“It was her debut… She wanted to do this.”
July 23, 2015 6:39 PM   Subscribe

‘Leaving the Faith’: Faigy Mayer’s struggle in her own words
On Monday evening, a 30-year-old Jewish woman named Faigy Mayer fell to her death from a rooftop bar just one block from Tablet’s offices in Manhattan. The event was reported as a suicide... At the very least, we hope that publishing this article under her byline enables Faigy Mayer to have something of a legacy—in her own words.
posted by davidstandaford (70 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is really sad. But I don't know if it's 'fair' to blame an entire religion for the suicide of a mentally unwell person. I feel as if some of the writers are using this tragedy to advance their own criticisms of Hasidic culture/religion.

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posted by hal_c_on at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


The articles don't give an outsider like me that much to latch on to. I find it entirely plausible that her isolation played into her actions, but don't feel wise enough to speak to the point. Poor Faigy Mayer; how sad, & how young.

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posted by Going To Maine at 7:03 PM on July 23, 2015


Growing up in a radically conservative tradition is extremely challenging if you don't fit in.

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posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:07 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 7:07 PM on July 23, 2015


It isn't blaming the whole religion to make the same connection Ms. Mayer did between her isolation within her ultra-Orthodox community and her desperation. It's commentary on a single community within a much larger and more heterogenous religious tradition.

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posted by gingerest at 7:14 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


The articles don't give an outsider like me that much to latch on to.

Right, here is some background. I wanted to make the post about Faigy, but I understand if people might not be familiar with the struggle she faced. We have talked a lot about Hasidic, Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews on Metafilter. Those groups are distinct, but a lot of the concerns that Faigy raised are present in those communities in various ways. These past Metafiler posts highlight a number of those issues - they are mostly about gender issues, although the first one is about the education problem that Faigy highlighted.

"You don’t like it? Find another place to live."

"...no one talked about the real issue, the victims."

An Unorthodox Controversy

“You don’t understand, women are holier than men.”

Aboard Flights, Conflicts Over Seat Assignments and Religion

"But I am angry, even though I cannot always explain who I am angry at."

"Because I mean, come on. It's the 21st century. Who doesn't know how to have sex?"
posted by davidstandaford at 7:17 PM on July 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


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posted by Fizz at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2015


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posted by oceanjesse at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2015


Thanks for the links. I remember reading the post about Sad Jewish Girl back in the day, and seeing the post again made me go back to her blog. She's in a much better place! An unrelated good thing can't cancel out a terrible thing, but I'm happy nonetheless.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:34 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, because I noticed the same thing Going To Maine did and feel like elaborating--Sad Jewish Girl who hadn't been able to actually have sex with her husband eventually was able to do so, and enjoy it, and is now a mom as of very recently. Which feels emblematic, somehow. It's not that it's really "being religious" that means certain religious communities have to be so lousy to women and minorities and people with mental health issues and disabilities and whatever. A lot of the awfulness boils down to bad habits. Everybody just got used to being shitty and it became tradition. Habits can be broken, if people make that a priority. If they insist on blaming the person who was hurt for being hurt, though, nothing changes.
posted by Sequence at 7:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


The articles don't give an outsider like me that much to latch on to. I find it entirely plausible that her isolation played into her actions, but don't feel wise enough to speak to the point.

The OTD ("Off the Derekh"; i.e., no longer Orthodox) memoir is becoming big-- Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox is one; Shulem Deen's All Who Go Do Not Return is another.

In both of their cases, and in Faigy's, it seems, their families were considered strange/outsiders in some way by their communities: Deborah's father was mentally disabled and her mother had left the faith, and Shulem's parents were "BTs" ("baalei teshuva", essentially the opposite of OTD- a Jew who becomes Orthodox), and both describe the same sort of isolation/lack of total acceptance from their communities Faigy does. And, it's for the same reason that Faigy gives to their fear of the internet-- fear of the outside world, and of secular influences that can potentially lead members astray when they realize what the outside world is like.
posted by damayanti at 7:51 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are also these previously's:
HasidicRebel
A bone you can't swallow and you can't spit out
My culture, their culture, our culture
Tzivia Greenfield
בית חב"ד
among others.

Not everyone who is Hasidic / Hareidi is or feels trapped. Not even every woman. I can't and won't defend or apologize for the worst that takes place within these communities, as I think exists in all fundamentalist communities, of all religions. But I am deeply uncomfortable with demonizing them.

Footsteps seems to be doing good work in helping people leave who want to leave. There's video here (including of Faigy herself) starting at around 16:05, of some of the challenges people face when they leave the fold. If this is an issue you care about, I think they're an organization worth supporting.

As with any closed world (and as Faigy herself noted in her last article from the first link), the best answer is always going to be to let in as much light as possible.

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posted by Mchelly at 7:54 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


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posted by trip and a half at 7:55 PM on July 23, 2015


hal_c_on: "But I don't know if it's 'fair' to blame an entire religion for the suicide of a mentally unwell person"

If that religion is the source of most of the unwellness, and then shunned her for thinking on her own, goddamn right it's fair.
posted by notsnot at 8:00 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


There is no survival for communities like the ultra-orthodox without discipline. To say they cannot shun those deviate or disobey is to say they cannot continue to exist.
posted by MattD at 8:09 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


The OTD ("Off the Derekh"; i.e., no longer Orthodox) memoir is becoming big-- Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox is one; Shulem Deen's All Who Go Do Not Return is another.

I enjoyed Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament, but it felt a bit too simple at times.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:10 PM on July 23, 2015


Yes, it's the Daily Fail, but this quote from her mother was gutting for me to read:

Chava Mayer told Daily Mail Online: 'I don't want to say anything. What am I supposed to say: That she's a wonderful person? No, we don't want to comment.'
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:15 PM on July 23, 2015


There is no survival for communities like the ultra-orthodox without discipline. To say they cannot shun those deviate or disobey is to say they cannot continue to exist.

Nobody in this thread, I think, is saying that the orthodox can't continue to shun those who leave the faith or shouldn't have the right do so. (And how would you enforce it, anyway?) But people do seem to be saying that shunning can have a causal, negative effect on the outcomes of these religious emigrants. Which is pretty logical - losing all your connections has a way of depressing you.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:15 PM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


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I wrote a very long angry screed about this, but thought the better of posting it.
posted by lalochezia at 8:18 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


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posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:41 PM on July 23, 2015


Would she have killed herself if she hadn't been shunned? Who knows. We don't know what this "shunning" involved, or to what extent it was fair to expect her parents to tolerate her behavior. There are people that leave these enclaves. There are people that join them. People have to find their own way. She was a deeply troubled, deeply unwell person, and you can't seize on one element of a complex person's life and say There. That's why she did it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:26 PM on July 23, 2015


There is no survival for communities like the ultra-orthodox without discipline. To say they cannot shun those deviate or disobey is to say they cannot continue to exist.

Every community has norms and boundaries, and every community that has norms and boundaries has to have at least some rhetorical mechanism for judging people in or out of compliance.

It seems to me there might be some way making that judgment without complete social disinheritance, that other religious communities exist that only brand people heretics or excommunicated in name, but allow continued social contact.

What's the argument for why shunning necessary in this case?
posted by weston at 9:26 PM on July 23, 2015


To say they cannot shun those deviate or disobey is to say they cannot continue to exist.

Good riddance.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:34 PM on July 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


I met her once at a birthday party and kept up with her through Facebook. She was warm, bright, funny, and fearless. The article shows what it was like to talk to her--she got to the heart of things quickly and evocatively. When we first met we talked all about where she wanted to go with her life. She only mentioned her background in passing. I'm a software developer, and that's what she was teaching herself to become. It's not often you get asked to explain, with complete seriousness, the soup-to-nuts architecture of a modern web application at dinner (to begin: What is a database? Why do we need it? How does it connect to a programming language? Well, first, invent the universe..), but that's what we talked about for two hours. I have never had such a rapt audience about such things, either. I remember walking away from that party feeling impressed by her friendliness, curiosity, and confidence. I felt sure that she would be successful despite the hurdles in her way.

I hope this isn't too much of a derail. I barely knew her, but she left a deep impression. I understand why her legacy will largely be about the religion she left and the way she died, but she was more than that. She was a good person. She is missed.
posted by rhythm and booze at 9:37 PM on July 23, 2015 [88 favorites]


You can believe in any set of superstitions you like. It's a free country after all. But a god who compels you to abandon your child for such reasons is an evil god, and I won't pretend otherwise. What good is an entire canon espousing his goodness if you believe this is what he demands of you?
posted by 1adam12 at 9:41 PM on July 23, 2015 [23 favorites]


I read about her jumping when it was first reported, and the article contained no context. I remember just looking at her eyes in the accompanying photo and thinking, if nothing else I wish I could have told her, "I'm sorry for whatever it is that is hurting you so badly."

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posted by BigHeartedGuy at 9:55 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It can be very hard to have a child with mental issues. I'm familiar with parents who have been through that and who had to break off contact to preserve their own sanity. We know absolutely nothing about her home life or what it was like when she wasn't well. It may have been really intolerable for them. We just don't know.

We don't even really know to what extent she was shunned: the headline says it, but the article only quotes her as saying
My parents, they were like, point blank,You have to get out of here because you are not religious anymore,
That's not shunning; that's kicking a child out of your home. Maybe they did shun her, but people here are being very definite about their view of how she was treated when we don't even know.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:01 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think she was shunned in the way that you read about how the Amish and Mormon communities do. She was still in contact with her family. She was buried within the community (which is a huge deal) and her secular and non-Jewish friends were allowed to attend (again, that really doesn't happen, especially in the tighter-knit groups like Belz and Satmar). She chose to leave the community and the community - and to some extent her family - returned the favor. If she's not dressing or eating along with community norms, there isn't a place for her there anymore. If she doesn't want to marry someone from the community she doesn't have a future. You don't get to have it all - that's what's so heartbreaking for people in her shoes. That there is no way to reject and simultaneously stay accepted.

I don't think anyone here who is saying "she was suffering from depression, we don't know why" is saying that Hasidism was not a factor. It had to be a factor, and she clearly blamed it for many if not all of her setbacks. But people leave Hasidism all the time and don't kill themselves. There was more to this than simply 'religion is evil and it killed her.'

Anyhow, I thought this was lovely: Lessons I learned from the Fabulous Faigy Mayer
posted by Mchelly at 10:17 PM on July 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


Let's not gloss over this. Whatever mental health problems this young woman had, they were almost certainly made worse by social and religious dogma. The rules and customs may be different, but any religion or culture which feverishly resist change is on a collision course with modern civilization. We need more programs for mental health treatment. We need more programs for people escaping all varieties of fundamentalism, and we need them now.
posted by Beholder at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


There was more to this than simply 'religion is evil and it killed her.'

I'm a (now non-practicing) Jew living in New York. Though not Orthodox or Hasidic, I have many friends who are. I'm originally from Texas and knew people who grew up in similarly strict fundamentalist Christian environments who got out. The things they had to endure in the name of religion, and the lack of help or ability to protect themselves because it's religion, is sickening.

It's very hard not to be angry at this situation, or at your spin on this. If any other kind of group or organization treated their members like these faith groups do, they would be immediately decried and shut down. Yet we're all supposed to just sagely nod when religious groups do these kinds of awful things, and mouth solemn words about belief and freedom.

So yes, this woman had mental issues that mae her life difficult, but also yes, religion is evil and it killed her. The day "it's my religion" stops being a valid excuse for evil is the day humanity steps forward into a brighter future. Somehow we instinctively recoil and tyranny and abuse, unless it's wrapped in the facade of religion, then it's beyond reproach.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


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posted by Ampersand692 at 7:33 AM on July 24, 2015


You can read Faigy's thoughts on her upbringing in an email: Woman who jumped to death from rooftop sent emotional email to friends detailing Jewish upbringing, life struggles.

While it's impossible to quantify exactly how much of the suicide or depression can be blamed on the shunning or the religion itself, it does seem like a good time to shine a light on how damaging that religion can be.

There is no survival for communities like the ultra-orthodox without discipline. To say they cannot shun those deviate or disobey is to say they cannot continue to exist.

If the existence of your community depends on shunning your children for making different lifestyle changes like wearing pants or eating at McDonalds, maybe your community doesn't deserve to exist, at least not in its present form.
posted by callmejay at 8:11 AM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


In addition to Footsteps as Mchelly mentioned, there is a large online OTD Facebook group and a related Meetup group, too. It can be a real lifeline for some.
posted by callmejay at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2015


You can read Faigy's thoughts on her upbringing in an email: Woman who jumped to death from rooftop sent emotional email to friends detailing Jewish upbringing, life struggles.

The OP has this same content in a much better article.
posted by sweetkid at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2015


Oops, thanks.
posted by callmejay at 8:27 AM on July 24, 2015


Sangermaine, I am a religious Jew, and my religion is not evil. I take comfort in a living and intentional universe (however deluded that proposition might be), and my prayers are not harmful. I take part in a community whose strength is in diversity, and we are not restrictive or judgemental, and we sing together, and our songs (however off-key and mumbled they might be), our songs are beautiful.

There's a woman at my synagogue who grew up in an Orthodox community of uncompromising observance. She wasn't one of those people who rebelled; she loved it! She took comfort in the shifting rituals of the year, in the changeless hours of Shabbat. She speaks with great eloquence and nostalgia of her Orthodox childhood and her large, hamish family. But, as she said to me once, there came a point when her family's admonishments to "marry a Jewish boy" started to change into "marry a boy", and there came a point where she had to leave.

She was terrified. She was cut adrift. She had been brought up to believe that if she couldn't live within the stricter Orthodox community, she couldn't live the Jewish life that was buried bone-deep within her. She had no idea that there was a world of kindly, religious liberal Judaism. She had no idea that religious liberal Jews compromise the biggest single category of Jews by a wide margin, that we outnumber fully secular Jews substantially, that we outnumber Orthodox Jews by a margin of five to one. And that's partly because the Orthodox world feels threatened by us and tries to pretend us away or deny that we are Jews. And that's partly because of secular people who have a distorted understanding of what the modern religious landscape looks like, and assume that the most crazy fundamentalists are the norm.

And that's partly because liberal religious people, like me, don't shout loud enough, and make our voices heard, and stand up to the evil religious right, and let it just pass unchallenged when people tell the world (however implicitly or however explicitly) that 'religion' is evil.

My friend is doing fine now. She has a community around her which cares for her and helps her honour her strict level of observance, even if it isn't part of our own Jewish practice. She has a wife now: a beautiful, capable Harvard grad who would delight any Jewish mother. And she just had the cutest baby daughter. When they named her, they derived her name from the Hebrew word for 'light'.

Tonight I'm going to the Friday night service, and I'm going to meet my friend, and my other friend her wife, and a whole cluster of other people from every continent, from diverse traditions, people born Jewish and people who chose our way. If I can buttonhole the rabbi, I'm going to ask her about a new tikkun olam idea suggested to me by a Christian minister who has her own congregation down the street.

And maybe our gathering will be cosmically useless. Maybe our prayers will echo out into an empty universe. Maybe our ceremonies will be, in the strictest sense, not 'good' at all.

But we will be happy, and we will be together, and together we will light candles against the gathering gloom.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:49 AM on July 24, 2015 [46 favorites]


Beautiful story, Dreadnought, thank you.
posted by Melismata at 9:08 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am not in any way qualified to parse the causes/exacerbations of her mental illness and suicide. What I do know-and she mentions it in the first link of this post-is that the deep and utter shame of insular ultra-orthodox communities in the United States is the way they trap or attempt to ensure the failure of young people who decide to leave.
We all grow up in communities that have values, traditions and customs that may differ radically from the ones we choose to live by as adults. Some of these may be harmful, some just not for us. But giving your children the bare minimum [or none! you'll note she mentions the girls have some "english" and math because they'll be expected to participate in some sort of commerce to support their husbands, who receive none of this secular education because they will be studying torah all day] of capability and proficiency in the language of the larger community in which they live traps them.
I have a long list of criticisms about these communities, but the withholding of secular education (or even just English language education) is the one I will call abuse.
posted by atomicstone at 9:19 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dreadnought, I can see that you have great intentions and that you get a lot of our your community and religion, but I think you are minimizing the responsibility of liberal Judaism when you suggest that maybe you just aren't standing up enough against the religious right. In effect, liberal religion actually enables orthodox religion. If every person who was not a member of an orthodox religion rejected the underpinnings of religion itself (faith, dogma, believing without evidence) then orthodox religions would not have the sort of political and social power that they do today because people would see them for what they are and not just as a version of something otherwise good that is wrong in a couple of ways.
posted by callmejay at 9:52 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


If every person who was not a member of an orthodox religion rejected the underpinnings of religion itself (faith, dogma, believing without evidence) then orthodox religions would not have the sort of political and social power that they do today because people would see them for what they are and not just as a version of something otherwise good that is wrong in a couple of ways.

You are implicitly suggesting that liberal religious folks are actively engaging in a prolonged con by lying about their true (atheist) beliefs. This is both insulting and an argument that arch-conservative folks themselves use to deny that liberal religious folks have a place in faith.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I’ve been thinking a lot about both Faigy Mayer and Jennifer Pan over the last 24 hours.

It seems like a lot of people want to think about what caused their downfalls in either/or terms. That doesn’t make sense to me; why can’t it be both?

Of course all people don’t crack who grow up in rigid, isolated communities with super-high expectations for their children, no room for any deviation, and the penalty of being cut off from the only social support network you’ve ever known as punishment if you can’t live within the lines.

Of course all people who do crack don’t come from such backgrounds.

Why does it have to be 100% organic mental illness or 100% environmental stress?

Maybe a Jennifer Pan has an inborn frailty, but is born to parents who don’t terrify her and her problem doesn’t escalate? Maybe a Faigy Mayer is born with a chemical depression but the feelings of isolation inherent to that condition aren’t amplified to the breaking point by a family that cares more about her religion than her existence? Don’t we have room in our hearts to have enough sympathy for everyone?

At times, the mob is swayed to to carry praise, or blame, too far.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:39 AM on July 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Going To Maine, I did not mean to suggest they are lying at all. I don't believe that. I do think that they either rationalize or compartmentalize, though.
posted by callmejay at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reading about her story and her untimely death hit me really hard. My parents were also fundamentalists, though Christian, and weren't very well accepted in that community. So it was like a double whammy of isolation. I lived in NYC too and also taught myself how to code. I also struggled with severe crippling depression and anxiety there.

When I was watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt it struck me that though it's a comedy and can seem quite bubbly, it's actually pretty dark. She gets taken advantage of a lot, and ends up seeking help in some questionable places. The advantage she has is at least she doesn't seem to be depressive.

Like Faigy, at one point I lost the place where I was living. I got kicked out. That was an incredibly dark time for me. I tried finding help, but it's really hard to get therapy in NYC if you don't have a lot of money or persistence (depressives aren't known for being the most motivated people). I think the only way I survived was I re-joined fundamentalism again. It gave me back a safety net I had failed to build on my own. I didn't stick with it – I realized the problem was at least somewhat in the place and moved away from the city, but it makes me even more ambivalent about religion. The thing that had harmed me so much before had saved me.

I knew I could always call my priest. I couldn't say that about therapists or the tenuous friendships I made in that difficult city.
posted by melissam at 6:02 PM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I did not mean to suggest they are lying at all. I don't believe that. I do think that they either rationalize or compartmentalize, though.

Our apologies. It turns out you were wrong and insulting in a slightly different way.
posted by Behemoth at 7:21 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Underpants Monster: I found myself thinking along the same lines, especially since I read this thread right after the one about Pan. In fact I find myself thinking about margins of error. Both of these young people had very small margins of error afforded to them by their family/community. Everyone within such families/communities are afforded tiny margins of error. (Or if you prefer, is under higher pressure than the general population.) So I understand why one can see the system Mayer was brought up in as contributing to her suicide. She couldn't adjust because she had no room to adjust in. And being depression-prone would have meant that she needed more room then your average person.

Sure, if you don't need that much margin of error you can thrive in such societies. Which doesn't negate the fact that the way they are constructed is more likely to harm those prone to harm already, and pointing that out, while also pointing out how they may have been prone to harm, is not being disrespectful. Not pointing it out can be victim-blaming.

The word "tolerance" crops up very naturally in discussions about religion, especially the strict kind. Tolerance is another word for margin of error, in engineering.

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posted by seyirci at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Our apologies. It turns out you were wrong and insulting in a slightly different way.

That highlights my point in a way. If the only religious people were fundamentalists, it would be uncontroversial among most non-fundamentalists to say that they rationalize or compartmentalize.
posted by callmejay at 1:35 PM on July 25, 2015


If the only religious people were fundamentalists, it would be uncontroversial among most non-fundamentalists the entirely atheist remaining population to say that they rationalize or compartmentalize.

I don't disagree with this point, I suppose, but it seems to boil down to wishing that the world was a less complicated and nuanced place than it is. You also seem to be ducking the fact that referring to liberal religious folks as “either rationaliz[ing] or compartmentaliz[ing]” still reads as demeaning. Maybe you don't mean it that way, but that's how it comes off.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:54 PM on July 25, 2015


I've thought long and hard about whether I should comment further in this thread; I don't want to continue a derail. But as we are essentially talking about a woman who condemned her religious community with her dying breath, I think it merits discussion as to whether restrictive, inhumane religion or religion in general is to blame for the ills in society caused by matters of faith.

On that point, then, let me rebut the comments made by callmejay, which some have characterised as insulting.

Well, to be honest, reading those comments made me angry, which I suppose means they probably are insulting. But I prefer to see them, more, as logical conclusions drawn from a deeply incomplete body of information. callmejay, you strike me as a person who values reason and knowledge. Perhaps I could ask you to reason with me for a few paragraphs, and maybe engage in a little self-reflection upon whether you have enough evidence to put forward your arguments.

Why do I think you might be speaking from a position of ignorance? Honestly, you haven't said much, but pretty much everything you've said has been wrong:

the underpinnings of religion itself (faith, dogma, believing without evidence)

Of religion itself? I think you might be mistaking Judaism for a creedal religion, in which adherents are expected to subscribe to some code of belief. In fact, this is far from the case. While there are Jews who believe various things, there is no particular requirement to believe anything in order to be a 'good Jew'. Indeed, many religious Jews are functionally atheists as a Christian might understand it. This is true of many religions and, probably, the majority of people who follow religious practices. The fact that 'faith' is a central tenet of many forms of Christianity does not mean that it underpins 'religion' in general.

orthodox religions would not have the sort of political and social power that they do today

Your choice of vocabulary betrays you. 'Orthodox' is a complex word with several meanings, and it is not simply synonymous with 'right wing' or 'conservative'. Using that word in this context is like a signal that you are not familiar with the main ground of the debate. You know how frustrating it is when anti-evolution idiots say "we didn't come from monkeys"? You sound like that, here, and it doesn't inspire confidence.

Feeling attacked, callmejay? Feeling deprecated and alienated? It's irritating when somebody takes you to task; it makes you want to turn off and stop listening. So how do you think it makes me feel when you tell me that I'm responsible for the bad actions of other people (not responsible for not doing enough to stop them, actually responsible)?

You and I should be allies! We want the same thing: a tolerant, peaceful society, evidence based governance, and end to evil people telling us what, and what not, to believe. Yet, here you are telling me that I should set aside my way of life, set aside my beliefs (such as they are) and practices... for what exactly?

because people would see [the religious right] for what they are and not just as a version of something otherwise good that is wrong in a couple of ways

... because by being humane and caring, I'm giving your political opponents a good name?

Let's apply this same logic to another situation: "People should stop having sex. Because when people have good sex they make people think that rape is an otherwise good thing that is wrong in a couple of ways." "People should stop chopping wood. Because when people chop would they make axe murders sound like an otherwise good thing that is wrong in a couple of ways."

The thing that's wrong with evil religious people is not that they're religious, it's that their evil. They use good things (community, piety, powerful ancient wisdoms) to do bad things (hurt people and restrict them). Now, there are situations in which the harmful uses of something so outweigh the harmless ones that it makes sense to restrict it -- explosives, for example. Religion is not one of those things.

Indeed, if you want to defeat 'bad' religion, 'good' religion is one of your most powerful weapons. You're not going to convince people to give up their religious sentiments, but you can convince them that the specific arguments of evil religious leaders are specious and hurtful. In fact, this is surprisingly easy. Did you know that the bible does not, in fact, condemn abortion, but rather explicitly says that it is permissible? Right wing Christians had to change their bibles to take out this fact. Did you know that it so tenuously condemns homosexuality that most Western religious thinkers argue that it essentially has nothing to say on the matter? If you really want to confront a right wing extremist, get to them to explain where exactly the bible condemns homosexuality, and watch them twist in the wind. These are important ideas, and they are arguments that only a religious liberal has the expertise and authority to make.

And before you answer "it shouldn't matter what it says in some dusty old book" stop, and think about your own values around not 'compartmentalising' and 'rationalising' and living in the real world as it is right now. Because it matters to them, and they have power, so it matters to you too.

I would like you to consider whether your understanding of 'religion' in general, and the specific religious debates that animate your culture, is deep enough for you to be able to propose good solutions.

Indeed, I you already have the skills and intellect to deal with this: imagine were giving advice to, say, a climate change denialist and follow it yourself -- Seek out good information: it's out there. Understand that the subject isn't totally intuitive: you have to learn complex and paradoxical things. It's not a conspiracy: millions of intelligent people are not being duped, the world's clergy are not in on some evil master plan (and they're not getting rich, either). Consider your sources: atheist forums are often echo chambers, and anticlerical websites are not good sources for high quality information.

You are a person of reason. You value knowledge and evidence. Use those strengths to equip yourself to fight this fight properly. If you do that, I think we both win.
posted by Dreadnought at 3:35 PM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


What drives former Haredim to suicide? And what can we do to stop it?
The death of Faigy Mayer, who jumped from a 20-story building in Manhattan, didn’t shock former ultra-Orthodox Jews. It’s almost as if we’ve come to expect another suicide in our ranks every so often.
posted by davidstandaford at 8:44 PM on July 25, 2015


Dreadnought,

Thank you for responding. Although you assume I am speaking from ignorance, I grew up (Modern) Orthodox myself and took it seriously for a long time. I did not use the word (lower-case o) orthodox ignorantly, I meant it literally. I think it's a little more precise than "fundamentalist." While I agree that it's not inherently synonymous with right-wing religion, in practice it nearly always is, at least with regard to the Abrahamic religions, notwithstanding some Catholic beliefs that end up on the liberal side of some issues.

I have had two therapists in my life whom I respected quite a bit and who really helped me change my life after going OTD. Both were very religious liberals. The better of the two is an actual minister. So please don't think I'm being bigoted or ignorant. (I don't mean this to come off as "some of my best friends are religious," I'm saying I've had deep, meaningful conversations specifically on the subject of religion with people I love and respect who changed my life for the better.)

On the "insulting" charge: I am not being deliberately inflammatory, I am merely being honest about what I think based on my experience and years of thinking, debating, and even friendly conversations on the matter. I understand that criticism can cause anger, especially when the hearer thinks it's unwarranted, but it seems to me that mature thinkers should be able to let go of that instinctual and understandable emotional reaction rather than hoping that other people should fear voicing their honest opinion because it might hurt their feelings. Again, this highlights one of my criticisms of liberal religion, which is that it tends to encourage treating religious beliefs (and believers) with kid gloves. To borrow your analogy, if I claimed that climate change deniers were rationalizing and compartmentalizing (something which I also believe) would you be upset that I was "insulting" them?

As for Judaism not being a creedal religion, that is true for the more liberal variants, but Orthodox Judaism in practice requires if not believing in certain creeds at the very least never disagreeing with them out loud. Yes, I am familiar with the argument that all that matters is what you do, but try being Orthodox and saying you don't believe that the ancient Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. Look up the Natan Slifkin book banning to see how it works in practice.

I agree we should be allies! And we are allies. We're just disagreeing on whether liberal religion is more or less helpful than an alternate universe where all the religious liberals were secular atheists.

Indeed, if you want to defeat 'bad' religion, 'good' religion is one of your most powerful weapons. You're not going to convince people to give up their religious sentiments, but you can convince them that the specific arguments of evil religious leaders are specious and hurtful.

This seems like your central claim. I am not convinced. First, I literally have personally convinced Orthodox Jews to give up their religious sentiments (and I was myself convinced to do so as a young man.) It's not easy or common, but it happens. And it's happening more and more because of the internet.

And I think going that route is more likely to work (albeit still unlikely, on balance) than trying to argue Torah as a liberal Jew. They will roll their eyes if you argue that the Torah supports abortion. (It's not murder, but it's not allowed, either, unless to save the mother's life, etc. Very clear in the authoritative sources.) If you ask them to point out where the Bible condemns homosexuality, they will see (correctly!) that you are obviously rationalizing away the part where it says in black and white that men who have sex with men should be executed.

I'm in the OTD group, and of the people who were convinced to leave for intellectual reasons, I would say the clear majority were convinced that no god exists rather than that god exists but orthodoxy is incorrect.

The thing that's wrong with evil religious people is not that they're religious, it's that their evil.

I do not believe they are wholly independent variables, but obviously it's impossible to prove. However, there are many many religious people who are not in their character evil, but end up doing evil things like condemning gay marriage or shunning their children or simply teaching their children that who they are is wrong and bad or not giving their children proper education or not allowing their children to follow certain skills, talents, or ambitions, etc.

I personally know many Orthodox Jews who I would consider exceptionally kind and well-meaning people who nevertheless have done some or all of those things solely because they believe what they were taught by their religion.

And are you confident that there would be just as many suicide bombers if they did not literally believe in heaven? I mean, there might be some, but just as many?

Anyway, I wrote a lot. I am curious how the news that I am not ignorant on the subject but rather simply disagree with you will affect how you read me.
posted by callmejay at 9:16 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the "insulting" charge: I am not being deliberately inflammatory, I am merely being honest about what I think based on my experience and years of thinking, debating, and even friendly conversations on the matter.

I appreciate that you're not trying to be inflammatory, but it's hard to take “rationalize and compartmentalize” in this case as anything but - because everyone rationalizes and compartmentalizes. Hell, you're fitting people into boxes right now. To treat religious liberal folks like they're doing something special is gross.

I agree we should be allies! And we are allies.

Oh, well if you say so then.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2015


I'll ask you the same question I asked Dreadnought. Would you be upset if I said that climate change deniers rationalize and compartmentalize?

To say that everyone does it is I'm sure true, but of course it's a question of degree. The real test is what happens when someone points it out. Getting offended can be a way to dismiss the charge without ever considering it.
posted by callmejay at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2015


Would you be upset if I said that climate change deniers rationalize and compartmentalize?

Sure, but I'd also say that people who argue that climate change is occurring rationalize & compartmentalize as well; after all, there's a wealth of opinion about the impacts that climate change is having and the severity of it.

More importantly , though: climate is something that can be interpreted through rigorous scientific study. It has very little place in a study of the spiritual. Why are you comparing liberal religious folks to climate change deniers?
posted by Going To Maine at 2:12 PM on July 26, 2015


Would you be upset if I said that climate change deniers rationalize and compartmentalize?

Why on earth do you feel this is a valid comparison? There are plenty of scientists who are religious people, including Orthodox Jews. How can you not see how insulting you sound when you frame your questions this way?

Your background doesn't make you an expert or your opinions more valid - if anything, it makes you sound just like a baal teshuva - full of righteous fire and newfound certainty and disdain for your past beliefs, without any understanding of what makes them valid for other people. Faith is personal. You lost yours and are better for it, good on you. You convinced others to do the same - not sure why that makes you so proud, but hey, if it doesn't hurt anyone then good on you again. But that doesn't make you right.

If religion was scientifically provable or disprovable, there would be no debate. Religion does give meaning to many peoples' understanding of the universe, religious practice enriches many peoples' lives, and all of those people aren't stupid, let alone evil.

Framing this as smart people vs ignorant people with biases just doesn't hold water. But it does create the same us-vs-them animosity you claim you are trying to stand up against.
posted by Mchelly at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Framing this as smart people vs ignorant people with biases just doesn't hold water.

When an ex-Hasid is miserable we lay the fault at the door of the culture. Perhaps that's fair. But who do we blame when people are miserable in the wider secular society?

There's a problem with privilege here. By depicting these groups as defiant exceptions to The Way People Should Live we pathologise their failings while treating our own faults as normal. Lots of people join these cultures voluntarily; Faigy's parents were reportedly among them. They found something beautiful and worthwhile there; it wasn't right for their daughter, but it shouldn't be dismissed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:01 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mod note: Folks, let's please not let this conversation devolve into the standard Religion is Unprovable/That's Not the Point debate. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:01 PM on July 26, 2015


Thanks, callmejay, for your temperate response to my last comment. I appreciate the way you're trying to move the discussion beyond name calling and get to the substantive issues.

It does change my understanding of your comment to know that you come from a Modern Orthodox background. It allays my fear that you just don't understand what religion is about and are dismissing it out of hand because you just don't get it.

Having said that, it doesn't necessarily make me agree with you. I think that some of the things you're saying are based on assumptions that I just don't share. Reading back over your argument, you seem to have two big contentions. Sorry, by the way, for potentially putting words into your mouth. I'm not doing it to try and set up a straw man, I'm trying to mirror your arguments back to you so you can tell if I'm interpreting them correctly.

Contention 1: what you call 'orthodox' religion is normative, and basically what religion is really about.

Contention 2: religion is a bunch of superstitious hokum that the world would be better off without.

These contentions seem to be interrelated: the second point about religion being bunk relies on religion being defined as 'orthodox' religion. When you critique liberal religion, you're basically saying "religious liberalism shares characteristics xyz with orthodox religion, and is therefore bunk by the transitive property."

All that's fair enough, but I take issue with both contentions.

Contention 1: I really disagree with your use of the term 'orthodox' (small o) for two reasons. Firstly, it's needlessly confusing. Orthodox Judaism has always been a misnomer: it's about othopraxy not orthodoxy, in the first place, and in the second place it assumes a static and changeless Jewish tradition that never existed before religious conservatives started reacting against the Reform Movement in the early nineteenth century. So much 'orthodox' stuff is just 18th century Judaism frozen in amber, and much of the rest of it is more recent innovations given the veneer of antiquity. In the wider context, 'Orthodox' has a completely different meaning in Christianity, being linked with the Eastern Orthodox churches. Ask a Roman Catholic or a Methodist if their practices are corruptions of Russian Orthodox ones, and see the fur fly.

Second, 'orthodox' is a value judgment. When not used as a proper noun, it implies that this is the True Way, and other ways are just corruptions of it, or 'lite' versions of it. As a Reform Jew, I obviously see the world very differently. My religion is not 'orthodox lite'; my religion is every bit as deep and meaningful and intentional, and when I don't do things that orthodox people do, I'm choosing to do them the way I do them for a very good reason. Reform Jews aren't lazy Orthodox Jews any more than Protestant Christians are rebellious Catholics.

But your contention seems to stray into territory where exactly that assumption is in play. When I say that Judaism is non-creedal, you say "well, my orthodox community brooked no distention". In the USA, 10% of Jews are Orthodox. Ten percent. 18% are Conservative, 35% are Reform. that's a total of 53% of Jews in the main liberal denominations. And while Orthodox people have more children, they have trouble (as you yourself testify) keeping their children within Orthodoxy. For every 100 Orthodox kids, only 48 stay Orthodox into adulthood. 26%, more than a quarter, of Orthodox people defect to the liberal denominations. And this is a one-way traffic. Among Conservative Jews, only 4% go Orthodox; a scant 1% of Reform Jews make that same journey.

Given those numbers, I think I'm pretty justified in arguing that liberal Judaism is by far the most prominent, most 'normative' form of religious Judaism in North America. If you want to judge Judaism as a collective, you would be much better judging it by the standards of the liberal movements.

And let me tell you, we brook dissent. We, in fact, demand dissent. I go to weekly Torah study in which I get status and respect for my ability to challenge my teachers and overturn their opinions. That, in my view, is the true heart of the Jewish experience. Your closed-minded Orthodox co-religionists* were as heterodox as they come.

And this is true of religious right wingers and conservatives (as opposed to Conservative Jews, who are actually quite enlightened) all over the world. Those religious fundamentalists on abortion, I alluded to earlier? They had to literally change the texts of their bibles in the seventies and eighties to take out the bit saying that abortion was ok. If I were a Christian, I would have no trouble calling them straight-up heretics. And let's not even talk about the nutcases that the poor Muslims have to put up with besmirching their good name by claiming that their deranged reinterpretations of obscure parts of Islamic law are actually central parts of the religion. If I were a Muslim, I would have even less trouble decrying the fringe right as illegitimate perverters of normal Islamic practice.

So yeah, I think Contention 1, as I identify it, is bunk. Conservative religious movements are not 'normal' or even mainstream. I don't have to justify my practice in their terms, and the problems that they have simply don't transfer over to me. And when, as they sometimes do, they use their religious views as a flimsy excuse to do evil in the world, I have no trouble condemning it because I don't see the evil stuff as arising naturally out of the religious stuff that we share, no compartmentalisation necessary.

Which brings me to Contention 2: religion is a bunch of superstition.

I mean, guilty as charged. Religion is a bunch of superstitious hooey. I'll grant you that.

So what?

We judge intellectual approaches to the world based on their utility, not their correctness. If we judged them based on their correctness, we'd be parallised by indecision, because we all know that our best scientific models are ultimately incorrect and destined to be overturned in time.

Case in point: when we went to the moon, we did all our calculations based on a Newtonian view of gravity, even though we already knew that Newton's laws of gravity were flat wrong, and had been superseded by Einstein's relativity. But Newton's equations were easier to work with, and they worked well enough to get us to the moon. We know Einstein is wrong too: his theories cannot be reconciled with quantum mechanics as of yet. But until we can work out how to get past that problem, we use relativity because it's the best model we have. It's useful. It works.

Religion is just the same. Of course when I talk about G'd I'm not talking about a Big Man in the Sky. Of course when I read the Torah I'm not recalling literal history. I know that, and millions of mainstream religious people know that.

Why do we do it? There are millions of answers, but it basically boils down to 'religion is useful to us'. Religion gives us things -- community, peace, wisdom, a spur to goodness -- that we find difficult to access in secular society. We experience the world as beings that have spiritual desires, and religious customs help feed those parts of our personalities. You take that away from us, and we'll be less happy, and the diminishment of our happiness is bad.

So that's the utilitarian argument for religion. The counterargument is "but religion also inspires people to do bad things". Sure, but only bad religion does that stuff. You can try to cure that bad religion by convincing everybody to be atheists, but it won't work, because that only works with people who a) are happy being atheists (which isn't everybody) and b) only works with people who have never encountered the rationalist/materialist worldview which every liberal religious person has. You're not going to persuade me to give up my religion with the blunt force of your arguments, because I've heard all your arguments a million times. I don't even think they're wrong! They're just not for me, nor are they for millions of other intelligent religious liberals.

Rather, you need to cure bad religion by providing a reasonable, humane alternative. That's what good religion gets you, whether it be Orthodox or Reform, Catholic or Protestant, Sunni or Shiite. It gets you an antidote to evil religious crazies that works better and is more respectful than just trying to convert everybody to atheism. That's why we religious liberals are of value to you, because we can provide that much more readily than you can. And when everybody is humane, it doesn't matter how they spend their Saturday mornings.

*Who were not, necessarily, representative of Orthodox Judaism in general
posted by Dreadnought at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks for your thoughtful reply and for addressing the substance of what I wrote.

Contention 1: what you call 'orthodox' religion is normative, and basically what religion is really about.

No, I don't believe that. My comment was probably unclear because I was sometimes talking about orthodox religions and sometimes non-orthodox.

In fact, I agree with almost everything you wrote. I agree that conservative religions are not normal or mainstream. I agree that religion offers a lot of great things.

I want to address two points and I'll try to be clear about which is which.

Your closed-minded Orthodox co-religionists* were as heterodox as they come.

Point 1. Speaking specifically about the Orthodox now, they famously engage in vigorous and rigorous debate in a tradition stretching back over the centuries. However, as Chomsky put it, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

There is debate, but you are literally not allowed to say anything that is out of bounds. This includes facts which are obviously (to non-orthodox people who know anything) true. They didn't respond to Rabbi Slifkin's book (see my link above) with solid arguments, they banned his book. And he basically broke his spine in half trying to keep his arguments within the bounds of acceptable orthodox debate.

We judge intellectual approaches to the world based on their utility, not their correctness.

Point 2. That is exactly the notion that I find so harmful about liberal religion. Neither orthodox people nor atheists tend to believe that. (That is why it's easier to convince an orthodox person to become an atheist than to become a liberal religious person, by the way.)

To my mind, liberal religious people believe that because it's the only way they can still believe (or "purport to believe", to be perhaps more precise while risking being insulting) in their religions. But that idea being popular in society tamps down a lot of the criticism that could be effective against orthodox religion, because it becomes an argument about whose culture is better instead of what's true, which means that you can't have a rational debate anymore, all you can do is "insult" each other and "get offended."

To say that is what science does is only half-true, and therefore not true. Science judges hypotheses based on their utility AND truth. Your example of Newton is misleading, because he was right enough for most uses at the time, while many religious beliefs are completely 100% false and in no way even reasonable approximations of reality even if they have some utility as mythology. Newton isn't useful as mythology, it's useful as a close approximation of reality under most circumstances.

I think comparing liberal religion's relationship with the truth to science's relationship with the truth based on utilitarian arguments is exactly the kind of rationalization that liberal religious people engage in. (Of course orthodox people engage in tons of rationalization as well.)
posted by callmejay at 7:27 AM on July 27, 2015


"purport to believe", to be perhaps more precise while risking being insulting

Nope. Not taking a risk. Just straight-up doing. Extend to liberal religious folks the same courtesy you're willing to extend to the orthodox and your fellow unbelievers.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:45 AM on July 27, 2015


We judge intellectual approaches to the world based on their utility, not their correctness... Religion is just the same. Of course when I talk about G'd I'm not talking about a Big Man in the Sky. Of course when I read the Torah I'm not recalling literal history.
posted by callmejay at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2015


Your example of Newton is misleading, because he was right enough for most uses at the time, while many religious beliefs are completely 100% false and in no way even reasonable approximations of reality even if they have some utility as mythology.

Ah! I see what's going on here! You think that I think that religion is, like, some substitute for science. I see how the Newton example was misleading. That was just an example of something being wrong-but-useful, not an example of how religion could do what science can.

Let me be clearer: religion and science are different areas of human endeavour. There are some analogies that one can draw from one to the other, and some areas where they blend (science can inspire awe, for example), but they're fundamentally different and have different goals. Sending a rocket to the moon using religious ceremony would be as nonsensical as playing a game of chess using a ballet recital.

Indeed, I'm a little confused as to where you're getting this connection from. Do you demand that dreams, for example, tell us practical things about nature? Paintings? Children's games?

And why do you bring up my disclaimer of biblical literalism when you want to give an example of religious people 'not believing what they purport to believe'? Who ever said I was a biblical literalist? I never purported to believe that stuff, and nobody I know does either.

I mean, I think I see where the confusion lies, but I'm really honestly a little baffled as to what your image of liberal religion is, such that your objections even make sense.
posted by Dreadnought at 1:20 PM on July 27, 2015


You use the same terms as orthodox believers yet mean them differently. You believe/purport to believe/talk about God, but you aren't "talking about a Big Man in the Sky." What are you talking about? Well, I don't know, but the various liberal religious people I've spoken to about this subject on metafilter and irl have a million different answers and it's impossible to pin them down. That's why I write "purport to believe" because it seems to me that it's more important to them to say that they believe in God than it is to mean something concrete by that.

Liberal religion is not like science, but it's not widely acknowledged by the believers to be fiction either. So it's kind of a weird thing. I'm not arguing it can't be useful or beautiful, but it makes it really hard to talk about or even think about orthodox religious people when liberal religious people are using the same language but somehow straddling the line between mythology and reality. Like I'm really not sure a lot of liberal religious people understand on a gut level that orthodox religious people actually believe the things they say they believe.
posted by callmejay at 1:54 PM on July 27, 2015


You use the same terms as orthodox believers yet mean them differently.

But this is inate to everything. Language is always subject to interpretation and reinterpretation and we all use terms differently. I mean, what of the fundamental inexplicability of the Dao?
posted by Going To Maine at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2015


the various liberal religious people I've spoken to about this subject on metafilter and irl have a million different answers and it's impossible to pin them down

And your takeaway from that is that we're making it all up?

Look, if you can concisely, completely and accurately explain to me:

- the reason for music,
- the feel of candlelight,
- the sigh of mortality and,
- the deep black of outer space, and how it relates to the deep black of my wife's hair,

then I will gladly concede that your skill in explaining the ineffable outstrips my own.

In the mean time, might I suggest that you print out this conversation and take it to your friendly local rabbi (or other accredited religious professional), where they will slake your curiosity with an articulate authority that I cannot myself muster.
posted by Dreadnought at 3:42 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: the deep black of outer space, and how it relates to the deep black of my wife's hair
posted by Going To Maine at 4:01 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note: Friendly reminder, "you people are self-deceived about your important belief" is rarely a good tack to take in a conversation.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:13 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know, I was thinking in bed last night that maybe I'm still carrying some of my Orthodox upbringing in that even though I agreed upthread that Orthodoxy is not normative, I still on some unconscious level think of liberal religion as some sort of play-acting of Orthodoxy. And if that were the case, then clearly hundreds of millions of people play-acting the dangerous thing would make it harder to fight with the actual dangerous thing, but of course it isn't the case.

I think in the end I really just don't grok what religion means to people who are native/fluent in liberal religion. In orthodox religion, they believe the claims like we believe scientific claims (or else they keep their mouth shut.) But in liberal religion... I don't know, it's not quite like you believe it the way a fiction reader believes the story, I think it's more than that, but it's also not believing the way that I and my community believed our religion. That's where my whole "purports to believe" derail came from.

So, my apologies for taking out my issues on you, and my thanks for your thoughtful responses.
posted by callmejay at 6:52 AM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


When an ex-Hasid is miserable we lay the fault at the door of the culture. Perhaps that's fair. But who do we blame when people are miserable in the wider secular society?

Well, we have Meyer's own words that point to the Hasidic culture as the cause of her misery, so why shouldn't we choose to believe her? Leah Vincent, when talking about Meyer's suicide, refers to the problem as "the religious community harpooning our tender bodies as we struggle out of the shell of our protective upbringing, leaving us pierced and deformed as we attempt to navigate forward." In the case of Deb Tambor, it was the Hasidic community's outlook on child custody that drove her to commit suicide. When Shulem Deen (aka "Hasidic Rebel") left, the cause of his depression and attempted suicide was how the members of the Hasidic community, and especially his own family, treated him when he began questioning and eventually leaving it behind. Vincent also notes that a shockingly-high 80 percent of those who leave Hasidic communities commit or attempt to commit suicide. That right there says that there's something troubling about how their culture treats their own.

There's a problem with privilege here. By depicting these groups as defiant exceptions to The Way People Should Live we pathologise their failings while treating our own faults as normal.

I think that's a misuse of the word "privilege," to be quite honest. There's some common themes among the stories I linked to above, and the people who tell them say there are thousands more that follow those same themes. I think it's more than fair to point out the extremely insular, illiberal, and sometimes outwardly hostile nature that differentiates these communities from both liberal Jews and the secular world. Indeed, that's why most Reform and Conservative and even quite a few Orthodox Jews are concerned with Hasidim and Haredim actions, partly because they also have extremely outsized political power (both in surrounding communities and the world at large) in relation to their numbers. Which, frankly, is pretty much the reverse of privilege in the wider sense of the word.

Lots of people join these cultures voluntarily; Faigy's parents were reportedly among them. They found something beautiful and worthwhile there; it wasn't right for their daughter, but it shouldn't be dismissed.

Nor should the very valid concerns around it be dismissed. I think Dreadnought's story of their Orthodox friend is wonderful, and it serves to illustrate that liberal Jews are the force that needs to push back on how these cultures act. There are lots of similar communities that don't treat their members or those who leave so horribly, and while Meyer's parents may have found something beautiful and worthwhile, it was built around pulling themselves back from the world and treating those that live in it with disdain. That disdain isn't limited to the secular world, or goyim , or even non-Orthodox Jews, but anyone not of their specific community. Liberals, Jewish or otherwise, are often critical of bigoted or misogynist or abusive fundamentalism in any form when we discuss Christianity and Islam. We can't ignore it when it comes from Judaism, either, especially those of us who are Jewish ourselves.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:13 AM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to say, callmejay, thank you for keeping your head during a pretty intense and personal discussion and helping to drill down to the underlying issues. This thread could have easily become a nasty, pointless fight. Instead, I feel like I've learned from you, and also learned about myself. In large part, that's because of your cool and courteous analytical tone, which you kept up even when I got agitated myself. You're a class act; ישר כח.
posted by Dreadnought at 4:00 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]




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