Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Angry (Ex-) Orthodox Jewish Blogger Phenomenon

My son Hillel pointed out something that I had just begun to sense a while back: there is a disproportionate number of Jewish bloggers who are or were Orthodox and who maintain blogs that express ongoing anger towards their Orthodox Jewish backgrounds or experiences. Some of these blogs have served the purpose of exposing child or domestic abuse or have taken on issues such as agunah, the "chained woman" whose husband refuses to grant a Jewish divorce. Others criticize religious extremism and closed-mindedness.

But others seem to be little more than venting of anger that could be more productively expressed in a therapist's office or a kickboxing class.

In the past few years, this phenomenon has crept into works of semi-fiction, as a few authors have worked off anger at their Orthodox upbringings through short stories and novels.

These various angry writers express, through words (a typically Jewish means of expression) what Eminem expresses through his music: rage against everyone who he believes wronged him along the way. Except unlike Eminem, for these bloggers and authors the complaints are not about poverty, domestic violence, or trailer parks. The allegations instead are that they were enrolled in yeshivot, made to sit out sports leagues on Shabbat and holidays, had non-Kosher food withheld and given guilt treatments about sex (which they somehow believe was unique to Judaism).
Whether the complaints of these writers are justified (and some are) or not, they've chosen to use their stories, books or blogs as spaces for catharsis, not simply expressing their anger, but making sure to keep their anger going, writing after writing. Now here's the thing: there are healthy and productive ways to express anger. But keeping the grudge going and fueling a lifetime of angry writings is more likely to lead to the more negative side of anger and the physiological symptoms that are often associated with ongoing anger and rage.

My suggestion for the angry (ex-) Orthodox is the following:
  • Develop a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. In the majority of cases, your upbringing and/or the time in an Orthodox Jewish world left you with a set of moral guidelines like: do not murder, do not steal, do not lie and the like. If you keep those and decide to chuck the tefillin or even Shabbat and Kashrut, you're still ahead of the game in leading a good life.

  • Recognize that every school has bad teachers and good teachers. I got a decent education in the modern Orthodox day school I attended. Even so, there was the female Israeli teacher who told the girls in her class that only prostitutes wear makeup and lipstick or the rabbi who seemed to have two standards: one for the wealthier students and another for the less wealthy. Think there aren't good and bad teachers in the best public or private schools? Guess again.

  • Understand that, as Mark Twain wrote, "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." School, yeshiva or otherwise, is the beginning of the search for knowledge, not the end. Think your teachers had a skewed view of the Jewish tradition? OK, do your own study and reading. Use the tools you gained and move forward to find the Judaism that you believe has greater intellectual or spiritual integrity.

  • If your parents instilled a little too much guilt, or if your family was dysfunctional, don't automatically ascribe that to Orthodox Judaism. Dysfunction and poor parenting exist all over. At some point, it's time to grow up and take responsibility for your own happiness. Your readers eventually will tell you that.

Basically, I would recommend to my angry compatriots to follow the advice that I've seen written in countless Jewish exercise classes: Stop kvetching and start stretching. Stretch by getting in the game with the rest of us -- search for the truth you want to guide your lives and the message you want to convey to your readers. And instead of trying to inspire others to join in your anger, come join the rest of (Jewish) humanity in the age-old journey. And use the gifts you have to build and to encourage others to build.




7 comments:

Anonymous said...

yo.u go R.A.V

Betty Ann said...

You are so right - my kids are mad at me and they didn't grow up Orthodox!!

Aliza said...

I know just what you mean - anger does no one any good unless you DO something about it - or get over it. Unless you WANT ulcers, that is.

Anonymous said...

Your whole post is condescending. You're a typical frum moron, that's all I'll say.

Anonymous said...

His post is somewhat condescending and wrongheaded, but to be fair, he's not a "typical frum moron." That was a very rude and unpleasant thing to say for a number of reasons.

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of some good teachers and some bad teachers. The school milieu itself is going to embody a philosophy. So it could be that ALL the teachers say that only prostitutes wear makeup, and that you are not allowed to touch your private parts, or look at your wife's private parts, and that non-Jews are on a lower level than us and their lives are less valuable, and that people who commit felonies should be protected and glorified.

Your post is like the people who, in the days before the Civil War, talked about how slavery really wasn't all that bad, because a lot of masters were kind to their slaves (which is true, many were!). In other words, there are fundamental problems with some situations that are not able to be dismissed by saying, "Well everyone has to deal with some negative stuff."

Anonymous said...

Agan, it is like telling a woman whose husband consistently puts her down and otherwise verbally abuses her, "Every marriage has difficulties. Sometimes my husband snaps and me."