Thursday, August 8, 2013

The "off the derech crisis"

Today, Harry Maryles wrote about the "off the derech" phenomenon, which many have labeled a "crisis".

Harry makes some good and compassionate suggestions, such as families remaining accepting of their children, no matter the path they choose.

I'd like to look at this from another perspective, with just a few short points:

  • Who says that Orthodoxy is the right path for everyone? Even if you believe it contains ultimate truth, one-size-fits-all is a very doubtful proposition when it comes to religion.

  • Young, autonomous individuals should have the right to make their own choices, and those choices should be respected, not seen as mistakes that should only be tolerated in the name of compassion and family harmony.

  • Here is my biggest point: by declaring an "OTD phenomenon", Orthodoxy lumps all young people who have left that sect into one group. It lumps someone like Abandoning Eden, a blogger who is a successful academic and has a happy marriage, into the same pool as young yeshiva dropouts who may be on drugs and have no jobs, no marketable skills, and sometimes, nowhere to live. Not only is this disrespectful of the Abandoning Eden types, but far worse, it treats the very real problems of the young dropouts as symptoms of their having left Orthodoxy. And their real problems, which need solutions like rehab, job training, and support sytems, get ignored.

    Until we look at young people with such problems as individuals, we won't be able to help those who actually need help.

1 comment:

  1. From a discussion of this post on Facebook, I wrote:

    The slippery slope argument is always a tricky one, and there's never an easy answer. Everyone draws the line somewhere. As you & I have discussed before, we definitely draw the line in different places, though I obviously leave J4J on the other side. Still, my point was not about arguing that most frum Jews should accept heterodox movements as valid expressions of faith. I don't expect them to, even if I do myself. My point here was just about recognizing that Orthodoxy may not be right, psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually for some people. Even if frum Jews believe Orthodoxy is the only true Jewish path, and that ideally, all Jews would be on that path, I think it would still be beneficial to recognize that not everyone fits that mold.

    You'll notice that I specifically avoided the "valid expressions of faith" argument in this post, because that was not the argument I was making. And I don't disagree with you on the "agree to disagree" attitude. I have never argued that all frum Jews should recognize heterodox movements as valid expressions of Judaism. I do recognize them as such, but that's my own philosophy. I only argue for tolerance. Cultural relativism doesn't demand agreement, just comprehension where that cultural divide is coming from.

    I also feel that you can disagree with the path someone else has taken, but not infantilize them by assuming that they are just misled (as I see many frum Jews doing). A huge step to a rapprochement with young Jews who've made other choices is not to assume that they have just been turned from the true path because they are immature or have been brainwashed. You can respect that they made choices as autonomous individuals even if you wish they had made a different choice.