The “Monsey Summit” – Round Two

After some initial hesitation, I am ready to declare the much-lamented “Monsey Summit” a complete success. Definitely much-lamented. Some lament the bombastic name; others lament the fact that it took place altogether. But much lament and hand-wringing.

For me, it was a bee trap. Ever hang one of those low-tech bee traps outside the sukkah? I have nothing against bees. I respect their industry and utility. I just don’t like them flying kamikaze runs against my guests. So occasionally I hang one of those traps, put in the bait, and wait with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d rather that all the neighborhood bees flew south for the winter. On the other, I feel pretty useless until one or more takes a wrong turn and flies into the trap, its last stop on the way to Bee Heaven. A trapped bee is evidence of a successful campaign to upgrade the comfort level of the sukkah.

Monsey Summits work the same way. As I wrote previously in what has become a topic of controversy, I walked into the meeting with minimum expectations and two intentions. I believed that people who claim that they are in pain and want a platform to talk about it should be accepted at their word, and given the chance to be heard. I believed that listening carefully to what some of the more voluble people who had left Torah practice had to say could jump-start our making whatever changes, if any, are appropriate.

I have no regrets or disappointments regarding either of these goals. Some people disagree; you can see some of their arguments in the comments to the aforementioned essay. Those arguments pale in comparison to some of the stuff that could not be published. All told, however, they amount to bees in the trap. They made the enterprise worthwhile, because they demonstrated that there are some issues that could use some discussion. If any readers accept half of what I will now say, the journey will have been worth the investment of time.

Three primary objections emerged. 1) Meeting with the no-longer-observant conferred respectability to their ideology. 2) People who were once practicing frum Jews and then choose to reject Torah are entitled to no sympathy. They are different from the majority of non-observant people, who have no real responsibility for their ignorance. 3) Because we believe in freedom of will, there is nothing to be gained in listening to people’s complaints about mistreatment that led them away from observance. They made their choices, and they are responsible according to Torah thought, regardless of what pitfalls others placed in front of them.

The first of these can be dealt with quickly, so we might just as well move it off the playing field. No one in the traditional group that I am aware of budged an inch from our position of the non-negotiable truth of Torah. Some in the other group would have loved some sort of concession that what is right for us, is not necessarily right for them. None of us gave that assurance. None of us should be held responsible for the subsequent articulation by any individual writer of how people in attendance felt, or any claim that we gave too much ground.

Too many people accepted the second point above. I do not understand why. Do we respect others, or recognize the humanity only of those with whom we agree? What about tzelem Elokim – even when possessed by people whose values and/or behavior run antipodally different from the ones by which we swear? Can’t I react with sympathy to the cry of any human being – even those whose beliefs I utterly reject? Is empathy conditional?

It is likely that many people foundered on this point because they think that the Torah wishes us to distance ourselves from those whose actions and beliefs – for whatever the reason – run counter to Hashem’s Will, as expressed by the Torah. Furthermore, they think that we fulfill this obligation to emotionally reject som people by pushing them out of our circle of caring.

They are correct about the first assumption, and mistaken about the second. A reread of the Netziv’s introduction to Bereishis is in order.

This was praiseworthy about the Avos: Besides being tzadikim and chasidim and lovers of Hashem to the maximum extent possible, they were also yesharim. This means that they conducted themselves with the nations of the world – even with despicable idolaters – with love, and sought their good, because such is contributory to the sustaining of Creation. We see this in Avrohom prostrating himself in prayer on behalf of Sodom, even though he greatly hated them and their king for their evil. Nonetheless, he desired their continued existence. Chazal explain Tehilim (45:8) אהבת לצדק ותשנא רשע to mean, “You loved to vindicate my creatures, and refrained from finding them liable. This is precisely consistent with his role as the “father of many nations.” Despite a son’s not taking an appropriate path, a father still seeks the peace and well-being of his son. Similarly, we see how easily Yitzchok was appeased from the actions of his enemies…and Yaakov, after initially being angered when he learned that Lavan was prepared to destroy him were it not for Hashem’s intervention, nonetheless speaks gently with him…

Avrohom hated – and loved! How can imperatives towards opposing emotions coexist? The simple answer is that the Torah can be pretty demanding in trying to make good human beings out of us. No one ever said it was supposed to be easy. Life is nuanced; Torah life is even more nuanced. The folks who have it down to a simple formula usually have it wrong. The Torah can ask us to hate the person for his/her evil – but to love the person.

Should you think that only someone like Avrohom could figure this out, think again. Look at Tosafos Pesachim 113B, speaking to us, not to Avrohom. A person who must decide between unloading the suffering animal of his friend, or reloading the animal of his inconvenienced enemy should chose the latter, according to the gemara. Forcing himself to resist the inner nature that spurns his enemy is more important, says the gemara, than addressing the pain of an animal. He should choose to help his enemy load, in order to whip his inner self into shape. But wait, say Tosafos. The enemy of the pasuk isn’t your ex-spouse, whom you are really not supposed to hate. The Torah doesn’t address such petty behavior. The enemy is someone who violates the law, is warned, and continues to violate Torah law. You are allowed/supposed to hate such a person. This is puzzling, say Tosafos. What room is left to force a person to bend his nature to hate? He is supposed to hate this evildoer!

Tosafos answer that he still must bend his nature. He must prevail upon himself to keep the hatred within, rather than allow it to become manifest to anyone else, which would lead to “full hatred.” The Be’er Yosef (Parshas Kedoshim) observes that this might technically solve the problem, but it doesn’t make much sense. Bottom line, if the Torah does not wish the hatred of an evildoer to become manifest in overt behavior, why allow a little bit of hate, and then work to keep it in check? Don’t encourage the hatred in the first place!

Be’er Yosef explains that the Torah has to encourage a bit of hatred, in a quantity safely kept to oneself. Its function is to protect the neshamah of the person who has witnessed the evil. What we see, what we encounter, leaves an imprint. It is easy to become inured to evil, just by being touched by, or surrounded by enough of it. The Torah wishes us to emotionally resist evil, and allows a bit of emotional charge in distancing ourselves from it. The clear target is the evil and the stain it leaves within the beholder – not the evildoer.

But surely, some of you are thinking, the group we met with is a special case. They represent a more potent form of evil than most, because by sharing their stories with the world, they are probably leading others astray. Certainly we should teach ourselves to hate them, just as we would the classic meisis u-madiach of the Torah.

Maybe not. Some years ago, I was conflicted about my friendship with a prominent member of another Jewish denomination. Certainly a group that has led people astray in spades. I spoke to Rav Zelik Epstein zt”l, who asked me if this person was a good human being. I assured him that he was. His response was illuminating. “’משאניך ד’ אשנא / Those who hate You, Hashem, I will hate’ doesn’t have to be the first mitzvah you grab hold of.”

Bottom line: the avodah of people in that room was to act as humans, feeling the pain of others, all the while mindful of the tzaara d’Shechinah that their new life styles was causing. I think we handled it acceptably.

This leaves us with the final, major objection voiced by readers. Listening to tales of woe is pointless, they argued. Mitigating factors are simply nisyanos. People are responsible for their conduct, even under trying circumstances. Nothing can excuse turning one’s back fully on his Torah, his G-d, and his people.

This is wrong on multiple levels. There is good reason for Avos to tell us אל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו/ Don’t judge your friend till you get to his place – which effectively means never. It is true that a court must look at the crime alone, and judge a person to be guilty of its commission as long as the perpetrator was sane. But Hashem’s judgment is not cut of the same cloth. He does take all those predisposing factors and mitigating circumstances into account. And we are bidden to do the same – when we are not in court, or rendering halachic judgment about a person’s status. Those factors and circumstances do count. If so, we can learn from them.

Not worth our while, you say. Those factors are not our business. It is sad that some behaviors of some people in our community are not what they should be, and that people who walk out of halachic Judaism point to those behaviors as having impacted them. Still, that is between Hashem, the people who wronged them, and them. What concern is that of ours?

Conceivably, in some cases, we are ones who wronged them and continue to do so. Even putting those cases aside, the thinking is still flawed. Remember the gemara’s question (Sotah 45B) about the declaration of the elders of the city close to where a murder victim is found? Why should they have to declare that they did not shed his blood? Do we really believe that the murderer is to be found among them? Rather, they must declare that they did not allow a visitor to the city to leave without food and accompaniment. We understand that to mean that if the victim was not provided with these amenities, he was an easier target for the highwaymen who murdered him.

Maybe. But that is not what Rashi says. Rashi says that by not providing the visitor with his needs, he became desperate and turned to crime to provide for himself. He was killed in a botched robberyt attempt. According to Rashi the corpse belongs to an attempted felon, not to his target.

Oh, my! Sounds like something that “liberals” believe! Society bears some responsibility for creating the conditions that lead people to crime!

Perhaps someone will work diligently to assure us that we don’t “pasken” like this Rashi. Until then, it does appear that it is worthwhile examining the factors that made Jewish brothers and sisters make the worst decisions of their lives. We, too, will have to declare one day that our hands did not shed their blood.

I stand by the decision to attend, and would encourage others to do the same. If we are going about some things the wrong way and nudging people in the wrong direction, we need to think about it. Hearing the stories of those who have been there – as much as we must disagree with their present positions, and resist any of their attempts to export their decisions to the rest of the community – will be more powerful than listening to a rov speak about the same issues. Drama works.

And to those who cannot muster empathy for the pain of another human, I suspect that we are not members of the same faith-group.

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61 Responses

  1. Surie Ackerman says:

    Thank you very much for this thorough and erudite clarification.

    I would still like to know if the OTD side recognizes the pain (and in many cases, the fear) that their choices (especially the choice to go public with their stories) have generated among their families and communities, and understand that in most cases this is the primary motivator for the aggressive and painful push-backs they have experienced, which of course only caused them more pain.

    I would imagine that some, if not all, are liable to respond that one or more family members, or communal leaders, were responsible for their issues in the first place. This, however, still leaves a lot of innocent people (siblings, children) caught up in the whirlwind they have caused.

    [YA We were there primarily to listen to them, not the other way around. From the limited time we spent with them, however, not sure if it is true that the push-back they experienced occurred after going public.]

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    Ok. I’m sold!

    Shkoyach for giving of your time and energy for this. So what emerged as frum behaviors that are the biggest turn offs?

    [YA Remember. This was a rather short meeting, including dinner. So only certain issues were scheduled for presentation. But since you asked: abuse and its cover-up; abuse and its cover-up; abuse and its cover-up. And coming down hard on elementary school age kids for asking questions. And removing them from classrooms to isolate them. And then ostracizing their families. And failure to speak to women about their sexuality. And stifling creativity, allowing no outlets for it. And teaching kids to hate their parent who has gone off (or even to deviate a bit without going off). And, of course, abuse and its cover-up. All kinds – physical, sexual, emotional]

  3. Ellen Solomon says:

    The story of Acher also comes to mind – while he denied the Torah he nonetheless taught Rebbi Meir.

  4. cvmay says:

    Where are the Rav Zelig Epstein’s of today?

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    What good expectations did this event meet or create, if any, and what follow-up is now appropriate?

    [YA I expected to learn something new, by meeting people I had not met before. I did. When R Avi Shafran asked a question all of us had wondered about (“When you left your insular community, why didn’t you try a less insular but observant one?”), he received two answers, both of which offered food for thought. 1) “I did. I found that the Modern Orthodox community was less than cool to accepting children straight out of chassidishe chinuch. My kids made no friends.” 2) “Bottom line, connection with G-d for me was an issue of trust. When the trust I had in people and community was so thoroughly violated, I wanted no part of any of the package.”

    What follow-up? I think certain communities might benefit from listening to the stories of hand-picked people who have left practice. They should be vetted carefully in advance. But there are people who are not out to unseat Torah, so much as correct wrongs. Some of won’t want to listen; some of us will. As a first issue that might be addressed, we might look at better ways of handling cases of one spouse who drops observance. Is it really in the interests of the children to alienate them from their parent, or do children deserve two parents, and we should look for ways in which the non-observant parent continues to be part of their childrens’ lives while agreeing to abide by standards of behavior while they spend time together? Rabbi Yanky Horowitz has some strong recommendations about this.]

  6. Rafael Araujo says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein: my comment in the earlier post related to the first concern. However, my concern was not with whether you and the other frum participants would budge on equating or treating the non-frum’s lifestyles as equivalent to Torah and Torah-living. However, while you picked on critics on the right in the comments, you would also see that many commentators do want to engage in some relativism about the difference between shmiras Torah u’Mitzvos and life bereft of it. So my criticism wasn’t pointed at your, Rabbi Fink, or others. Rather, as you can, see their are many of Jews who really don’t think there is much difference between frum and non-frum, nor should we make any distinctions.

  7. david a. says:

    I commend you for your attitude towards the non-frum and this post in general.

    But I wish you (and others) would stop referring to people who have abandoned Jewish practice as sinners (or some call them evil-doers). they simply are not.
    An evil person or a sinner is someone who knows that an action is wrong (for whatever reason) and does it anyway.

    I know of nobody who is says, I know God does not want me to it a cheeseburger or be mechalel shabbos, but i will do it anyway. He/She simply does not believe that God told him. Point final.

    [YA – None of us wants to point fingers. But what would you say about someone who says, “If G-d existed, I would consider not eating cheeseburgers. But I firmly believe that He is a fiction.” Would you call such a position evil?]

  8. Baruch B. says:

    Being far to the right of Rabbi Adlerstein and disagreeing with much of what he writes,
    I’m glad to see that there is something we can agree on.

  9. lacosta says:

    the rya criterion no 2 is a biggie . as rabbi araujo points out many commentors have problems with this issue. it seems a divider between classic haredi vs MO/DL praxy are the cases where there is a mitzva to hate —- zionists , the State, non-O clergy , NLF’s [no longer frum] . it seems various segments of haredi society not only take the hate seriously , but are able to be mekayem that mitzva with great gusto ; MO/DL , not only much more rarely so, but furthermore , seem to even have a modus vivendi of live-let-live-and-not-convert-you attitude, which calls into question their fidelity to halacha and Truth , in the eyes of many to their right.. .

  10. David Z says:


    Leaving aside when the push-back happened (of course it usually happens before they go public), they still left corpses in their wake and refuse to acknowledge the good of the people who tried to help them. They have really bad circumstances that I can’t even imagine, but they chose to deal with it in the worst way possible. There a tons of OTD folks you never hear about because they moved on with their life and made constructive life decisions (from an objective viewpoint, not the narrow Orthodox one).

    I’m not saying that these people don’t have sincere pain or that we can;t learn from them, but they can stop the hating now that they’re grown up and successfully escaped.

    Sholom Auslander is a really funny example of something. Not sure what yet. 🙂

  11. Raymond says:

    From my understanding of the above column, it appears as if some religious Jews pride themselves on distancing themselves from those who have left Judaism out of resentment for how they have been treated by religious Jews. If I have stated this accurately, then the irony of this is so blatantly obvious, that I would be insulting people’s intelligence by explaining this any further.

    What I will say about this is the following. It seems to me that those Orthodox Jews who create such a distance between themselves and disgruntled Jews, do not have strong enough faith in their own religious beliefs, for if they did, they would not be so afraid to be around the Jews who have becoming heretics. Conversely, those religious Jews who are not afraid to be around their unsatisfied, no-longer-religious fellow Jews, are Jews who are not only strong in their Judaism, but their compassion and understanding embodies a lot of what Judaism is supposed to be all about. And in reaching out to their less-than-perfect fellow Jews, they are setting a positive example that can inspire those disgruntled Jews into at least considering the possibility of returning back to the Torah way of life.

  12. Y. Ben-David says:

    I find it sad that one has to even justify meetings of this type to certain elements within the religious community. After all, isn’t it obvious that this is the message of the Torah…to accept the humanity not only of all Jews regardless of their level of observance (cf. my earlier comment on another thread that greatly upset some people…”the Jews are a NATION and the Torah is our CONSTITUTION”) but even of non-Jews? In pre-Second World War Europe and the Middle East, Jews of all levels of observance lived together in a community and looked out for one another, even if there were major disagreements about internal religious matters. Today, there are isolated religous communities that have no contact with Jews who are different than them and ideological walls are preventing any sort of interaction and creating an atmosphere where some people believe that anyone who is not like me is a ‘non-person’ to be ignored and disregarded.
    It is this that has lead to so much rage at the Zionist state of Israel because Jews again are forced (is that really the right word) to live cheek-by-jowl with Jews who are different in their level of observance and this is creating great discomfort in those who mistakenly believe that isolation is what is demanded from a Jew.

  13. Joe Hill says:

    “We were there primarily to listen to them, not the other way around.”

    Why? Why weren’t they there, also, to listen to you and “your side” on where they went wrong? Why *only* the reverse?

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      They asked for the meeting. There is only so much you can do in four hours

  14. Ari Heitner says:

    I would like to take David A.’s excellent point (“I know of nobody who is says, I know God does not want me to it a cheeseburger or be mechalel shabbos, but i will do it anyway. He/She simply does not believe that God told him.”) a step further:

    I have spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time with young people who grew up some flavor of observant but are no longer. Some received MO educations, some Chareidi, some in North America, some in Israel.

    Of dozens of such students/friends, I have only found one who could say with conviction, “I really thought about whether God exists, analyzed it carefully, and came to the conclusion He doesn’t”. The rest just experienced so much hypocrisy, stupidity, and general unpleasantness that they are turned off from ever considering Torah/Judaism seriously. It’s too painful a subject, so they avoid it, retaining varying levels of observance out of habit – some to the point of feeling guilt over their shortfalls. In Emunah terms, if parents and teachers fail as immediate role models, no amount of stories about the Chofetz Chaim or the Gra will patch the hole in the chain of Mesorah.

    Even my one philosophic friend’s certainty of God’s non-existence suffers greatly from the shallowness of his Jewish education – it’s not like he could cite proofs and counter-proofs from Kuzari, Rabbeinu Bachya, or (l’havdil) Kant. He’s just better read than his peers.

    So in response to RYA’s question, no, these people are emphatically not evil. They are not advocating or practicing theft or murder; from their perspective, what’s wrong with cheeseburgers? With the exception of sociopathic rejection of basic Golden Rule morality (fortunately none of them are that well educated!), what could they possibly do to become evil?

    [YA – See my response to someone else with a similar comment. If you define (and most do!) evil as something that does harm to the social fabric, then you are correct. I was using – deliberately – the wider, theistic assignation of “evil” to anything at all that is out of synch with G-d’s Will. Do we not consider Adam HaRishon’s faux pas as “evil?”]

  15. Robert Lebovits says:

    At the risk of sounding professionally parochial, there is an important aspect of the tension between the NLF and the frum world, as highlighted by this “summit” and the reactions it drew, that is typically ignored but needs to be recognized. The pain so often mentioned by NLF individuals has roots in shame and rejection, whether due to some specific event(s)in which they were mistreated under the banner of yiddishkeit or coming from the reflex reaction of frum people who observe their norms being violated and disrespected. Rejection and shame are incredibly powerful and unpleasant experiences that can literally blight one’s soul. The greater the desire to be heard and understood, the deeper the rejection has been felt.
    Unfortunately, rejection begets rejection. NLF individuals also engage in dramatic displays of rejection of their frum origins in a variety of ways including efforts to impugn and delegitimize the entire Orthodox tzurah. Organizations like Footsteps generate a lot of antipathy for this very reason.
    For any dialogue to have meaningful value both sides have to acknowledge responsibility for their actions and find a path to change. I think it’s fair to say there is wide-spread awareness that the frum world can be narrow and unaccepting of even petty deviations from a tight norm – especially in the NY/NJ locale – with adverse effects. I don’t know that NLF have a similar appreciation for the impact their actions often have on the people who are still very much a part of their lives. If they want to have less pain, they must be part of the change.

    [YA – For the few readers unacquainted with Dr. Lebovits, he is a frum psychologist, serving in both academic and clinical roles. IOW, unlike the rest of us, he knows what he is talking about.]

  16. chaviv says:

    “And to those who cannot muster empathy for the pain of another human, I suspect that we are not members of the same faith-group.”

    B’mechila, Rabbi Adlerstein, it’s more than faith, it’s DNA. If one “cannot muster empathy for the pain of another human”, he is not a member of my tribe.

  17. Shmuel says:

    R’ Adlerstein, in response to your response to david a., I would not call such a position evil. I would call it incorrect, and incorrect about what I regard as the most important truth that there is –that is, given the seriousness and centrality of the subject, it is not just a question of “accuracy.” However, I believe that in today’s climate, given the assumptions of most people in society, and what one hears, sees and reads in the general culture, there is a strong pull away from belief in God. When this is coupled with someone being disaffected with the group that taught them that belief, and when (in some cases) people were educated that the kal is chamur and now they are rather naturally rejecting both together, I would argue that the position isn’t evil –incorrect, tragic, dangerous in certain circumstances, but not evil.

    [YA I understand your point entirely, and accept it in part. Another part of me, however, keeps coming back to one of the very definitions of evil that is sometimes useful, albeit controversial: evil is anything that is not consistent with the Will of HKBH. I have used that definition here.]

  18. chaviv says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Why did the Netziv use the word yesharim with regard to the Avos in the context you described? Yashar generally describes a person who is upright, honest, straight. The Avos certainly were yesharim, but wouldn’t their conduct have called for a different word in the above context like merciful, humane, etc?

    [YA Because the entire intro is his explanation of why Chazal call Bereishis “Sefer Yesharim.” I think that it is a feature of Netziv that he often advocates for word usage different from what many of us would expect. Dealing with this competently is beyond my pay grade. Try Dr Gil Perl ]

  19. chaviv says:

    The second reason Rabbi Adlerstein lists some people think such meetings shouldn’t take place is that OTD people “are entitled to no sympathy. They are different from the majority of non-observant people, who have no real responsibility for their ignorance.”

    My hunch is that those who make this claim act as shabbily towards (1) the non-observant as towards (2) the OTD and (3) BTs. And they will come up with a teretz why none of these groups deserves his sympathy. I know of a fully observant, upright individual who joined my shul (synagogue) about 12-13 years ago. To this day, there are people in my shul who would not respond to his greetings. Why? I guess because he is different, he is not “one of the boys”.

  20. chaviv says:

    (A) “… it is worthwhile examining the factors that made Jewish brothers and sisters make the worst decisions of their lives.”

    (B) “We, too, will have to declare one day that our hands did not shed their blood.”

    I venture say that those who make light and dismiss (A) are those who cannot state (B) in good faith.
    Furthermore, I suspect that some of those making light and dismissing (A), had a hand either through their actions, or failure to act as the Torah requires in the “worst decision” that our fellow Jews made.

  21. cvmay says:

    “seem to have a modus vivendi of live-let-live-and-not-convert-you attitude, which calls into question their fidelity to halacha and Truth , in the eyes of many to their right”..

    FIDELITY TO HALACHA & TRUTH – interesting expression, I’d say?!!
    So having hatred, ignoring, disrespecting, and calling others EVIL, “Outside of the Pale”, “Infidels” is then fidelity to halacha and Truth?
    Why are we so so so hung up on labels, nicknames and delegitimizing others? According to well-known psychology, the only one you can fix, refine and work on is YOURSELF, let’s concentrate on that instead!!

  22. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Joe Hill,

    Our job is to listen carefully and hard before we talk. In ANY context, not just this, but here especially because of the sensitivity of the situation. As to whether they also have an obligation to listen, sure, but change has to ultimately come from within. We have to start by being or becoming the kind of person they would sometime, maybe, want to listen to, before we could ever tell them anything. What they choose to do is up to them, but it’s too late in the game to be prescriptive to them. We, meaning the frum community, lost that chance somewhere back around the bend. With Hashem’s help we might be able to have some influence, but not by going back to playing the same blame and guilt game.

  23. Benshaul says:

    As always Rabbi Adlerstein elucidates the issue with clarity and wisdom. As a bona-fide card carrying right winger, I am in full agreement with everything he wrote, and I applaud both sides for this meeting. One point bears mentioning, and that is that in at least one instance of the NLF; the “issues and pain” that are at the root of their NLF path- have little to do with reality and much to do with the individuals personal psychological and mental health. I am not sure if this is important to note in this forum as I do NOT want to impugn the other NFL individuals who participated. But to those of us who know; Leah Vincent’s story is her own twisted version of events as she perceives -or choose to write -that has little basis in the facts as they actually happened.

  24. Steve Brizel says:

    R Adlerstein deserves a huge yasher koach for attending. Speculating about the OTD phenomenon without meeting with those who have gone OTD, for whatever reason, cannot IMO is counterproductive, to say the least. I found none of the rationales for not attending convincing at all.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    We delude ourselves as individuals and as a community if we offer the objections posed by R Adlerstein, and ignore this festering issue which refuses to go away.. For years, on most Leil Shabbosim, as a family, we have taken a post seudah walk. On any Leil Shabbos, you can and will see either teens, college students or adults who are obviously Jewish, and who may even look Orthodox, but who are engaged in conduct on the street that one could easily view as halachically and hashkafically inappropriate without batting an eyelash.

  26. chaviv says:

    Ms. Ackerman, you write: “This, however, still leaves a lot of innocent people (siblings, children) caught up in the whirlwind they have caused.”

    Who is the “they” at the end of the sentence, the NLF, or their victimizer(s)?

    Rabbi Adlerstein, any word about those who knew of someone was being tormented and chose to look the other way?

  27. Sharona says:

    Their stories are difficult to hear, but we should definitely listen to them. Sure people are responsible for their own actions. – If the community though had any impact on their leaving, then we need to work on improving ourselves. That’s what Hashem wants, that we should take care of each other. Then we can be the holy people we are meant to be. – Teach Torah and Mitzvos with Joy and show the beauty of it. Have good intellectual discussions on different topics both Jewish and secular, so people have a good foundation, especially before going to college.

  28. Raymond says:

    This discussion reminds me of a very painful personal experience I had some years ago in my local Jewish community. A religious woman had published a book on the subject we are discussing. I had spoken to her on previous occasions, and she came across as a very sincere, kind, and understanding human being, precisely the way religious Jews should be. She gave a public lecture in somebody’s private home on the subject, and the more she spoke, the more I found myself nodding in agreement. I was feeling so very vindicated for the too many painful experiences that I have had with some so-called religious people.

    Well, without me realizing it, the very Rabbi who has caused me by far the most emotional pain, had sat himself right behind me (some coincidence that was), and when it came time for questions after the author had finished her speech, the Rabbi proceeded to discount every single thing she had said, as he proceeded to essentially blame the victims while taking no responsibility for himself. He exactly embodied the very kind of person that the speaker had been talking about, namely one who advertises himself as being super-frum, yet in his speech and actions, without any remorse whatsoever, not only turn people off from Judaism, but ruin people’s lives.

  29. Berel says:

    Three primary objections emerged. 1) Meeting with the no-longer-observant conferred respectability to their ideology … The first of these can be dealt with quickly, so we might just as well move it off the playing field. No one in the traditional group that I am aware of budged an inch from our position of the non-negotiable truth of Torah … None of us should be held responsible for the subsequent articulation by any individual writer of how people in attendance felt, or any claim that we gave too much ground.

    How is this objection is being dealt with at all let alone done away with? While your belief in Torah M’Sinai may have remained the same the issue is you are validating their rejection of it by meeting with them. If writers from any group perceived you as giving them too much ground ,as inevitably was going to happen, even if those writers are incorrect you are still the cause of that perception and responsible for it.

    Furthermore referring to frum people merely as the “traditional” group ala Fiddler On The Roof, and not wanting to call people who leave, OTD, is in itself a validation of OTD movement. And that validation is what they were looking for at least subconsciously,, when they asked for the meeting. IMHO

    It is not for us to judge any specific person who went OTD. (And even less for us to judge a Frum person who was accused of any fill-in-the-blank crime)Perhaps Hashem will not judge them harshly because of mitigating circumstances Etc. OTOH perhaps he will indeed judge them strictly and punish them severely. It isn’t kindness to help them assuage themselves with the former and then have them face the latter after 120 years R”L.

    ’משאניך ד’ אשנא / Those who hate You, Hashem, I will hate’ doesn’t have to be the first mitzvah you grab hold of.”

    Nor can it be a Mitzvah one totally ignores. Based on the criteria of this blog post when does it ever apply?

    When Avos D’Rav Nosson elaborates on the Mishna in Pirkey Avos about not befriending Resoyim as meaning “Not even for the sake of Torah” few situation are more apt to that directive then this one. (Years ago I wondered why Chazal cautioned so. When I see the contemporary OTD crowd I understand.)

    This comment may not get past moderation but let me assure you: It was written by Yid in pain who wants his voice to be heard.

  30. malka says:

    Raymound, that must have been very hard going through that experience and re-experiencing the memory. There are some individuals that just don’t understand what people are going through. The best thing is to find positive, caring people, like that author you mention, as well as other nice observant Jews that are a good examples. May you have many nice, good experiences and keep spiritually growing 🙂

  31. j.jacob michael says:

    Print and publish the things that”could not be published”,so that the frum community finally realizes the full extend of —-al abuse in the community and stop with the self denial.this abuse is a major impetus for otd.[suffice to say that on only one thursday afternoon i met three b.j. girls who had all been abused by CLOSE relatives.]jjm

  32. lacosta says:

    i wonder if , by the nature of who was at this meeting , if we are concluding that NLF’s got there via some emotional harm that the religious community did them. but there are clearly many NLF’s that get there via Not Believing— they no longer believe in G-d, The Mesorah, Chaza’l etc . no one harmed them, they are just essentially converting to another religion. and i doubt they bear hostility to anyone, except those who may reject their rejection….

  33. Raymond says:

    Malka, whoever you are, thank you for your kind words. Actually, you yourself sound like you are living up to what it means to be Jewish. And yes, I fortunately have met some very special religious Jews, which is actually why I have never completely abandoned them nor their lifestyle. In fact, Torah Jews are the only group with whom I voluntarily associate in real life (as opposed to the cyber world), for the truth is, I love my Jewish people. Call me naïve, but I consider all of us Jewish people to be members of one single family. I am grateful to G-d that He created me to be Jewish.

  34. Y. Ben-David says:

    You said :
    It isn’t kindness to help them assuage (guilt feelings) themselves (the OTD) with the former and then have them face the latter after 120 years R”L.

    It’s funny….this was the argument those who ran the Inquisition used to justify burning people at the stake. Do you really think the only
    way to keep people observant is to terrorize them into it? If you have noticed most Jews (and other Western non-Jews
    for that matter) abandoned
    religious belief decades ago. Obviously they are willing to take their chances. You are going to have to come up with
    more persuasive reasons to stay observant.

  35. Ari Heitner says:

    RYA writes: “If you define (and most do!) evil as something that does harm to the social fabric, then you are correct. I was using – deliberately – the wider, theistic assignation of ‘evil’ to anything at all that is out of synch with G-d’s Will. Do we not consider Adam HaRishon’s faux pas as ‘evil’?”

    I mentioned Golden Rule morality not because it alone represents real evil – a בין אדם לחבירו of רע. I fully agree with you that בין אדם למקום can be equally רע. But רע is not the action – it is the intent. Knowing the Torah forbids eating cheeseburgers does not make you into a מזיד if you have not been shown any reason to believe משה קבל תורה מסיני – whether the lack is because you grew up Reform or grew up Orthodox. Actions are Hashem’s realm; He allows them to happen or not, and takes responsibility for the outcomes.

    The point is, if someone leaves Yiddishkeit because of negative experiences, but remains a good person with respect to the things he does understand as being wrong, he is a good person.

    (R’Sholom Dovber, the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, uses this distinction to explain את המות ואת הרע – the physicality of the cheeseburgers is מות; it has no connection to נצחיות. But the desire for the cheeseburger against רצון השם is רע, and far worse. מות simply lacks anything actively good; רע is actively bad (ד”ה אחת שאלתי, ש”ת עת”ר). This would seem to fit with R’Chaim’s נעבאך, אן אפיקורוס – and indicate our relation to such people should be רחמנות…)

  36. michael says:

    in the previous post you wrote

    [YA – I ephasized 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.]

    what were your impressions about the partipants’ questioning Torah beliefs?
    were they rebellious before they questioned our Torah beliefs – or did they become rebellious because they weren’t allowed to ask their questions?
    would the participant who rejected torah for “intellectual” reasons have gotten to where he is today had he been allowed to ask his questions – would an answer he didn’t accept be worse than not getting any answer

    in summary – do you think teenagers should feel comfortable asking their rebbeim the questions that bother them?

    [YA Because of the brevity of the meeting, I could not venture a guess about these questions, other than the last one. There, I do believe that young people need to be able to ask all the questions they want, because otherwise they will develop their own answers.]

  37. Sara says:

    How far does must that level of compassion extend when one of its beneficiaries has behaved in a way that surely devastated many? I’m referring to Leah Vincent’s book. I understand and fully accept the grave importance of understanding people who feel hurt by orthodoxy. But why include in that group someone who has sensationalized her story, made (her perception of) her community’s failings public to all the world, and attacked and surely humiliated her family in the grossest of ways? Forget about shmiras mitzvos for a minute–should such behavior be rewarded? Is there no place for feeling so deeply hurt by her writing that one does not want to spend time hearing how we have failed her? Or does the Torah expect us to forgive and look away, and see only the hurting person?

  38. Y. Ben-David says:

    Threatdening people with fire and brimstone may have worked in the Middle Ages in order to keep people religious, but it simply doesn’t work with most (but not all) people today. Instead of presenting the Torah as some essentially irrelevant corpus of material that one studies intently merely because it is simply a mitzvah to do so for some unclear reasn but rather to really delve into it as TORAT HAYYIM and TORAT EMET to understand its plan for creating a socially, economically, physically and spiritually healthy society is what will make the Torah relevant and attractive to modern Jews. All people have to do is look around at the spiritually sick and anti-human societies that exist in the rapidly declining United States and Europe and then give them a real understanding of the Torah’s alternative and you will have the key to inspiring people to maintain loyalty to Torah observance.

  39. Benshaul says:

    A thought that comes to mind in terms of the rejection of the modern-orthodox communities that the NLF tried to join, unsuccessfully. The charedi communities on the East Coast, ala’ Lakewood, Monsey, New York; are all incredibly narrow minded and very parochial. I say this having lived and grown up in Lakewood, and being quite familiar with those communities. While there are many positives to the charedi world, it must be admitted that in general we do a very bad job of accepting those who are different from us. This is NOT true in the out-of town charedi/mixed communities, where people in general are more tolerant and accepting, and don’t look down on those who dress or act differently. Both for BT’s and others who don’t quite “fit in,” we should encourage them to move to out of town communities where one isn’t judged by the color of your hat, or the size of your yarmulke. I have many friends who live fulfilling frum lives in these communities who would be ostracized in places like Lakewood or looked down as nebs in many parts of Flatbush. I read Frumet Goldberg’s story of trying to find a school for her children after leaving her chasidic life, and i can tell you that in the city I live in, both day schools would have accepted her kids with open arms, and we have a spectrum from RW charedi to LWMO.
    There is a vibrant Jewish life west of the Hudson!

  40. Crazy Kanoiy says:


    You mention Leah Vincent’s book. You can also mention Frieda Vizel’s blog posts and Ushy Katz’s You Tube videos. As a result of this meeting Ushy Katz was invited to give a live interview with the Zev Brenner program.

  41. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    “It’s funny….this was the argument those who ran the Inquisition used to justify burning people at the stake.”

    This claim is outrageous. Not validating OTD people is an Inquisition technique?

    I am also unsure if you are aware that the Torah proscribes death for those that serve Idolatry, Violate the Shabbos and engage in certain promiscuous relationships. Sorry, but Judaism is not all about feelings of every sinner.

  42. Raymond says:

    I now wish to address what Sara wrote above, because she brings up the other side of these issues. Her words remind me of a very prominent, local Rabbi being accused of behavior which I will not describe, as it would identify the Rabbi in question, which would not be fair to him at all, since at least in my view, he happens to be one of the nicest human beings whom one could ever meet. To this day, I do not believe the charges, which by the way were brought by a man who thinks he is Jewish but is not, and even if what was said about the Rabbi was true, it hardly made him deserve to have his prominent career and reputation essentially destroyed.

    I am not sure what the lessons are to be learned, when comparing the very negative experiences I had with that other Rabbi which I described earlier in this thread, with what happened to the very decent Rabbi whom I am now taking pains to avoid identifying. Maybe it shows the importance of being as reality based as possible, of judging our Rabbis and other religious Jews just as they really are, and not how we wish them to be. I think that is a lot of what wisdom about life in general is all about: seeing life as it really is, and not what we would like it to be or imagine it to be.

  43. Ben Waxman says:

    With Hashem’s help we might be able to have some influence, but not by going back to playing the same blame and guilt game.

    Just start small. Invite the NLF to family events, bar mitzvot, weddings. Put him at the same table as his relatives (this can be tricky, I know). Don’t turn him into “that person whose name can’t be mentioned in front of the children”.

  44. chaviv says:

    YA: “I do believe that young people need to be able to ask all the questions they want, because otherwise they will develop their own answers.”

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    What do you think it would happen to a Beis Yaakov girl if she asked with derech eretz any of the following questions, out of sincere desire to make sense of what’s going on in the world:

    “?… למה הרעות לעם הזה”
    “?תחריש בבלע רשע צדיק ממנו?”
    or any other question of this nature? The ones who asked the two questions above where not rebels, but נביאי השם Moshe and Havakkuk.

    Wouldn’t she be pilloried, expelled from school, and her siblings and the entire family ostracized? Are our children’s teachers trained emotionally and intellectually to handle legitimate questions of hashkafa? You know the answer. Is anything done about? Zilch.

    [YA – All generalizations are categorically false. 🙂 Your comment oversimplifies. The entire gamut exists within the right of center Orthodox world. There are classrooms in which questions are not allowed, where they are begrudgingly allowed and answered unsatisfactorily, and where they are encouraged. Not enough of the latter. Through the work of R Sapirman and others (I don’t see eye to eye with his approach to developing answers to a minority of areas, but he sure has the right idea as far as the need to offer thoughtful approaches), there is a burgeoning awareness of the need to allow or encourage questions. There is pushback in some communities, and we should shudder to think of the korbanos that will result from this pushback. But “zilch” is the wrong word.]

  45. Berel says:

    Y. Ben-David
    May 30, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Threatdening people with fire and brimstone may have worked in the Middle Ages in order to keep people religious, but it simply doesn’t work with most (but not all) people today.

    I’m actually surprised at this response because I don’t see how I threatened anyone with fire and brimstone.But since this comment was repeated twice I owe an answer.

    I will repeat that the possibility of the OTD crowd being punished severely after 120 years exists and it is wrong to help them think otherwise.I’m not threatening or even addressing the OTD crowd at all.But as Chazal those who say Hashem is too overly forgiving are giving people the license to sin.(Kol Ha’omer HKBH vatran…see Rashi there)

    I’ve heard at least two people say that had they grown up today they would have gone OTD. As teenagers they wanted to (in one case to spite her parents…)but were scared of what would they say after 120 years.Today when they would have had Orthodox Rabbis telling them it is their parents/schools/communities fault etc. their consciences would not have bother them enough to prevent them from going OTD

  46. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    Judaism is all about teshuvah. The question is what is the best way to achieve it. Let me give you a challenge….go up to a group of non-religious Jews and threaten them with hellfire and see how many subsequently become religious as a result of your efforts. Most would end up laughing at you. Like I said….most people today are willing to take their chances.

  47. Crazy Kanoiy says:


    It is true that the Neviim asked questions and it is also true that the Neviim did not always get answers. The Neviim kept their belief in Hashem strong even though not every question was answered. Unfortunately many questions of today do not have answers that will be found satisfactory to all questioners. Unfortunately today when questions are not adequately answered it will often effect the questioners belief and commitment to Yiddeshkeit. This is why some rightfully or wrongfully frown on questions.

  48. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Can I please suggest a project. Run an article entitled “The Williamsburg Summit” describing a meeting between 5 mainstream rabbonim and 5 vocally anti Israel, pro divestment, Ahmedenijad hugging, Neturei Karta Rabbis. State that the purpose of the meeting was 1) to feel the pain of these people who have had all sorts of insults directed at them by the larger Jewish community and 2) to hopefully prevent more people joining the ranks of Neturei Karta. Explain that all 10 participants were expected to be critical of the State of Israel.

    I would love to see the response of all the tolerant and open minded folk here.

  49. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    No comparison. I am sure you recall my pointing out that the Jews are a PEOPLE/NATION and the Torah is our CONSTITUTION. Any Jew who identifies AS a Jew is our fellow citizen, regardless of his or her’s level of observance. Identifying as a Jew means not supporting our enemies, as does NK, no matter how “Frum” they claim to be as well as many anti-religious anti-Zionists who also run around with our enemies. I am not saying that NK are not Jews nor am I saying that about non-religious anti-Zionists but and Jew who identifies with our enemies and works actively to damage Israel or the Jewish people put themselves outside the framework of Jewish discussion.

  50. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    A Jew is one who believes in the 13 Ikkrrim. Being a Zionist is not one of the ikkirim. You are correct there is no comparision. The NK are sinners but are still counted for a minyan, their wine is not yayin nesach and they are religiously Jewish. Those that deny the exsistance of Hashem and Torah Misnai are not counted for a minyan, their wine is yayin nesach and they are beyond the pale of being religiously Jewish.

  51. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    According to your logic actively undermining the State of Israel places one “outside the framework of Jewish discussion”, but actively undermining belief in G-d and his Torah do not. This is incompatible with the most basic tenets of Judaism.

  52. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    Where did you get your definition of what a Jew is? I was always told it is someone who is born to a Jewish mother or converts according to Halacha. Please show me the source for your definition which bases it purely on ideological correctness.

  53. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y Ben David –
    “Please show me the source for your definition”

    Rambam Hilchos Mamrim:
    המינים והאפיקורוסין והאומרין אין תורה מן השמיים והמוסרים והמשומדים: כל אלו אינן בכלל ישראל

    Rambam Pirush Hamishna:
    וכאשר יאמין האדם אלה היסודות כולם, ונתברר בה אמונתו בה’, הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל

  54. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    I always find it fascinating when someone throws a single quote from the RAMBAM out to prove some massive ideological point. If I were to do that, I am sure you would say “you know very well that we don’t pasken based on a single quote from the RAMBAM or anyone else”. After all, the RAMBAM himself held that Karaites are Jews, 100 Percent, and they completely reject the Torah sh’b’al peh. I’ll bet in the community you live in, non-religous Jews are invited for Shabbat and are given hesed. Do they do the same for non-Jews? Do they invited non-Jews for Shabbat meals? Do they? No one defines a Jew halachically based on those two quotes, whose practical meaning can be argued as well, and you know that very well.

  55. crazy kanoiy says:

    Y Ben David

    “No one defines a Jew halachicaly based on those two quotes”

    Really? In your community do they count Jewish atheists for a minyan? Do they drink the non mevushal wine of those that deny the existance of G-d?

  56. crazy kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David,

    It has already bedn pointed out thar the Rambam is refering to Karaites that were brought up as Karaites not those that were brought up believing in Torah Shel Baal Peh and chose to become Karaites or non believers as is the case with some of the participants in the Monsey summit.

  57. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    Although most minyanim that most people participate in have more than 10 men in them, I have never seen a minyan where they conduct an ideological inquiry about whether to count a particular person in the minyan. Here in Israel they call in passersby from the street if they are short of 10 and if the person is not wearing a kippah, they put one on him and that is the end of it.

    The Karaites that you referred to were all born from people in the past who at one time or another conciously rejected the Torah sh’b’al peh, yet the RAMBAM considered them all Jews.
    You have completely failed to prove to me that someone who doesn’t think like you do is not a Jew. What about my question about inviting non-religious Jews for Shabbat. Are they goyim or not in your eyes? The question regarding the wine is not relevant because that is a halachic question involving someone who is not Shabbat observant or not, it is NOT a question whether he is a Jew or not.

  58. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Y. Ben David

    “You have completely failed to prove to me that someone who doesn’t think like you do is not a Jew.”

    I never claimed that one who does not think like me is not a Jew. I claimed that one is an apikorus and does not believe in the 13 Ikkrim is not considered religiously Jewish. (As opposed to one who undermines the State of Israel who retains his religious status in Halacha)

    I have provided you with many sources. A Rambam and Halachos brought in Shulchan Aruch. There are many more such sources. You have not brought a source that disagrees with the sources I have listed above.

    Here is another: If one intentionally denies even one Mitzvah in the Torah and does so with rebellious intentions (known in Halachic terms as Mumar L’Hachis), he is not considered a Jew and it is prohibited to visit him when he is sick or otherwise save his life. (Shulchan Aruch 251: 2; See Shach there Os 3 who rules that it is also prohibited to feed and financially support such a person)

  59. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 251

    מי שהוא עבריין במזד על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה ולא עשה תשובה אינו חייב להחיותו ולא להלוותו

    מי שהוא מומר להכעיס אפילו למצוה אחת כגון שאוכל נבילה היכא דשכיח בשר כשרה אסור לפדותו אם נשבה

    ומפרנס עניי עובדי עם עניי ישראל מפני דרכי שלום

    See Shach, Taz, and Biur Hagra there. כיון שהוא עבריין אינו אחיך
    ואינו מצוה על מאחד אחיך ועל וחי אחיך עמך

  60. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    I am glad you came around to my point that a non-observant Jew is still a Jew and that the Jews are a nation and the Torah is our Constitution.

    You also are no doubt aware that the halachot in Shulchan Aruch 251 are not operative today regarding non-religious Jews. You certainly are aware that
    Haredi doctors routinely save the lives of non-observant Jews because today’s non-observant Jews are not the “apikorsim” mentioned in the halacha since an
    “apikorus” as you know is someone who is highly educated in Torah and knowingly rebels against it whereas the vast majority of non-observant today are
    completely uneducated in Torah and don’t know what it is they don’t observe and don’t do what they do “l’hachis”.

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