Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How I started leaving orthodoxy

Well all these entrys have been great, but they started 6 years ago, when I was 19. My path away from orthodox judaism started years before that.

As a child, I remember as a first grader moving my lips during davening (praying) instead of actually saying the words. Although that might have been because I was always terrible at languages, and usually they didn't give us enough time to finish all the prayers at the halting pace at which I could read it. But then again, I still believed in it, and followed it. I followed everything I was taught by my parents until I got to high school. Well, maybe I didn't say a bracha (blessing) before everything I ate, but that was more lazyness I think.

Then, the night before my 15th birthday, I met my friend M (who is today one of my oldest and closest friends). He probably doesn't want to be known for this, but I remember the first time I met him was on a friday night when I was at a mutual friend's place for shabbas, and somehow the subject of keeping shabbas came up. And he told me that he kept shabbas, except when he thought of a really good poem and had to write it down (he was into writing poetry back then).

I had met people who weren't jewish before, and even people who were jewish and not religious. But they were different than me, since I was an orthodox jew, and orthodox jews did things a certain way. But M was raised in a family just like mine; modern orthodox, followed everything I did. And yet here was someone raised in that culture, who was writing on shabbas! And yet there was no lightning striking him down! God wasn't doing anything! And really, would god even care if he was writing down something he didn't want to forget? It was a revelation to me. Before then, it just had never occured to me that I didn't actually have to follow all those laws...it was just a given that I would. After that point, anything could happen!

It took 10 years to get from there to trying bacon for the first time (which happend last week). I think my next few entries will be about that path, since I remember every single time I first violated a jewish law. Each and every time I violated something new was significant to me, since I was crossing over a line that I had never crossed before.


  1. I've gone through a similar transition from orthodoxy to atheism and have recently 'come-out' to my family and friends as an atheist.

    Living in Jerusalem through the transition period makes things strange. I still eat mostly kosher (as most places are kosher here), but I've avoided dealing with the non-Jewish dating issue so far as almost every woman around is Jewish :-)

    Also, good for you - it takes guts to deal with the intermarriage issue head on. I dread that conversation with my parents if it ever arrives.

    Anyways thanks for your blog, its interesting to see other peoples experiences leaving Judaism and reflect on the similarities and differences in the paths taken.

    Good luck on your journey!

  2. Well it may be strange, but you have the advantage that in Israel there are a whole bunch of "secular jews"; jewish people who identify as jewish, and who may keep some traditions (like holidays, sabbath meal) but otherwise are not jewish in any way. When I was in israel on birthrite back in college, I stayed an extra week or two and stayed by a friend who was at bar elan for the year...we went to shabbas dinner at a family like that, where they had a meal together but took the religion out; so they had challah and wine at the table, but they didn't eat it first or say blessings over it or anything.

    To some extent, that's the kind of jew I am now; I still like going to non-religious shabbat potluck dinners at my friends' places, where we have challah and wine. Next week I might be going to a rosh hashana dinner at my grad school (mostly to catch up with old friends, and becuase one of my friends doesn't want to go by herself and keeps begging me to come with her) but I'm not going to services.

    I think just becuase we are atheists doesn't mean we have throw the baby out with the bathwater...the bathwater being the religious aspects, and the baby being the unique cultural/ethnic background we come from. Just a silly example, but I still love yerushalmi kugel, and will make it occasionally..just like my boyfriend (who is from a sicilian heritage) makes this crazy sicilian meat sauce thing that is awesome, even though he's rejected catholisism. The problem is that for jewish people, the culture is all intermingled with the religion, while (maybe because other religious groups are larger and more spread out), in other religions people have their cultural/ethnic background, and then their religious background.


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