Thursday, December 28, 2017

Some Thoughts about Jews that Go OTD

Shulem Deen - Ex Chasid that went OTD
Orthodox Jewry has many segments. (Even as they represent less than 10% of the Jewish population in the US. Where Jews as a whole are less than 2% of the US population.) There are 2 primary groups that comprise Orthodox Jews.

1. Charedim (sometimes called ultra Orthodox Jews) which consists of variety of Chasidim and non Chasidic Lithuanian Yeshiva type Orthodox Jews

2. Modern Orthodox Jews (which has many segments of their own as noted below).

In light of the increase in the number of Jews that stop being observant (hereafter referred to as going OTD  - Off the Derech) , it would interesting to compare those 2 segments.

Orthodox researcher, Mark Trencher has done exactly that. His most recent survey was on Modern Orthodox that go OTD.  Modern Orthodoxy is not a monolithic denomination. There are many sub denominations. Trencher’s breakdown of the MO community along with the percentages of each that are likely to go OTD is as follows: 
18% – Open Orthodox
17% – Liberal Modern Orthodox
5% – Modern Orthodox
3% – Centrist Orthodox
2% – Right-Wing Centrist Orthodox 
The reasons for going OTD among MO Jews are quite varied as well. Here are the results from respondents that were asked why they went OTD. Interestingly it made a difference if the respondents were men or women. Here is the breakdown for that: 
Men:  Conflicting learnings, intellectual thought (27%)
General doubts, loss of faith (13%)
Questions not answered/welcomed, lack of openness (11%)
Religious Practice, chumros, minutiae, no spirituality (10%) 
Women:  Role and status of women (37%)
Conflicting learnings, intellectual thought (18%)
Community hypocrisy, double standards (13%)
My sexual orientation (11%)
Community judgmental, gossip, not accepted (11%)
Exposure to non-Orthodox, non-Jews, outside world (11%)
Sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence (10%) 

In terms of magnitude - it was hard to for an individual to answer a question about whether they will at some point in the future go OTD. So instead a question related to that was asked: 
On a scale from 0 to 10 –– where 0 = do not agree and 10 = fully agree –– to what extent to you agree with the statement: Being an Orthodox / Observant Jew is an important part of my life?” Here is that breakdown:
73% assigned a rating of 9 or 10 (Orthodoxy is an extremely important part of their life).
18% assigned a rating of 7 or 8 (Orthodoxy is a somewhat important part of their life).
9% assigned a rating of 6 or less (Orthodoxy is not an important part of their life). 

This means that only 73% consider Orthodoxy an important part of their lives. Leaving 27% at risk of going OTD.

I don’t know how these percentages compare to the percentages of Charedim going OTD. But as noted by Trencher there is a difference in what happens to those that do from each community.  

One of the things Trencher notes is that that it is a lot easier for an MO Jew to go OTD than it is for a Charedi Jew for  variety of reasons.  Chasdidm have the most difficult time doing that since they are the most sheltered and therefore least familiar with the world they are entering. In the Chasidic world the outside world is painted as evil and for the most part anti Torah. Modern Orthodoxy is seen as almost as bad. 

A Chasid who drops out of that cocoon will find themselves in a world they do nor recognize or understand. A world that is not friendly to their needs.  A world they are wholly unprepared for in terms of education, socialization, and the ability to make a living. They in essence become lost souls with no where to go. They have to learn how to survive in a world so different from which they came it is almost like living on another planet.  Switching to a MO segment is as strange to them as switching to a secular one. And since it was hardly given any worth by their former communities, they do not see it as an option. Nor has that world been all that friendly to those that have tried.

Yeshiva type OTDs have a better chance since they are not as sheltered and are better educated to the new challenges that confront them by residing in the secular world. But in most cases they too do not see MO being much better than being secular.

MO Jews can go OTD with relative ease. Which indicates that there is a much higher number than we might be able to determine. That’s because - as Trencher puts it: 
“(L)eaving Orthodoxy” does not necessarily mean that one becomes obviously non-observant. We found that 26% of former Modern Orthodox who had gone OTD indicated that they were leading a “double life.” Outwardly they were still members of their community in terms of appearances and visible actions, but internally they no longer viewed themselves that way. We need to recognize that, in the Modern Orthodox community, going OTD often takes the shape (sometimes in the interim and sometimes permanently), of becoming a “double lifer” – appearing to be a member of the community, but not so much in beliefs and private behaviors.  
It is a lot easier to be MO and go OTD because one does not have to change their lifestyle too much to do that. Their manner of dress is the same and their participation in the general culture has always been there. As MO Jews, their secular education is equivalent to the of the secular world. It is not that much of a lifestyle change for them to go OTD. And as trencher points out – it is much easier hide going OTD. One can present observant in public since one does not have to change how they live all that much. For example they might not keep kosher in private, or be Mechalel (violate) Shabbos in private – but in public refrain for doing that.

Contrasting  reasons MO and Charedim go OTD is quite fascinating. Although I’m sure there is much overlap, based on what I’ve read about Charedim that go OTD (versus what Trencher presents here) Charedim are more likely to do it for reasons having to do with the difficulty of living that lifestyle. Especially when they discover life on the outside more appealing. While having little spiritual grounding other than learning rote ritual behavior in many cases.

The largest segment of MO seems to do it more for intellectual reasons. It is also interesting to note that MO women that go OTD  seem to do it most often for gender inequality reasons.

These are just some of my quick thoughts about the phenomenon based on Trenchers research. There is a lot of room to revise my views given more information.