Thursday, December 15, 2011

Two Journeys

On one cold winter evening in 2003, I sat in a small living room in Crown Heights. I was there talking to some young non-frum teenagers who had come from the Midwest to spend a weekend in New York, including a shabbos in Crown Heights.

After havdala, a young bochur from Hadar HaTorah entered the room carrying a large bag full of musical instruments, including a number of drums. We all sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, and listened as the bochur explained his very unique style of Jewish music and taught us a few songs.

Little did I know that within a year or two this young musician, Matisyahu, would transition from playing music in small living rooms to performing on large stages. His music, controversial yet refreshingly different, inspired thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike. While I was too "frum" at the time to listen to his music, I have always been curious about the progress of the bochur who I met in that living room.

Several years ago when he left Chabad to explore another way of being chassidish, I heard plenty of talk and controversy. Given that I had doubts about Chabad from long before that time, I could totally relate to his decision. Now with the latest "scandal", his decision to shave his beard, I feel that I can relate to him once again.

The one thing that I can definitely relate to his all of the comments that people are saying about him and all of the assumptions that people are making. People tend to assume that those who "leave", whether they are leaving a particular derech or yiddishkiet as a whole, must not have been sincere to start with, not have learned enough, or been dragged away by outside influences. While for some people that certainly is the case, for many others, myself included, it most definitely is not.

Based on responses that I have received from people both in real life and on this blog, it seems that many people make those assumptions about me. So, just to clear the air and make room for more productive discussions, let me respond to each of those points.

My decision to become fully frum at fourteen was my decision and mine alone. I approached the local Chabad shliach, he did not look for me. I decided to switch to a frum high school and take on every chumrah that I took on throughout the years--no one imposed them on me. I was very sincere in my motivations, as those who know me well in person can verify, and sincerely wanted to serve Hashem in the best way possible.

In terms of my level of knowledge, some of the comments made by certain Modern Orthodox readers of this blog have been downright insulting. The fact that I was a charedi female, and a baalas teshuva at that, does not mean that I am ignorant of halacha. I can learn original sources "inside" and for years spent my free time reading both Hebrew and English halachic sefarim. My current knowledge of halacha surpasses that of most females who I have met, yes including Modern Orthodox ones, and quite a number of the males who I know. To this day, my husband still asks me questions about halacha, despite having semicha (admittedly Chabad semicha) himself and my not being frum. And, for the record, I always answer him honestly.

Similarly, I did not come to the point that I am at because I was swayed by outside sources. The college courses that I was taking before I stopped believing included no form of kefira, and that was by design. I deliberately avoided any course that would involve a violation of "lo sasuru" from learning kefira.

Rather than being pulled in from the outside, I felt pushed out from within. I could no longer live within the strict confines of the life that I was supposed to live, and started to question why I was doing so. This line of questioning has led me on a search for the best way to live an honest and meaningful life. Because I see little reason to believe that the Torah is true, this search has led me away from frumkiet. While I certainly cannot claim that my motivations are entirely intellectual, I am trying my best to be honest with myself and make the right decisions.

And that is exactly the mindset that I see in Matisyahu. The Matisyahu who I saw on the interview yesterday is the same Matisyahu that I saw in that living room years ago. He spoke with the same feeling and sincerity, and seems to be on the same search. I do not believe, as some others do, that this was a publicity stunt. I believe that he is on a journey that, much like mine, is quite unconventional.

I hope that he manages to get the most out of his journey.


  1. Thanks for this post. When you look back on the time when you were a "believer," do you find it hard to understand your own thinking at the time?

  2. While I certainly cannot claim that my motivations are entirely intellectual

    I believe you're saying that your motivations for exploring the historical truth of the Jewish religion were not entirely intellectual. Even though emotional factors may have precipitated your search, that does not make the facts different than they are.

    In other words, you motivation was partly emotional, but now you also have intellectual reasons to distance yourself from the frum world. You can't put the genie back in the bottle.

    Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself; I apologize if my interpretation of your situation is inaccurate.

  3. Great post, which certainly resonates with me. I don't know why people have to make so many assumptions, but I guess it shakes them up our friends and family when we move away from a lifestyle they take for granted. I remember that after I became frum, one of my aunts wrote a family history in which her version of my "tshuva" experience was that a charismatic rabbi brainwashed my wife and me - about as true in our case as it seems to have been in yours. I haven't experienced the other side of the coin, at least not yet, but I've heard enough stupid assumptions about people that go off the derech to have a good feel for what people would be likely to think and say. I guess when you believe in a certain lifestyle, it's hard to understand how someone who you thought shared your value system go out and reject it - or maybe these false assumptions are some kind of a defense mechanism to ward off confronting tough questions about their own belief system.

  4. It is hard to be out in the world and not change. Everyone who finds themselves questioning their beliefs or previous actions has been influenced by something from the outside. I absolutely agree that it is not a fundemental change in the person, rather, it is an internal struggle to figure out who you are after experiencing something new and different.

  5. "Because I see little reason to believe that the Torah is true"

    Please excuse me, however you are simply woefully ignorant.

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