Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What brought you to (or back to) Orthodox Judaism?

Unlike many people who have gone OTD, I didn't have a bad experience with OJ overall. There isn't a single event or group of events that pushed me out and made me seek an alternative. Rather, it all began with an overall disinterest in OJ in specific and Judaism in general. I felt that the minutiae of halacha was a huge pain and that following all these rules just didn't give me spiritual upliftment or any real meaning in life.

Over the years, my wife recognized this ambivalence towards OJ and told me to go seek out the answers I was looking for. Honestly, I wasn't really seeking answers because I just didn't care. Some people feel a spiritual void and need to look for meaning and God in their daily lives. Not me. I was happy going on living each day to its fullest, having fun with the family, succeeding at work, enjoying hanging out & doing stuff with my friends, and generally enjoying life.

Did God create the world or did it happen by chance? Did God create the world in a literal 6 days or did He set evolution in motion? Is the Torah literal? Does God care about my daily actions? What happens when we die?

Questions along these line are often the major questions that get people all revved up about God (or turned away when the answers are not sufficient). Yet, not a single one of them ever bothered me. I just didn't care. I always dealt with the facts on the ground that I am here now and I make the best of it. Does it really matter how the world started or where I go when I die? It wasn't until my wife pushed me to seek answers that I really began to think more about OJ theology, God, messianic redemption, Jewish law etc.

Given my situation, it can be very frustrating to be forced to lead a somewhat OJ life when I don't believe in it. Periodically, I have tried to speak to educational, rabbinic, and generally knowledgeable people about my issues with OJ. If someone could light that spark and make it meaningful, I am not opposed to getting back into it. If someone had plausible answers I could overlook some issues and make that leap of faith, but it just hasn't happened.

So i'd like to hear from any of my readers who where never religious & became OJ or perhaps from converts to OJ or people who were OJ then left and returned. Why, did you choose this life? Who or what made you look towards OJ as the answer to your life's void?


AG said...

I think the main motivation for me was jewish culture and jewish history.

I felt "being jewish" was something very exclusive, and I kind of wanted to be part of this "exclusive club".

Austrian Gioret

jewish philosopher said...

OJ is just the truth.

Rich Perkins said...

AG - You can be part of the club without being OJ and following all of the minutiae of halacha. what made you decide to be OJ?

JP - seriously, your act is getting old. Just because you think it is the truth, and even if it is, that doesn't make it necessarily appealing or make me care. If you could actually address my post it would be nice for a change.

Holy Hyrax said...

How do you define OJ?

Is it someone that keeps all the minutiaes? There is an enormous spectrum. Where do you draw the line?

Rich Perkins said...

HH - You are correct that defining OJ is important. I think I would describe an OJ person as one who
- believes in Hashem
- believes He created the world, gave us the torah, and cares about us individually.
- believes in Moshiach and olam haba
- keeps shabbat, kashrut, and generally upholds halacha. I don't base ones OJ-ness on every tiny little halacha that they do or do not keep.

Holy Hyrax said...

I will give you my answer.

A lot of it is exactly what AG said. And, I don't NEED to follow all the minutia at the same time while being part of that club. The spectrum of this club is quite broad. Being part of the OJ community as opposed to the RJ or CJ communities, I believe, has more of a connection to the past and able to preserve that club better

I would not consider myself OJ by your definition, but I do have reason to believe in a significant claim of Judaism, and that is enough for me.

AG said...

I had the impression that I had so much to catch up on.

Doing it without the minutea of halacha would have seemed unauthentic, not genuine to me.

But I have to add that the minutea of halacha have a strong attraction on me.

I suppose that there are types who are cut out to be "religious" and others not. And I think you should force neither of them: Don't force the "religious" type to be an atheist (as my family would like it), and don't force the "intellectual-critical" type to believe...

Upper West Side Mom said...

I am a BT and there are moments when I think "Yikes! what did I get myself into" but for the most part I am very happy to be an OJ.

I would like to point out that there was no void in my life before I became frum. I had a good life, job, friends ect...Becoming frum only added to my life because there was no void to fill.

I was initially attracted to the fact that there was such a strong sense of community and quite frankly I saw a closeness in families that does not generally exist in the secular world. I was also very impressed with the kids who I met (generally modern orthodox)

As I became part of the community and began to take on Mitzvot I found that they did in fact make my life richer. During those Yikes moments I find my way back by looking at things that have been changed by OJ in my life. Things like the kinds of children I have (in particular their values that have not been totally pierced by some of the emptyness secular culture) and in particular my marriage. In fact when I am feeling doubt things like Taharat HaMispacha and the genius of it always make me realize that this is the right path.

I believe that there are some things that have snuck their way into OJ over the years but that does not mean that everything is nonsense. I also believe that there has to be some truth in it because I do believe that the history of the Jewish people is unique and special (which is not to say that we are most special people or that if you are not an OJ or not Jewish you are worthless).

For me OJ is not an all or nothing thing. There is lots of gray in my life and that does not bother me at all. You need to stop thinking about this so much. Do what you can do and most importantly be honest with your wife. It sound like you need to have a very honest conversation with her.

Anonymous said...

I hate doing some things like havdalah particularly because I am stating between light(good) and darkness(evil) and comparing that to Jews(good) and Gentiles(evil). It feels like a betrayl to say that and work with good gentile colleagues during the week. But I say it and drink the grape juice, maybe I am wrong but I still believe in G-d so my choices are converting or being conservative/reform and I don't think they have any better answers

Anonymous said...

I am a BT, I think everyone, including myself has moments of doubt/questioning when they try to understand it all. It sounds to me though, that your focus is what issues can you come up with to support your ambivalent feelings towards OJ. There seems to be a more of a root cause/issue...something along the lines of 'Why Bother?' - You say you are quite content with your life as it was, and why should you be bothered to do all the things associated with OJ - they are difficult/cumbersome - and (my take on your situation maybe) and don't add any real value to your life other than making you look like you fit in with your neighbors. And I definitely understand your position. I guess for me, and my advice for you would be, is there something more to existence than your everyday life? You love your family - it sounds like you are dedicated to them, and your responsibilities there etc, and your friends and your day to day living...but is that all we are here for? I'm not minimizing any of that, I have 3 children under the age of 4, I am crazy busy with everyday life, and I get how one could become very content and/or wrapped up in that. I guess I just find it hard to believe that all of existence boils down to me trying to keep up with bathtime, bedtimes, and laundry. For whatever reason and however we got to this place, is this the ultimate goal or purpose for my being ,just to exist? Maybe this won't help you, but I always kind of looked at things in terms of this parable - a person stranded on an island for his entire life, knows nothing of the world outside of his small haven from the ocean, one day finds a watch washed up on the shore. Does he feel that it, like the coconut on the tree above just sprouted from someplace? Or does he see the intricateness of the watch and the precision invested in the object and understand that this must have been created by some one or something outside of his 'world'? If you truly believe that the complexity of our world and of the universe as a whole, and sum of its parts for us to exist (solar system, sun, atmoshphere, gravity etc.) is just random and could exist without a creator - that a watch can just pop into existence without an intelligence behind its construction, then maybe life is just as it is. However if the universe as we know it begs the question of how did it all get here - and how did I become a minute cog in the massive watch of the cosmos - then maybe with a creator at the helm there is a REASON I am here, and if so, that begs the question of why, and if there is a designer what is the purpose of his design. The watchmaker doesn't make the watch so that people can ask why its there or how was it made. He makes it with a purpose in mind from before the beginning of its creation. Up to you to decide if there was a purpose for you to be here, and see if maybe the ultimate watchmaker has a purpose in mind for you.

Lady-Light said...

I hope you don't mind my commenting, even though I don't fit your criteria (leaving OJ and returning, etc.).

I for some reason which I can't fully explain, always as a child wanted to be Orthodox. I think it had a lot to do with an ideal of a strong, loving, close family life, with loving parents and happy children, which I didn't much have in my life. But my happiest memories of my childhood were of rituals and zmirot, such as those of Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

These days, I continue to be Orthodox, even though I have many questions; I can't agree 100% with, say, Jewish Philosopher (who commented on your post), who says "OJ is just the truth." Truth is, I'm not sure what the truth is, exactly. But what I am sure of, is that the principles of Judaism such as kibud av va-em, ve-ahavta le-re'acha kamocha, and the concept of Shabbat being may'ayn olam habah, are beautiful ones. It's the ritual, done with love and gladness, which make life in our physical plane meaningful, holy, and yes--bearable.

It is the thought that there is G-d above us (figuratively speaking; we don't know for certain where He is, let alone if He is), that there is another world besides our physical one, which I strongly believe.

Basically, I choose to believe that G-d exists, that we have a prior existence in a metaphysical world, that we have a soul which lives on after our bodies return to dust. The Jewish model of G-d and life is the one I was born into, and--especially when compared with other religions--it is a good one which emphasizes kindness, and also life as opposed to emphasizing death; which has a past with some mysterious events, some of which seem otherworldly-inspired; a great book called the Torah, whose tenets and principles make life worth living.

(Why do my comments always turn into posts? Oy...)

Anonymous said...



richard said...

I WISH I HAD ALL THE ANSWERS, BUT I DONT, JESUS does.. and go to, and also myles or on
i know we are a kingdom citizens of heaven and were all brothers and sisters kings and queens, thats why! the LORD SAID HE IS KING OF KING AND LORD OF LORDS..AMEN
and i also know he sent the holy spirit to lead us. read Hebrews 8:8-13, we will know the truth with the HOLY SPIRIT living inside of our minds..amen

Terese Engling said...

I just came across your blog because it is the next over from mine. I have never floated the blogs. This is a very interesting conversation. My blog would identify with Jesus being the LORD as this person just wrote. I praise God that He gave us Jesus to do everything for us that is required in the law. We could never do it ourselves. The law was given to show us that we cannot keep it. I am new at blogging so I don't know how the get comments on my blog. But it is if anyone would like to read more about what God has said on how we attain salvation. Thanks for your blog.

RETA said...

I just found this blogspot today. It looks like I'm really late. I will be digging into the archives. Thanks for writing.