My Unorthodox 5781

The name Julia Haart evokes different reactions in our community – all negative. Haart is the Kardashian-wannabe-star of the Netflix series about walking out of the orthodox world to reinvent herself as a successful fashion designer who delights in her new-found freedom to publicly mock her previous life in a rigorously insular orthodox locality. (In fact, she never lived the insular life, but gripes about the restrictions practiced by some groups in Monsey, as if she suffered vicariously.) She dumped her husband (apparently a decent guy; she is still on good terms with him), and then went the full limit by marrying out. Maimonides, it seems, is the one part of the past for whom she retained some respect. The great 12th century halakhist and philosopher taught that when one is dissatisfied with some behavioral trait, you must treat it like a tree branch bent in the wrong direction. You have to bend it to the opposite extreme to succeed in getting to the middle point that is your goal. Haart applied that to the value placed on modesty in her previous life, and assiduously tries to go to the opposite extreme at every opportunity.

The worst of it is that she has turned with particular glee to not go it alone, but infect her four children with her values. More like demands, than caring maternal advice. She has succeeded in getting two of them to walk out of observance, and is working hard on the others, the youngest of which still lives and goes to school in her previous locale. She’s very big on pushing exploration of sexuality on her kids, and is encouraging one of her daughters to explore whether she might be a lesbian.

Many of our readers are sympathetic to the plight of those who are no longer observant. We’ve met people who carefully thought through the issues, and found that they could not accept the answers. We disagree with their conclusions, but respect them for their struggle. We’ve met others who suffered a variety of abuse, and are fully sympathetic to their plight, reserving our contempt for the family members, mentors and others who made them suffer, and those who knew and did nothing. Our hearts long for all of them to return.

Even we, however, can find little that we can like about Julia Haart, even though by Jewish thought we perhaps ought to. We find her to be narcissistic to the max; loathsome; narcissistic; arrogant; narcissistic; reckless as a parent; narcissistic; and contemptuous for turning on a community that nurtured her, and gave her much. And narcissistic.

What makes it harder to understand is that she made her move at the age of 43. The route she took is more understandable for someone in their twenties, with a lifetime of plans and ambitions ahead, and seemingly endless time to enjoy their fulfillment. Who thinks of life at 65 when they are twenty?

What was she thinking? Even an unpredictably meteoric rise to fame would – and did – take time. She is now over fifty. Just how many years did she think she could remain fabulous, before she became irrelevant? People reaching middle age at least begin to think of their mortality, of the shrinking of the time-road ahead of them. She’s on top of her game now. But how long will it last before the bubble bursts, and she tires of her new toys? The true joy that she witnessed – even from a distance in Monsey – of people in their last decades enjoying their children, grandchildren and beyond – are possible for her, but not a very good bet. She doesn’t seem to have the intellectual depth to be a serious atheist, so she will never shake off the doubts that she may have made a pact with the devil, trading her eternity for the ephemeral enjoyment of the moment.

But wait! Julia Haart is beginning to sound like every one of us. Don’t we all trade long-term happiness – and eternity – for the thrill of the moment? Our Sages instruct us to weigh the temporal reward of sin against the infinitely greater reward of avoiding it? Do we stop ourselves often enough to consider what we are trading for and against? Don’t we sell out on our principles, choosing profit and bling over substance? Do our decisions make more sense? Has she done us a favor by presenting to us a vivid caricature of ourselves, through which we can be shocked into making the changes we know we need?

We are all Julia Haart.

May all of us – including Julia Haart – merit a productive Elul, in which we can sense G-d reaching out to us to return. אני לדודי ודודי לי

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28 Responses

  1. Sid says:

    Rebbe..pure emes in time for Chodesh Elul.

  2. mb says:

    Oooh! Wasn’t expecting that conclusion.!Must admit I was getting a bit irritated, and then……
    Well done.
    Kativa v’chatima tova.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Reminds me of this (by John Lennon):

      “…He’s as blind as he can be
      Just sees what he wants to see
      Nowhere man, can you see me at all?

      Nowhere man, don’t worry
      Take your time, don’t hurry
      Leave it all
      ‘Til somebody else lends you a hand
      Doesn’t have a point of view
      Knows not where he’s going to
      Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”

  3. ‫חנה סיגל‬‎ says:

    Short, sharp, and to the point, without a drop of nastiness. It’s good to get something out of this train wreck besides “She’s bad”.

  4. joel i rich says:

    The true joy that she witnessed – even from a distance in Monsey – of people in their last decades enjoying their children, grandchildren and beyond – are possible for her, but not a very good bet
    If we are trying to understand “the other” we need to realize that their goals and definitions may be different than our own (e.g. “true joy”)

  5. D K says:

    Powerful Mussar. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Chava Rubin says:

      With all due respect , isn’t it leading others to the issur of histaklus by posting this photo of the 3 women here where men and boys can see it?

      • D K says:

        If this is true then you are 100% correct. My filter blocks all pictures of women and i didn’t see it.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Do you propose banning all photos of women in all Jewish publications and blogs?

  6. lacosta says:

    on the subject of going OTD not because of abuse but rather because of bechira–choosing easy and enticing , over hard and limiting– see last week’s Mishpacha mag -Guttentag’s commentary.

  7. Raymond says:

    This is just a side note to what I want to say, but the way the Rambam was invoked here to put Julia Haart’s suddenly immodest behavior into its proper context is absolutely hilarious. I am thinking that it is totally an inside joke reserved only for us Rambam Aficionados. LOL!

    I never heard of Julia Haart before reading the above, yet I think I understand where she is coming from. I think what is happening to her is the female equivalent of a male middle age crisis. When some of us men reach middle age, we look back on our lives with so much regret as we contemplate all of the joyful experiences that everybody else other than ourselves seems to have experienced, feeling so anxious and desperate to remedy that situation. Thus, for example, some wealthier middle aged men have the luxury of attracting much younger, attractive women to them. And that is what it sounds like Julia Haart is doing, except that she is a woman. Realizing on some level that her constrained life up to that point denied her so many of the more enticing pleasures in life, she now seeks to make up for lost time. Sadly, though, at least from the sound of it, this is also her downfall, as she is sewing the seeds of her own destruction. Perhaps the answer is a more moderate course in life, in which one follows the moral path in life, without sacrificing too many of its permissible pleasures.

    • Sam says:

      I hear your point but as someone who knew the family well, I can tell you that they did follow a moderate course in life. They were not right-wing chareidi. They were a normal, well balanced frum family. Torah centered. Did tremendous chessed. But were not fanatical. Depictions in Netflix otherwise are untrue.

  8. Yossi says:

    When my colleagues and I, all working in a kiruv organization, used to have a team meeting, and these type of issues-off the derech memoirs and other such things that freak our community out-would come up, one of my colleagues would say-“But wait, are we any different? We do the same thing!”

    And I would vehemently disagree, and argue that just as it is important to be honest and take responsibility for what you HAVE done wrong, it is equally important to be honest and NOT take responsibility for what you haven’t done wrong. (See Wokeness, Collective Guilt, White Fragility, Ibram X Kendi, Robin D’angele, וכו…)

    So, while I appreciate the mussar, I see it a little differently. We understand Julia Haart-she claims that she doesn’t subscribe to our way of life, and rejects it. For her, this all makes sense.

    But for us? We claim to believe it-so how can we talk in shul, not be modest in our dress and way of conduct, not be perfectly honest in business-how can we do that, if we really believe in our way of life?

    And so my punchline would be-We are all NOT Julia Haart-so how come we sometimes act like her?

  9. mycroft says:

    The true joy that she witnessed – even from a distance in Monsey – of people in their last decades enjoying their children, grandchildren and beyond – are possible for her, but not a very good bet

    None of us control the future-forget about grandchildren-it is in Gods hands the children and grandchildren that we will be blessed in. There are no guarantees-there were leading gedolim who never had children and a fortiori never had grandchildren. The reason to reject Ms Haarts approach is that we all believe is her approach not what God wants us to do. How God rewards and punishes us is beyond my pay grade.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    JH has a gift – for self-dramatization – today’s midda of choice. She is not expected to say or do anything particularly smart or moral. We should avoid any smidge of this in our own lives.

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent essay! Like it or not if you didn’t watch the Kardashians you won’t watch this (but It you might watch and really enjoy Shtisel which is a great portrayal of four generations of a Charedi family in Geulah which has wonderful scenery characters and authenticity and characters struggling with day to day life issues but not going OTD despite many challenges) but we can all learn and realize that we should never exchange the eternal for the ephemeral

    • mycroft says:

      I don’t watch much, but I watched Shtisel and I agree with you. In general that series shows the characters to be sympathetic and dealing with issues. It tries IMO to be realistic. Obviously, the actors are not personally religious but they play the parts so realistically it is amazing.
      The so called reality series that Rabbi Adlerstein is writing about is a false, nasty, attempted character assassination of frum Jews of all types

  12. David Farkas says:

    I don’t know Julia Hart, have never watched Netflix, and didn’t know she existed until recently.

    As it happens, my wife went to school with her in BY Monsey and remembers her well. Most prominent of her memories are Julia’s insatiable appetite for attention which was lavished upon her by caring faculty who strove to help her as she struggled with her natural gifts. She was talented and vivacious, but could never get enough attention, regardless of how hard they tried.

    She is hardly a figure I’d look to for any inspiration, negative, positive, or otherwise. She’s just, to my mind, a severely unwell person who should be pitied. Hopefully she’ll get ahold of herself and work out her issues. Even better would be if she did teshuva, as well.

    Either way, Elul or not, I believe that we’re way better than her. Do we act irrationally? Yes. Are we perfect? Far from it. But I don’t need JH to highlight that facet of my personality. It’s far simpler.

    • Raymond says:

      Well I for one do not believe for a moment that I am better than her. Each of us have our strengths and our weaknesses, and our own challenges to bear. Hers are more visible only because she is a public figure.

    • D K says:

      What a shame to waste a good inspirational article with a wave of the hand. Of course we are better than her, we didn’t go waaaay off like her, we didn’t create a tremendous Chillul Hashem like her, and we didn’t toss everything off by marrying out. However, the article is a push for ourselves to look into our actions, however small the wrong action we did might be, and see that we are acting with the same lack of clear vision as this lady. As you state, she always had an abnormal Yetzer Hara that was way harder than we have, but she used her Bechira to use it for bad. Us too. We have our talents and urges and we need to use it for Hashem instead of using it against him and for our own temporal pleasures.
      Don’t miss the opportunity for some good Chizuk for the coming days!

      • David Farkas says:

        Hardly dismissing it with a wave of the hand and I always welcome opportunities for chizuk.

        Thankfully there is no shortage of places from which to draw chizuk and I don’t need to resort to an attention-craving example of immoral behavior. There are so many positive examples of people to hold up to the spotlight and reflect upon that I see no reason to venture in this direction.

        As they say in the business, “Negative or positive, all attention is good for business.” JH is looking for attention. We’d be foolish to grant her her wish.

    • Ben Waxman says:

      I am simply amazed that the web site managers published this response.

  13. Yehuda Mintz says:

    kol hakavod!

    • nt says:

      There is a difference between failing in private, and acknowledging those failings, and sinning loudly and jubilantly, while jumping up and down on the pieces. By engaging in honest introspection, Rabbi Adlerstein shows he is lightyears beyond Julia Haart.

  14. dr. bill says:

    Perhaps a bit too Maimonidean, but we all live along a continuum in every dimension. We all crave attention and emphasize our uniqueness to a degree. Moving from the shevil ha-zahav is what we must prevent.

    Ironically, we all create a value system that informs us in which direction it is more dangerous to stray. Invariably, we hold those who stray in the direction we think of as worse as the one most in need of change. While that orientation is often true, we all need to strive for balance. Al te’hi tzaddik harbeh in either your opinion or that of others.

    may we all be zocheh to continual self-improvement, particular during the time when it is most possible

  15. Shades of Gray says:

    Turning inward, especially during Elul, is more productive than simply criticizing.

    Once, the Baal Shem Tov saw someone doing something forbidden on Shabbos, and he promptly concluded that he himself must have been guilty of a Shabbos violation which turned out to be that he had failed to defend the honor of a Torah scholar which the Zohar states has the sanctity of Shabbos.

    Rabbi AJ Twerski commented on this story in the Jewish Action: “We may assume that we are being given “signals” to call attention to defects of which we may be unaware, but there is also a psychological explanation. Many decades after the Baal Shem Tov, psychologists formulated the conception of “projection”; i.e., we are likely to project our own faults onto someone else… ”

    Dr. Twerski concludes in the article: “How wonderful the world would be if we followed the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, and did as he did; namely, when noticing a fault in others, direct our attention inwardly to discover where we can make changes that would lead to self-improvement.” (“Mirror Image”, Jewish Action, Spring 1996, available online).

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    Allison Josephs discussed “My Unorthodox Life” in a recent Jewish Press article linked below, “What We Can Do About The Ex-Charedi Crisis And Its Constant Media Focus.” She relates the three branches of the expanded “Jew in The City” to three aspects implicated in the OTD film phenomenon:

    1) “Keter” restores the Keter Shem Tov, good name, to the frum world, including by pushing back at the traditional media’s lack of nuance.

    2) “Project Makom” helps Charedi Jews with negative experiences find a positive place in Orthodoxy.

    3) “Tikun”, the newest branch, has been quietly taking the feedback of Makom members since 2015 and bringing it to leadership, to address systemic issues.

    In “The Secret Branch of Jew in the City That Is Addressing Communal Issues”, an article written this March linked below, Allison Josephs mentions that Tikun has a private discussion group of 75 “yeshivish kiruv rebbetzins” who have made improvements in communal issues such as halachic prenups and improving kallah class education. She writes that in a recent podcast interview with R. Efrem Goldberg, Mishpacha publisher Eli Paley said that it was the argument that Mrs. Josephs brought to him that convinced the magazine to make changes concerning women, which they have been doing ever since. Allison Josephs adds “there are more projects we can’t discuss publicly.”

    As R. Gil Student commented when linking this last article on his website: “this is how you get stuff done.” See link to both articles:

  17. Chava Rubin says:

    I don’t propose banning all photos of women. But I think this photo falls into a different category than some other ones do. This photo is a Hollywood inspired photo that in intentionally designed to be attracting.

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