Thursday, July 07, 2005

Going Down A Dark Path

On a personal note, this China trip has been a good distraction from the experience I had before I left the U.S. and I am glad I got a chance to get away and to clear my mind. It is important in a person’s life from time to time to be able to step back and re-evaluate one’s morals, life goals, and values. I’ve moved in a direction I am not fully comfortable with because it entails dropping a lot of the dogmatic junk I have picked up along the way, yet it has also caused me to feel a bit disillusioned with regard to the lifestyle I was planning on living. Part of me feels that I was freed from what has turned for me into a psychological religious trap, and yet another part of me is saddened because I feel like I have woken up from a long dream and an idealist view of life. Again, another model has been shattered and again I am back where I started, yet I have been affected, changed, and matured by the experience.

My rabbi will be saddened to read this, and my parents and my friends will be jumping for joy. I don’t know if I want to be 100% anymore. I was never at that point anyway. I feel like I have been living in a world of restriction and constriction for some form of methodology to aspire to higher purpose that comes with a lifestyle I am not sure I buy into. I think I would rather be an observant modern orthodox Jew rather than an aspiring baal teshuva Chassidic Jew. Of course, nothing major is going to change for the worse except that I am considering [considering, not planning] no longer being so strict on the little stuff, such as shaking hands, clubbing, touching, movies, bars, and dating. In my heart however, this stuff is not so little. If I actually did this, it would be a shame and I would feel grief for a long time for sinking so low from where I was in my faith.

The thought on my mind is that I had a deal with G-d before my last shidduch that if this one didn’t work out, I would no longer refrain from dancing and being shomer negiah. Of course this doesn’t mean I will be hooking up with women or being intimate or sexual in any way, chos v’sholom. I have decided to save myself for my wife for almost five years now, and I am not about to go ruin that trend. It would not be fair to either of us. Abstaining is a worthy cause, especially if I want to develop the kind of close relationship with my wife that one should want to.

However, even after that shidduch didn’t work out, I came to China, the home of prostitutes, clubbing, karaoke, and who knows what else. Yet even here, I have abstained from anything that could compromise my integrity. My friends have been telling me that nobody would ever know, and even Rashi says that if you are going to do something wrong, go to a place like China where there are no Jews and sin there; of course this is clearly out of context, but pardon the application to this situation. The truth is, however, that I would know and so would G-d and my future wife. I value my authenticity, and along with that comes what I call “cold-hard honesty at any cost.” So while I could have done any sin with any woman, and while my Chinese skills are good enough to do it now and the coming week, I have abstained and I have decided to continue abstaining because I feel that it is the right thing to do.

What changes are to come are still unknown to me, and they will cause grief to a lot of people. The question is one about authenticity. At what cost does one sacrifice authentic expression to fit into a mold set by an external force? The problem is that I have developed so much distain and disrespect for people who pick and choose their religious observances and so they hold by some things and not by others; I would never want to be one of these people. Rather, if I were to digress, I would sin and I would know I was sinning. I would know that one day I would pay the price when I left my body and came to stand in front of the almighty G-d who would judge me for my actions. However, I would not delude myself into thinking that what I was doing was okay. I would be evil and I would know it.

There were two reasons I became religious, both of which were not being satisfied by my becoming religious. Firstly, I wanted to understand the nature of the world so that I could understand the cloud phenomena and the connection people have with nature; so to speak, I wanted to learn to do magic and I thought that by learning Kabbalah that I would acquire this skill as if it were a muscle to be flexed. I wanted flame to come out of my eyes when I spoke words of Torah. Secondly, I wanted to secure my future by avoiding the disaster of a relationship my mother had with my father. I felt that only by going in the opposite extreme can one have a good family. However, by reading about all these trapped Jews who can not get out of the lifestyle they have built, I don’t want to do that to myself. I know I never will want to live a life where movies and all secular influences are gone; I would feel that this would be a wasted life, even though it would be closer to a life of truth. However, what I am describing is called frying out, or going off the derech.

I am sad that when I called my rabbi, it didn’t sound like they had anything prepared when it came to shidduchim. I am heartbroken and disappointed by this because I had sincerely hoped that I would take a step back and reevaluate my values and I would come back to the US, I would meet someone, I would get married, and all this would distract me from the garbage fake secularism that has filled my head since my experience where I was misinformed by my rabbi that a Chassidic Jew does not wear color.

I am so angry for being misled, even though he was trying to keep me away from the influences that will most certainly infect my mind now that I don’t look so different from anyone else with my colored shirts. If you know me, as my rabbi should have known better, the ONE thing that one should NEVER violate is my trust. In my eyes, he lied to me by neglecting to tell me the whole story the many times that I asked him about wearing colored clothing, and even though he technically told me that there is “halachically” nothing wrong with wearing color, he led me to come to my own conclusion that there is something very wrong and non-chassidish about wearing anything other than the black-and-white penguin suit which Chassidic Jews typically don.

Naturally, I objectively have the knowledge that with anything that involves anger, my mind is poisoned from my anger and I have been influenced and led astray in my heart from the applicability of Chassidic observances to my life above basic halacha (Jewish law). But in my ill-minded state, I am so sick in my head that I am even willing to break halacha in the face of G-d himself, unashamed and unabashed by loosening up on my strict observances of touch and dance and by making the decision not to actively work on ceasing the viewing and active participation of movies, shows, and opera. For this I blame G-d and I blame myself for being so weak minded that I didn’t see the truth.


Rowan said...

I want to reassure you and congratulate you on your liberation. I also want to express understanding on your feelings of your personal relationship with God, and how you know that you are betraying your faith, whether anyone else does. I hesitate to say anything, because I'm aware that a part of you is writing this in angst and frustration. I still feel "bad" if I do something that I know my religion recites is wrong (dancing, smoking, drinking, premarital sex...) So, you'd probably ask what is wrong with me to do some of those things anyway? I cannot answer it. That is why I don't know what to say in order for you to not think of me as a hypocrite. I value your self worth and the worthiness of your future wife. 5 years is a long time, and hopefully without looking too far ahead, you can continue this. I imagine it is hard, especially since you hinted towards the fact that you weren't always ...... how do I politely put this....hmmmm....errr.....quite so restricted in your liberty with women? Is that fair?

Aside from religious veiwpoint, I think that dating women would be a good idea. I don't know about clubbing; to this day I am still weary of such places and the type of people that populate them, but if this would make you feel good, then I think do it. I don't see the harm in fact if you were to casually date, meaning set up your own shiddich's in effect. You don't need to take these people to bed with you, and many women are happy enough to not be touched for the first while. If you could over the course of a few dates with someone you are interested in portray your greatness *we know you are* and your religion, you just might win someone over and not have to compromise your faith so much.

I don't know what I am saying, hopefuly I've given you something to think about. I would love to see you happy. I think you deserve some kind of female companionship, platonic or otherwise. I hear it in your words.

Anonymous said...

First, religion is not a joke. Either G-d laid down certain rules or He didn't. Being upset at Him doesn't give you license to do as you wish.

Second, modern orthodoxy does not allow touching women. Some modern orthodox Jews do, indeed, touch, but modern orthodoxy as a philosophy does not condone the behavior.

Third, the idea of being
"authentic" is, frankly, hogwash. If people were truly authentic, most of them would be killing each other (as "Lord of the Flies," "Heart of Darkness," and other books and thinkers posit). Manners, clothing, etc. are all inauthentic.

One of the main themes of Judaism is taking the "authentic" and uplifting and ennobling it. Judaism does not deny any natural impulses; it merely channels and restricts them, thereby taking "authentic," animalistic desires and converting them into holy and noble drives.

I am not without my own desires and temptations, and to be honest, I've done pretty poory lately (in my own estimation, anyway). However, I cannot believe that living "authentcally" is a better or more fulfilling life (besides for the fact that, as a believing Jew, I have no choice). For you, being authentic might mean touching women. For others, it means Woodstock, and for others it means murder.

Going back to my first point, ideally, one shouldn't be religious for ulterior motives (like understanding clouds or raising a nice family). The basis for religion is an historical occurence three thousand years ago. If G-d did not speak at that time then anything goes. But if He did, one has to follow the rules lock, stock, and barrel and rely on Him that He knows best. (And according to many people, living such a life is, ultimately, more fulfilling.)

I'm sorry if I rambled.

Zoe Strickman said...

Wow, two VERY GOOD and thoughtful comments. Rowan and Anonymous, I thank you both because I agree in parts with each of what you both have said. I will try to respond to both of you within the same response without cheapening the value of your individual contributions.

As for the fear of me seeing you as hypocritical, keep in mind that I am not judging you; rather, I am appreciating and reading your writings as advice to help deal me with the situation at hand.

As for the religious input, I feel that what both of you have said would or could have been said -WORD-FOR-WORD- by my mouth at different times of my life. While I think that Anonymous, you are correct objectively and in truth, namely that if there was a G-dly revelation at Mount Sinai, then we have an OBLIGATION to be a certain way, and that's it -- no if's, and's, or butts. Literally.

Emotionally, Rowan, I am feeling more inclined towards your opinion. Of course you're right in setting limits, and maybe holding off from any intimacy including abstinance from any intimate contact -- the path I've taken so far -- is the correct and moral path.

However, perhaps I should be looking into other sources for shidduchim because I am not finding what I am looking for in the Lubavich community I am associated with. I would also stretch this point and consder actual dating from a site like or (frumster uses an intermediary shidduch system), however, I feel that even this might be secularizing too much which would lead me down a road I don't want to go. After all, truth is truth, and if religion is true, then while it is not logically fulfilling, I can only hope there would be some sense of reward built into the system since there is definitely divine punishment build in.

Anonymous, as for your comment, maybe you are right that in my discussions and temptations to deviate, I would be going too far by touching. But then how would two people ballroom dance? Perhaps there is room for touching socially and reserving ALL intimate contact, including hugs and kisses exclusively for my wife when I meet her. This is the middle road which emotionally sounds most attractive and logical. SAYING THIS, I FULLY UNDERSTAND THAT IT WOULD BE AGAINST HALACHA AND THAT I WOULD BE A NASTY SINNER if I engaged in this non-intimate social contact I am discussing.

By no means would I deny that I would be a sinner if I broke away from the strict observances I have learned to follow. Any kind of touch, whether handshake, dance, or otherwise would be against halacha, as would visiting an opera because of kol isha (not being allowed to hear the voice of a woman). I would clearly be sinning and I would know that on some level I will be suffering because of my decision. Again, I have made no decisions on this matter and still am frum; I am just asking questions. The point is that I would still be authentic if I knew I was sinning. I wouldn't be living a life of truth if I did engage in these activities I am discussing; however, I wouldn't lie to myself and say they are okay or permitted if I engaged in these activities.

Johnny Come Lately said...

Zoe! Great blog! Linked here far away in some other Blogland (is there even a concept of distance in cyberspace?)... First of all, you should know that you are not alone in this mess. I don't think it's constructive though to blame your negative (?) shidduch life on "the system". I like to compare it to theories on creation (one day=a million days, each day=another stage of evolution etc etc etc). The whole concept of creation is so completely impossible and enormous, that any way you explain it-no matter how logical- it still makes absolutely no sense to me. Same thing with marriage. Connect the dots. There's millions of Jewish girls- which is your match? My whole point in this prolonged ramble is that if G-d manages to create the world, He'll manage in getting you the right girl. Maybe repeat that as a mantra every morning. (yoga position optional.) Doesn't is say in the Midrash that G-d uses his "spare time" to make shidduchim? (and that it's more difficult then creation itself? ohh... sorry to mention that...:-] )
Anyways, I'm somewhat in the same boat (though I was raised frum, chabad)- we're all making an effort together, so please, for our sake- stay strong amigo! (and China? fun! Watch "Hero".)

Zoe Strickman said...

Johnny CL, repeating your point as I understood it, 1) don't throw out the system because of a few bad dates, because the right one will come along because G-d himself is working on it on my behalf, and 2), if G-d is so powerful that he created the world (and that he recreates it at every moment), then he'll be able to arrange a shidduch for me.

Would it spook you if I told you that in my heart I fear that due to my recent doubting these past few months and due to my intermittant lapses in daily obligations, I fear that I no longer merit G-d's attention in getting a good shidduch? I've been feeling a bit alone lately and adhering to my daily prayer and study has been lacking. Between you and me, that is probably the source of my disconnection which has filtered and spread into other parts of my life. I will remedy this today.

Johnny Come Lately said...

Your spooky arguement smells strongly of the dark side...
1st, you are leaving out an important component: her. She's gotta get married too, you know.
2nd, you really think G-d is out to ruin your life (yes, marriage/family is the most "life" we're ever gonna get) because you are lax and doubtful? Would your father stop feeding you because you gambled (por exemplar)? There certainly are better arguements to your desperate statement, but, ehhh... I don't know them. What I do know is that ""v'atzar es hashamayim v'lo y'hi'yeh matar" cannot possibly apply to your life. Enough with the doom-saying!
Tachlis. Perhaps things would be easier for you if you were in a Jewish community with a minyan, shiur and...Americans??? (ok ok, I really don't idealize my country folk- just can't be that many Jews in China...)
Whatever. It's a shame that our brightest and most talented (yes that is a compliment) are so drawn to the 'other side'... See? Starwars is realistic! (If I hear "ew! sci-fi!" again...)

Anonymous said...

You accept what you hear from other people too much. If you don't wish to go to the opera and shake a woman's hands, fine. However, know that many rabbis think it fine to shake a woman's hand if she extends hers first since the touching is not derech chiba and she will be embarassed if you leave her hand hanging. Also, room can be found to go to the opera since you can't really see the women clearly and since according to some, the problem is not thinking a bad thought but committing a bad deed, which is nearly impossible to do with a stage star. (The permission for handshaking is, I belive, on much firmer ground.)

Don't just trust whatever people tell you. Read a bit too.

(Somewhat connected is you learning Rambam, Tanya, etc. every day. While doing so is very admirable and, I'm sure, meaningful, I hope you are aware that learning that much every day is not a requirement. Meaning, if you feel overwhelmed, scale back a little bit.)

Anyways, good luck in whatever you do. I understand your desires and you rightly said that even if you give in and start dancing, you'll know that you're doing wrong, which is the main thing I guess, keeping focus. Just from my own (albeit, limited and different) experiences, though, I don't think doing wrong will bring you greater happiness.

I'm sorry again for rambling and good luck.

JMO (I was anonymous my last comment. I'm sorry for forgetting to sign my name.)

Rowan said...

Zoe: "The point is that I would still be authentic if I knew I was sinning. I wouldn't be living a life of truth if I did engage in these activities I am discussing; however, I wouldn't lie to myself and say they are okay or permitted if I engaged in these activities. "

This is exactly what I was hoping to convey. :o)