The Matzav Shmooze: Are OTD “One of Us?”


Dear Matzav Shmooze,

With all the recent attention given to the tragic stories of the many who, after leaving our way of life, find themselves with a deep sense of loss and displacement, I found myself terribly saddened.

Had this heartbreak been limited to those that left it would be easier to excuse the status quo as it is. But it’s not only those that leave. The pain also extends to the families they leave behind who become torn as well. Torn, trying to make sense between the love they feel for their family and the love they have for the Aibishter. Torn between the community they live in and the people they can’t live without.

The first struggle is an internal one, one that must be resolved on an individual level; how can I relate to a family member whose choices are so different from my own?

But the second is a community conflict, one that we must tackle as a whole; namely, what place does an OTD person have in our community, if any? Should abandoning the strictures of the community cost you the loving structure of the community?

Maybe it’s time we realize that these people were born into this community just as we were. Their lifestyle may be different now but the mere fact that they still want to feel welcome should be enough to embrace them as our own.

But how to see them as “one of us” when the choices THEY’VE made have defined themselves as outsiders?

Perhaps we start by separating the Bain Adam L’Chavero from the Bain Adam L’Makom.

Kindness, humility, integrity, and honesty, among other character traits, should become the scale by which we measure people.

Shabbos, kashrus, skirt length, tefillah, while so important and of utmost significance, should not and do not define a person. I think we all can come up with a few examples of people who are machmir on so many mitzvos and yet fall short when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The same is true vice versa.

We can still daven for their return and give mussar where it will be accepted. We can also believe they are falling short of the lifestyle that a Yiddishe neshama yearns for and that in the Olam Ha’Emes they will realize and regret their actions. But let’s let Hashem be the judge of their neshamos. We of This World will judge people for their earthly attributes.

The goal is to create a community where a religious person will look at his estranged brother, not with condescension or patronizing “acceptance,” but as an equal; a worthy and valuable member of our society. A place where a non religious person can feel confident meeting eyes with the Rabbi, knowing he’s being evaluated by his Bain Adam L’chavero choices not his Bain Adam L’Makom, and that by that standard he or she can measure up to their frum brethren.

We’ll know we have succeeded in this when our eyes don’t automatically shift when we greet a person, checking if their yarmulke is too small or skirt too short. When our first thought when greeting someone is “How are you doing?” not “What are you doing?”

In this holy Kehilla, there is no concept of being ashamed of an OTD relative because a relationship with the Borei Olam is deeply personal and individual; frumkeit shouldn’t be owed as payment to feel loved by your family and accepted by your community.

Yes, we will have to worry about the influences “they” will have on impressionable youngsters, that is true. But we will be confident in the truth and beauty of our Yiddshkeit and have faith in the amazing role models who embody our way of life to serve as a counterbalance.

(Besides, unless we are willing to shun the outside world and live like the Amish, the outside world is already very much part of our culture in the 21st century, unfortunately, yet we manage to keep most of our children frum despite that.

Unless the real threat of accepting OTD people is that it tells children that you can do what you want and still be one of us. If that’s the case, the question we must ask ourselves is as follows: Is that how we want to keep our children frum? By keeping the underlying threat of banishment and ostracization at their necks? Are we people of faith or people of force!?)

Yes, there will still be a gap due to cultural differences and families may still struggle to bridge that chasm. But where there is love and a willingness to find commonality, a relationship can flourish.

This is no longer a question of bringing “them” close or pushing “them” away because we are no longer conflating their frumkeit with their value as people. They have personalities and characteristics independent of their lifestyle. If you want to love them, love them. If you want to hate them for personal reasons, you can do that as well. But let’s not alienate “them.” In fact, let’s rid ourselves altogether of this notion of “them.”

There is no “them” there is only “us.”

Some of us seek Hashem in shul and in the Bais Medrash while some of us try to seek Him out through other means. Some of us don’t seem to be seeking at all.

But all of us are on the same path whether we realize it or not. Can that be enough of a basis from which to build our community?


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  1. Sounds nice, but this is something for daas Torah – gedolim, rabbonim, etc. – to decide.

    Would the writer also advocate acceptance of practitioners of toeivah, G-d forbid? Sometimes we must take a stand, draw clear lines in the proverbial sand, and circle the wagons.

    “Open Orthodoxy’ is a good example of the pitfalls of being too open and tolerant. It would not be a good idea to imitate them.

  2. What about following the Halakha? It is extensively dealt with. Or do we start modifying like the Open Orthopedics? Follow the Esquire style of Riverdale and Efrat? It’s terrible to fail on a kid. It’s absolutely egrigious to fail on HQBH. “Nice” doesn’t mean accommodating and defaulting. Or we become mrdy-mlkus too. SO WHAT THE HECK IS UP FOR DISCUSSION?!

      • They preferred the Qiryas Yoel option. Obvious people with saykhel try to avoid assimilationists as much as possible. The fact is, frum Yidden preferred (and still prefer) isolation from m’hallilay-Shabbos and Kashrus. The Church took advantage of this and prodded the state to make it mandatory and as uncomfortable and degraded as possible. But we had the drive to construct a siyyug in the first place. Take your meds before your research informs you about Bnay Braq, Meah She’arim, Lakewood and Boro Park. The whole yirushas eretz yisroel was not to give us an economic break. A person who announces (s)he has b’rayra is a spiritual virus.

  3. The writer seems sincere but his suggestions to separate bain a domain lamokom from Bain a domain lachaviro is flawed at best, you seem to think that in the realm of bain adom lachaviro we can meet and treet each other as equals unfortunately secular culture today is totally at odds with our ethics and morality, if our only differences would be Kashrus, Shabbos etc.. you would have a point , but the reality is very different.

  4. Accepting our loved ones does not mean we agree with their choices. One can have a warm relationship despite disagreeing with the spiritual route they’ve decided on.

  5. There’s something very screwed about this piece. It reminds me of the Chofetz Chaim’s moshol about shemiras Shabbos being like the sign on the store that still says “Open” – and once that sign is down, you realize that the storeowner isn’t temporarily out, but that it’s permanently closed. Does the OTD child still have the sign up – keeping Shabbos – or not? You can’t say that a person who keeps bein adam l’chaveiro but not bein adam lamokom is equal to the person who is makpid on bein adam lamokom but has greater difficultly with bein adam l’chaveiro. The difference is: do you deny Torah miSinai and don’t acceptl that keeping Torah is a personal obligation i.e. the sign is down, or do you accept the Torah, but are struggling with middos due to ego, taiva, etc. i.e. Is the sign is still there or is the person going through the motions with no real emuna and bitachon. Big difference.

  6. We aren’t talking about chumras, but about a person who has lo alainu left Yiddishkeit r’l. The minhag has been to sit shiva and consider the person as dead. If someone comes in to my house and violates the rules of my house, it is the height of chutzpa for them to feel free to do so and feel that I should allow them to stay. We don’t distance anyone. If the person does teshuva and wants to belong to our society, nobody will stop them, and they won’t be distanced. If they want to violate our rules, then by doing so it is they who are distancing themselves. So the first chutzpa is against Hashem, and then they continue to have the chutzpa of expecting that we twist ourselves not to mind someone coming in and violating us. That’s like the LGBT demanding an aliya in shul while he carries a banned which proclaims that he is LGBT. That’s like the thief who demands that the owner smiles to him as he is being robbed and looted. This is an attitude of the most unreasonable entitlement.

  7. The commentents above are quite honestly disgusting.

    This self-righteous, rejecting, negative attitude cause people to go become irreligious in the first place. And when they come home for a weekend and are spit upon, why would they ever want to come back?

    It’s amazing to see how the people most makpid on halacha are the most meikal on mussar, and the people who ‘live Torah’ are the ones who represent it so poorly.

  8. When a child goes OTD one must follow specific guidelines from their Rav. While we do not in any way condone anyone not following Halacha, I personally know of two parents whose children returned, married, and have beautiful families because they kept their house open to them and showed them tremendous love. But this can not be done without Daas Torah. There are times that the other children in the family will be so adversely affected that an OTD child can not remain at home. I think what the author may be inferring is that if we present a noncritical attitude and some empathy we can help bring people back. Of course, if the individual is flagrantly and defiantly acting against halacha publically one must again get guidance from Daas Torah. Some lost people will lash out from pain. Many of these individuals believe they do not belong so they stray. There is not one clear cut answer. But showing animosity when one finds a person who got lost, I do not think is helpful in helping him find his way back. Any OTD person who is publicly trying to start a new trend that he hopes will be picked up by others (like Open Orthodoxy) should definitely not be paid attention to. Getting into debates with these people sometimes causes one to get confused or be influenced. We must follow what the Rabbanim tell us to in reference to what these so called “Enlightened” people are trying to do. These actions are reflective of the Haskalah movement. The author himself may be an OTD person who is trying to justify himself as a person who can be respected for noble attributes despite not following Torah. While I by nature look for the positive in people, my respect can not be gained by separating the two. Torah is not an intellectual subject. Torah is for learning and turning that into a blueprint for our daily lives. May Hashem give us all the gevurah to overcome our nisyonos and understand that life is only truly lived when one is committed and connected to the one above.

  9. “That’s like the LGBT demanding an aliya in shul”. Where in Shulcham Oruch does it say that the person is not entitled to an aliyah ? Sounds Reform to me.

  10. It is a tackle spirit. The child who wants to leave the fold is either his own mind or just ever the hate that an assimilated offered culture will drive him to abomination and illicit relation.

    It is clearly a problem. The OTD child is ever the worth he becomes ever the health he wants in a future with anything including repentance and a return to a good community.

    Hard. They are all over and they are never a friend to keep your strength in prayer.

    All we can do is Kiruv and Daven daily. The rest is in Hashem’s care.

    Arbister we need help.

  11. What is often left out of these discussions is the need to:

    1) Daven from the heart. Actually talk to Hashem in your own words. If you can say 10 pirkei Tehillim with full kavanah, then great. But many people’s formal davening is mixed with kavanah and extraneous thoughts. Talk to Hashem in your own words about how important it is to you for your child or your neighbor’s child to do teshuvah from love.

    2) Do a loving and honest cheshbon hanefesh. Another Jew’s weakening observance is a message from a Hashem to you about your own cheshbon hanefesh, especially if the person weakening is your own child. In a self-compassionate manner, ask Hashem to help you see what your child/your neighbor going OTD is showing you about what you need to improve in yourself. It’s not necessarily that you’ve made some awful mistake in chinuch (lots of parents of OTD kids are incredibly dedicated and concerned parents), but that there is something in yourself in general that you need to rectify as part of the tikkun given to you by Hashem.

    Speaking from personal experience, these 2 things are the most powerful and effective.

  12. If r’l someone witnesses one falling in to a cesspool the prudent think to do is pull them out slowly and steadily. Jumping in to push them out is unintelligent and ineffective.
    Any questions?

  13. This is all one big test from Hashem

    You need guidance from someone like Rav Pam ztl who loved every yid but knew when love was going beyond the relm of Torah

    The liberal loving spirit of America has crept up into our subconscious Chas veshalom

    Yidden should not do kindness because it feels good. But rather because this is what Hashem wants us to do

    Sometimes we forget this simple truth

  14. Kids sometimes go off the derech because they start falling behind in class. They can’t concentrate or keep up with the Rebbe/Morah. The classes are getting bigger and bigger and the teacher simply can not deal with each individual student the way they used to in the old days when classes were much smaller. The only “aitza” is to be thrown out and put into a special school for dummies. And don’t deny it. These kids are a lot smarter than you think and when they are forced into these dummy schools/programs, they know their fate is sealed. In their mind “everyone” else is doing great in class, and I’m not. I must be a loser. I must be a failure. This must mean I’m a failure in life and I should seek another path where I’ll be accepted by those of similar rejection. That crowd is unfortunately leaderless and we have seen, it leads to terrible consequences. Once they’re already otd, It’s very complicated how to proceed and that needs individualized attention. So basically they’ve come full circle. If they would of gotten that individualized attention way back in 5th & 6th grade, they wouldn’t be needing it now. Chochom einov birosho.

    • We are getting sidetracked

      In the “old days”
      Classes were probably bigger than today.
      (My class size in the younger grades was double or nearly double some of the classes now)
      And the teachers
      on average were mostly inferior
      compared to now

      If there is a difference ,it is that now boys (at least)are rarely given second chances .
      By grade six or seven their fates are already pretty much sealed

      • On the contrary…classes were bigger in years gone by. Today they are smaller. Not sure about the idea of taking young graduates to teach kids…but I don’t see that we have much choice. The older teachers in their 40s seem to be getting the pink slips….We actually need older people with experience in the role of mechanchim…people with the EMOTIONAL experience teaching our kids. Just my opinion.
        If principals of schools today are in their 20’s with no EMOTIONAL experience whatsover in raising kids…then…what can I say.
        Yes, I said 20’s.

  15. Yiras shamayim bagalui uvasesser. I guarantee you that many of the nay sayers and condemners in this discussion have done a lot worse than the OTDers. There are many people sitting in jails today who are “yirei shamayim” and “shomrei Torah u’mitzvos, lifnim mishuras hadin”. You should be ashamed of yourselves.


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