Thursday, November 19, 2015

Agudah and the OTD Phenomenon

Guest Submission

Image taken from Unpious
I received a communication from a highly respected and well credentialed mental health professional. He is not only well respected professionally, but as a Charedi Jew he is well respected religiously by that community as well.

It is with these impressive credentials in mind that I feel his words have added meaning. He speaks from experience about a subject discussed here many times - most recently in a guest submission from a ‘card carrying’ member of Agudah who reported his impression of their recent convention weekend. One of the primary topics of that weekend was about the OTD (Off the Derech) phenomenon. (I hate that phrase but it has become the common identifier of those who were raised to be observant and have chosen to abandon it.)

His observations on this subject should be taken very seriously by all segments of Orthodoxy. These are observations much of which are based on his practice in which many of his clients (they are not really patients) are young people that have gone OTD and/or their parents. In fact Agudah has consulted him on this issue many times. For reasons which will become obvious in his message - he has asked to remain anonymous. I have agreed. My hope is that the Agudah leadership – both lay and rabbinic will somehow read these words and absorb its message. His words follow unedited in their entirety.

I have not viewed any of the videos from the convention, nor have I read detailed transcripts of what the speakers said.  But I perused the comments on the report in an earlier post. Some reactions.

Firstly, some of the commenters would gripe about anything said at the convention, except perhaps Shema Yisroel at davening. 

Secondly, I would join many in expecting the speakers to have presented “party line”, where they bash parents and defend chinuch.  It seems this did not happen. 

Thirdly, it was pleasing to see that they did not make fools of themselves to blame it on the internet (one version of chareidi OCD), which would explain none of the OTD cases that predate the web.  For those who know the OTD scene, the internet follows the move to leave the derech.  It doesn’t cause it or even play a role in the initial steps.

The topic is well chewed already, and the brief breath of fresh air by several speakers finally saying the obvious is welcomed.  I am put off by the nonsensical comments that refer to keeping kids in the fold by “singing extra zmiros on Shabbos”.  That is, defensively, an effort to make Torah and Mitzvos enjoyable. 

The kid that finds davening a pleasant experience, whether the singing, or better yet, the emotional transcendence of connecting to HKB”H, will come on time and not miss.  All the discipline (punishment) in the world cannot accomplish what a little Ahavas Hashem can.  Meanwhile, our average yeshiva talmid is told that the failure to excel or to conform means he is an “oisvorf”.

Pray, tell me, where is the Ahavas Yisroel here, and in what way are we fulfilling the mitzvah of ואהבת את ה' אלקיך –  שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך (יומא פ"ו ע"א)?  The mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem is fulfilled by causing others to take pride in HKB”H and his mitzvos.

Kids go OTD for varying reasons.  Mostly they are emotional, but a few are intellectual.  All cases of OTD are kids escaping.  Why are they running from Yiddishkeit?  Because it is somehow painful for them.  Exactly what and how is unique to each. 

Another common theme, which is actually universal, is rejection.  This rejection can come in the form of abuse (whichever kind is politically acceptable to discuss), or the undeserved punishment, the suspensions and expulsions, the public shaming, the labeling a talmid as a failure, etc.  Ask anyone who has been involved with the kids and/or parents.  The rejection factor is universal. 

The community prefers to avoid this issue, as no one will admit to the mistakes of rejecting, nor does anyone feel safe recognizing the massive amounts of rejection that characterize the current chinuch system.  That is horrifically unpopular. 

The subject of yeshiva expulsions has been discussed in some of the frum media, and it was addressed at Torah Umesorah.  All the Gedolei Yisroel at Torah Umesorah were in agreement that the current state of affairs is not good.  There is better understanding of the subject now than there ever was, but the fears about tampering with the status quo of chinuch are intense.  Overcoming them will be a challenge, at the very least. 

It is easier, in the short run, to exact punishment and compel every talmid to comply with rules and conform.  But this will rarely, if ever, produce a talmid who loves Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvos, and conducts his life with Ahavas Hashem.

Many of today’s Gedolim speak to the public about the critical role of Emunoh.  But there is precious little in the curriculum of the yeshiva that helps talmidim develop and refine emunoh.  The speakers at the convention highlighted that, from the panelists on the OTD forum, the Sadigurer Rebbe shlit”a, and others. 

Mechanchim are notorious for refusing to respond to questions on the subject, and are more apt to label the questioner an apikores and slate them for expulsion.  This rash statement is not outdated, nor is it exaggeration.  Everyone has questions, and we should engage in the process of inquiry until we reach a satisfactory answer.

I have no answer for the community at large.  I do, however, lend my voice to those who seek to instill Ahavas Hashem in children from birth and onward.  If we are told לפתח חטאת רובץ, we should at least try to counter with the soul gratifying connection to HKB”H.