Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Deceptions and Derechs

I just read Baruch's blog post on Deluded and Manipulative People

I concur with the general message and would just like to add my own perspective.

For myself I don't blame the kiruv system for me buying into OJ. Although it began during my first year of college when I was still very impressionable, it was my own fault for not being skeptical of what I was being taught. I remember a good friend even telling me "Why do you just accept everything they are telling you? You seem to agree with all of their opinions simply because of who the person is and not what he/she is saying. Why don't you think for yourself?" I brushed it off, but it left me feeling uncomfortable. I "reasoned" because they wouldn't say it if it wasn't true, they are trustworthy and well educated, if their claims were disproved by a reasonable source they would not have been telling me the opposite. Wouldn't it make them look like fools.

The problem was that I was the fool for not thinking for myself. My father always tried to instill that value in me and it wasn't until I became frum fried that I understood it. Part of my transition from theism is when I began to notive that certain people were trying or were manipulating me, both Jews and non Jews. It is such a disgusting feeling, being purposefully deceived. Although generally I understood it was possible and it happens, I just never thought it would happen to me by the people I trusted. I guess those are the only people that could ever deceive you, the ones you trust. Once I started to grow out of my boyhood perceptions and gullibility I started my path towards honest skepticism.

When people tell you something you should always question it. I had always been very gullible and for most of my life I was always very hesitant to put forth or even develop my own opinions on subjects. I would rather just rely on authorities. People who have researched the subjects in depth and have already created paths for others to follow. I think it is important for people to create their own paths, their own derechs, and not to follow someone elses path. It reminds me of the Franz Kafka story "Before the Law":
Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment." Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the fleas as well to help him and to change the doorkeeper's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man's disadvantage. "What do you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper; "you are insatiable." "Everyone strives to reach the Law," says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."
You must forge your way through, you have to make your own path and you can't expect others to guide you through your life. This is why I don't find the term Off the Derech in anyway offensive or demeaning. It is a good thing to be off the derech since every path is already paved by another who has been that way before. You shouldn't replace one derech with another one more palpable to you, you must make your own derech by going into uncharted territory.

I don't blame Chabad for my acceptance of its worldview, that is my own issue. It was up to me to be skeptical or not. In general I still don't think that most of the Rabbis I met were being deceptive either, just very ignorant for the same reason I was ignorant, a lack of healthy skepticism. There are those that deceive, are intellectually dishonest and are manipulative in order to impose their worldview on others. This should be condemned and combated, but there will always be people who will use evil tactics to deceive and manipulate people. This, however, does not relieve anyone from their obligation to use the mind they have to think for themselves.


  1. Your problem was a part of a general problem. Western society stopped providing answers or meaning. So it is natural you went to someplace which gave answers. There is nothing wrong with that. And you went to Torah and Talmud which is a good system. If the system needs correction or it was presented in a wrong way that is sad indeed. But still the Torah and the Talmud don’t make claims that are made in their name. the Torah does not say it was given at mount Sinai. The Talmud does not claim to be Divine. They tell a powerful story with a powerful message with a powerful ethical system. And the fact that you discovered the falseness of a particuliar chasidut is a good thing. But that does not really reflect on the Torah itself or the Talmud. And Kiruv is dishonest --fine. But still that does not detract from the system of Torah. It is not a perfect system but there is no perfect system. And in the long run the only way to evaluate any relious system is bein adam lecharo--any and every religion and i mean that word in the best possible sense is valuable and sacred on to the exact degree that it is connected with morality.

  2. I don't really have a problem with Chabad Chassidus all that much. I have some problems with the certain kiruv people and some of their tactics, but this applies to both Chabad and Aish, but that really has little to do with my lack of faith on the whole.

    Some of my major problems are ethical ones and put me at odds with the religion of Judaism itself. I have a problem with the Torah's condemnation of homosexual activity. I have a problem with the Torahs support of genocide against certain people. I have a problem with the Torahs concept that morality is determined by an omnipotent omnipresent eternal non changing being.

    It was the discovery of evidence that contradicted what I have been told, that as you rightly claim is never mentioned in the Torah. That the Torah provides an accurate historical record or that it claims to have been given at Sinai are simply not in the text. But once I began doubting after learning that there is considerable amount of evidence denying these previous claims, I began to doubt the Torah. I hold the Torah and Talmud to the same scrutiny I would hold to any other ancient document and I don't necessarily believe them to be any more accurate than the Rabbis I have spoken to on concepts of morality and ethics. In fact in general I happen to agree with the Chasidic reinterpretations of many of the morals in the Torah over the morals in the Torah.

  3. There's also the whole idea that God is benevolent and loving and thus deserves our prayers. That to me just completely contradicts the world I see. Nothing benevolent about it. If there is something out there, seems more likely to me that it's malicious.

  4. I would be more inclined to see G-d, if He existed, to be totally indifferent rather than malicious. If He exists, He simply does not care for his creations whatsoever.

    In a way it is even more vile than a malicious G-d, because at least a malicious G-d shows some sort of concern for what we do and involves Himself in the lives of his children.