- This is an enjoyable read, though most of it is a rather repetitious series of interviews, all with much the same import.
- Basically, the extreme orthodox Jewish life has lots of advantages for family and community, but has become a ghetto “locked on the inside1” meaning that intelligent free-thinkers are unwilling to pay the price of being open about their unbelief, as it would cost them their family, home and job.
- There were some troubling accounts of the education system that is in part designed to make it difficult for young ultra-Orthodox people to make their way2 outside the community on account of not having the right skills.
- Almost all the “freethinkers” are men, as the woman’s role is mostly practical and “in the home”, so they don’t face the intellectual contradictions their menfolk can come up against.
- Some interesting accounts of shared experience over the internet.
- There’s some parallel with my own experience – including writing to “scholars” in the hope of answers to difficult questions. An interesting parallel with John Polkinghorne’s response to my Tractatus3 about the “poetry” of Scripture (parallel – “coasting along over the deep waters of the Talmud”).
- There’s a strange passage where a Hassid goes along to a Richard Dawkins meeting and – while he gets the scientific message – he also learns what it’s like to view a religion from the outside. I wasn’t sure what this was intended to mean. It might be that the Dawkinites’ religion was science (or Dawkins) – “I was sitting there with this whole group of people who were having this one viewpoint” – or that it was their views of religion that was new to him – as “a series of often ridiculous and always questionable ideas”.
- The article starts by reference to reading "Dershowitz (Alan M.) - Genesis Of Justice" as one future atheist’s first step on his fateful journey. I’ve bought the book, but it looks – from the account of one Amazon reviewer – that atheism isn’t a necessary consequence. Indeed, I thought that atheism was far from being the most obvious immediate answer to their conscientious troubles. There are lots of half-way houses between fundamentalism and atheism. But, I suppose, none is comfortable, and a mind-set trained in absolutes can easily flip from one end of the spectrum to the other.
- One Hasidic atheist claims that Moses Maimonides was a closet atheist. I wasn’t convinced.
- I was surprised not to see any reference to "Potok (Chaim) - The Chosen" (Danny is the Hasidic prodigy who throws it all up for freedom and psychology, while Reuven – from a more liberal background – maintains a middle-ground in the faith).
- There are, of course, many interesting anecdotes about the difficulty of “living a lie” for the sake of the children. Most of the atheists seem to have “come out” only as far as telling their wives. Some enjoy their intellectual freedom, but some find it difficult to cope with the contrast between Orthopraxy – keeping the minutiae of the Hasidic Law – and Orthodoxy. Personally, I can’t see how anyone could cope with all those regulations without belief that they are divinely required.
- There’s no consensus on whether the ultra-Orthodox communities are on the verge of collapse (“everyone is faking it”) or whether their fundamentalist turn is a successful coping mechanism.
- In contrast to historical ghettos where the gentiles wanted to keep the Jews in (at night), rather than the Jews wanting to keep their own community in.
- The example given was of poor teaching in mathematics, and even English.
- I have seen elsewhere in documentaries claims that a Yeshiva education provides good transferrable skills in logical thinking, and that the “missing facts” can be quickly picked up. Maybe.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)