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Seven Years

One of the most important days to me, far more than my birthday, is the day I left religion.

This is the day, to borrow from fundamentalist religion, that I was born again.

For many people it’s a gradual process, but for me there was a day in mid-august 2015 when I made the decision to drop it all at once and walk away.

Fueled by anger at the sudden ending of a painful relationship, my transition was actually too abrupt, and years later I had to go back and process parts of it in a more mature way.

And so, this post is a reflection on the last seven years.

Seven fucking years.

It’s a very holy number, ask any Jew.

Looking back

Every year, I feel the impact of time and the processes I have undertaken on my ex-religious journey, and this year is no exception.

Here’s what’s helped: Therapy.

What types of therapy? Trauma-informed therapy from an ex-religious therapist who became very acquainted with my entire family. Somatic experiencing. Hypnosis. EFT (tapping). Some EMDR.

Also: coaching, meditation, psychedelics, ecstatic dance, educating myself. About childhood trauma, ADHD, OCD, bible criticism, the origins of man.

Time.

Crying.

More crying.

So much crying.

I have processed endless amounts of pain from my upbringing: society, school, parents, siblings, life experiences. In the form of shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and more.

It gets better

I’m hear to tell you, especially if you’re recently out of religion, that it gets better.

I no longer twitch and froth at the mouth at the mention of religion.

I am able to have good memories from my past.

I can indulge in certain practices that are not inherently bad to me, like Jewish songs or Shabbat meals. I avoided these in the past because they reminded me of everything else.

I am better with people, feeling more like I’m part of society and not a weird foreigner.

More miraculously, I am better with romantic relationships, able to navigate the complex world of dating and sexuality with more nuance and understanding. There’s hope yet!

My story is not as big a part of me as it used to be, which is a very good thing. It used to be that everyone with a pulse heard about me being an ex-Orthodox rabbi within the first 3 seconds of us meeting. Now I wait a few minutes before dumping on them.

The pain of my past has lessened, to the point where it’s more anecdotal data and not an emotion fueled re-living of the experience. This is an important milestone in trauma healing.

Forgiving

Most recently, a new theme has emerged, which I am hugely surprised by, and take as a very positive sign: forgiveness.

Damn this one is hard, because to forgive, you’re forced to drop any defense mechanism that might be protecting you from your own pain.

Plus, sloppy forgiveness smacks of the shittiest parts of Judaism and Christianity. Of emotional bypassing and suppressing hurt. Of Instagram flavored spirituality.

But when done right, with honesty and processing, it can be the final frontier of moving on.

Of really checking if you’re over something.

Of not letting other people’s weaknesses, mistakes or flaws to continue to live within you.

Holding on to anger or resentment (my go-to moves) is perfectly understandable. At the same time, it creates a bond with my shitty past and prevents me from moving on. It gives more weight and substance to entities that don’t deserve the light of day.

I’m not here to tell you to get over yourself, like so many people told me online. “It’s the past, move on, why are you still angry?”. Fuck them, you can be angry for as long as you want. What was done to you deserves lifetimes of anger. It deserves setting fire to entire buildings.

But. For your own wellbeing, not for anyone else’s convenience, I invite you to check in occasionally and see where you stand relative to forgiveness. It’s a good milestone to check in for, the ultimate goal in healing, I would say.

And by the way, forgiving someone does not mean having a relationship with them, or condoling them in any way. Fuck those fuckers, you are way too good for them. Forgiveness is for you. By all means, keep fighting the fight, keep maintaining the distance, whatever you need that is best for you.

The End

You’re welcome.

I don’t have a dramatic way to end this article. Healing has been a far more subtle gradient of growth than my abrupt leaving of religion was. If only we could snap our fingers and be cured.

Jesus style.

It takes far more effort to build than to break. And to me religion has deeply entrenched systems that are dedicated to breaking you. So if you feel broken, it makes sense. It couldn’t have been any other way – you were born into it, and their collective brute force was far greater than you even realize.

You’re allowed. Give yourself time.

For many people, leaving religion is a philosophical experience, and as part of that books play an important part in their journey.

Richard Dawkins played an important influence in my brother’s journey, for example. For many others, Christopher Hitchens has been a strong influence.

For me, these heretical books did not play a significant part in my journey. I was bothered by many philosophical questions while still religious, but they were not enough to sway me. The final straw was an emotionally influenced breakdown of faith, and by that point I had no patience for intellectualisms of any kind.

I didn’t need convincing.

It’s now almost seven years out, and I’ve finally picked up a copy of How to Read The Bible by the fantastically named James Kugel (oh, the sweet irony).

The book is elegantly written, precise, and doing a great job at dismantling so much of the fundamental religious assumptions I was fed, often unconsciously, from the youngest age.

Not everyone is deeply impacted by religion, even when they were brought up in it. For me, religion and its teachings were a mainstay of my life, I clung to it like my life depended on it – because I was told it did, and because my temperament gravitated towards that.

Thus, there is deep relief to have many of these points brought out into the open, assumptions I didn’t even know I had, framed in the broadest possible historical context.

What Yuval Noach Harari’s Sapiens did for my understanding of humanity, this book is doing for my understanding of Jewish religious thought, as it originated in the Bible.

I’m also observing an interesting dicotomy in my own formative experience:

In his first introductory chapter, Kugel (it doesn’t get old!) talks about the concept of allegory as a crucial part of how Judaism and Christianity managed to distort the words of the Bible to mean whatever they wanted to – the verse has hidden meaning that needs to be interpreted.

(As an aside, this is accomplishing the delicious phenomenon exemplified in the statement “teach a man one religion and he’ll be sold for life, teach him two and he’ll be done in an hour”. I’m finding it very validating to see all the way Christians did the exact same things to the bible that the rabbis did.

Of course, I was carefully sheltered from this fact in the first place, and certainly had I been exposed to it, I’d have been reassured that the Rabbi’s shit was the word of God, while those Christian’s word of God was total shit.)

Growing up, I now realize, allegory was a double edged sword.

I loved learning about the deeper meaning of things. I loved the theory behind it all, the unifying construct that tied it all together. I loved the discovery of things as they weren’t – “you thought it was just a fun story, you didn’t realize it holds the secrets of all creation!”.

The magic in the every day.

The flip side of all this was how destabilizing it all was. A part of me, possibly a neurodivergent part, really needs things to be literal. I had very little appreciation for nuance. I really needed strong boundaries and stable sense of what the world was about and who I was within it.

And the problem with allegory is that there are 1,000 different ways to interpret the same thing, and everyone is right. “The Torah has 70 faces,” and “both contradictory opinions are the word of the living God”.

On a quest for actual guidance, this was worse than useless.

Had Torah been left as just an indulgence, something fun to roll around in for a while, allegory could have been fine, I suppose (although I’m not sure I’d have obsessed over it for 14 hours a day. A Dvar Torah a week would have been enough). But then it got anchored with being a “guidebook” for every minute of the day. And subjecting someone to a manual that dictates every moment of their day without actually telling them what to do, is like, the shittiest manual ever conceived.

As usual, the Rabbis were picking and choosing – they decided that the Torah was hugely important, and that it had deep significance, but beyond that point they couldn’t figure out what was significant, or how to manifest that importance.

So I found myself suspended in the vacuum created by these polar dichotomies, like those tchotchke gadgets that make a ball float by suspending it between two magnets. Neither here nor there, lost in the enticing, but ultimately unfulfilling, infinite universe of man-made allegory.

On Mental Health

Mental health in the Orthodox world is a catastrophe.

It’s gotten marginally better in the Orthodox community in the United States, but in Israel the shitshow still reigns supreme.

It starts with the absolute stigmatization of any mental health issue. Physical ailments aren’t great either, but mental health ones are on another level. Any sign of it before marriage will disqualify you from the dating pool. Any sign of it after you’re married can be grounds for divorce.

And what are the most telltale signs of a mental health disorder? Medication. That’s how we know it’s official. If you have depression and anxiety and don’t treat it, that’s fine. If you do, fuck you.

How prevalent are mental health disorders in the Orthodox community? Let’s see.

We’ll start with the biological origins of it – so much of mental health starts with genetics, and it seems that Ashkenazi Jews are pretty good at sucking at almost everything but being smart (and being smart only makes mental health disorders worse). So the neurosis has got a nice good baseline.

Now let’s add some nice doses of PTSD from the various misadventures that go on in that community. From sexual abuse to violence to an overall shortage of emotional intelligence.

There’s a core underlying belief, for example, that emotions are something you can either suppress or change. This leads to a radical lack of acceptance of an individual’s own core humanity and sense of self, along with a plethora of symptoms that naturally follow – from sexual deviance to uncontrolled rage to crushing guilt.

Throw in some OCD, anxiety, and depression about failing God around a myriad of things you have no hope of ever doing right, and you’ve really set yourself up for the psychiatric ward.

Growing up, one of the common narratives of how much better Orthodox society and the kiruv world in particular was than the rest of “the world” was by pointing to how much of the world was on anti-depressants. If only they had the beauty, meaning, and guidance of Judaism, surely they wouldn’t need that shit.

What they were really saying is “if only they hid their problems as well as we hide ours, they wouldn’t need medication.”

Fuck that. I still grapple with this internal belief. This disparaging view towards psychology, science, and medication as just being cheap sellouts. This narrative came from people with the maturity of a 3 year old, the worldliness of a self-selecting brick, and the personal life of a dumpster fire.

And yet, they got under my skin, because I was 10 when I saw them referring to ADHD medication as the the failings of the global conspiracy, instead of one of the most studied and treatable disorders. I was 12 when I was told emotions were secondary to the intellect, instead of them actually being the source of all our choices. And I was 15 when I was told that mental illness was the ultimate weakness, but a society that is emotionally unwell to its core.

Good job guys. Way to make the world a better place one pseudo personal growth seminar at a time.

Society as a whole has a lot to improve as far as its stigmas towards mental health. And therefore, as per usual, Orthodox society is about 100 years behind.

Welcome to color. Welcome to internet. Welcome to mental health. You’ve got work to do.

The Kiruv Glossary

Are you in the process of getting brainwashed by an Institute for Jewish Wisdom? Is all that mumbo jumbo getting you down as you try to don a black hat a week after being a regular college kid in California?

This handy dandy glossary will provide an explanation for the most common words you’ll probably encounter. Some of them may seem like regular words, but rest assured, they have a special meaning in the Kiruv world.

Aish – the best Kiruv organization ever. Chabad are a bunch of losers who don’t pressure you nearly enough to completely change your life in the course of a month. Ohr Sameach missed out on the key part of becoming a pyramid scheme and convincing the fresh blood to go recruit new victims in turn. Aish has the secret of Jewish leadership: fuck others as they have fucked unto yo.

Answers – we have answers for everything. We’ll tailor them to your specific style. Are you intellectual? We’ve got intellectual answers. Are you an emotional fluffbox? We’ll speak to your heart. Are you asking an actually good question that we don’t have a good answer to? We’ll backtrack a few steps and explain how nothing can be known with absolute certainty; also, no one else ever claimed to experience public revelation, amiright?

Whatever it takes.

Ba’al Teshuva – a unique species of people who deserve all the respect in the world for seeing the error of their ways and returning to God as adults. They come with great stories of how lost they were and what their path to truth was. They will regale you with tails of their shenanigans on the high seas of secularism, and how it definitely wasn’t worth it at all (just meaningless sex, man).

A typical arc for a Ba’al Tehsuva is feeling really great about himself when he’s new to the faith, then getting ignored by the Kiruv establishment once the novelty has worn off (we have newer fish to fry) while getting ostracized by mainstream Orthodoxy for not knowing all the nuanced customs and generally being weird.

It all culminates with deep soul-searching and a redefining of what it means to be religious at around the 20 to 30 year mark, enough time to be completely stuck in that way of life and to have fucked up many others in the process.

Chabad – Aish thinks that water can eventually dig a hole through the rock of your hardened secular heart. Chabad knows that vodka works a lot faster.

Divine – what’s better than the shitty world that we see all around us? A fantastically awesome world that we can’t see.

Emotions – ah, those pesky things. Don’t you wish they all just went away? With our help, they can. You’ll learn to conjure up love, happiness, fear, and anger at the exact appropriate times. Live life in total control. Keep that butthole clenched.

Fear – the world is a scary place. Look at all the broken homes. The loss of values. The loneliness. The meaninglessness. Come, settle into our warm embrace. It smells like cholent and smiles in here. We’ve got all the answers, all the systems, and the results you crave. Shhh now, struggling will only make it hurt more.

God – a benevolent father in heaven who makes life really difficult for us because it allows us to grow as people. Also, our ancestor fucked up royally which made things even more difficult than was originally planned, but whose fault is that? Correct, yours. God is perfectly calibrating every part of your day for your optimum benefit, and you can, and should, feel free to talk to him. He will answer you. But the answer might often be no.

Goyim – we’re not saying they’re bad. They have a special place in the world to come – serving us as dirt under our feet. We’re also not saying we’re better than them: everyone has a responsibility in this world, everyone is a necessary cog in the machine. We just happen to be the captains of this ship and they are the mechanics (and isn’t it funny that they are so mechanically inclined? Insert a Jew in Home Depot Joke). So what we’re saying is, if you want to keep the special unique tradition that is the Jewish people alive, then we highly highly highly recommend you break up with your non-Jewish girlfriend.

Happiness – we’ve got the market cornered. Those other people who look happy in the street? They haven’t experienced real happiness. The kind that comes with knowing you’re saving the world just by reading some psalms.

Intellectual Honesty – our big brains can show us the truth, if we have the courage to look past the temptations all around us. Here’s a clue: the truth is uncomfortable. What would your body rather do, fuck a lot of women while eating a cheeseburger, or read about women getting their periods from a 2,000 year old book? It therefore follows that the latter is the truth, and if you’re incapable of accepting this than you’re probably a weak-minded millennial snowflake who has lost control to his emotions and chasing the next feel-good high.

We feel bad for you.

Judgement – we’re not judging you. We know it’s hard to see the truth. It’s hard to be faced with the temptation to be gay, for example; we can’t even imagine what that must be like. We have a saying around here, Judaism is not all or nothing. Every little bit you do is progress. The fact that God will smite you for hundreds of things you do wrong, is something we’d rather not talk about, at least until you’re in Intermediate II.

Anyway, even if God is judging you, we aren’t.

Kiruv – wanna know our origin story? We realized that we were losing more Jews to intermarriage than the Nazis had killed in the holocaust. Hitler had killed bodies, but ignorance about the beauty of Judaism was killing way more souls. So we’ve been waging a holy war against ignorance for the last 40 years, and no, that doesn’t sound at all like something George Orwell would talk about.

Learning – Jews have valued learning for generations. Don’t you want to continue that tradition by studying the same exact thing they studied thousands of years ago? It’ll be like throwback Thursday, except every day. Look at all the Noble Prize winning Jews, Einstein must have studied the Talmud pretty hard to come up with a theory like that.

We are called “the people of the book” (Muslims and Christians also call themselves that, but I hope you don’t know that) and I’m pretty sure you know the book being discussed here is, of course, the Bible. Do you really want to forsake your 3,500 year old tradition for some newfangled modern science textbook?

Mitzvos – yes, they are called commandments, but it might be helpful to think of them as “opportunities”. Opportunities to feel close to God and become a better person, through such means as not eating the limb off a living animal (that one’s a really good one, even non-Jews should do it!).

Moshiach – we can’t wait for that dude to show up and clean up this hellhole. He’s gonna fight our wars, return us to our formal splendor, and show everyone else who’s boss. The Jews returning to Israel is pretty much proof that his arrival is imminent. Rumor has it that it’s the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rumor has it that it’s Rabbi Weinberg. Rumor has it that they are both dead.

Orthodoxy – look, are we saying that Orthodox Jews are perfect? no. We all have flaws. But look at the studies that show how happy they are. Look how at unbroken their homes are. Look at the kindness they do to each other, as long as each other looks and behaves exactly like them. By idealizing their strengths and whitewashing their weaknesses, I think you can see that they are the ideal society to become a part of.

Pleasure – Most people have only experienced one kind of pleasure. Physical pleasures like eating, sex, and drugs. But we’ve figured out something that no one has before – there is pleasure to be had from meaning. There is pleasure to be had from transcendence. Bet you didn’t think about that, huh? Well, we’ve have a class all about it. We’ll spend the first 45 minutes talking about physical pleasures, and then zip through the remaining four in the final 15. Because priorities.

Questions – you are welcome to ask any and all of them, we are so totally open minded. We will also be sure to point out that other great people have asked the same question, to simultaneously stroke your ego while also diminishing your brilliance. You’re really special, but you’re not that great. And if we’re being honest (which we always are, the Torah values honesty) isn’t that all you wanted when you asked your question? To be told you’re smart? Now that that’s out of the way, who really needs an answer? See also: answers.

Rabbis – a group of people who have tapped into a source of wisdom far greater than anything in the material world. Also, they are just human, and they too make mistakes sometimes. How do we know when they are doing what? Leave that to us.

Scientists – smart people, certainly. We wouldn’t want to shit on everything you believe in. But also, they are human, and have biases. Do you know how many studies are funded by the liberal lobbyists? At the same time, we’ll have you know, some really smart scientists actually agree with us. What we’re saying is scientists suck, unless they agree with us, at which point they are fucking rad.

Shabbat – oh ho ho, Shabbat is like, the best. We get to disconnect. Have you noticed how everyone is totally addicted to their smartphones? God foresaw this and invented this day just for that purpose. So now we’re addicted to our smartphones (and cigarettes) only six days a week.

It’s a time for families to just spend time together, or, in this case, spend time together while also hosting you, our esteemed guest. Because we’d like to show you just how beautiful Shabbat is, and how beautiful our families are, and this is definitely not a performance act specifically for your benefit.

We have the yummiest food too – and you, a Jewish person who is not religious, are an ideal candidate for consuming it. If you were non-Jewish, or already religious, we’d recommend you find somewhere else to eat. We’re not a soup kitchen.

Truth – there is only one, and we’ve got it.

Universality – this isn’t just about the Jews. We’re saving the whole world. We taught the world morality – the world was just a bunch of idol worshiping thieving rapists until we showed up and knocked some sense into them. Our goal is to continue to help the world, which is why we focus exclusively on helping Jews, because once we finish helping the Jews, they’ll go and help everyone else. We’re almost done, just a few hundred years to go.

Valor – did you know we refer to our wives as Women of Valor? We sing them a song about this every Friday night! So that pretty much balances out their cooking, cleaning, baby-making, child-rearing services that we utilize the rest of the week. The kitchen? They want to be there. Covering their hair and elbows? They want to do that. It makes them feel graceful.

Go ahead, ask them, they’ll tell you so themselves.

We told them to.

Women – I’m pretty sure we said everything we needed to say in Valor.

Wisdom – there’s something ponderous about the word, right? It sounds so much better than “tip” or “good idea”. It just evokes this grandeur: big beards, heavy tomes, Dumbledore. Cavernous halls, secrets passed down through the generations. Damn, it’s really such a great word. We should use it more often.

Xenophobia – Us? Never! Some of our favorite ba’alei teshuva are black! (and have you seen his music video?) We’ll accept people of any race, creed, or culture as long as they tell us we’re the best. We’ll embrace evangelical Christians who come to worship at our feet, South Koreans who study the Talmud, or Buddhists who recognize that their way doesn’t even come close to our wisdom (you really should meet Sarah Yocheved Rigler). That racist joke we just told, it was just a joke, chill out. Oh, but fuck those Muslims, everyone has their limits.

Yeshiva – a place where men can sit all day, every day, while studying ancient Jewish texts in broken Hebrew and trying hard not to masturbate. When they’re ready, they can get married, establish a Kiruv branch somewhere, and send new people to Yeshiva. Rinse and repeat.

Zebra – black and white thinking is what we specialize in. This would definitely be our favorite animal, if it were kosher.

Velvel He Was

              Shimon and Shmuesster are proud to present the newest title in the “Rebbi Stories” collection. Each title lovingly written and embellished, we strive to present you with the most accurate and inspirational accounts of the lives of the gedolim past and present, in order that their story be a beacon of light in the vast stormy sea of disillusion.  We provide you with several excerpted vignettes from our newest book in order that your eyes may shine.

Velvel He Was

An autobiographical account of the life and times of Rabbi Velvel Pinskowitz

It was my great humility that brought me to this point, and it is that same humility that will help me on my path to eternal greatness. (From the book)

…My genius was apparent from a young age. Before I was born, I had already learned to read and I had finished all of the mishna before I could talk. By the time I could talk I had finished shas, and when I learned to walk I used to walk over to the great Halfsburger yeshiva, where I would attend shiruim given by the esteemed Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yeshiya Halevi Yehuda Milchowitz. My brother, who attended the yeshiva as well, used to carry the gemrah for me since I was too young to carry it myself, and would in addition change my diapers during recess. Rabbi Milchowitz took an immediate liking to me, for I would always engage him in lively debate during shiur. He often had no answers to my insightful and incisive questions, and he once remarked that he had “never met a three year old as young as me who had finished shas.”…

…However, I wasn’t just a remarkably gifted genius; I had exemplary middos and remarkably good deeds as well. I would go out of my way to help those in need, always had a kind word and a cheery smile for those of downtrodden spirit, and a word of unsolicited advice for all who asked. Many of my actions went unheard of: I couldn’t be found placing boxes of food at the doorsteps of needy families, nor could I be seen sweeping the floor of the yeshiva late at night. This, because I made a point not being seen doing them. Needless to say everyone found out, and my fame and honor grew exponentially, although I shunned all public mention at all costs. Once, the cleaning lady broke the golem I had made out of Lego (which I had created while listening to a shiur on the family phonograph), but I did not scream at her like a lesser man would have, instead I smiled and told her that I had planned on making a new creation anyway (to put her at ease, I really did build the Lego King Kaluka Jungle-Hangout Island set, which was hailed by many aficionados as one of the most realistic replicas) However, it wasn’t always easy to be great, and at times I struggled with my greatness…

…I took as my wife the daughter of Rabbi Zelmale Dancowitz of Shmiel, one of the leading sages of the generation. He was a great father in law. I became the Rabbi of my hometown, Shlimzale at the incredibly tender age of 14. There were those who questioned my appointment, but soon convicted them with my shining brilliance and flawless character. During this time I also finished my first book Shoo”t Habarva”z, a collection of deep halachik discussions that was hailed as “legendary” by the Revolverer Rebbe, one of the leading sages of the generation. Soon, my fame also began to spread as a miracle worker, and people would travel from as far as Velochnik to receive a blessing for health, financial success, soul mate, or to cure the common cold. My success rate was quite literally unbelievable; I once remarked to myself that I “couldn’t believe how often my blessings came true”…

… It was during these years that the wandering hordes of Genghis Kahan invaded France using their kamikaze attacks that made them famous during the Boer war of 1617. During these terribly trying times, when the entire Jewish world was in turmoil, I was steadfast in my belief and sent letters of support to communities far and wide. I was also adamant that Kahan should not come within a thousand miles of Shlimzale, and assured my flock that he would even cross the Danube. And so it was, that admiral Wellingston defeated him at the famous battle of Bunker Hill of 1765 before he could do any more harm. And thus with H’s help and my good word, disaster was narrowly avoided and we were salvationated…

…My body wracked with pain that I willingly and unquestioningly accepted upon myself, I knew my time had come to leave this fickle world of temporariness and deceit. But I did not fear for I knew that much reward awaited me in the world to come for all my righteous deeds. I therefore called in my students and beseeched them not to be too saddened by my passing, since after all I would be going to a better place. I then lay back heavily upon the bed and, while reciting the shema with such great concentration that my whole body perspired and I became the stuff of legend, I returned my holy soul to its creator…

If We Were a Cult, Would We Be Making This Joke?

Rule #1 of cults, according to the international society of cults, is don’t call yourself a cult.

But what if others call you that? That could undermine the whole thing, the whole big plan for world domination.

Here’s a great strategy – beat them to the punch, and make a joke about it at the same time.

Because if you were really a cult, would you be making this joke?

Why, yes, yes you would. Case in point.

I recall at least three stories being told, by three different people who were very much solidly part of the Orthodox/Kiruv cult, of how they themselves suspected that the world they were being sucked into was, indeed, a cult.

The time my father bought his parents a book about the Moonies when his older brother became religious (before committing the cardinal sin of trying to extract his brother himself). It was one of his favorite stories to tell at the Shabbos table. Beat the Kiruv guests to the punch.

“I prepared for a whole year by studying undergrad philosophy and yet after one month of debate these professional kiruv Rabbis had my 21 year old self beat, which proves they are right if they withstood my academic rigor.”

My bench mate at rabbinical school who arrived at the conclusion he was in a cult partially because he was only being fed starchy foods, and not enough of them (a classic cult move, apparently). He tried to flee early in the morning but lo, when the dust settled he was still here, becoming a Rabbi.

The moral of these stories being, “don’t worry about this being a cult, we’ve already worried about it for you” (see also the closely related classic kiruv line “really smart people already asked the same question you did”) and the implied conclusion that this really isn’t a cult, because if it were we’d never joke about it.

Cults have come a long way since the early days when you traipsed around in robes and gave out flowers at airports. Those guys were weird.

We’re committed to personal growth, yo. Living your best life while wearing a suit. Like NXVIM.

Here’s a great video from Genetically Modified Sceptic (a great channel in general) where he analyzes the six most influential cults by a variety of standards. Haredim are a respectable 3 out of 6 on the list.

How to Write a Frum Novel

This was a post I wrote in my teens, while I was still very much religious. As you can see, I was still very bothered by the absolutely abysmal quality of literate in the Jewish community.

BS”D

By C. Yackobovitch

Writing Frum novels can be an exciting, creative and rewarding experience. Not to mention the loads of money you can make; it is rumored that A.M. Amitz makes over one thousand dollars a month. This guide is here to help you on the road to success while keeping in accordance with Jewish ruach and values which are so dear to us, and with the hamlatza and hadracha of top rabbonim.  

The purpose of this guide is merely to serve as a guide to point you in the right direction; it is not meant to come in place of good old fashioned imagination and creativity. Feel free to adapt your story which ever way you like within the general guidelines of this guidebook. I wish you much hatzlacha in your derech.

The first thing you must do is find a good pseudonym. It must have two initials for the first names, and a noun for the last. For example: N.B. Shemesh or S.T. HaYechidi.

Now it is time to select a topic: you can choose between threat of annihilation from Russia or threat of annihilation from terrorists.

It could be either through the use of a dirty bomb, a nuclear bomb, or through a computer hacker bringing the entire world to its knees through shrewd (if obscurely explained) computer manipulation. You may also use a recently publicized threat that has been either used or thwarted in the recent past.

Original examples of this include flying planes into buildings, sending anthrax in the mail, or bringing explosives onto a plane disguised as a bottle of vodka or arak, depending on whether its terrorists or Russians.

Also, there should be another personal plot of equal importance woven amongst the story. It could be a threat to the name of a prominent Bnei Brak family, the threat of financial ruin to a prominent Jerusalem family; or the threat of not finding a Shidduch for the hero of the story.

The plot must include either direct or indirect involvement of CIA or FBI (sometimes also spelled IBF for international bitachon federation.) agents. The specific agents’ names can be either Jack, Robert, or David. (See appendix A: writing the name David.)

If you choose the make the Russians the bad guys, then obviously it will involve the KGB. The agents’ names can be either Alex, Sasha, or Boris. If you choose the terrorist option, it gets a little more complicated: the terrorist leader will be identified by his last name only, i.e. Abu so-and-so. For example: “…the most dreaded terrorist leader of all time, whose name struck fear in the heart of all who heard it, Abu Musrarah…”, while the terrorists in the field may be called either Muhamad, Yusuf or Ibrahim.

Some plot twists you may add to the story:

  • The second to highest bad guy is actually a CIA agent!
  • The silent Russian janitor with the dark sunglasses who cleans the toilets in the Mossed headquarters is really a KGB agent!
  • The CIA agent (who should be named David, thus adding flexibility. On writing David, see appendix A) is so impressed by the actions of the Frum hero, that he reveals that he is actually Jewish and wants to become religious!

How to make your novel a kosher novel

According to halachic decree, the hero must pray no less then every 4.6 pages and before embarking on a major mission. He must also appreciate the A-mighty’s continual supervision and assistance on a constant basis. There is a disagreement amongst the rabbonim as to whether he may eat at a kosher restaurant or not, so it is better to keep the hero away from such places, especially if he is not married.

Also, if he is not married, the entire plot must take place during bein hazman. This can actually add an interesting element to the plot line, as you can include a ‘ticking clock’ feeling to the story. (Will Elazar manage to reveal the true identity of the Russian collaborators, find and diffuse the nuclear bomb, locate his missing Teffilin and save the name of his fathers’ seminary, in only three weeks?…)

Halacha prohibits any other type of book other then mystery stories. There cannot be any comedy, horror, Sci-fi, action, history (with the exception of biographies of rabbonim. IY”H I will be writing a guide on the subject soon), or drama.

It is important to have the hero speak only proper language, no slang, jargon, or other street talk may be used. Nor can there be any reference from the street which would R”L corrupt the minds of our young, L”A.

For example, all the characters must speak like this (modify as necessary for Hebrew.): “Boris! It is thou, ye! Thou hast deceived us! Shame be upon thou! Know yea, if thou shall not release us from our bondage, the United States of the Americas shall impose swift retribution upon thou and thy nation! Swift will be your downfall as you are consumed in the fires of the bombs of the Atom! Hark ye, you have been warned.”

That is all the information you need to write a first-rate absorbing novel; just use this information as a base, and let you imagination run wild.

Appendix A: writing David. It is essential to convey to your readers that this David is an American David, probably a goy. (Unless you choose the ‘CIA agent is really Jewish’ plot twist, see above.) To do this it is essential that the name be spelled right. It should be spelled Dayveed, to convey the optimum American Goyish impression that is so essential for your America Goyish CIA agent.

Appendix B:

The back cover: the key to success.

The back cover can be the decisive factor in a person’s decision to buy a book, so proper wording is key.

Studies have shown that most Yidden are intrigued by questions, so the more questions that are asked on the back cover, the more the odds are that a person will buy the book to read the answers. To write compelling and captivating questions, it is recommended to stick to the five W’s: who what where will and why. I shall bring an example for each.

  • Who is the mysterious man in the fedora who is hanging around the Bermans’ home in the middle of the night?
  • What is the cause of the mysterious disappearances of the Israeli nuclear scientists while on tour in Iran?
  • Where could the mysterious messages that Elimelech is receiving over his long range radio be coming from?
  • Will Yerucham ever see his family again?
  • Why won’t the Arab worker who works on Elyakim Shababs’ plantation tell him where he lives?

Ad Campaign for Freedom Cracker

I was honored, nay honored, to be part of the rebranding of one of the most established names in Jewish cuisine. Freedom Cracker has been serving up stale cold matza since 1776, and when they approached us to “bring matza to the 21st century”, we jumped at the opportunity.

The result was an ad series aimed at “reimagining tradition”, the new tagline we came up for Freedom Cracker. This was expressed in the form of a series of artisanal displayed photographs that elevate the subject to an art form, alongside with a themed series that touches upon Jewish historical traditions.

We are reminded of the biblical verse “yona matza bo manoach”, which roughly translates to ‘in Matza, Jonah found rest’.

May we all find rest and freedom this holiday. Keep an eye out for Freedom Cracker ads in Mishpacha, Ami, and all other quality magazines for the discerning public.

Love Thy Neighbor, Hate Thyself

Around two years ago, one of my siblings was struck in a hit and run accident.

They spent a day in the hospital before any of us family members even found out about it.

When we did, there were a few panicked hours as we tried to figure out what had happened to them, how they were doing, and how to get them the help and support they needed – this was all compounded by strict Covid regulations at the hospitals and the fact that they were living abroad.

All this took place a few hours before Shabbat. My parents were very involved in those few hours, calling people, making connections. And then, as sundown approached and my sibling’s injuries were deemed non-life threatening, they went off the grid for 25 hours.

I was left to continue carrying the logistical burden – many things still needed to be taken care of, my sibling was far from doing well.

They were just not dying.

This behavior accentuated an uncomfortable truth about religious parents:

If they’re doing it right, they love God more than they love you.

In my case, my parents also loved the Jewish people more than they loved us. That amorphous idea of a peoplehood that transcends culture or genetics as long as you mother is arbitrarily Jewish; the humanistic world view that de-humanizes most people and assesses everyone ranking in the spiritual spheres – and in their ability to be the next great Jewish leader, all of that was more important than the nine of us.

Many of us have experienced absent parents. Parents who seemingly prioritize other things on their day to day – work, their own distractions from life’s discomforts, their own unmet needs.

But when push comes to shove, the hospitalization of a child helps most people snap out of it, remember what’s really important. They drop their petty distractions and reconnect to their priorities.

It’s an insidious accomplishment of religion to make a parent act against their natural instincts. More impressive even than getting someone to sacrifice their own life, ala “kiddush hashem”; biologically we are hardwired to care for the survival of our offspring more than ourselves.

And you shall love your lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

From a compassionate standpoint, your own emotional health and wellbeing cannot be in a very good place if you love God, or the Jewish people, or even your children, more than yourself. You’re already off to a bad start.

There, I said it. Bite me. I’m kosher.

How much of a toll does it take on you to subdue your own inner morals and instincts for the sake of a “higher truth”? I’ve been there myself and it’s devastating, some of the deepest traumas I grapple with.

How do I experience my parents prioritizations?

I hate God, because they love Him more than they love me.

I hat the Jewish People, because they prioritize them over me.

People call that a self-hating Jew. But my self is not Jewish, it’s human. And I’m working on loving that human self.

I think people throwing around labels like that are overly identified with their Jewishness while simultaneously hating the world around them – and themselves.

Wielding Religion, or: a God-Shaped Dildo

For a long time, I was angry at religion for its own sake.

And don’t get me wrong, the thing is full of irrational beliefs and oppressive ideas.

But I’m coming to appreciate over time how, like almost all things, Fundamentalist Religion is really just a tool – a stiff and largely inflexible construct, sort of like a dildo shaped like God – and it all comes down to how you use it:

You can fuck yourself with it, and maybe that gets you off. Personally I’d prefer something a little softer, one that conforms to the shape of my own psyche. But hey, as a consenting adult, you do you.

Or, you can use it as a blunt object and beat others with it like Hatchet Harry in Guy Ritchie’s classic Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Now you’re fucking other people over, and that is not ok.

Here are a few examples to illustrate the difference:

Rabbi Chaim Kanyevsky spending his entire life in front of a book is fucking himself with religion. Yanky Kanyevsky muttering into his ear and manipulating the masses, is fucking others.

People giving to charity for salvation and a better place in the world to cum, are fucking themselves. People promising this salvation to benefit specific charities and their own pockets, are fucking others.

Telling yourself you are going to heaven by reading the same page from the bible 40 times, is you masturbating vigorously to an idea. Telling little kids they are going to hell if they don’t study that page, is fucking people over.

You deciding to become Ba’al Teshuva woman at the age of 20, to bend over and take it from a patriarchal society, is fucking yourself. Teaching your five year old daughters to cover their elbows, stay in the kitchen, and have nine kids, is fucking other people over.

I have had religion wielded against me. I’ve been told by people close to me, who were supposed to protect me, that the Torah allowed them to “flay me within an inch of death”.

But I realize with time that this was an expression of their own anger, a justifying of their own violence with an archaic belief. Grabbing the nearest blunt object, they seized religion. It was a good choice – coarse, primitive, unyielding, yet malleable to the world view of its perpetrator.

Grabbing the nearest blunt object, they seized religion.

Some of humanity’s worst acts were done in the name of religion – by people who were already unwell. It’s like lighter fluid to the flames of insanity.

This is a useful paradigm to entertain, one that explains why you can have religious people who are still nice people. This typically requires practicing salad bar religion: choosing the good bits and ignoring the rest.

I personally don’t think it’s worth it. Like a gas leak in your house, religion might give you a high, but it could also explode at any moment.

You wouldn’t let your kids play with matches, and you wouldn’t want them finding that God-shaped dildo you keep in your nightstand.

Stay safe out there.

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