כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Sense of Purpose

It is a problem that I know a lot of people are struggling with. No one wants to be insignificant. Everybody would like to believe that they are attaining something in life. That is wasn’t  for nothing. To become immortal in some way. I guess it’s hardwired in our DNA.

Frum teenagers are taught that tzaddikim (righteous) are called chayim (‘alive’), even when they are dead. So I very much wanted to learn, to davven (pray), bring God’s light in the world and become a ‘gadol’ (great person).

With all respect to Reb Zusha, who taught us that we would not be asked after 120 years why he didn’t become like Moses but why he wasn’t Reb Zusha, still he was Reb Zusha and it neevertheless remained of utmost importance to try to be like Moses.

Little kids get a bib with the words ‘Little Tzaddik’ on it. How often did I not hear parents hope that their children become talmidei chachomim (sages) and in yeshivos there definitely is a pressure that you should strive to be perfect.

After the disillusion that my learning was just average, that I couldn’t become the tzaddik I wanted to become and that I knew I would want to earn a living for my family (which would mean that I would have to stop learning full-time somewhere down the line), I still had the feeling that I needed and wanted to do something grand for mankind.

Then reality slowly kicked in. I started working for a company where all I did was helping our IT department to be more efficient and save money for that firm. After a few years, this became rather depressive. I started thinking that my ambitions would never make me happy.

A job counselor was happy to help me out and subjected me to psychological tests. Although I did learn a bit more about myself, the only outcome was that I should start learning psychology at a university, approaching the forty with a wife and two kids. Hardly an option.

I have since told myself that the only way to be happier is to confront myself with myself and learn more about what I really want and what I really believe.

Every day, the belief that there is a potential in me, waiting to be unlocked, drills in my brain like Woody Woodpecker  in a tree. But who says that this revelation will just happen to everyone?

Searching for a higher purpose in life is like a tattoo that, as you grow older, looks more wrinkled and pale.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Compassion as an Evolutionary Development

Remember that we were taught that without the Toire there is no morality?
Robert Wright argues that much of compassion that we have for others and the golden rule (reward good deeds and punish bad ones) can be explained by evolution as well:

I am looking forward to an interesting discussion in the comments :)

PS A transcript can be found here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kosher Sex - The Gedolim Way!

Now if you thought that Temporary Marriage was a muslim meshugas only (Nikah mut'ah), you'll be in for a surprise: there is a concept of a time-limited marriage in Judaism. Technically speaking, that means that you are able to sign a contract that you will be married to a woman for a day or so for pleasure and get away with it. And who is allowed to do so? How surprising! Only our gedolim...

Here is the source for the ruling (italics mine):
Said Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yakov: A man shall not marry a wife in one country and then proceed to marry one in another country, since [their children]  might marry one another and the result might be that a brother would marry his sister.
But, surely, this could not be [the accepted ruling], for Rav, whenever he happened to visit Dardeshir, used to announce, 'Who would be mine  for the day'! So also R' Nahman, whenever he happened to visit Shekunzib,  used to announce, 'Who would be mines for the day'!  — The Rabbis came under a special category since they are well known. (How convenient!)
But did not Raba say: A woman who had an offer of marriage and accepted must allow a period of seven ritually clean days to pass! (According to the gemora in Nidda it could be that women become Nidda because of the excitement of the proposal and would need to count 7 clean days  and immerse in a ritual bath to be able to have sex again.)   — The Rabbis sent their representatives and these presented the announcements to the women. (This would solve the issue of the 7 days in advance.) And if you prefer I might say: The Rabbis only had them  in their private rooms (not sex, just yichud);  for the Master said, 'He who has bread in his basket cannot be compared to him who has no bread in his basket'.
And this is the text from the Gemora in the original:
"אמר ר' אליעזר בן יעקב: לא ישא אדם אשה במדינה זו וילך וישא אשה במדינה אחרת, שמא יזדווגו זה לזה, ונמצא אח נושא את אחותו. איני? והא רב כי איקלע לדרדשיר, [מכריז] ואמר: מאן הויא ליומא? ורב נחמן כי איקלע לשכנציב, [מכריז] ואמר: מאן הויא ליומא? שאני רבנן, דפקיע שמייהו. והאמר רבא: תבעוה לינשא ונתפייסה - צריכה לישב שבעה נקיים! רבנן שלוחייהו הוו משדרי ומודעי להו. ואיבעית אימא: לרבנן יחודי בעלמא הוא דמייחדי להו, דאמר מר: אינו דומה מי שיש לו פת בסלו למי שאין לו פת בסלו".
Hat tip: Daat Emet (Hebrew only).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poll results of “Are you an ex-orthodox Jew?”

In order to know who the initial ‘customers’ are for my blog, I created a poll asking “Are you an ex-orthodox Jew”?

31 People voted (I am proud of you, guys!), as follows:

  • Yes (51%)
  • No (12%)
  • I am not Jewish (9%)
  • It’s complicated (25%)

I find it interesting to know more about the 21% of people that visit my site, although they are not specifically targeted: OJ and non-Jewish people. Of course everyone is welcome, I am just curious :)

Book Review: The Chosen by Chaim Potok

For those who were wondering what happened to my blog over the last few days (I only managed to spam you with a few Kol Isha postings): I was reading The Chosen from Chaim Potok and just couldn’t put it down!

Potok (1929-2002) was an eloquent and prolific writer. He managed to capture my imagination throughout all of the book’s 280 or so pages and I can’t wait to buy and read some more of his books!

I vaguely remember having seen the movie when I was young. However, it is different in some points to the original. I recall wondering why on earth a Rebbe would play chess with his son! I guess this comes closest to the Talmudic conversations between father and son, because the average viewer would not understand it. Also, I remember finding Danny’s sister really pretty and that romance was an important part of the movie.

There were some points that may be different in real life for some:

  • A chossid in Williamsburg called Danny? Perhaps Duniel, but more realistic would be Nussi, Yoili or Levi Yitzchok.
  • Danny Saunders playing baseball with ‘apikorsim’ (chas vesholom!).
  • Reuven Malter having conversations with the Rebbetzin and her daughter.
  • The Rebbe coming to terms with his son going for a masters in Psychology, cutting off his peyos and shaving his beard?

To conclude, some points that must’ve been autobiographic for Potok:

  • His parents came from Poland and he received an Orthodox Jewish education; this may have caused considerable friction and a religious crisis.
  • WWII must have played an important role in his hand his parents’ life (he was in his teens at that time); it also did in the book.
  • He received his B.A. from Yeshiva University summa cum laude; an allusion to the ‘Hirsch College’?
  • He became a Conservative Rabbi (Jewish Theological Seminary, where he received his M.A. in Hebrew literature); Danny Saunders also became less orthodox and Reuven Malter learnt Talmud using scientific methods, controversial to Orthodox Judaism.
  • His marriage to a psychiatric social worker (Adena Sara Mosevitzsky) may have given him some inside information about psychology.

I found myself being elated for Danny Saunders for having such a successful transformation, but also for Reuven Malter, as he followed his heart (becoming a Rabbi) and got what he wanted. Except for Danny’s sister, of course ;)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Night Kol Isha & 1000 Visits!

In order to celebrate more than 1000 distinct visits (not bad for a blog that started a mere 3 weeks ago!), some a capella Kol Isha:

Although according to some lenient poskim, this may not be kol isha, I doubt that the 'gedolei hador' would approve of it...

Hat tip: Dov Bear

Friday, November 20, 2009

Erev Shabbos Kol Isha: Michelle Citrin

I only saw her ridiculous Rosh Hashana video (will consider it a sin of her youth), but this is actually good stuff:
Gets me in the mood for Shabbos ;)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seeds of Doubt

I've had two phases in my life where I rebelled against God: the first time was when I finished my vocational diploma and moved to Israel, the second time was after I got married. But actually, my doubts started long before that.

As for many of us, my believe in God was severely challenged after my hormones came into play (pun not intended). There is only so many desires you can suppress in a child, only so many guilt-feelings for having wasted seed.

So the question came up in my mind: WTF did God have in mind when he forbade us to masturbate on the one hand, but created hot chicks on the other hand? And let our bodies react to it automatically as a knee-jerk reaction (pun again not intended). We are talking about urges that I, like 98% of the male human species, could not control. So: either God is a sadist or masturbation is not wrong.

It seemed to be the former, at first. The Kitzur, chapter 151 (notice that I try to avoid a word that sounds like semen), says that spilling seed is the worst aveirah (sin) you can commit and its punishment is Misah Bidei Shamayim (death by the hand of Heaven). The The Zohar says that there is no teshuvah (repentance) for this sin and that all your spilled semen is murder, every single sperm is bloodshed.

Later on in life, I discovered that some other boys in yeshivah struggled with it as well. One day in the dorm I discovered a notebook of a friend of mine that contained x-rated stories that scared the hell out of me.

Shidduchim did not make things better: After years of fruitless searching, with no end in sight, I was so frustrated that I made my first trip to a brothel. Many trips were to follow (inasmuch as I was able to afford it at that time). I was and I am still ashamed of this, could hardly live with the contradictions: spend an hour in the evening with an anonymous Candy, Betty or Janine, after which I went home and said Shema before going to sleep, to combat the mazikin (demons) I thought I had created. Again, either God was a sadist or masturbation was something natural.

It took me some time until I was ready to question my faith. In fact, it would still take some years. But, back then, the seeds of doubt were already sown.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Call for Collaboration – Shnorring OTD-Style

As some of you may know, I have created a Google site with information for people that are considering going “Off the Derech” and the OTD-curious, called OTD Resources. I am convinced that many people would benefit from the information on this site.

OTD Resources could contain more information, such as book reviews, articles, links and videos. I know that many people out there would be able to contribute with their knowledge, experience and writing skills.

I therefore kindly call on my readers to join this effort. Please contact me on otdres@gmail.com if you wish to help out editing or writing new material.

And, of course, don’t forget to forward this kofer link to your peers! :)

Monday Night Goose Bumps

This Dutch duet called “Ik leef niet in een wereld zonder jou” is one of my favorites and means something like “I can’t live in a world without you”. I hope you like it, even though you may not understand the words.

Oh yes, it is Kol Isha as well (no heter of trei kalei lo nishma’ei and cleavage is ossur mideoraisah anyways), but my Kol Isha posts will be female only…

Monday, November 16, 2009

I have come out to my wife!

I don’t know where I got the guts from, but on the way home from where we spent Shabbos, while the kids were sleeping in the back, I told my wife about my beliefs about Torah (man-made) and God (I don’t believe in the God of the Torah but I do believe in some Higher Power (the way Einstein and Spinoza did).

And I really wasn’t ready for my wife’s understanding reaction: She confided with me that she has also recently been bothered by the fact that she does many things only because she is afraid of other people. She strongly believes in Judaism and that Hashem has a hand in everything, but it appears she could definitely handle living a lighter version of Judaism on the long term and that she could live with such a husband. She did say that she was a bit sad about me not sharing my feelings with her beforehand.

I assured her that I do not intend to ruin our marriage or to rock the boat with the outside world in the meantime. And that I would like to spend much more time reading up about all sorts of things. But that on the long term this will affect who we are friends with, where we send our kids to school, etc. And that I would try to be more open to her.

We did not manage to talk for too long and we will definitely continue this discussion for many sessions. But the assurance that my wife showed full understanding and that she was even willing to takes things a little more relaxed really did wonders for our relationship.

Now who would’ve expected that!

(more later…)

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Went tonight to see “This Is It” with my wife in a nearby theater. Brought up many memories of my youth, including me going to MJ’s concert (“The Pepsi Tour”). Incredible how The King of Pop™ embodied so many talents in one person: writing, singing, dancing, acting… And he even wears a black hat!

Now, I won’t get all nostalgic here and say how much we’ll miss him at all. No cheap tears, no drenched tissues.

But lots of goose bumps!

I feel incredibly inspired. Making music and singing is something that I love doing and I am upset with myself for never making a proper hobby out of it. No doubt it has a lot to do with the fact that after yeshiva, anything but learning is bitul zman. Or, as they said in my yeshivah, “Rock & Roll is Prikas Ol” (throwing off the yoke of Heaven).

Soon, I should get myself a keyboard or a guitar and start writing music again. Perhaps it won’t as good as Wacko Jacko, but we all know that after 120 years they won’t ask me “Why weren’t you as good as the gadol hador, Michael Jackson?”. But I will be asked: “Why weren’t you as good as Undercover Kofer”?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Goes On In My Wife’s Head?

Already for a long time, my wife knows that I am having ‘troubles with emunah’. I don’t put on tefillin, hardly davven, learn less, say less berachos, etc.

Last Friday night, my wife suddenly woke up to go to the toilet. I was using my mobile phone to update my Facebook status so the phone was not in the charger in the corridor. I am quite sure she noticed, but she kept quiet. That really amazed me.

There are a few possible reasons:

  • Perhaps she wants to preserve my dignity while thinking “it is just a phase he has to go through”?
  • She may just not have the energy to confront it head-on.
  • Possibly, she has her own doubts in emunah?
  • She is afraid to confront me for some reason.

I definitely am too scared for a confrontation. But already less scared than I used to be…

Tuesday Morning Kol Isha: Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion

Today features one of my favorite duets…

And Barbara’s new album (Love is the Answer) is out, too!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shabbos dilemma

We had a friend over for Shabbos who is depressed because he is frum but had a non-religious girlfriend and broke up with her a few months ago because of their religious differences. But he still loves her.

I noticed he ate a banana before kiddush on Friday evening and didn’t daven kabbalat Shabbat, nor did he daven mincha / maariv, but he davened shacharis and musaf because he was asked to be a sheliach tzibbur in some shul.

On the way there (over an hour walk) we discussed everything but religious topics, despite the black hat.

I was very tempted to talk about OTD but did not want to give him any more problems, although he may be going through an OTD experience. The most I discussed with him about OTD is the book Foreskin’s Lament that I said I found to be very funny, explaining the story and hoping he would read it.

I wished sometimes I could be more honest about my feelings, but I also feel I need to protect others against it. Secretly, I hope he will go OTD and turn into a lively, stable and happy fellow. And perhaps he can then marry his girlfriend.

But I think that he can’t handle it for the moment. Who knows, perhaps one day I can help him. I would love to have a good OTD friend. At least he will have a safe haven where he can feel at home, where people don’t judge him and accept him for who he is. At least that,

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday Morning Kol Isha: Regina Spektor

Today's Kol Isha comes from Regina Spektor. Beatiful song. Pay attention to the kofer lyrics as well (Lyrics for Laughing with), despite her having spent a while at a MO yeshiva day school (Frisch).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday morning Kol Isha: Cheek to Cheek with Eva Cassidy

One of my favorite singers, of blessed memory, singing what I know the be the most beautiful interpretation of Fred Astaire's Cheek to Cheek (OK, I haven't checked all of them out yet.

BTW: Before I knew who Eva Cassidy was, I just assumed she *must* be black :)

Problems in Emunah? You mean to say: I want sex!

I was reading in Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky's book "Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor" and couldn't believe the crap that I was reading. I will just make bold the passages where I think he lost it. And with him most of Orthodox Judaism.
My chavrusa has confided in me that he has been having some serious doubts about emunah. He has not told any of the rebbes about this because he is afraid that they will kick him out of the yeshivah. I sense that his observance of mitzvos is weakening. Is there anything I can say to him to prevent him from going off the derech? 
I hope that your chavrusa's fear of being told to leave the yeshivah his unfounded. A person with questions about emunah should be able to get chizuk and guidance from his rebbi.
The reason we say Shema Yisrael every day is because we must assert our emunah anew every day. To believe today only because I believed yesterday is merely habit. Vife all need to reinforce our emunah, and we should not be frightened when questions arise. Our mussar sefarim are replete with ways to strengthen our emunah, which indicates that it is only normal to have questions.
This is an important issue, so I am going to elaborate a bit.
There are such things as people who have philosophic questions about emunah, but they are few and far between. (Hello? Most Jews don't believe in Orthodox Judaism?!) There has not been a true apikores for a long time. (WTF?) The Rebbe of Kotzk said of freethinkers, "You call them apikorsim? As soon as one of them feels sick he runs to the aron kodesh to pray for Hashem's healing."

There is a story about a man who approached a rabbi to make a mi sheberach for a sick relative. After doing so, the rabbi asked him, "Don't you belong to the Reform temple?" The man answered, "Yes, I'm Reform, but G-d is Orthodox." When it gets down to serious busi­ness, we see that these people do have emunah. (I think he has been watching the Atheist Convention videos a little too often).
What happens is clearly stated in the Talmud. We read in the prophets that they repeatedly chastised the people for avodah zarah. But let us think a bit. People who saw the manifest works of Hashem in the many miracles that occurred in the Exodus, yet continued to have doubts about Hashem, is it possible that people like these could believe in inanimate idols? Whatever you might say about Jews, they are not stupid, and to believe in idols is the height of absurdity. It is inconceivable that they believed in idols.
The Talmud clarifies this. "The Jews knew that the idols were worthless. They were just looking for permission to fulfill all their desires" (Sanhedrin 63a). They were simply lustful people, and inas­much as the Torah forbade their desires, they said, "We have a differ­ent god who says we can do as we wish."
This is the key to understanding contemporary apikorsim. They simply do not want to be inconvenienced by the restrictions of Torah. (Especially not if it is obviously man-made, ridiculous, outdated, fundamentalist and discriminating!) They want to be free to do anything they wish on Shabbos and to eat whatever and wherever they desire. Inasmuch as the Torah forbids this, they question the authenticity of Torah. Their questioning is not a sincere wish to know the truth. They want to believe only what is comfortable for them. (Most jews I know are frum because that's what they grew into and therefore are most comfortable with, especially because they don't want to be ostracized.)
The Torah says that a judge may not take a bribe, because a bribe "blinds" the judge and distorts his thinking. One cannot possibly be objective if one has taken a bribe. Similarly, a person is "bribed" by his desires, and they will distort his judgment.
You should share this with your chavrusa. If his questioning of emunah is a sincere search for the truth, he would realize that the greatest minds in Judaism were at least as intelligent as he is, and they considered all the questions that are occurring to him. Being in the yeshivah, he should have some concept of the incomparable bril­liance of the Vilna Gaon. Does he think he has raised any issues that the Gaon did not consider? And the Gaon trembled when someone tried to compare him to the Rambam. Is it not the height of folly to question an emunah that was a certainty to the Gaon, the Rambam and the thousands of gedolim of our history, whose wisdom dwarfs ours many times over?
Caution your chavrusa that his doubts in emunah are without question the wiles of the yetzer hara, which wants to eliminate one's adherence to Torah and allow one to indulge in fulfilling one's desires. He should have the pride not to be seduced and not to yield to his desires. If he is sincere in investigating emunah, he should read the great works of mussar. There is a section in Alei Shur that discusses emunah, and he will also find chizuk in Michtav MeEliyahu and other mussar works which are available to us.
One may question as long as one seeks "emes l'amito," the abso­lute truth. But one must be extremely cautious to resist the bribe of our desires, which distort our thinking and make falsehood appear like truth.
I can only wish this chevrusah hatzlocha in his kofer endeavors!

Welcome to my new blog!

Blogs come and blogs go and that is the nature of things. I hope that this blog will only be temporary as I will be posting about life as a so-called 'closet-OTD', someone who doesn't believe in Orthodox Judaism, but is unable at the moment to live his beliefs.

In the hope that one day, I can be free and live free, not just think free. Until then, my rebellion will just be in the heart. And on my blog.