Friday, August 6, 2010

A small big announcement

So I've been debating writing this post, for four reasons. Firstly, I don't think many people really care about what I think and well they shouldn't; people should be skeptical and look into facts for themselves. Secondly, I actually have something personal riding on keeping up the lie of omission. Thirdly, I'm not sure it's going to make anything in the world better. Fourthly, some people will wish to debate/defame me because of the thoughts expressed herein.

But if there's one thing I believe in (at least theoretically), it's honesty. I love having discussions and debates with people; I think they're often enlightening and when they're not, they often add some spice to life. But I can't knowingly try to mislead people to believe my position is something it isn't. I dunno, it's not in my heart. So I'm going to make my position clear:

I'm not frum anymore. Quite simply, after years of thinking and rethinking everything, I'm just not convinced anymore. Yeah, it's pretty cool that the Jews have been around for so long and after being thrown out of every country in Europe managed to survive with the customs, etc. It's awesome that we have rishonim who were able to cut through the narishkeit and explain the Torah (at least partially) in line with the Aristotelian thought of their day. But we've got a Bible criticism that seems to work pretty well (yes we do), an ancient universe (yes we do), gedolim who write things which are at their core untrue [for example, the silly quote from an Agudah speech from R' Feldman reprinted in Eye of the Storm: "Zionism as an ideal is [sic] dead, and even religious Zionism is in the process of falling apart. Israel has become a spiritual wasteland. Ben Gurion said that Israel would become a 'light unto the nations,' but instead (according to a front-page report in the New York Times) Israel is the world’s greatest exporter of prostitution.] because the ideal of truth apparently doesn't penetrate such individuals.

So you'll say, "Yeah, but who's R' Feldman? I'm MO and I don't care what he thinks." That's what I was thinking too. But as I was writing a lengthy review of his crazy book which is just chock-full of narishkeit, I was thinking: hey, I don't think I'm much different. I believe in this invisible force (well, his book makes him sound physical, but medieval interpreters say he isn't) which doesn't really make much sense but gave us a book telling us to do a bunch of things and placed it in the language of the times and used messianic language referring to the countries of the times (which died out). And because he loves us and considers everybody else to have a less important mission, he made us the most despised people in the world and even made a special nation which despises us. He also gave us a lot of stuff to do which doesn't really make much sense but hey, it keeps us in the inside group.

So all of this, I'm sure, can be justified somehow. But after looking into tons of such justifications and seeing how many (although certainly not all) are completely refuted narishkeit, I don't think any such justifications can obligate me to believe in something which I've just lost faith in.

This has all been a long time coming, but my reading of R' Feldman's book brought it home. I finally made my decision. I'm cashing in the chips. No, Virginia, I am not compelled to believe in the truth-claims made by the Torah.

So I'm an agnostic. I joined JREF this morning. Still fascinated by Jews and Jewish history, so I'm still going to aspire to become a professor of Judaic studies, but I'm done with the torah.

*Random disclaimer/rant: Don't get me wrong. I've made silly statements and sloppy errors in blog comments. I made a litany of them in a recent argument with R' Menken about R' Feldman's book. But the difference is that I generally go and admit them. Oh, and I'm a 23 year old punk kid who doesn't consider himself particularly intelligent... More should be expected from a respected spiritual leadership. (FTR, for those who may look up our comment correspondence on CC, R' Menken deleted my last responses to him). I've asked R' Menken several times to retract his assertion in a comment that the gedolim chose to never seat the Rav among them and he's written to me that he thinks that the fact that that isn't true isn't so relevant to the point he made in that comment; you know, the point that the gedolim didn't consider the Rav gadol-enough to be in the Moetzes (I don't know if that's the point he meant to make, but it is the point he made). I asked R' Rosenblum almost immediately to retract his false claim regarding the evil British socialist government not giving out artery stents to people over a certain age; he didn't retract because he apparently doesn't like to correct mistatements. So people may say, "Yeah, but Pelta, you've said/written stupid stuff in the past too! I can't trust you either!" Like I wrote above, that's fine. Please, don't trust me. Please, be skeptical of everybody and everything; whatever you do, don't be mevatel daas to your family, friends, rabbis, et al.


  1. Welcome to the club! I knew that hanging around me would rub off, as it has on so many people regarding so many things. It took me some time to come to the same conclusions you have for the most part. I still believe in God, plan to date and marry Jewish and keep some traditions like Shabbat and Kashrut (partially for the in-group benefit, partially because I like Shabbat), but the full-on and unquestioned divinity of the Torah has been in the trash bin for some time now I guess I'm just persuasive that way. Agnostic is the most rational choice btw, Atheism and God both require belief, but I chose to make the belief choice with no strong evidence for or against. Feel free to call me up & talk.

  2. Oh, and by the way, I knew you going heretic was coming Pelta, I just didn't know it would hit so soon.

  3. Fair enough. Basically, this is why I'm happy my Jewish education wasn't haredi.

    My question is: what keeps you fascinated in the Jews? I feel like if I went down your road, I'd lose interest.

    Also, maybe I don't know somthing, but what about being frum precluded joining JREF before? I know he isn't exactly frum himself, but is the organization itself particlarly "anti"?

  4. Sorry to hear it - too bad that some folks you read can't admit that there is doubt in the world, that intellectual honesty is a higher value than winning and that their beliefs are not a slam dunk. Anyway, what higher probability explanation gets you through the night (or as you said "makes sense")?
    Joel Rich

  5. Daniel, I've long been fascinated by the Jews...I haven't put my finger on why exactly...

    Hypothetically, I prolly could've joined JREF before but it's a generally pro-rationalist organization and I don't view the divine as a rationalist concept.

    Joel, nothing gets me through the night. I've converted to "I-don't-know-ism" (I think Bill Maher may have coined that term). I try to shoot for long-term success and a certain degree of self-actualization. So far, that's been tilting at windmills, rather depressing, but I hope to someday succeed to develop and become a more integrated, healthy personality.

  6. Sorry to hear it, too... "So I'm an agnostic." Here's hoping that your inner conflicts resolve.

  7. Baruch, be yourself and happy with everything that entails. Don't let the naysayers convince you to go running back to the "in-group." I-don't-know-ism is better than I-know-better-than-you-because-my-rabbi-said-so-and-if-you-disagree-then-you're-Amaleik-ism, and frankly, I think everyone should have some degree of I-don't-know-ism in them.

    I adopted a philosophy in the early days of my frumkeit that every person connects with HaShem in different ways, and thus, each of us has to find our own mode of connection (I use the term "connection" broadly, speaking not simply to Mitzvot, study, etc., but also belief and general practice). It took a very long time for me to admit my own hypocrisy by refusing to take that approach as my feelings toward the frum world changed.

    I'm not sorry to hear anything. I'm happy to hear you're being true to yourself, your beliefs and your current position in life. Keep looking; I'm sure you'll figure everything out. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

  8. Baruch, your post is unclear. Do you mean that you are not keeping mitzvot anymore, or just that you don't believe in Jewish theology?