Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Can There Be So Many Observant Skeptics?

Renowned Atheist, Christopher Hitchens
Here’s the breakdown in my completely unscientific poll on how many observant Jews are actually believers.

Modern Orthodox Believers                      114  (44%)
Modern Orthodox Non Believers                41  (16%)
Charedi Believers                                        71  (27%)
Charedi Non Believers                                29  (11%)
Total respondents                                       255 (100%)

Out of a possibly several thousand readers only 255 people responded. Of those – the lion’s share came from Modern Orthodox Jews who comprised 155 of the votes. 100 were Charedim.

 Assuming people were honest, I believe that this percentage of about 60% MO to 40% Charedi probably reflects the percentage of each that reads my blog. This may surprise some people since my views reflect a Centrist (MO) point of view. And that therefore the vast majority of comments seem to come from the MO world… in percentages far greater than 60%.

That surprises me too. Pleasantly. Because it means that Charedim value the Centrist point of view enough to want to know what it is even if they don’t always agree with it. And in some cases they may actually agree.  

It’s nice to know that the voice of Centrism is being heard in some Charedi circles. Even if the actual number is  negligible as a percentage of the whole.

Surprisingly the poll shows that Modern Orthodox Jews have a lower percentage of non believers than Charedim. 41 out of 155 people is about 26%. That means that about one out of every 4 Modern Orthodox Jews either doubt God’s existence, and/or do not believe that the Torah narrative about the events at Sinai (TMS) actually happened. That is a shockingly large percentage. Far greater than I would have imagined.

More shocking is the Charedi breakdown. Out of 100 Charedim fully 29 of them are non believers as I described them above. That is 29%, almost 1 out of every three!

Obviously this cannot not represent reality. It is impossible for me to believe the percentage is that high.  What accounts for that percentage in my poll? The only answer I can think of is that non believers were more motivated to respond than believers. By a lot. Which is one reason this poll unscientific. There is no way to control what motivates some people to respond more than others.

But let us grant that those numbers are indeed grossly inaccurate. I still think it shows that there are a lot more non believers in both the MO and Charedi world than anyone would have suspected. By a lot. I don’t know what the real percentages are. But we ought to find out with an actual scientific poll. 

The question arises as to why that may very well be the case. It might be understandable that there are MO skeptics since their exposure to the outside world is virtually unfettered. On the other hand they are probably better prepared to handle that exposure than their Charedi counterparts.

The Charedi world on the other hand is generally insulated from outside influences. They discourage or outright reject exposure to the outside world. They teach the most literal interpretation of the Torah they can. Most Charedim will for instance say that the world was created literally 5775 years ago and completely reject non literal interpretations of the creation story.

But how many secretly question what they have been taught? How many Charedim are in the closet about their true beliefs? When did they become non believers? And why?  How many Yeshiva type Charedim are there? How many Chasidim are there? How do they deal with their wives and children? …their parents and in-laws? Their teachers and rabbis? Their friends and colleagues?

How many Charedim are there at the Agudah convention that listen to the speeches of Charedi rabbinic and lay leaders while in their hearts they do not buy into their belief system at all? Is the guy next to you in Shul on Shabbos  swaying to silent prayer with a Talis over his head and his eyes closed in perceived concentration - really a believer? Or is he just faking it?  

These are questions that I believe the Charedi world should research. 

If this problem is – as I suspect - greater than most people believe in both the MO and Charedi world, what can be done about it? If we are losing Jews to skepticism, we must  develop a way to deal with it.

In my view there ought to be a complete overhaul of the Orthodox Jewish educational system. Not just in how to transmit ethical behavior as I mentioned yesterday, but in how to transmit religiously acceptable answers to the inevitable questions that arise in a world opened up. Because if things stay as they are this problem will only get worse.

Please do not treat this post as a forum for debate about the validity Orthodox Judaism. That is not the purpose of this post. Any attempt to do so will be deleted. The purpose of this post is to identify a problem and suggest that it is an issue that religious leaders ought to take note of.