Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Young Goodman Brown

In my wanderings on the web I seem to encounter a very disturbing phenomenon - Jews that seem outwardly Orthodox, but in the anonymity of the web reveal al sorts of un-Orthodox behavior.

I am not talking about people like the (no longer blogging) Godol Hador which are bringing up complex theological issues. No, I am talking about Orthodox Jews that seem to cheat on their spouses, break laws of Kashrut and Shabbos, and in general have lost their faith.

What bothers me the most about this is not their personal lapses, but the fact that in a free country, where they can openly choose to be whatever they like to be, they choose to be "crypto-sinners" and still identify as Orthodox. I understand that it is hard to break free of a way of life, leave a community, but it seems to me it is still better than living a lie.

Most importantly, my family has made many very difficult choices when we became observant. Am I bringing myself and my kids into a society where under a facade of piety, lies a foundation of falsehood. How many of the "frum" are secretly not?

This reminds me of a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that I read twenty years ago that really made an impression on me - "Young Goodman Brown". Am I Goodman Brown?


Blogger Sechel said...

It's not that Orthodox Jews are worse than others. It's just that when one of them is not good, it seems worse than when others are not good, because we (consciously or unconsciously) hold O Jews to a higher standard.

If you want to read some really hair-raising stuff about various famous "holy" men and women of various other faiths, see this link:


Like the author of that piece, and Hawthorne's Goodman Brown, I also came to that dismaying conclusion about the evil in men, even in our spiritual leaders. The fact is, we all have to walk a spiritual path ourselves, because no one can do it for us: no teacher, no guru, no rebbe.

November 15, 2005 8:09 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Thanks for your comment. My point wan't so much that OJs should be tzaddiks, but that people pretend to be something they are not. You don't want to keep kosher or Shabbos, join a Reform temple, take off the black hat.
Be honest with yourself.

That is my problem with these people.

November 15, 2005 8:23 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Sechel, how did you stumble upon the stripping the gurus link? Can this information be verified?

November 15, 2005 9:13 PM  
Blogger Sechel said...

I've been reading around the topic of transpersonal psychology. Some of the info from the book is generally well-known, like the goings-on past and present in the Catholic church, and in various cults. I've also seen lots of personal testimonials from former monks/cult members about various Hindu, Buddhist, etc. leaders.

By the way your gripe with OJ sounds just a little like our own prophetic tradition railing against the hypocrites amongst the priestly elite. This self-critical faculty is something that has historically been mostly unique to Judaism; only recently have we seen it in other faiths. In no other religion, even today, has self-criticism ever attained such central doctrinal status and respect--all other religions have either had no self-criticism, or have either killed or otherwise marginalized those who dared to criticise.

November 16, 2005 5:39 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Yes, I think the time of self-criticism you are referring to was a very long time ago. Unfortunately, in many ways the Orthodox community seems to have calcified in it's ability to critically self-examine.

November 16, 2005 9:27 PM  
Blogger Sechel said...

I'm sorry, but I don't think it's fair to generalize your experience like that. I've persoanlly seen plenty of self-criticism in the O community. Of course that doesn't apply to every O individual or institution, but pobody's nerfect, as they say. And in addition, nobody gets bashed by others as much as the O community. It gets tiresome.

PS see my comment on your post The King of Mediocrity.

November 17, 2005 5:42 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I did not mean to bash the Orthodox community. There are a lot of wonderful aspects to it - middos, community, etc...

As I mentioned in my post, I am about to become a part of one, and so part of this is just apprehension.

I agree that certainly on the web, there is a lot of self-examination and self-criticism. I don't know if this is due to the anonymity of the medium or if the same is true in interpersonal interactions.

November 17, 2005 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing is, the Orthodox Jews who do the wrong things, know that what they're doing isn't right. But just because they're failing in one mitvah (i.e. cheating on a spouse), that doesn't mean they think Judaism is wrong. They just have a really strong weakness in their personality. They aren't willing to give up on an Orthodox lifesyle--they reason, at least there are some things I can do right.

February 07, 2007 7:28 PM  

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