Leaving the Ultra-Orthodox World — With No Other Choice

Some Aim for a Closer Relationship With God

Getty Images

By Yakir Englander

Published March 10, 2014, issue of March 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

I left because I wanted to be closer to God, and to holiness, nature, humanity and beauty. I did not believe that this closeness would be “easier” in secular non-ultra-Orthodox society, but I did realize that if I remained enclosed within the way I had been living, I would only reach a dead end.

It is a mistake to think that the world outside the ultra-Orthodox community is only secular; it really offers all kinds of options. My “leaving with a question” allowed me to enter a dialogue with secular people, but also with deeply religious Muslims and Christians. And that is not all. Needless to say, inside the ultra-Orthodox world I would never have engaged in genuine dialogue with gay men and lesbians, nor with women (as equals), nor with Palestinians.

To characterize Questers as simply “trying to be secular” is not only wrong, but also dangerous, because it denies spiritual validity to our journey, and paints us as the enemies of religion. The truth is, we simply cannot continue to be ultra-Orthodox; this should not make us outcasts. Some of us will join secular Jewish society, some will join other communities; some Questers, truthfully, will never find their place in any social context. But all of us are seeking.

Defenders of ultra-Orthodoxy do not want to see Questers be successful in embracing another way, because then more people will decide to leave. However, all Jews should understand the sacred principle of pikuah nefesh. Ultra-Orthodox Jews should be made to understand that for yotzim bishe’elah it is a matter of life or death. To force Questers to stay against their will is to impose on them a kind of death sentence.

Heidegger argued that while the atheist has abandoned the possibility of faith, Nietzsche’s “madman” still seeks God, since he cries out for Him. This figure represents any person who has the spiritual passion to continue to seek the unknown. Crying, grieving and wordless, he expresses the inability to talk to God or about God. At the same time, crying and weeping express a deep attitude of caring, and a passion for the possibility of the existence of the transcendent. This is the passion of the Quester.

The tragic suicide of yotzim bishe’elah should move us beyond religious cynicism, and open our ears to the cry of people in deep spiritual need. Is their need not our own? It is essential that ultra-Orthodox communities train a group of rabbis to work with yotzim bishe’elah in a pastoral and enlightened way. Together we can find the balance point of engagement, a way that will allow ultra-Orthodox society to maintain its values, while at the same time stopping the psychological and physical violence directed against those Questers who desire and need to leave.

Yakir Englander is a visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Northwestern University.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.