Everyone’s Meshugah!

I recently read Baruch Horowitz’s “Are you Happy Being Haredi?” To a certain extent, it reminded me of feelings I’ve had regarding people choosing different derachim than mine. Some of my fellow BT travelers will remember the comic bit where a comedian asks the question: “Did you ever notice that anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot… and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” Funny. And true! There have certainly been times during my post-teshuvah life (for lack of a better term) when I could have rephrased this as: “Did you ever notice that anyone to the right of you is a “fanatic”… and anyone to the left of you is an “apikorus”?” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, for me, the concept has, at times, rang true.

Reconciling the fact that one’s chosen derech may not be the best derech for another wasn’t simple for me. After all (I subconsciously thought), if I have chosen a certain derech, that must be THE derech. However, I eventually realized that I needed to focus on the fact that it is not THE derech but actually THE derech for ME. I also found that the area in which I was making most of these judgments was centered around the way people attempted to find the proper balance regarding the level of interaction with the non-frum or non-Jewish world. It seems to me that this is, perforce, an area of extreme importance for any BT. Here is an example: If I had a question about my ability to attend a holiday work party and my Rov advised me to go, I would view a friend’s Rov’s advice that he should not attend as unnecessarily strict. On the other hand, if my Rov had advised me not to attend and my friend’s Rov advised him to go, I would view my friend’s Rov’s decision as being too lenient. It took me a while to realize that my friend’s Rov was making a decision taking my friend’s individual issues into account and advising him within the Rov’s own well established derech.

Much was said about the topic of BTs being judged by FFBs in Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community. That brought me to do some personal soul searching only to discover that I too can be negatively judgmental of my fellow BTs and of FFBs. (what a BT being judgmental?!) I wonder if this is a wider issue or just my own challenge.

20 comments on “Everyone’s Meshugah!

  1. I recently saw an idea brought down in the name of Rav Elya Lopian. Rav Lopian said that people often walk through life on a tightrope, everyone who is to the left of him is on one side and everyone to the right of him is on the other. Why is this a tightrope and not a road, a path or something else, because, says Rav Lopian, on a tightrope there is only room for you and people often think that they are the only one’s who’ve gotten it right.

  2. molly,

    Do you always spell your name with a lower case m ? How would the sentence structure police feel about that ?
    Anyway, I insist on enlightening others on how my sense of judaism developed ,using the judgy judaism teachings/teachers I was brought up on, for the same reason you insist on critiquing my sense of sentence structure according to the grammar rules/teachings you grew up on.
    And where did you get your ” at least a decade ago” fun fact from ? The judgy journalist’s guide to pompous presuming ?
    And why on earth would I be telling you stuff like, i’m “an eloquent author in English”, being that a) I have no idea who you are and b) eloquent English is not my thing.

    And if you paste my “birth story” neatly back into context, you might realize that it was an answer to a question posed by a fellow curious commenter wanting to know where i’m coming from,hence the where I came from events storytelling comment.

    And thanks for sharing your innate appreciation of ChanaLeah’s comment on unity and its being a direct catalyst to the solidifying of your feelings on my concept of judaism.Mind mending and heartwarming.

  3. JT,
    I presume you are an intelligent person based on your extensive vocabulary (albeit a very weak concept of sentence structure). I do, however, find your angle a little self-serving. Wasn’t school years ago? Aren’t you an adult now? Why do you insist on defining yourself in relation to events that must have occured at least a decade ago?

    Back to the sentence structure, and anarchy, and the free-form spirit you exhibit. Within English, there exist certain basic rules of grammar. These form a structure that enable us to communicate so that we are able to effectively explain/understand each other. If one throws these things to the wind, disregarding almost all conventions, perhaps we are no longer speaking English but a different language? Now, if you wish to speak some other English-based language that most can understand with careful work and deciphering, I support you. But please don’t tell me that you are an eloquent author in English. Anyway, ChanaLeah’s comment regarding “achdus” and “klal” helped to solidify in my mind that I am sort of getting the same feeling with your concept of Judaism.

    Happy trails, Jaded.

  4. ImJewish, regarding your inquiry , its not that dramatic really, once upon a long November ago, a baby was born to religious parents. Her birthstone was topaz. Her well meaning overjoyed parents placed her in the wrong school for starters. For various reasons she grew up outgrowing the outdated ill fitting outlooks she was fed. Her discolored off kilter view of Judaism may have had something to do with the schools bad habit of dispensing temporary admission cards to kids whose parents didn’t pay so good.(how’s that financial thread comin along ). Or it may have been the overwhelming majority of holier than thou students and teachers painting Judaism with the wrong colors.
    Among other things.

    Anyway after growing up and ridding herself of religion, she faithlessly faceted her self into an undefined piece of jaded topaz. (her favorite movie is still Sweet November jaded outlooks notwithstanding). For a while she kept running far,around, everywhere and in between.

    Now she spends her days R Wolbe’s mussar loving, word whittling, cubicle keeping ànd making promises she intends to keep.

    Moral of the bedtime story, chanoch hanar al pi darcho, thou shalt not act holier and or haughtier than thou.
    And temp admission cards are never ok for kids.

    Bob, don’t yawn or anything apparently ImJewish wasn’t around back on the beginning of the financial threads and other older heavily treaded threads. So I was just answering his non” impertinent” inquiry.

    Also, you’re right about me not exactly being the kind of student R Wolbe would be teaching. But my objective in life (my absolute objection to mandatory material modesty must do’s notwithstanding) is to put a zinnia in every pot and a alei shur on every coffee table.
    There is something about his works that are just so profound. And I’ve barely started analyzing his stuff.

    Also, as I’m sure you know (being that we once both agreed on zinnias )One of the many reasons why a Zinnia is the best flower to emulate other than the profusion of color is its flexible growth potential. Should harsh rain snap one of its branch , if you just stick it back into nourishing earth she should be back to old Zinnia self in no time in addition to start a whole new Zinnia community.

    Anyway once everyone in New York has an alei shure on their coffee table I’m sure alei shur learning groups will be poppin up and way more popular than knitting, tap dancing, yogurt&yoga, yodeling and or challah bake and eat it too how to’s. Maybe someone brilliant will actually decide to base a lecture series on it. Maybe he will lecture in New York.

    ChanaLeah, letting go of the “klal” and existing unity is not really an issue I have to deal with in my current terms with Judaism so can’t relate to your concerns really.

  5. JT:
    “Same goes for brilliant yellow diamonds expected to exist as simple yellow sapphires.”

    This is true, and inevitably in both this case and it’s opposite, Jews will try to invent their own derech to connect. However, if we all split into private derechs, what happens to “klal” and “achdus”?

  6. David: I have been blogging feverishly in the last 2 weeks, as never before, since the expose on the Catskills scene and all of the ensuing discussions on off the derech kids. Anyone following these discussions can’t help but to do self-examination—the question begs to be answered Where did we go wrong? (parents, mechanchim, communities, shuls, etc..)
    In this context I have also been giving a lot of thought to my earliest BT days and wondering how did I come to be so judgemental? I’m sure I had a predisposition. But I’m also sure that moving into a “machmir” community and trying to absorb/reflect and fit in, caused a lot of the problem. To be honest, Judaism does ask us to separate ourselves from bad influences. That can be very confusing to a new BT, but in retrospect, I surely could given the benefit of the doubt more often.

  7. JT, forgive me for being impertinent, but I really would like to know where you are coming from (are you a BT? FFB? What is your backstory?). I confess I can’t really figure it out.

  8. Ok :)

    My follow up essay, (if I get to it), will hopefully have an even more postive balance.

    I also sent an e mail– let me know if you’ve received it.

  9. JT,

    Over past months, you have criticized many manifestations of order in the Orthodox community. While allowances have to be made for individuals, it can’t be a free-for-all either. No one’s Mussar approach, certainly not Rav Wolbe ZT”L’s, advocates anarchy.

    I’ve met two students of Rav Wolbe who are now rabbis very effectively teaching and doing outreach. Our daughter had one as a teacher in Israel, and he was a scholar in residence twice at our shul in Houston. Another was the first Rosh Kollel of the TORCH Kollel in Houston. Both are very focused and self-disciplined people combining scholarship and people skills, and exemplify Rav Wolbe’s actual approach.

  10. Bob Miller, why would alei shure not “redeem” my “derech” less comment. Or those of the “ditch the derech” persuasion.
    Sometimes I find my “derech” less self quoting R Wolbe to persons all dressed up in the “derech” forgetting “derech’s” are for traveling not dressing up in for religious costume parties.

    In any case “derech’s”these days are about as easy to define as that alei shure book. Maybe alei shure is a “derech” ? It definitely has profound directives. And directives are generally found on a “derech”.

  11. In addition to the “derech” not being the intended destination, sometimes “derech” just functions as an acute hindrence.
    Forcing rock in the rough to function in an enviroment not exactly conducive to sparkle facetings of faith , twinkle or glitter glimpses of spirituality.

    I think ditching the dimly lit , packaged “derech” and creating your own itinerary from scratch might be more conducive to that elusive connection to Gd.

    Like for instance dashing young and handsome danburite rocks should not pretend and or aspire to be diamonds in the rough. Neither should whimsicle white sapphires or wayward white topaz. Clearly there are no diamonds in the future why pretend ?

    Rambunctious rhodolites should not aim for world renowned elegant and refined ruby status.
    And sparkling pink sapphires can never be demure pink diamonds, ever , no matter how pious they twinkle.

    Same goes for brilliant yellow diamonds expected to exist as simple yellow sapphires.

    And since “in the rough” is the newly “fully faceted” you can function in the rough while decorating your life with for the sake of gd decor like alei shure.

  12. David,

    I am happy and flattered that you made my essay the subject of a post. If you notice, the link to “Are You Happy Being Haredi”, doesn’t work; I changed it about a week or so ago, to “The Challenge of a Happy Haredi” , upon the advice of a family-member who felt that it would give the piece a more positive and respectful spin. I will also note, that one acquaintance of mine, whose opinion I respect, who read my essay with the original title, told me that he is happy being an *American* Charedi.

    The purpose of my post was not to declare the Right of the Yeshivah world as “Meshugayim”, but rather to put, in an as positive way as possible, the struggle that some people have with the “shifting” of parts of the Yeshiva/Charedi world. This has not been directly addressed in the mainstream Charedi media(perhaps for understandable reasons), but it is definitely on the minds of people. My post gave full expression to the feelings of anyone “caught in the middle”, in a way that I have not seen in the mainstream Jewish Media(the quote from Foreign Policy Magazine, though, was from a somewhat secular perspective, as I noted).

    I hope to expand on the above in “The Challenge of a Happy Haredi III”. And you may wonder if your post makes things better or worse… :)

  13. Should all Jews expect to receive the identical, complete, step-by-step instruction for their whole lives, to enable them act out Torah on autopilot without working to learn and understand it and how it speaks specifically to them?

    If not, we should expect “different strokes for different folks” to exist within the Orthodox world, as is the case.

    Still, not everything claimed to be Orthodox is. There’s an objective reality.

  14. Rebbetzin Heller says that she is not a big fan of Derechim and admits that she’s in the minority on this.

    She points out that a derech is just a means to get you to where you want to be, which is a deeper relation with Hashem. All to often the Derech becomes the end and not the means.

  15. Ron,

    I guess there are (at least) four ways of interpreting a piece that ends “I wonder if this is a wider issue or it is just my own challenge”:

    1. The guy didn’t know how to end the piece;

    2. The guy was saying “you are also guilty of this” but was trying to be nice;

    3. The guy was begging for comments; or

    4. All of the above.


    Great point about the potential pitfall of losing sight of the fact that a derech is not an end. It is, by definition, a means to reach the end, avodas HaShem.


    I know Reb. Heller speaks about this, caould you give us a synopsis.


    I like that practical aitzah to come to appreciate others’ differing approaches to avodas HaShem.

  16. Excellent and everpresent point, Mr. Linn!

    This, BTW, was a problem with how much of the Ashkenazi world looked at the other half of Am Yisrael (‘Sefardim’ loosely grouped together) not so long ago. I hope it has changed.

    I think one approach to this is to have different perspectives and approaches in learning represented in one place, organization, etc. I don’t think it should be done artificially; but it should be encouraged if the opportunity is there. I have seen this successfully presented in important yeshivot, in outreach places, in shuls. It just requires genuine respect for someone else’s Torah; and a little humility. If the Sanhedrin could have different opinions and approaches, then…

    What’s more interesting, is when it is in the same home. My wife and I differ on some significant issues, but it just doesn’t bother us (much!). It is still Hashem’s Torah, and that’s all that matters when sitting down to the Shabbat table, or learning, or taking a position on community matters.

  17. I have found no matter which derech you associate with, people are human. You will find the “fanatic” and the “apikirus” in each derech (wether it be MO, Haredi, etc..) The best part about being a BT is we really have the koach to find emunah if we really want to look hard enough and it might be in “the strangest of places” (of course within proper halachic boundries). We just have to be sure that our relationship is purely with Hakodesh Baruch Hu and not with our relationship with “THE DERECH”….what ever that might be….

  18. Oh, this is very common, David; you know that!

    (I just wanted to be the first to say it in the comments.)

    Choosing the flavor of Jew (now that you know you want to live as a Jew) you want to be is an ongoing challenge for many of us. Some people do come to rest in a certain place and are able to put down roots and be comfortable there. But, especially in America, where there are so many lifestyle choices, finding your own appropriate halachic and hashkafic center can be a lifetime adventure.

    Seen that way, it becomes tolerable, I think!

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