Anyone Who Leaves Orthodoxy Must be Mentally Ill, Hedonistic, or Both

I have heard this song before.  I know I will hear it again.  My personal belief is that this tune applies mainly to women who go off the derech, but maybe it’s just that I’ve been more familiar with women leaving the fold than men.  The song goes something like this –

There’s a pretty young mother who lives down the street,

Always a smile and kind word for each soul she meets.

She wears her skirts, her long sleeved shirts, her hair is never shown,

She scrubs away the live long day and keeps a kosher home.

She works each day, for half the pay, at the bais yaakov teaching Ivrit,

The problem is the life she lives, no longer seems as sweet.

Her kids are needy, the neighbors are greedy, the bills are all left unpaid,

Her husband grumbles, she answers in mumbles, there are always papers to grade.

If only she could leave this life for awhile, take a break from this daily routine,

She might get relief, a hard-won reprieve, if she nurtures this secret new dream.

In the parking lot behind a white van, she begins changing clothes each day,

Switching into white shoes and a colorful pink skirt, and best of all, a ponytail to sway.

She sees neighborhoods outside of her own and people she doesn’t recognize,

She wonders if someone will see her out here, and if what she is doing is wise?

She can’t go back, she can’t stay here, she is lost in a merry go round of pain,

The faster she spins, the dizzier she feels, until her thoughts explode inside her brain.

Her husband is shocked, her children are scared, where will Mommy go?

Mommy will be but a train ride away, and the kids can stay 4 days a week, no?

The rabbis come over, they pound on the door, they call on the phone night and day.

Her husband must put his foot down!  A bayis neeman b’yisroel is not something to throw away!

We have therapists, mashpias, and ravs who will solve this problem lickety split!

If your wife won’t see reason we will start with the threats, and that will stop her plans real quick!

She’s made her decision, we can’t change her mind?  Let the lawyers hash it out then!

She’ll be lucky to see her kids every few years after she deals with our hired men!

Those small holy neshamas cannot be exposed to a crazed banshee such as she!

Our very own doctors have declared her unfit to parent or be part of civil society!

Leave her to her illness, her orgies, her disgrace.  Think of your mother no more.

We are sorry to say, but the evidence is clear, that your mother has become a whore.

I read a comment on a tribute to Deb Tambor that was so reminiscent of the labelling and slandering I have heard before to describe OTD (off the derech) parents, that it really made me sick.

“Am Yisroel Chai

What could’ve been avoided was, thank G-d, avoided, namely the inevitable future homicide of the spiritual, mental and possibly physical being of her children, by the decisions she made and the actions she took, if only she’d gotten custody.

Thankfully, the courts backed by mental practitioners have increasingly been able to see through the thin veil of the so-called benefits of allowing the deviating parent shared custody, and recognized the great harm caused to their young minds by having to cope with the trauma of contrasting life cultures and contradictory messages in their most vulnerable years, let alone when they’re very often also used as a stick against their former communities and spouse.

I don’t wish the pain and agony of a parent loosing custody on anyone, regardless of their choice of faith, but let it be very clear – especially to anyone still contemplating leaving their current (if outwardly) affiliation – you are entitled to live your life as you wish so long as you don’t mess up your child’s life in the process. (Mind you, children from divorced parents where religion does not come into play, have their share of trauma as is, yet when religion is a factor the trauma is amplified and multiplied by factors of tens.) Do not expect the world to see the glee and glamor that you envision, as promising and worth the risk as you think. You will be taking your chances knowing fully in advance that your prior children are not to be dragged through the turmoil of the journey that you choose to embark on. Expect and be ready to go without them.

And, should this tragic episode bring awareness to any potential OTD parents (or a solo BT parent, for that matter) contemplating their choices and thus help avoid any potential trauma due to child-custody battles by knowing what to expect and making the choices accordingly; then surely it will be a big zchus for the ailing neshama of this unfortunate Deb Tambor.”

The pompous words of this commenter only illustrate the kind of cruelty that someone like Deb Tambor had to endure on a daily basis.  The kind of words and attitude that likely drove her to an early grave.  The only person whose “spiritual, mental and possibly physical being” was threatened was Deb Tambor’s.  To label her as someone who would murder her own children, when she herself was essentially murdered by the vitriol of her former community is despicable.

A while ago someone was mentioning a divorcee she knew.  She was lamenting this poor woman’s fate to have been married to a crazy man, and now having to deal with him as a co-parent to her children for the rest of their lives.  I happened to know the ex husband in question, and that his ex wife drove him into his craziness by bad mouthing him all over the community, and having prominent people threaten and pressure him until he had to give up the majority of custody of his children.  I have known this guy since he was a teenager, and he was never crazy until she came into his life.

Perhaps I have said too much, and perhaps I haven’t said enough.  However, I think it’s interesting that a common opinion within the orthodox community about people going off the derech is that they are all mentally ill, potentially dangerous to others, and seeking a life of wild and unabandoned pleasure (which will surely come back to burn them).  The above commenter Am Yisroel Chai touched upon all of these points.  Part of me wonders if there is an underlying sense of jealously in some of these particularly judgmental types.  It almost sounds as if they are trying to convince themselves of the folly of submitting to the horrors and forbidden pleasures that lie outside their own little boroughs.

As someone who grew up in a non-frum world, I can tell you that it is not filled with people who are all mentally ill, violent, and hedonistic.  Statistically it might even be less filled with those types of people than within the orthodox world.  However, I am no statistician. What I can say, with first hand knowledge, that it is possible to live a moral, ethical, and quiet life in the non orthodox world.  My family did.

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Why do we assume that when a marriage ends, it’s because one spouse went OTD?

I read with sadness and horror today of a young 33 year old woman, Deb Tambor, who committed suicide yesterday.  Apparently, Deb was involved in a bitter child custody battle with her orthodox ex husband.  Her entire family and support network had turned on her because she was she was no longer religious.  Her own children were poisoned against her.  Her own father testified against her at a child custody hearing, simply because she no longer wanted to live her formerly chassidic lifestyle.

Deb is probably not the first to commit suicide over such ostracism, and she certainly is not the last.  Yoeli Spielman, a young man who was shunned after leaving his chassidic community, is being reported as having committed suicide after Yom Kippur.

This kind of news enrages me as a Jew, as a mother, and as an American.  I live in a country where we are presumably free to religiously worship as we please, or not worship at all, without fear of persecution.  Can these precious neshamas (souls) have been driven to these desperate acts by pious people?  These “tzadikim” who think they are protecting children and ex spouses by vilifying the OTD parent are nothing more than murderers.  Have these “Talmidei Chachamim” not learned that gossiping about and embarrassing a person in public is like murdering them, and that they will have no place in the world to come after such behavior? (Vayikra 25:17) (Bava Metzia 58b) (Pirkei Avos 3:11)

The interesting thing is that I can clearly recall a conversation I had with my husband a year or two ago.  It was a confession and a promise that I made to myself about not making snap judgements about people and situations of which I know nothing except the surface appearance.  The judgement I made was a common one in my community and goes along with the sad story of Deb Tambor.  I am speaking about the assumption that people make when couples divorce if one spouse goes off the derech.  I am speaking of the assumption that the marriage necessarily ended due to one partner no longer wishing to be religious.

I have seen it time and time again in my own modern orthodox backyard, where a couple gets divorced and everyone is surprised, shocked, and saddened.  Whenever a seemingly happy couple in the community gets divorced, it shakes people up.  It makes people feel that nobody’s marriage is safe, and that religion, children, family, and friends might not be enough to hold a couple together.

People want to find a reason that the couple broke up.  A reason that is so unusual or extreme, married couples can rest assured that such a situation is not relevant to them.  Often, that reason comes in the form of one spouse deciding to become less religious after the divorce or no longer religious at all.  In a way, the community breathes a sigh of relief that this lapse in religious observance must have been the cause of the divorce, and therefore, they are all safe from separation, by being firmly planted within the religious soil.

When I made my pronouncement to my husband that I will no longer consider a lapse in religious observance as an auto endorsement for the frum spouse in a marital divorce, it was after a disturbing interaction with a frum, yet nutty, divorced person (whose ex had gone OTD).  Unfortunately, I know quite a few divorced people.  Most of the divorced people I know are wonderful people (both ex-spouses are wonderful people), they simply married the wrong partner the first time around.  In most instances I know, except perhaps for immediate family, no one takes sides against one spouse or the other.  They simply do the balancing act of being friends with both exes, and trying to keep each friendship separate (except in the rare cases where the exes actually get along better after the divorce than they did while married!).

The one exception has always been when one spouse goes off the derech.  Speaking for myself, I can say that it hasn’t been a conscious decision to shun or distance myself from the person who left the fold.  It’s just that, well, they left.  They left the community, they made a separate life for themselves that had nothing to do with me anymore, and in some cases, had nothing to do with their children or families either.  What I wasn’t aware of, is that although the story passed around is that the OTD spouse “left the community” and wanted nothing more to do with anyone, the reality might be quite different.  Perhaps they were forced out, perhaps they were threatened, perhaps they were driven away from their children in court custody battles.  The only thing I do know, is that the remaining spouse gets all the sympathy, and the blame for the divorce is placed squarely and solely on the OTD spouse.  This is never a question.

I can say that after reflection and garnering more information about some of these “OTD divorces,” in all fairness, the marriages could not have ended only because the OTD spouse decided to go OTD.  At best, there must have been equal blame to share in the demise of these marriages.  At worst, from my limited observations, there may have been problems stemming from the frum spouse’s emotional, psychological, or behavioral state.  However, all this is forgiven or overlooked by the community, no matter how obvious, if the ex spouse is no longer religious.  Whether or not the frum spouse was abusive or mentally ill or otherwise impossible to live with, none of it has relevance.  The level of religiosity is the main issue in the orthodox community when deciding which spouse to support during the divorce and after.

We pay so much lip service to the pintele yid (Jewish spark) within every Jew at the beginning of a newly religious Jew’s journey.  Yet, we pay no heed to that pintele yid on a Jew’s journey out of the frum community.  Apparently, their neshama (soul) is lost, and therefore, we need not care for them any longer.

“He who joyfully marches to music rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
― Albert Einstein