It took me 20 years to get out of this limbo state of adherance to Judaism and doubting. Ultimately I had to make up my mind that I didn’t need to believe, I didn’t need to follow anything but my conscience, and that I could be myself.

–Suzanne

Apikorsus

For at least a decade, I felt like I had a problem that had to be fixed. I desperately wanted to find some rav, some teaching, or even some segula that would cure me of my apikorsus. I spoke to countless rabbanim and frum scholars, and I would get some answers that made sense at the time. But later, when I realized those answers had holes, the questions just came back stronger. After many years of this psychological limbo, I finally had a turning point when I discovered that I actually had no problem at all. I realized it’s actually a good thing that I don’t believe claims that go against what we know today from science, philosophy, and modern Biblical scholarship, and that if anyone has a problem that needs fixing, it is those who make such claims, not I.

–Shloimie

Questions

I thought I was the only one. You know, the only baal teshuva to go off the derech. Surely, no other BT had gone off the derech before me and my little family. Except that I wasn’t yet thinking about it in those terms. I was thinking that we had to flip the circuit breaker, or we’d lose a refrigerator filled with food, including all of the food for Shabbos. I was thinking how ridiculous it sounded to ask a non-Jewish neighbor to press a button for us. I was thinking how if there was a god, why would he want us to suffer yet another financial loss, and this time, for something we could control ourselves? It was several more months before my husband, children, and I left orthodoxy completely. And those months were filled with questions that that nobody could seem to answer in a way that made sense to me.

–Rebecca

Carlo Strenger – A renegade Jew with a Universal Message

Welcome to our new website!

This site is dedicated to the memory of Deb Tambor, a young mother who was rejected by her family and community for the ‘sin’ of following her own path and exercising her right to religious freedom.


Dedicated on Chanukah, the festival of lights, this site aims to spread light to those who are left in the darkness of rejection and loneliness.

Lighting the Way – By Rabbi Adam Chalom

The Maccabees make complicated heroes. Yes, they stood up for being Jewish against forced assimilation to Greek culture. And yes, they achieved Jewish independence for a hundred years, a model for Jewish self-defense and dignity that resonates even today. At the same time, they were religious fanatics, the haredim of their day: the first person killed in the revolt was a Jew participating in Greek religion, and the Maccabee kingdom made the nations they conquered convert to Judaism (including circumcision!). We who enjoy to modern, secular culture, we who like a clean shave and “immodest” clothing, we have more in common with Hellenized Jews the Maccabees hated than with the Maccabees themselves.

Hanukkah is a complicated holiday. The miracle of the lights story first appears in the Babylonian Talmud, but it is NOT in the histories of Josephus or First or Second Maccabees, which were written much closer in time to the Maccabean revolt. In fact, the Books of Maccabees give alternative reasons why the holiday is 8 days long: a Temple dedication like Solomon’s in I Kings, or Sukkot out of season. There may even be an earlier lighting holiday connected to the winter solstice, a common human experience not unique to the Jews, buried behind it all. Most complicated of all, for people who have become less religious, and who may have family they no longer connect with, a season of celebration and joy can bring loneliness and sadness instead.

What can we do with this history and this holiday? There are many human reasons to celebrate light fighting darkness that also apply to those on their own derech: the light of knowledge fighting superstition, the light of inspiration helping us move forward, the light given by human discovery to improve the world. Even though the Maccabees and today’s traditionalists try to impose their Judaism on others, the fact that Jews are still arguing about ways to be Jewish makes us part of a deeply rooted tradition. And, even without miracles or mitzvot, many of us value Jewish survival, Jewish distinctiveness, and the richness of unique Jewish expressions of the unique Jewish experience, our family’s subset of the human experience.

The most important symbolism Hanukkah can provide to those “off the derech,” on their own derech, is the role they can play. When the shamash is used to light other candles, it keeps burning just as brightly, and together even more light shines. We can be the shamash to others, to our community, to people in need, even to ourselves through difficult times. The secular Israeli Hanukkah song “Anu Nos’im Lapidim – We are Carrying Torches,” puts it very well in its last stanza:

Ness lo karah lanu –
Pach shemen lo matzanu.
Basela chatzavnu ad dam –
Vayehi or!

No miracle befell us –
No cruse of oil found by us.
We quarried rock until we bled –
And then there was light!

http://www.hebrewsongs.com/?song=anunosimlapidim . Hebrew lyrics at http://shironet.mako.co.il/artist?type=lyrics&lang=1&wrkid=373&prfid=806&song_title=83b0

Rabbi Chalom was ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in 2001, and received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies – Hebrew and Jewish Cultural Studies concentration from the University of Michigan. In addition to his work with the Institute, Rabbi Chalom is the rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in north suburban Chicago, Illinois. Contact Rabbi Chalom at info@iishj.org or 847-602-4500or read his blog on http://hjrabbi.wordpress.com.

Chanukah: When We Lost And They Won

by Peter Walters

Remember Chanukah – dreidels, chocolate coins, latkes, lamp-lighting, all that stuff? Great wasn’t it? One of the really great things about Chanukah is that it’s almost as good as Christmas, but without the whole goy-guilt.

Remember how it was put: the time when the few defeated the many; the small beat the great; a handful of yeshivah bochurim and Kohanim defeated the whole Greek army. The nasty goyim tried to stamp out our religion and desecrated our Temple; but God performed a miracle for us and provided oil for the menorah – so now we light the Chanukiah for eight nights to publicize the miracle. Chanukah doesn’t have any fasting, like Yom Kippur, or any crazy cleaning like Pesach, and we don’t even have to build a shack to live in. All in all, Chanukah is a very feel-good festival. It even helps us feel better about Christmas.

However, there is another side to Chanukah. The Rabbis of the Talmud were more diffident than is their norm when describing Chanukah, and with good reason. Jews are very attached to their status as a victimized minority, so winning battles (at least since the time of Yehoshua) hasn’t sat very easily with our self-image. And I’m sorry to say, it gets much worse.

We are given to understand that Chanukah is a war of liberation against the Greek-Syrian forces under King Antiochus Epiphanes. But, sadly, it really wasn’t. It was a civil war, with Jew fighting against Jew, until King Antiochus intervened on one side.  The first person killed by our hero Mattityahu, was a Jew. It was not only a political struggle, it was preeminently a cultural and religious struggle between Jews who saw themselves as part of the wider Mediterranean world of Greek culture, of religious tolerance, of secular education and science; against religious extremists who wanted to keep Judaism and Jewish culture exclusive, narrow, intolerant and ignorant of the wider world. The Maccabees were the Islamic State of their day, killing any Jew whom they suspected of deviating from their own version of fundamentalist Judaism.

Rather than possessing an irrational hatred of God-given Jewish religious practices, Antiochus was, as was normal at the time, very tolerant of all the many religions in his kingdom. And the leader of the Hellenising party in Israel was none other than the Kohen Gadol (high priest) – who rejoiced in the Greek name of Jason. He presided over the opening of a Greek-style gymnasium in Jerusalem, and many of the Kohanim enjoyed wrestling and bathing after a hard day’s korbanot (sacrifices).

The Jewish diaspora was very numerous even then, and, although still religious, was overwhelmingly Greek in culture. Jews were doing very well for themselves as part of the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world, thank you, and they were happy to leave being meshuggeh frum to the peasants back in the middle of nowhere.

Well, it couldn’t last, could it? The traditionalists tried to take over and oust the Kohen Gadol, putting one of their own choosing in place. King Antiochus, hitherto happy to let the Jews get on with things themselves, had to intervene to prevent what had become a civil war from getting even more out of hand. And we all know the rest: eventually the fundamentalists won and set up their own priesthood and government, outlawing Greek-style practices.

Think for a moment what it’s like for the fundamentalists to win. Think of Iran when the Islamic revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Think of Afghanistan under the Taliban. Think what it would be like if Islamic State won. That’s what happened to Israel as a result of Chanukah.

Of course it backfired. The fundamentalists invited the Romans in to help them, which was rather like inviting a wolf to guard your sheep. Then they took over Edom and forcibly converted its population to Judaism; which came back to haunt them because King Herod was an Idumean descended from such converts. After another battle a few years later with the Syrian Greeks, there was another civil war, this time between the Maccabees and the Pharisees. Finally the Romans, again on the pretext of coming in to help, took over Israel and ended any real independence.

Very interesting, but so much for history – what does all this mean for us?

At Chanukah we celebrate the victory of the fanatics, the fundamentalists and the extremists over the forces of education, internationalism and tolerance. Rather than being a festival of light, it is about extinguishing light in favor of darkness. For those of us who have left the Charedi world with its own intolerant fundamentalism, and have boldly stepped into the world of secular learning, scientific thinking, respect for others and tolerance of others’ views, Chanukah is no celebration. It is a disaster. Make no mistake: if Mattityahu and Yehuda the Maccabee were here now, we would be the first up against the wall.

Think of that when you are munching your latkes.

From Anger to Forgiveness

Several years have past since I wrote about anger during the early part of my journey. These days I am in a good place emotionally, and I have two miracle children, born thanks to advanced medical technology. I don’t hold grudges, but who would I be angry at anyway? I no longer believe God is responsible for individual suffering. It is up to human beings to make the world a better place. On my own derech, I have learned profound lessons that I never imagined possible without religious guidance. One is that there is no such thing as perfect. I have learned to forgive fallible people for an imperfect religion.

While I don’t have expectations beyond what is humanly possible, I also don’t feel limited: I see that humans have an amazing capacity to grow and change. My still frum family has grown in acceptance of our differences. And I am proud of my own growing strength in facing new challenges, such as advocating for my special needs child or fighting for social justice. Today, I am filled with hope and determination.

–Suzanne

Chanukkah On My Own Derech

Searching for a way to bring light and meaning to the upcoming Jewish holiday?

Here’s a great resource from the Society for Humanistic Judaism:

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