I’m Over Both the Outreach and the Bashing of Orthodox Judaism

This past summer, I watched the My Unorthodox Life series on Netflix. And yes, as an observant Jew, I had a visceral reaction of defensiveness and started to pick apart all of the inaccuracies presented in the ‘reality’ TV show. In fact, I even ran over to LinkedIN to write a post about it (which made me a pretty popular connection to make among other Orthodox Jews on the platform it turned out). So it wasn’t long after that I started to second-guess my post (not due to what I said, but due to how it was being understood).

The full truth of the matter is, I do not hold any type of ill will or judgement towards those Jews who go off the derech – which is a term that Orthodox Jews use to say that someone is not longer observant of Orthodox Judaism. What I do take offense to is spreading inaccuracies a twisted representations of the truth. Yes Orthodox Judaism is not a egalitarian society – but women absolutely can become businesswomen, drive, participate in sports — most definitely in the community that Julia left. What seems to be closer to the truth is that she grew apart from the lifestyle and especially after her divorce and you feel that need to want to start anew — it just is a great incentive to have left all that behind. And that is fine.

Julia Haart from ‘My Unorthodox Life’

But the criticism from Orthodox Jews was fierce — and not just of the inaccuracies presented (which is what I wanted to focus on), but also of the lifestyle choice of being off the derech. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Julia’s language and taste in clothes was a bit over-the-top. But hey, it is her life and I definitely do not pay her bills. But others took the show as some sort of battle cry to try to defend Orthodox Judaism in a very public way.

So the flip side of all of this is the kiruv movement – which is basically outreach to non-religious Jews to make them into Orthodox Jews. The Jewish people who do this are referred to as baalei teshuva – or the ‘Masters of Return’. Now, let me be very clear about this: I hold no judgement towards anyone in regards to their spirituality, religion, or what works for them. If you are a happy, contented Orthodox Jew, then I believe that you are living your best life. Same if you aren’t.

So now that I said that, let me share the link to Berel Solomon’s Orthodoxed film – which is pretty much a diss track to the My Unorthodox Life series:

So Orthodox Jews are just raving and going nuts over this. I watched it – and proceeded to do a lot of eye-rolling. To me, I didn’t find it inspiring at all. I mean from the very beginning, Randy/Berel led a charmed life of privilege. He drank and did drugs. Ok – so do/did millions of other young men. He never faced any tough challenges in life resulting from his choice to become an Orthodox Jew. He always had an income. He was never incarcerated. He was able to get (and so far stay) married. He’s built this happy bubble in which Orthodox Judaism is a major part of the equation; but not the only part.

The issue is that life is not so tidy. And Orthodox Judaism is not a cure for that. One of the most famous baalei teshuva in our day and age, Matisyahu, stopped identifying as an Orthodox Jew years ago. Elad Nehorai and his wife, Rivka, have written about this very eloquently. Others speak anonymously and are still looking for ways to escape what they consider to be a cult. And then there are the converts, LGBT Jews and divorcees who used to consider themselves to be Orthodox Jews – but now either do not or are very disillusioned with the community due to the clear lack of respect and esteem afforded to them from the Orthodox Jewish community.

In the end it is so important to give a fair and truthful account of religion – of both its blessings and curses. Without doing this, then you lose all respect and credibility from those on the outside looking in.