Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stepping off the derech: little things

When reading the blogs of people who have recently become less religious as a result of their atheism, i'm struck by one thing: when people first violate a law of judaism, they all seem to do it in secret. Or rather, it's between them and god. This is probably true of Atheists becuase they don't actually believe in god, and keeping rules when you are alone gets kind of ridiculous if you don't beleive there's a god watching over you.

On the other hand, a friend of mine from college who went on to start the Footsteps organization, said that her first major transgression was calling her grandmother on simchat torah. That seems less alone to me. But (and I've never asked her this myself), I suspect that she's not an atheist; that she's more of an agnostic, and just doesn't believe in the laws of judaism. I could be wrong on that however.

So is my theory true? (and feel free to chime in with your experiences)

It's been 10 years since i took that first step off the derech, but i still remember it clear as day. I was probably around 15 years old, and one shabbat someone had forgotten to put tissues in the bathroom. I had already used the bathroom before noticing this, and at that point my choices were a) don't wipe (ew) or b) tear the toilet paper. I opted for choice b, although that first time I was super careful to tear along the perforation lines so that it wouldn't be THAT bad.

I find a simliarity between this and Lubab no More, who recently talked about turning off an alarm clock on Rosh Hashana as his first "major" transgression. I find two things in common with my experience 1) the secrecy involved- no one else knew he was doing this and 2) the inconvinience factor. He knew that if he didn't turn the alarm off it would go off the next morning and annoy the heck out of him and his wife. When you don't believe in god, and are only practicing judaism to keep up appearences or make other people happy, and no one will find out....well then the next step is starting to transgress when you are alone. The problem is when that leads to not practicing in public, or when you get caught; that's when the social consequences start coming into play.

After that first time tearing the toilet paper it was a slippery slope to just using toilet paper all the time, and not caring about the perforations. I'd say by a month later that was my regular practice on shabbas. However, i'm somewhat joking about the slippery slope thing..because for me, it was a very very slow process, that hasn't really ended yet. There are still so many foods I haven't tried! I refused to try bacon until a few weeks ago, because I was holding on to that last remnent of jewish tradition. Next on the list is lobster I think.


  1. Silly girl! Don't you know that it's worse, halakhically, to tear on the perforations? :-) There was a reason given for this in one of my classes, but I can't remember.

    I remember hitting the light switch a couple of times in high school, and eating dairy too early a couple of times.

  2. I grew up as a secular Jew. It was only recently that I learned about prohibitions on tearing toilet paper, bedeka cloths, swinging chickens in the air and prohibitions on hearing women sing.

    Amazing! What other wacky practices have I missed?

    It makes me glad my grandparents had the foresight go off the derech long time ago.

  3. You should take off the reference to the Footsteps founder. Tons of people know who that is and it isn't fair to MS to say things about her that she hasn't publicized (not that you revealed anything so important, but it's still private info about someone who has people badmouthing her all the time). Additionally, she told me also about what you describe, and IIRC, it's not exactly how you described it, so it's also a misrepresentation. Also, please erase this comment after you do erase it so people don't go looking for what I'm talking about. I would have emailed you privately, but you don't provide any link to do so.

  4. actually, you're right- it was simchat torah, not yom kippur, which i'll correct. However this info is already publicly available, for instance here: http://www.indypressny.org/article.php3?ArticleID=1134 so i'm not going to take it down.

  5. Ok, I guess that's fair. It can't be considered too private then. I just don't feel comfortable with publicly saying personal things about other people (especially people who prefer to stay out of the spotlight), but you definitely aren't betraying any confidence there.

  6. This strikes me that too damn many of your orthodox rules are just too damn detail oriented. Like doesn't the proper Jew have more important things to tend to than whether they are technically breaking some bs rule that just doesn't make sense. Tearing toilet paper... Hitting buttons on alarm clocks. Are we even talking about religion anymore, cause this sounds like some crazy voodoo superstition to me at this point.

  7. When I violate halacha the reason I do so privately is mainly because of the social consequences but I think think there is also mental religious hurdle you have to jump. For example, right now I spent a half hour debating with myself whether I should sneak onto the computer and check my mail. I found it poetic that this was the first blog post I read! :)

  8. My first real transgression was hot pastrami with yellow american cheese and mustard on a kaiser roll - absolutely the best.

    My friends and I used to joke that if we weren't supposed to eat them together the torah should have been more clear, and it shouldn't taste so good.

    After that it was driving to chinatown on shabbos to eat at Wo-Hop (sadly they are no longer around)

    Also Lobster and other shellfish are quite tasty -but probably the last big drop on the slippery slope.

    Even as a kid I would use the roll of TP because I thought that god couldn't really care and if he did care so much about such a trivial thing I couldn't respect him very much.

  9. my first thing was silencing my phone on sukkos- i'd forgotten to turn it off, and my friend from public school was calling, and i hadn't come out to my public school friends about the whole orthoprax thing. naturally, it was the equivalent of the ghost of the guy you murdered popping up on your dresser (ghost = me not having told them yet.) so i completely freaked out and silenced the damn thing.
    2 weeks later, me and this friend went out. a slippery slope i would never get off of.
    the thing that really troubles me is that him and me were flirting for a while before sukkos- was that my first sin?


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