Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The secret life of jews (continued)

Over the weekend I attended the American Sociological Association conference. While there I ran into a somewhat-recent graduate of my program who now has a tenure track professorship job at Yeshiva University. She happens to be Jewish, but is clearly not religious to anyone who looks at her (For instance, she is married and wears a wedding ring, but does not cover her hair), and her name is not a very Jewish name either.

We got to catching up, I talked to her a bit about whats going on with my parents and B, etc.

And then she told me something very interesting. She said that on a somewhat frequent basis during the semester, a student will stay late after class, until all the other students have left, and start confessing things to her. Everything from being gay, to eating bacon last week and not feeling bad, to having sex with their girlfriends. As a clearly non-religious woman, and someone who teaches a pretty liberal subject, she has become the go-to person for people going off the derech. (Not that she put it in those words, since she was never 'on the derech' to begin with).

Now isn't that just fascinating?


  1. that is very fascinating!

    maybe you can do a sociological study of "off the derekh" subcultures in jewish religious environments :-) .

    but i'd like to point out that not covering her hair isn't such an obvious "clearly not religious" sign. there are many religious married women who don't cover their hair.

  2. I see Steg beat me to it. Half my community of religious women don't cover their hair.

    Also, did this woman state these kids are going off the derech? I mean, for example, just because someone has sex with this girlfriend does not mean they are leaving.

  3. I see Steg beat me to it. Half my community of religious women don't cover their hair.

    And like 4/5 of mine. I'm so glad not to live in the melalopolis ghetto.

  4. It doesn't surprise me - when the Orthodox community is not willing to talk about certain things, young people who need to let things out look for any venue they can find.

    On the other hand, It may be something else. I've noticed a phenomenon in which certain religious people want to show those who are less religious and who they somehow perceive as being more "hip" that they are "hip" as well. Telling her about having had sex with their girlfriends may be simply a form of bragging, to establish their "hey look, I'm not a cookie cutter, sheep-like frum person" cred.

  5. Well in the context she was telling me this story, it seemed to me like these students were on their way off the derech...

    And yeah I know the hair thing isn't always a clear sign...but she also probably doesn't wear such "tsniut" jobs in general (apparently there is no dress code for profs, and she dresses professionally, but she wears pants as well).

    Talking about sex may be a bragging thing, but talking about bacon? Telling her they are gay? Being gay doesn't seem like it would be so 'hip' among jews...

  6. Is she really "not religious" (which I guess you mean non-Ortho)or does just appear that way by her more conventional dress?

    I guess from your post that she teaches at Yeshiva College and not Stern. Many of these guys may just need someone to talk to (confess maybe?) and she seems non-threatening/non-judgmental or just empathic. Obviously you opened up to her.

    Some of these guys maybe heading "off the derekh" but others as any normal college students may just be experimenting or testing their own personal limits.

    Bottom line, I don't find it fascinating, sounds normal to me.

  7. You're probably right. Though it could be a mix of the two. Even within the same person!

  8. she's not religious, and by that I mean she's not religious. She also did not grow up orthodox, or have any affiliation with orthodoxy, other than that her job is at YU.

  9. how'd she wind up at YU, then? ((oy))

    ae, how did your thingy go this weekend? you were missed, but I was very happy for you about your thing.

  10. So if she is a non-religious person then that makes her more attractive person to "open up to" since there is a better chance she will be non-judgemental (i.e. less chance of getting mussar, etc.)

    Still sounds normal to me.

  11. s(b)- she got a job there cause she needed a job? Lots of people in academia work in schools that don't necessarily have the same religious views as them...there are tons of religious schools, but not that many religious academics. (and even the ones who are religious are not necessarily the same level of religiosity, or want to work at a religious school).

    You should check out my post in that other place called "I want to kill my officemate" or something like that, to read about my weekend :)

  12. Students will open up about these things to a non-religious person because there is no fear of being judged (or worse) for their actions.

    Also, if it is publicly known that a student is gay or does not keep kosher, it can affect their academic standing in the Jewish studies department (which all students at Yeshiva University are required to take from 9-1pm or 9-3pm daily)

    Case in point: While taking part in a public debate in Yeshiva University, Josh (fake name for Loshon Harah reasons) publicly came out that he was gay. He was a student in IBC, the beginner division of Yeshiva University's Judaic Dept (IBC- Beginner, BMP-Intermediate, YP-Advanced). Josh had the academic credentials to become the valedictorian of IBC, but because he was gay, the title was not given to him.

    This is a true story and I personally know the individual who this happened to.

    If you are Orthodox and you don’t privately eat bacon, or have premarital sex, or are actively gay, a controversial question arises: Are you still orthodox? Is orthodox a denomination that relies on action, affiliation, or belief? If it is based on Action, then you are not orthodox because you are surely doing something that the Talmud/Torah prohibits. If you are go by affiliation then you are orthodox, because you surround yourself with orthodox Jews, even if you don’t practice what they practice. If you go by belief then you go by belief, but then you are doing something directly opposing to what you believe, which most likely brings suffering.

    I think that these students are orthodox in belief and affiliation, but their actions as well as their confession to their non-orthodox teacher speaks of internal suffering, as well as a need to be listened to and accepted.

  13. left brooklyn- me and s(b) both post on another message board. But when I get home and my officemate isn't looking over my shoulder, I'll probably post a long ranty post about it here too.

  14. Interesting....but something about the title I just don't like. "The secret life of Jews".....it makes it sound like a great majority of her students confess to her these things, when really it was just one.

  15. it wasn't one...she said they come by around once a week, and it's a different student each time.

  16. 1. I consider myself orthodox because I keep shabbos and kosher... I also don't cover my hair and I do wear pants. Most women in my shul are like me. Pants and uncovered hair do not indicate orthodoxy, but they do indicate that we are not confirmists.

    2. College is an age of self descovery and experimentation. Student may just contemplate trying pork and then confess to the professor to see a reaction. Also, from what I understand going off the derech is not spontanious, it's rather gradual process. Thus, I'm a bit surprised about confessing to pork eating. What happened to traif chicken?


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