The Monsey “Summit” and the Courage to Confront

I had not intended to write about the meeting a week ago Sunday between a group of Jews who left observance, and another group taken from the traditional community. Originally, the participants had all agreed to keep the meeting under wraps. Noise, self-congratulation in the press, grandstanding – these are proven ways of deep-sixing a new, delicate and complex venture. Somehow, the rules got changed, and the word is out. By now, there have been so many varied reports about the “summit” that I must add my voice to those who have already spoken.

It was the non-traditional group that requested the meeting, and it did not prove difficult to find traditional counterparts who were more than willing to participate. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink ably presided over putting the two groups together. The traditional delegates did not volunteer (nor could they, since no one knew about such a meeting), but were asked to join. The meeting was going to be small, confidential (so people could speak openly), and focused.

I agreed to participate, even thought it meant hopping on a red-eye from the West Coast right after Shabbos. Two objectives stood before me. Firstly, the OTD delegates were Jews in pain. (Aside: Several attendees expressed their dislike of the “OTD” label, and I can understand why. We are going to use it here because – as I pointed out at the meeting – its very ubiquity makes it unlikely that it can be erased as the descriptor of choice. Many in the yeshiva community object to the term “ultra-Orthodox,” but we similarly have no choice about using it.) People in pain need to share that pain with others, particularly when they feel that they have been previously silenced. I was aware enough of ways in which our community has made, and continues to make, great mistakes that may have contributed to their pain. As a member of the Torah community, I felt that we owed them the opportunity to be heard, and that taking the time to listen was the least I could do as a member of the community. Apportioning “blame” was a non-starter. Pain is pain. It should be ameliorated wherever it exists, period.

Secondly, the traditional members perhaps stood more to gain than the no-longer-observant. Readers of Cross-Currents are not great consumers of whitewash. They generally insist on viewing reality in color, even when that includes somber shades of black. In other words, they are aware – to some extent – of real problems and fault lines in our part of the universe. (Sometimes, it seems, we are more aware of the problems than we are of our strengths. More on that later.) Addressing problems, making any kind of change in attitudes or activity, often requires adding a bit of emotional charge to a proposal. I thought it worth exploring whether the testimony of those who were moved to leave family, friends, community, and halachic practice because of their experience might not, in some cases, spur the rest of us on to taking more vigorous steps to prevent a reoccurrence of the inappropriate behavior on our part that sometimes/oftentimes (still to be determined) pushed people over the edge.

During the great battle decades ago over unauthorized post-mortems in Israel, Rav Moshe zt”l was asked about the propriety of parading “liberated” body parts at demonstrations. He pointed to the behavior of the consort of the Pilegesh of Givah, who dismembered the remains of the violated and murdered woman, and sent portions to all the other shevatim. If my memory serves correctly, Rav Moshe justified the gory practice, arguing that the dramatic measure was necessary to motivate the rest of Klal Yisrael to remove a stain on its record. If I am to believe even a part of what some of the attendees spoke, they are the walking vivisected.

The meeting has been touted as running counter to the usual. I don’t see it that way. There is nothing particularly exceptional about Yidden listening to the pain of other human beings. If the meeting helped ease their pain, or gave them a modicum of hope for the future (hope means for different treatment to the children, relatives and friends they all have within the Torah community), it was successful, even if not particularly revolutionary. I hope that the premature attention directed to it will not cause the collapse of the process.

It would be counterproductive – and somewhat narcissistic – to report on the content. Let that happen later, when the process continues. For now, all I will say is that I learned much with my brain, and even more with my heart. Some of us have some pretty nasty reactions to situations, and they are damaging and not what the Ribbono Shel Olam wants to see. I sensed that some on the other “side” learned a bit about the dynamics of the traditional world that they had not known while inside. To be sure, we were eleven blind people all encountering a huge elephant in the room, and meeting up with different parts of it. Some felt the sharpness of the tusks, while others were impressed or dismayed (depending on perspective) by a massive, immovable flank.

Even at this stage, it must be conceded that listening to pain can be painful. The anguish of others becomes your anguish. Listening to horror stories about the behavior of some individuals and some organized parts of the Orthodox world can depress you when you realize that you cannot jump out of your seat and say, “Impossible! Torah Jews never act this way!”

Facing problems can be crushing. Many of us would like to believe that possessing a perfect Torah translates into living in a perfect community. When we wake up to the reality of our imperfection, we can be shaken to the core. Each generation has its tests and challenges. It might very well be that our challenge is to confront our failings and – even before remedying them – resolving not to lose one iota of our conviction that there is no better way to live, despite the cognitive dissonance we experience. We stick with it because Torah is true, and you don’t abandon truth.

Hashgacha had it that while in the car to and from the Summit, I listened to a fascinating symposium on the relationship between the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l and R Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l – the Rav. The two presentations of the gathering (held at YU a few weeks ago) that were most impactful to me were those of R. Dr. JJ Schacter and R. YY Jacobson. Although the participants were courteous to each other to the nth degree, there were differences between them – especially regarding the depth of the relationship between the two giants from the last generation. R. Schacter was a model of litvish analysis and accuracy, letting the chips fall where they may. (He admitted to family members not being so pleased that R. Soloveitchik attended a fabrengen in 1980, and believed that the relationship between the two men was certainly cordial, but not particularly deep.) R. Jacobson’s presentation was masterful and powerful oratory – replete with references to hidden worlds of penimius and meaning to the relationship between the two former school-mates at University of Berlin. Both provided much to think about.

R. Jacobson at one point spoke of important themes in the thought of the Rav that he saw as greatly overlapping with the world of chassidus. He invoked a derasha that R. Soloveitchik gave at an early Chag HaSemicha at YU in 1943. (It was published in HaPardes 17:2 pgs. 10-12) Here is a reconstruction:

It was one of the darkest times in American Jewish history for a group of young rabbonim ready to embark on their careers. Orthodoxy was very much on the ropes, taking a beating in many places from an ascendant Conservative movement. Far more ominous was the news of the Holocaust burning in Europe. In his charge to those gathered to honor the new musmachim, the Rav invoked Yoma 39B. Shimon HaTzadik spoke to others, predicting his imminent death. How did he know? Every year that he entered the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur, he found an old man dressed in white. This most recent year, however, he found an old man dressed in black. This had to mean, he said, that he would soon leave the world. Shimon HaTzadik fell ill after Yom Tov, and died seven days later.

The Rav explained: The same gemara lists a host of miracles that occurred in the beis hamikdosh during the lifetime of Shimon. They all ceased after he died. Such a change can only mean that even before his death, Klal Yisrael was on a path of spiritual decline for quite some time. Shimon grieved over this for a long time. Could it be that he was the last who would witness the kehunah in its proper state? Each year, however, he walked into the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur. There, at the source on earth of the connection between Hashem and His people, Shimon felt the presence of a man in white – Yisrael Sava. When he more fully contemplated the essence of the Am Nivchar, his spirits were restored. He was energized by a proper perspective on the eternal kedushah of the Jewish people. It banished his pessimism.

One year – and only one year – it didn’t work. He came in and out of the Holy of Holies, and he did not feel the uplift. His mood remained black. He realized that he had not connected with the makor of kedushah of the nation; he understood that without that feeling, he could not be the leader of the people. It could only mean that the time had come for leadership to pass to a new generation.

I found these decades-old words of the Rav uplifting and inspiring. We can look in the mirror and face many wrinkles and warts, if we stay focused on the promise, the future, the kedushah of Yisrael Sava – just as Shimon HaTzadik did for years before it was time to exit this life. The myriad problems we face need not be demoralizing, if we stay focused on the bigger picture. We must have the courage to face our failures without sacrificing our sense of self-worth – conveyed by HKBH Himself. National self-criticism is a Jewish trait, but it must be accompanied by intense pride in the gift of being a Torah Nation – what Rav Kook (and later, his student Rav Hutner) called gaavah de-kedushah.

With that knowledge, no failure will thoroughly demoralize us or cause us to hide from reality. Without it, we will not have the strength to remedy what needs remedying.

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54 Responses

  1. David says:

    1. Apropos the relationship between the Rav and the Rebbe: there’s a Youtube video which relates to this too. Rabbi Berman was one of the closest people to the Rav. [Google youtube NdmxCe2l8Ag and go to the second result]

    2. Didn’t the term gaava d’kedusha exist before Rav Kook?

    [YA – 1) All the material on that clip was actually mentioned in the presentation 2) If it did, please show me where. I am aware of a brief mention of the term in the Izhbitzer on Korach.]

  2. Reb Yid says:

    YA wrote:

    Aside: Several attendees expressed their dislike of the “OTD” label, and I can understand why. We are going to use it here because – as I pointed out at the meeting – its very ubiquity makes it unlikely that it can be erased as the descriptor of choice. Many in the yeshiva community object to the term “ultra-Orthodox,” but we similarly have no choice about using it

    A few comments:

    1. This is not a mere “aside”. Surely not, in any case, for those who after much anguish left their communities, find themselves in a very vulnerable position, and have others now refer to them as “OTD”.

    2. Surely there are already other terms already in use, such as “Chozer BeShaila”. If you are going to have a dialogue between traditionalists and those who are no longer Haredi/Chasidic, you need to have a comfort level, so that you could use both “Chozer BeShaila” and “Chozer BeTeshuva”. OTD implies that there is something wrong with the individuals– both CBS and CBT instead refer to an ongoing process, attaching far less stigma to the individuals.

    3. Surely “ultra-Orthodox” is far from ubiquitous. There are already many other terms in use including frum, black hat, yeshivish, “Torah-true”, (which as you might imagine might not sit well with others), etc.

    YA also wrote:

    It was one of the darkest times in American Jewish history for a group of young rabbonim ready to embark on their careers. Orthodoxy was very much on the ropes, taking a beating in many places from an ascendant Conservative movement. Far more ominous was the news of the Holocaust burning in Europe.

    Even with that caveat thrown in, the juxtaposition of the two final sentences is quite offensive.

  3. David says:

    Reb Yid:

    Chozer Beshaila is a ridiculous phrase, since it indicates a total misunderstanding of the word “teshuva” in the phrase Chozer B’Teshuva.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    If the meeting participants were not put off by the identifier “OTD”, we should not be concerned either. If they were put off, I imagine they would have offered their own substitute by now.

    We’ve often been admonished not to consider the poor behavior of individual Jews or even subgroups as a negative reflection on Judaism. That’s OK, but it can take only one really bad personal interaction to turn a Jew off to Orthodoxy. Bad interactions with rabbis or important lay leaders can cause the greatest fallout because they are authority figures. The person whose lack of sensitivity caused this may be totally unaware of the damage caused, or may not even care.

    I guess the best remedy for a bad interaction (other than a totally sincere apology—not “I’m sorry if you…”) would be good interactions with other Jews of equal stature.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Kol hakavod to Rabbi Adlerstein and all those who participated in this important meeting. Those who have left Orthodoxy do have something to teach those of us who remain, and not to listen to them is a missed opportunity.

    May the fruits of this meeting be a future time with fewer ruptured families, fewer misunderstood children, and a more open-minded and educationally flexible Torah world.

  6. Glatt some questions says:

    I’m not OTD, but I never liked the term either because it assumes that there is only one path to spirituaity and serving Hashem within Orthodoxy, and that if for whatever reason you are not on that specific path, you are OTD — and have been written out of the Orthodox world.

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “Noise, self-congratulation in the press, grandstanding – these are proven ways of deep-sixing a new, delicate and complex venture”

    Dr. Yitzchak Schechter of Monsey’s Institute for Applied Research & Community Collaboration wrote similarly on his blog about another Monsey event held earlier in the year, reported in Hamodia as “ground-breaking” and attended by R. Shmuel Kamenetsky(“Talking to your children about development, maturity, and the responsibility that goes with it”:

    “Hopefully this can serve as a binyan av (generalizable model) for effectively addressing other pressing issues and discussions facing the community. It is further evidence for what I often say – Quiet is Not Silence- that doing things in a culturally congruous and quiet fashion can lead to powerful results absent in the whirlwind of noise and sloganism”

    “The meeting has been touted as running counter to the usual. I don’t see it that way. There is nothing particularly exceptional about Yidden listening to the pain of other human beings.”

    Unless the agenda involved legitimizing Conservative rabbis or endorsing Footsteps, I can’t see why anyone would have any issue for conducting an “exit interview”. R.Yaakov Horowitz(who was involved in facilitating the “Monsey Summit”) wrote in Mishpacha in January, 2007(“Exit Interviews”) about the necessity of similar ventures:

    “The last time that you cancelled a credit card, you probably received a phone call from a representative of the company within a week or so…Well, over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere”. Similarly, R. Avrohom Meir Gluck wrote in response to a critique of his 2006 Jewish Observer “Off the Derech” review, “it is my strong feeling that the painful process of reflection is vital and long overdue. Part of this process must include a no holds barred discussion, seeking answers to the critical question of why too many of our precious children are leaving yiddishkeit. If we, proud members of the yeshiva world, will not engage ourselves in this process, others will do it for us”

  8. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    “If my memory serves correctly, Rav Moshe justified the gory practice, arguing that the dramatic measure was necessary to motivate the rest of Klal Yisrael to remove a stain on its record.”

    The teshuva of Rav Moshe is printed in Iggros Moshe and readily available. Rav Moshe quotes Tosfos in Gittin 6b that seems to indicate that the husband of the pilegesh would not have violated an issur. (Others – I believe the Da’as Seforim hold that the husband was wrong)

  9. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    “Even at this stage, it must be conceded that listening to pain can be painful. The anguish of others becomes your anguish. Listening to horror stories about the behavior of some individuals and some organized parts of the Orthodox world can depress you when you realize that you cannot jump out of your seat and say, “Impossible! Torah Jews never act this way!”

    While I am sure that there are teachers, rabbeim, parents and others who may have handled thing incorrectly, I would strongly advise that one take all complaints with a grain of salt before hearing both sides of the story. The perceptions of a youth or teenager and his or her assessment of reality are not always fully accurate. Many if not most parents and mechanchim work hard to get it right even if they don’t get it right all the time.

  10. L says:

    This meeting sounds like an important step that has the potential to affect many lives in a positive way. Out of curiosity, were there any women participating in this summit? To leave women out of either group seems a wasted opportunity. If this was the case, I would hope there is some sort of follow-up or counterpart in the works to include them.

    [YA – There were women, representing both camps]

  11. Robert Lebovits says:

    In my experience with those alienated from their yiddishkeit a dominant theme expressed over and over is that of rejection inflicted by those individuals or institutions identified as representative of Torah (we have not moved very far from Kamtza and Bar Kamtza).
    Any endeavor that seeks to offer comfort and understanding to people in despair and hurt is deserving of support. What particularly gives me distress is the lack of effort from the frum world to stop the rejection process in the first place. More acceptance of diversity within traditional life would do much to ameliorate the need for “summits” and healing.

  12. Micah Segelman says:

    I wonder if something similar to this makes sense for other groups of Jews that feel alienated from our society.

  13. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    In describing this “courageous” meeting Rabbi Eliyahu Fink writes “This was not a debate. All ten presenters were expected to be critical of the Orthodox Jewish community” and “but perhaps even more powerful, was the genesis of genuine relationships between the entire group. Everyone agreed that the group must reconvene again soon and keep in contact in the interim. A new community was formed. This new community crosses traditional lines and is focused on authentic friendship and partnership.” I fail to see the point in creating a “new community of authentic friendship” with the founders of organizations such as “Footsteps” and “It gets Besser” who actively and openly aid and encourage people to leave a life of shmiras torah umitzvos. This a step to far. This is wrong.

  14. Raymond says:

    There is nothing that turns me off from Judaism more, than when Orthodox Jews, especially their Rabbis and/or their wives, behave in a way that would not even meet basic standards of moral decency. I definitely hold this segment of the population to a much higher standard than I do the rest of humanity, because they are supposedly G-d’s representatives on Earth, G-d’s spokesmen for His Torah. If they do not like this role, then they should not be Rabbis anymore. For when such a person says or does things that do not meet these standards, I think to myself that all of their Torah learning and great speeches are essentially worthless, if none of this has penetrated their souls enough to make them be better people. Sometimes I think that the best I can say about my fellow Orthodox Jews, is that at least they do not commit the really horrendously, barbaric acts of evil that have been carried out by just about every other major group of people in the world.

  15. YS says:

    I’m not sure why Rav Adlerstein emphasizes the ‘pain’ element as a prime cause of people going OTD. I can’t help feeling that there’s something condescending about an attitude which ultimately attributes the OTD phenomenon as an irrational and emotional one. I think that for many people nowadays, it’s simply a matter of looking around, seeing that Judaism isn’t the only show in town and not buying into it.

    I have no doubt that for some, negative social experiences are the main impetus for abandoning observance. But I would argue that the negative experience most likely to cause someone to go OTD is running into educator – unlike Rav Aderstein, who’s one of the very few Rabbanim with a Charedi or Chardal background capable of even having this discussion – who clearly hasn’t ever given any intelligent thought to these matters.

    [YA – I emphasized pain because it was what they themselves emphasized. Even the participant who was most emphatic about his present intellectual rejection of Torah delivered a message about the pain caused to family members of those who questioned Torah beliefs.]

  16. Sharona says:

    We definitely need to confront the issues in order to resolve them. And in order to be the people we want to be to and should be, we need to find ways to improves our community and help those in need. There are many factors involved why a person might be in pain. That’s why we need to listen to the individual and find out what his/her case is. It could be academic, emotional, spiritual etc. We also need to be proactive in prevention so they don’t go off, by trying to find out what different individuals need and helping them stay on track.

  17. L. Oberstein says:

    Why a son or daughter makes self destructive decisions has no easy answer. Leaving the family means leaving the sense of belonging and participation in the lives of siblings,nieces and nephews,etc. Our whole way of life is based on the family unit and a child who choses to openly leave the frum world pays a heavy price. Yet, many do. Parents are left with the choice of accepting them as they are, unconditional love no matter what or cutting them off so as not to lose other children. There is no “one size fits all ” answer. This is a time when one needs to have a Rav and follow his guidance. One who doesn’ have such children cannot in a million years understand.

  18. Aharon says:

    David and Reb Yid, just to clarify the words chozer b’sheilah, and chozer b’tshuva. They are Israeli terms. CB’S is for someone no longer observant, CB’T is another name for a BT.

  19. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy Kanoiy-
    The large majority of Jews abandoned religious observance in the 19th and 20th centuries. This, of course is ignored here. This Monsey conference, which seem to have been a intended to be a semi-underground gathering is viewed as something ground-breaking…a “first time” attempt to deal with this phenomenon. The fact that it was supposed to be secret shows that it might reveal that the claim that Haredi youth never drop out which Haredi spokesmen trumpet, supposedly unlike other non-Haredi Orthodox groups who deal with this much more frankly and openly is simply not true. Your suggestion is to pretend this doesn’t exist, just like the fact that traditional Judaism failed to provide important answers to the large majority that abandoned it in the past is ignored. Maybe it doesn’t bother some people, but it does bother others who care about Am Israel as a whole. Sticking one’s head in the ground doens’t solve anything, and there is no question that this phenomenon is going to increase due to various social and economic changes are coming to the world.

  20. Nachum says:

    David: As many of not almost all Ba’alei Teshuva today are not really “returning” to something they once did, the phrase “chozer b’she’ela,” while a bit nonsensical, isn’t so bad.

    More common in Israel is “datlash,” dati l’sheavar, which is simply true and inoffensive, I’d think.

    Glatt: And what of outside of Orthodoxy?

  21. Adi says:

    L. Oberstein, I don’t think it’s so simple that their choice is self-destructive.

    In many cases of OTD, they experienced something terribly destructive in the religious world. Escaping that, they also leave religion.

    So it’s not correct to say “Oy nebach we don’t understand why they did this self-destructive thing”.

    Of course there are cases where we don’t understand. But saying it’s not understandable removes the onus of responsibility that lies on us to fix the things that caused the cases we could understand.

    To offer support and escape routes from the terrible things within the religious world that don’t necessitate leaving it. Do those exist? Not really.

    I have read many OTD blogs with the sense of “there but for the grace of G-d go I”. If I’d been taught the things they were taught, told the things they were told, or experienced the things they experienced I doubt I’d be frum today.

  22. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    No one is advocating sticking heads into sand. I don’t know how you got that impression from my posting. My point is that meeting with these people is essentially useless. The Footsteps website clearly states that they stand for individual freedom of conscience and the ability for each individula to chose his own lifestyle and beliefs. Orthodox Judaism places restrictions on lifestyle and beliefs. This is a divide that cannot be bridged. The moral values of Orthodox Judaism are not synonymous with Western values of freedom of religion and (almost) absolute liberty to do as one pleases.

    If one wants to hear criticism of Orthodoxy he does not need to build a “friendship guild” with people who encourage others to leave shmiras mitzvos. He can just pruse the blogosphere or vist his local mikva on any given erev shabbos.

  23. David F says:


    “Sometimes I think that the best I can say about my fellow Orthodox Jews, is that at least they do not commit the really horrendously, barbaric acts of evil that have been carried out by just about every other major group of people in the world.”

    If that’s truly the best you can say about them, then you must not know very many of them because with all the criticism that I can level at my fellow Jews, I can think of literally hundreds of amazing things that I can say about them. My praise for them would not be limited to a specific type either. I’ve seen greatness in all the Orthodox camps and even the one’s I disagree with most vehemently generally deserve much more praise than criticism.

    There’s nothing wrong with shining a light on our flaws in the hopes of correcting them, but one must be very careful not to conclude that since we have flaws, Torah observant are just slightly better than the alternative. That is far from the case and can be easily proven.

  24. Shades of Gray says:

    “I fail to see the point in creating a “new community of authentic friendship” with the founders of organizations such as “Footsteps” and “It gets Besser” who actively and openly aid and encourage people to leave a life of shmiras torah umitzvos. ”

    The way I see it, Footsteps already reached out to the broader Jewish community last summer in a panel co-sponsored with UJA Federation. It was titled “Beyond Romanticization and Vilification” and was about relating to the Haredi community. Someone on the panel noted that while there was a Conservative rabbi, Open Orthodox rabbi, and a Jewish Renewal rabbi on the panel, only the ultra Orthodox were missing from an event that was about relating to them and which they were invited to.

    Now, however, that some of the right/wing-ultra Orthodox have met, at least in private, with Footsteps members, it would have to be acknowledged that the “ultra Orthodox” are indeed interested in a conversation that, with or without their participation, has already taken place.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    R Adlerstein-based on the what you heard and Farak Margolese’s triad of family , school and community, what do you think were the root causes of why the panelists have walked away from Torah observance?

    [YA – If I knew, I would be violating our confidentiality agreement in writing about it. In fact, however, they didn’t speak very much about their own decision, other than particular episodes that they wanted to see us avoid repeating in our interaction with others.

    Farenak’s book was a pioneering effort to move people to further study. She assembled many reasons for people leaving. Since the time she wrote it, others have added additional reasons. People I know take all those reasons seriously. The common denominator is that any reason whatsoever can be sufficient today. This is a consequence of the wonderful growth of our community. It means that even those who leave don’t have to operate as lone wolves. They can coalesce to form a critical mass and support each other in the effort.]

  26. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy Kanoiy-
    Although there are many people in both the religious and secular Jewish communities that find this hard to accept or understand, but the fact is that the Jewish people are a NATION and the Torah is our CONSTITUTION. As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch put it, Judaism is not merely a “religion” which means Jews are bound together regardless of the level of one’s religious observance. Religious Jews can not view non-observant Jews as being “outsiders”, “aliens” or “beyond the pale”. Another expression is “Kol Israel areivim zeh l’zeh”.
    Regarding the Nation/Constitution definition, this means, on the one hand, that all citizens are bound by the nation’s constitution and the laws that flow from it, whether or not they like them or accept them (e.g. an American who says “I will not pay income taxes becaue the law was passed in the 19th century without my approval”). Thus, a religous Jew can not ask a non-religious Jew to perform a melacha for him on Shabbat which a non-Jew would be allowed to perform. The non-observant Jew is still a Jew.
    On the other hand, the citizen who does conciously accept and understand his nation’s constitution is inextricably bound to his fellow citizens even if they don’t agree with him. For example, a citizen of New York has to agree to allow his tax money to go to help citizens in Texas even if he doesn’t like their politics and philosophy. Thus, a religious Jew is still bound to his non-religious brother and can not simply pretend he doesn’t exist.
    Yes, there is a gulf between observant and non-observant Jews but we can not simply wish it away. Dialogue and understanding MUST always be there no matter how difficult it may be. Zionism was a major project to bring all Jews together even if they were alienated from each other and it has been successful in this endeavor. Those religious Jews who do not understand the Nation/Constitution paradigm are very uncomfortable with Zionism for that reason but they have no choice but to awaken to this realization which comes from the Torah itself. Thus, this Monsey meeting is a good first step to reawakening parts of the religious Jewish community to this basic, vital understanding of the Torah itself.

  27. lacosta says:

    as the earlier comment of Adi in re r’ oberstein’s ”self-destructive” behaviour of NLF [no longer frum ] people , we must acknowledge that sometimes there are self-destructive behaviours involved— drugs etc—- but to drop religion is ‘self-destructive’ only from the internal perspective of the frum world.

    i don’t think that the O world, certainly not the haredi world, is prepared to acknowledge that people can live a self-fulfilling productive life that is in denial of a Torah lifestyle. if chas veshalom ones relatives go a derech where they are gainfully employed , raising a family etc but either non-O , or non-religious altogether , while they to the outside world look like perfectly emulatable and even enviable citizens , we have no model [after sitting shiva for them] to relate to them as live and let live— in fact our whole modus operandi is directed at how to keep them close until they eventually see the error of their ways, or recapture the progeny… of course as pointed out above, in the last 2 centuries, that never happened for 90% of jews….

  28. Surie Ackerman says:

    1) Everyone should be treated with respect and their pain acknowledged and validated.

    2) That having been said, Judaism believes that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. How, if at all, is that distinction to be preserved in a process that treats both sides as “legitimate equals?”

    3) For decades, our (that is, the tzibbur’s) context for dealing with the non-religious has involved those who were never religious and were considered “tinokos shenishba,” those who didn’t know any better.

    By definition, OTDs are not “tinokos shenishba.” Those who have gone to the media with their stories probably fall more in the category of “mumar lehachis,” and don’t necessarily deserve our sympathy. There have been questions raised about the veracity of some of their stories. To say, “oh, but they’re hurting, the details don’t matter,” seems rather naive.

    4) I hope that members of the OTD community are not only willing to be open about the pain they have suffered, but also about the pain they have caused, and not just demand introspection from the Orthodox side. Who represented an entire relevant class of people — the hurt and disappointed families — during this discussion?

    I guess we really need some more information about what is going on here.

  29. David says:


    I’m not clear: you’re saying that since Chozer btshuva is wrong also, therefore we should go with Chozer Bsh’ela?

    The idea of “Chozer” is, as I see it, one that revolves around the idea that at the source every Jew has a desire to do God’s will. Thus it is applicable even to one whose great-great-great-grandparents were not believers.

    My problem was with the use of Sheela as a contra to Teshuva, since it understands Teshuva as meaning “answer”. This is not just a grammatical objection. I object since it implies that the religious believe that they have “the answers”, and those who cease believing do so because they have questions.

  30. Rafael Araujo says:

    Frankly, some of the perspectives offered here are disturbing. The relativism and subjectiveness is concerning.

    lacosta – who cares whether people can live a self-fulfilling productive life outside of Torah? We were not put on this planet to live only that kind of life. We are here to be ovdei Hashem. Further, those who don’t have Torah, as we see from the 2013 Pew Study, are part of a continually faster flowing river out of Judaism forever, R”L!

    I applaud what Rabbi Adlerstein did here. However, we can commiserate with those who left Torah u’mitzvos. We can consider their opinions, especially of those who were crushed by our educational system, or were abuased or neglected physically, mentally, or sexually. We should take them seriously to try and repair what injustices our Orthodox society has. However, we DONT’T, and we in fact SHOULDN’T

  31. Rafael Araujo says:

    Sorry – continued:…treat their lifestyles, or more importantly, their view as being on par with a life of Torah u’Mitzvos. And, if having dialogue means that we have to engage in relativism, then maybe this entire enterprise should be scrapped. I mean, why engage in kiruv rechokim, if doing so means we are being in any way judgmental of our non-Orthodox brethen’s lives?

  32. Yossie Abramson says:

    Crazy Kanoi, what if the outcome of these meetings is that “established” Judaism changes so that future generations don’t go “OTD?”
    The people who attended the meeting might be OTD and might remain OTD, but if we are able to realize that certain non-halachic things turn people off, then we can change our actions and prevent future Jews from leaving the fold.

  33. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    The Rambam’s 13 principles of faith are the accepted as the most basic tenets of belief and something that all Jews must believe in. Here is the 13th:

    וכאשר יאמין האדם אלה היסודות כולם, ונתברר בה אמונתו בה’, הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל, ומצווה לאהבו ולרחם עליו, ולנהוג עמו בכל מה שציווה השם יתברך איש לחברו מן האהבה והאחווה. ואפילו עשה מה שיכול מן העבירות מחמת התאווה והתגברות הטבע הגרוע, הוא נענש כפי חטאיו, אבל יש לו חלק לעולם הבא, והוא מפושעי ישראל.

    וכשנתקלקל לאדם יסוד מאלה היסודות, הרי יצא מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר, ונקרא צדוקי ואפיקורוס וקוצץ בנטיעות, ומצווה לשונאו, ועליו נאמר “הלא משנאך ה’ אשנא”.

    It should be clear from the Rambam above that the Nation/Constitution theory noted above does not hold water. Furthermore you seems to mix Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch into your post. RSRH was the proponent of Austriit so I fail to understand how you can quote him as a source for your ideas.

  34. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy Kanoy-
    Typical. You throw us one quote from one source which he himself (i.e. the RAMBAM) negates in other places, while ignoring the entire thrust of the Torah.
    I presume that you are aware that the Nevi’im never wrote off the Benei Israel living in the Northern Kingdom of Israel even though they denied basic principles of the Torah by building
    an alternate Mishkan in Beit El, completely cutting themselves off from the Beit HaMikdash and the Kohanim in Jerusalem, not to mention their falling into the pit of avodah zarah. Yet, the
    Nevi’im kept trying to bring them back into rest of Am Israel and the Torah. Their Nevi’im even helped them fight wars (!).
    I challenge you to find me ONE Torah scholar that disagrees with the NATION/CONSTITUTION model. Even the RAMBAM, who you quote essentially out of context, advocated peaceful relations
    with the Karaites and considered them Jews, even though they completely rejected the Torah Sh’be’al Peh. He also says the time of the Hashmonaim kings was a time of glory for Israel even though
    some were reshaim and Hellenists.
    Finally – why do you think the Haredi parties have supported “religious coercion” (as the secularists call it) in Israel if it doesn’t matter what non-religious Jews do? Why are even the most radical separationists like Satmar proud of their hachnasat orchim by inviting non-religious Jews if it is a “mitzvah to hate them” ?

  35. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David.

    Please explain what exactly is out of context. It is word for word of the last part of the 13th Ikkir. It is not an obscure Rambam and it is not contradicted by the Rambam anywhere else. It is part of the basic fundamentals of faith for every believing Jew.

    You fail to provide any source for your ideas. You haven’t quoted anybody in a documented fashion. Rav Hirsch was for Austritt meaning complete separation from the secular community. He would definatley not have been in favor of creating a new “friendship community” based upon “mutual respect” with people who have chosen to openly deny the truths of the Torah of Hashem.

    You also fail, or chose to fail, to understand what I have written. No one is claiming that “it doesn’t matter what non-religious Jews do” of course we care what they do. We hope that one day they will do Teshuva and return to the fold and that is why kiruv is most important. The Monsey Summit was not intended to be mekarev the secular participants, it was 10 people presenting criticism of Orthodox society in order to hear their pain and to hear why these people left the fold. “A new friendship was formed” as described by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink. This is wrong, there is no need for respected Rabbis to show understanding and sympathy for the choice of going OTD all the more so to express respect for them. The Neviim did not respect the Ovdei Avodah Zorah they railed against them.

  36. Eli Julian says:

    regarding the otd terminology, many formerly religious people in Israel are referred to as datlashim which if an acronym for dati l’sheaver

  37. Tal Benschar says:

    “which he himself (i.e. the RAMBAM) negates in other places”

    I don’t think so.

    Hilchos Mamrim, Third perek

    א מי שאינו מאמין בתורה שבעל פה, אינו זקן ממרא האמור בתורה, אלא הרי הוא בכלל המינים, ומיתתו ביד כל אדם. [ב] מאחר שנתפרסם שהוא כופר בתורה שבעל פה–מורידין ולא מעלין, כשאר המינים והאפיקורוסין והאומרין אין תורה מן השמיים והמוסרים והמשומדים: כל אלו אינן בכלל ישראל, ואינן צריכין לא עדים ולא התראה ולא דיינין; אלא כל ההורג אחד מהן, עשה מצוה גדולה והסיר מכשול.

    ב [ג] במה דברים אמורים, באיש שכפר בתורה שבעל פה ממחשבתו, ובדברים שנראו לו, והלך אחר דעתו הקלה, ואחר שרירות ליבו, וכפר בתורה שבעל פה תחילה; וכן כל הטועים אחריו.

    ג אבל בני אותן הטועים ובני בניהם, שהדיחו אותם אבותם ונולדו במינות, וגידלו אותן עליו–הרי הן כתינוק שנשבה לבין הגויים וגידלוהו הגויים על דתם, שהוא אנוס; ואף על פי ששמע אחר כך שהיה יהודי, וראה היהודיים ודתם–הרי הוא כאנוס, שהרי גידלוהו על טעותם. כך אלו האוחזים בדרכי אבותיהם שתעו. לפיכך ראוי להחזירן בתשובה, ולמשוך אותם בדרכי שלום, עד שיחזרו לאיתן התורה; ולא ימהר אדם להורגן.

    With respect to Tinkok she Nishbah, let me add the insight of my rebbe. True, you have to love a tinok she nishba and try, to the extent you can, to return him to the proper path. But a tinok is still a tinok. If a baby puts poison in his mouth, of course you have to try to stop him. But you don’t give any credence to his opinion — poison is still poison.

  38. Y. Ben-David says:

    Tal and Crazy K-
    Naturally, you both ignored the examples I brought from the TANACH and the things the RAMBAM said about the Karaites and the Hashmonaim Kingdom. Inconvenient.
    Recent events have answered a question that has puzzled me for a long time. How was it that so many young people who grew up in Haredi families and received yeshiva educations ended up becoming Communists and even founders of the Soviet Yevsektsia which ended up persecuting religious Jews? The conclusion I reached is that is what happens when extremist ideology is considered more important than PEOPLE. “My way or the Highway” trumps humane interpersonal relations and learning to accept people the WAY THEY ARE, even if they don’t agree with you. It is easier for a personal who has an extremist ideology to switch it to an opposite extreme, e.g from looking forward to Mashiach Ben David to Mashiah ben Marx V’Lenin than to learn to deal with people who disagree with you in a tolerant way and to construct something positive (e.g. Zionism) while bringing out the good in people and appealing to the Pintele Yid which has proven so resilient through generations of persecution and without which Am Israel would not have survived and which has brought an unprecedented Jewish revival in Eretz Israel in spite of the nay-sayers.

  39. Tal Benschar says:

    Y. Ben-David,

    WADR, you are being intellectually dishonest. The quoted Rambam is the one that talks about the Karaites, indeed it is the source for all kiruv today. And does not support your position, very inconvenient. Seems you are ignoring what the Rambam said.

    As for TANACH, the simple answer is what Crazy Kanoy said: the Neviim tried to return the Jewish people to the proper path, and excoriated all manner of sin, including idolatry. Try reading the first chapter of Isaiah, which we read the shabbos before 9 Av.

    The obvious way to resolve all these sources is, simply, hate the sin, love the sinner. That means, as the Rambam says, one should strive to return them to the proper path through darchei shalom. But that is a far cry from accepting sin as acceptable. That path, as I have said before, turns Divrei Elokim Chaim to nothing more than the tribal customs of an obscure Semitic people.

  40. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    No one ignored your points. They are addressed above. The Neviim did not respect or show love for the Ovdei Avodah Zorah they railed against them and forewarned about the punishments they would recieve. When part of Klal Yisrael did the Chet Haeigal Moshe did not hold a meeting with them to find out why, instead he called out “mi laheshem aili” and had the idolators killed. When Yishmael strays from the path Avrohom Avinu sends his son out of the house. You might find these truths to be inconveienent for your worldview but again Torah is not neccesarily synonmous with western ideals of personal autonomy and liberty.

  41. Bob Miller says:

    I don’t see in this article, or in the other fragmentary reports of this meeting, any evidence that the Orthodox participants are selling out Torah MiSinai whatsoever in trying to achieve reconciliation. We on the outside need to be careful not to jump to conclusions based on other situations we’ve encountered or read about.

  42. Shua Cohen says:

    > “…you have to love a tinok she nishba and try, to the extent you can, to return him to the proper path. But a tinok is still a tinok. If a baby puts poison in his mouth, of course you have to try to stop him. But you don’t give any credence to his opinion — poison is still poison.”

    >> In his 1964 GOP acceptance speech, Barry Goldwater gave us a quote that has entered into the annals of famous political aphorisms: “Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice.” Except that, on deeper examination, this is not a truism that should be accepted at all.

    Presently, there are ideologues in the Chareidi camp who would offer, from their perspective, a similar “truism”: “extremism in the defense of Torah is no vice.” Well, I would counter that what it is, is the very “poison” that is referred to in the above quoted comment. Thus, I have a very difficult time understanding a viewpoint which perceives that “If a baby puts poison in his mouth, of course you have to try to stop him.”
    Oh great…put the onus of the poisoning on the victim!

    What is very clearly being enunciated in Rabbi Adlerstein’s posting is that, in too many cases, the “poison” in the babies’ mouths was NOT placed there by the babies themselves. The ones who fed the babies the poison need to be recognized for the destructive extremists-in-the-name-of-Torah that they are. The sane chareidi world needs to own-up to our responsibility for allowing the poisoning of our fellow Jews with extremist Torah that is not Toras-Emes at all.

    As a ba’al Teshuva of some 35 years — one who raised and educated my children in the yeshivish world — I have come to question the entire endeavor, because of the poisonous behavior that I have personally experienced living in a frum community, and because of the news of events in the Chareidi community (both in the U.S. and in Israel) that turn my stomach (that any Yid can call another Yid “Nazi” or “Amalek” under ANY circumstances is vomitrocious to me). Yeah, I still wear my black hat on Shabbos, but often with a feeling that I was sold a bill-of-goods so many years ago, that hid a dark underbelly of the frum life that I was enlisting in. And so, I don’t know how much longer I will feel at all comfortable donning that black hat, since it has come to represent too much negativity that I never imagined existed in the days of my viewing Yiddishkeit from behind rose-colored glasses.

  43. David Z says:

    A few comments:

    (1) On OTD: what exactly was the problem that they had with that? that they don’t consider our way of life to be THE WAY? I understand if they don’t, but we do, and we’re the ones using the term. That’s not a fair request (like asking Israelis to stop calling the land Israel and call it Palestine–maybe we wouldn’t offend some, but it’s not a fair request). And to others khozer besh’ela is of course a tongue-in-cheek term. It’s meant to have wit. Not to be a misunderstanding of the word t’shuva.

    (2) On pain: I don’t know how it would be with my kids, kh”v, but are we really supposed to alleviate pain if the pain is a result of feeling guilty about not being shomer tora? Obviously I don’t want them to have pain because their father molested them or whatever, but I do’t if that even happened to any of them. I think some of them haven’t moved on just because they still feel some kind of attachment to the frum world (otherwise why are they even doing this meeting?). Just thinking out loud. Of course my human reaction to them in front of me would be a hug (or some words of comfort).

    (3) And just to respond to some criticisms I saw of what R’ Adlerstein wrote about pain, it is true what he said that the only reason he brought up the pain was because that was what the participants told him. Read their books when they have them. In two of the ones I’ve read so far, they make the claim that they’s still be frum if it weren’t for the pain they experienced. This isn’t us being pedantic. The people who leave for intellectual reasons don’t spend their life obsessing over it. And they don’t cut off ties. One friend wore a black hat until he left home and was careful never to call his parents (who were in Chicago when he was in L.A.) when it was still shabat in L.A., even though everyone knew unofficially that he wasn’t shomer anything anymore. That’s how it works when someone leaves for intellectual reasons (okay sometimes they’re jerks and won’t do anything to respect their parents). And his dad was a felon! 🙂

    (4) Every person has their own story and when a child grows up in our community with lousy parents (e.g. firebrand BTs) we all have to do our part to help them especially in their teenage years. But with some of these kids even that won’t work because they can’t get over their lousy parents/family. And then you can only feel their pain and chalk it up to why do bad things happen to innocent people.

  44. David Z says:

    Bob: it’s because of their leadership of Footsteps and It Gets Besser, which are both active in rikhuk. One girl wrote an article about how that’s not true and described how they were so nice that they got her a kosher sandwich when everyone else was eating ham sandwiches. Now I get they’re no longer Orthodox, but that shows a real level of contempt.

  45. b/c says:

    I would just not that using the correct girsa in Mamrim 3/3 [Frankel Ed.]yields the qualification that one should not be quick to kill the children of Karaim under the guidelines of moridim. The Radbaz there comments that this means that if one does inform them and attempt to bring them back and they do not heed your word you should kill them under the din of moridim. It should be noted that this is fully in line with Shu”t 4:187 where the Radbaz sides with the Ra’avad Hil. Tshuva who defends honest mistakes in matters of faith.The end of that (oft misquoted) tshuva states that if the rav in question does not recant he is to face harsh consequences.

    As is well known R Elchanan in Kovetz Ma’amarim quotes R Chaim as hoding that a Jew who is an apikores does indeed remove himself from the klall even at no fault of his own. The basic tenet behind this approach is reiterated in R Aharon Lichtenstiens Leaves of Faith in the article about Brother Daniel as quoted from R Chaim by way of R Yoshe Ber.

    R Aharon in a footnote in said article notes perush hamishnah Nidah 4/7 and shach YD 159 as holding such a much more radical position that states that a jew that is sufficiently removed from the religion loses his Jewishness in toto.

    I do not have access to my sefarim at the moment, but the fact that the Rambam does indeed hold as Krazy K contends is the position of Abarbanel on the moreh and is fairly clear in the moreh itsef. Achvah vireus are lost even to the first generation apikoros. The karaim are presumably different in that their rejection is not total though the application of ones in Mamrim 3/3 needs work.

    As an aside I’m pretty sure I once saw a tshuva from a great grandson of the chsam sofer who applied that Rambam to non jews as well.

  46. Bob Miller says:

    David Z,

    Your comment of May 23, 2014 at 6:13 pm addresses something other than the point I made. It’s to be understood that the currently non-Orthodox participants could have some negative baggage. If they are now immune to a sincere approach, that will cast further doubt on their intentions.

  47. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Bob Miller

    Rabbi Fink who organized this meeting described it as follows on his blog “We truly came together AS PEERS with MUTUAL RESPECT and ADMIRATION for one another in an effort to put our hearts and minds together and improve the Orthodox Jewish community.”

    Admiration for those that have chosen to leave a life of Torah Umitzvos? Admiration for those that have written slanderous books against the frum community? Admiration for those that help ease people out of a frum lifestyle by explaining to them the options of religion and atheism available to them? If this is not a selling out of Torah values I honestly don’t know what is.

    [YA Since that description was not the work of the attendees, nor part of the unwritten constitution of the meeting, shouldn’t this comment be addressed to R Fink on his website?]

  48. David Z says:

    And R’ Adlerstein, in response to Crazy Kanoly, of course it should. But it’s a response to Bob Miller who didn’t understand why anyone might be opposed to these meetings. You can see where it goes when the Orthodox organizer kvells like that.

  49. Bob Miller says:

    David Z wrote, “But it’s a response to Bob Miller who didn’t understand why anyone might be opposed to these meetings.”

    Huh? There are many reasons to be wary of such meetings, but, so far, no one has established that this meeting caused any actual problems.

  50. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    When people either grow up or have their initial exposure to Torah Judaism under a “my way or the highway” approach and in such a way as to make them fearful to look right or left, they are vulnerable to reality checks afterwards. We should strive for a more resilient Torah world in which people know that there are 70 faces to the Torah, that “these and these are the words of the living G-d”. I am sure that some of you felt, in the dead of winter zman in yeshiva, “I want out of this crazy place”. If parents, rabbis and educators could avoid the “one size fits all” approach, perhaps some kids could find a better place for themselves before passing the point of no return.

  51. Steve Brizel says:

    Can you identify who was on the panel with you in Monsey?

    I would suggest that anyone interested in this discussion listen to R N I Oelbaum’s discussion of inviting a non religious Jew to a YT meal. R Oelbaum sets forth all of the sources that would militate in favor of a Psak Lhakhel in his usual manner Kdarcho BaKodesh and IIRC, the shiur can be accessed and downloaded at Torah at any time.

  52. David Z says:

    Bob: I don’t understand–you asked why some people were upset and that the Orthodox participants weren’t selling out tora misinai. I responded that they were upset because they are meeting with people engaged in rikhuk to some extent. The reason it’s a little more complex is because, for political reason, i am sure, there is no Orthodox organization helping khasidim escape into what the rest of us think the tora wants (which is not your average khasidi community). Ms. Vincent is is another category altogether because she came from a more mainstream Orthodoxy but felt she had parents who were unable to relate to her and reacted not the way she would have liked. There have always been OTD kids and always will be, but when you see people reacting against a khasidi upbringing, from our vantage point, you can only feel pain–yes, leave that place where they check to see if you shaved your head, won’t teach you the country’s vernacular, and won’t let you show any individuality.
    (One example that I saw of the language was when I saw a video done by Lipa Schmeltzer of his dad. His father, born in Europe, speaks better and less-heavily accented English, than Lipa, who was born and educated in the U.S.)
    So if there’s no alternative, i can’t complain too much when ex-khasidim go to Footsteps, but Footsteps, by its nature is anti-religion, not just anti-perverted-Judaism. And the goyim involved in it understandably have antipathy for Orthodoxy as well (as you well might after hearing all these painful stories). So overall, it’s a complicated situation, but one where you can see why people might say let’s solve the problem, but not dialogue with the rikhuk movement, just like we don’t dialogue with Reform.

  53. Bob Miller says:

    David Z,

    Please review my previous comments more carefully.

  54. Tuvia Ashkenazi says:

    As a member of the chareidi community I want to express my admiration to the people who took the initiative to try to bond our brothers and sisters even if estranged.

    To all of the commentators before me I want to point out the following; besides the regular aspect of kiruv, which is debatable in this situation, there is another dimension to it, namely taking responsibility and fixing what we might have contributed to our siblings dismay, which for sure was a factor in their decision to leave.

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