April 13, 2005

Alive & Thinking

There once was kid from Crown Heights

Who stayed up reading most nights

His faith hadn’t faltered

But curiousity altered

His notion of the wrongs and the rights

With strange books they caught him

So quickly they sought him

Devices to thwart his desire

But try as they may

There just was no way

To extinguish that free-thinking fire

The heavier the chain

So much greater the strain

On the hopes and the dreams he had planned

Until all that mattered

That these bonds be shattered

For the man who yearned to expand

So he pursued that truth

Discovered in youth

Escaping from all that he knew

Becoming free

Isn’t that easy you see

When you're raised as an Orthodox Jew

Sometimes he reflects

On that life he rejects

While fumbling through thoughts in his head

Yet he continues to strive

Feeling much more alive

Than those who consider him dead


At 10:03 AM , Anonymous hayim said...

Beautiful ! Such a poet...

Do you think you would be where you are, had you received a MO education ? Maybe your pb was more with "closed-minded" Chassidism than with Orthodox Judaism per se, no ?

So let me try too :

A call to all my brethren
Do not give to your holy children
Too extremist an education
If you don't want to face rejection

At 10:15 AM , Blogger Shlomo said...

I had thought for a long while about just becoming MO, or at least traditional (whatever that means.) I rejected those for the same reason I would anything else. I don't accept the 'ikar' so why trifle with the 'tofel'?

At 12:41 PM , Blogger Hasidic Rebel said...

SL, you are among the lucky ones. As much as you may look back with nostalgia for the people and the life you left behind, most typical chasidim are ill-equipped to adapt to another lifestyle in any way.

It is a rare breed of chosid that leaves Judaism behind and still manages to find a semblance of meaning to life. A chasidic lifestyle, for all its faults, is an environment of intense spirituality. For those who need something meaningful to replace that, it is a near impossibility with the education (or lack thereof) provided for a typical chasid. One who wishes to explore the world beyond his own is therefore left to explore the world of taavos alone. At some point that becomes unsatisfying, and they just end up "ausgeshpilt fin beide zeiten".

From what I can tell, though, you've at least managed to avoid that.

At 1:59 PM , Blogger Shlomo said...

Oh. I followed my ta'avos, too. I didn't have good reason NOT to. But you're right.Ta'avos only take you so far,and after the first few indulgences, if one is a thinking person, one sees it for what it is and enjoys it without being consumed by it. Finding that out is the first stage to real love BTW.

At 8:15 PM , Blogger the shaigetz said...

REb Shlomo I can only second my esteemed colleague. You seem far too well adjusted for a leaver. Indeed you almost make me question the one fundamental belief that made me remain within...

Nice piece of writing Shlomo Leib but please rethink that beret.

At 8:20 PM , Anonymous Ami said...

Nice. The first Shlomo was a poet too. :)

At 8:27 PM , Blogger Vilda Chaya said...

I enjoyed the poem. I also like this new picture with the beret. Not that I think they are related.

At 8:47 PM , Anonymous shira said...

What's all the fuss about the beret? I like it. He actually looks like an artist I know. Oh well, if you all hate it, just tell him he looks like Curtis Sliwa during his Guardian Angels period. I'm sure he'll rethink the beret STAT.

At 10:28 PM , Blogger Hoezentragerin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:30 PM , Blogger Hoezentragerin said...

Many of us are rebels as long as we can find a cause.

I wrote an essay on the subject a while ago.
It's kind of long, but I'm in the mood of showing off.
Mind if I use your blog to do just that?

At 12:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh, I liked the last 2 lines the best!

Shabbat shalom


At 12:22 AM , Blogger Chai18 said...

very interesting poem

At 6:16 AM , Blogger Shlomo said...


By all means! Please do!

At 7:48 AM , Blogger Hoezentragerin said...

Thank you, Sl.
Alright so here goes.
Though the essence of what I write is true, please take it all with a pinch of salt.

Sep. 2004

I could have been born driving a pickup truck or swinging from a tree, because from the very beginning I was a tomboy. While my friends played house, I would be a soldier. When they would rock baby to sleep I was going to rock the world. My buddies were into clothing, but I was into books. I could tell you all about Victorian fashions but didn’t know much about current trends and fads. I dreamed about being a politician or a lawyer. My fantasies were unbridled but not wild enough to predict the future, I guess, for I never envisioned myself being a saleswoman in an upper-class designer boutique.
I always wished to see the world, and now Paris and Milan came home to me. Surrounded by couture and beauty I was soon selling clothing by being an example. The compliments were flattering and appealing, and so for the first time in my life I became an imitator rather than an innovator. I started dressing just like the mannequins in the windows. I became an icon of fashion and glitz, placed on a pedestal for others to follow. I buried my head into books again, fashion magazines, that is.
This materialistic transformation came over me so slowly and subtly. It didn’t happen over night. Rather it crept up slyly, sneaking like old Mr. Winter gradually ruining a mild autumn’s day. Suddenly, I was just like everyone else. I was part of the crowd dancing to the beat of one drum. I no longer had my signature, my own unique style. Instead, I was just another stalk of hay, blown and beaten by a bitter breeze.
Life was merrily ticking by until one day it struck me. I finally came to a humble realization. I had lost my identity somewhere beneath the heavy layers of frills and lace. The nonconformist in me, lying dormant all these years, was now vicious in victory. I gave up my job and went back to school instead. Finally, I can receive credit again for what I know, not for what I wear.
The more I learn the more empowered and confident I feel. I still dress up at times, but it is when and how I want. And so, though I feel more accomplished heeding my heart’s call, I did not end up joining the marines. But I do feel like I am surfing. I am sailing at sea, engulfed in a storm of algebra and chemistry….

At 8:35 AM , Blogger Shlomo said...


That was beautifully written. You possess four qualities in your writing and comment that reveal you to be a person of real character.


You say more in a few words than most of us do in a thousand (as usual.)

Thanks for sharing this! I'm almost happy that you're not blogging for yourself; you'd likely be making the rest of us look rather mundane by comparison.

At 9:09 AM , Blogger Mirty said...

Excellent! Thank you for posting that.

At 2:50 PM , Anonymous whisper said...


At 3:50 PM , Blogger Circumspection said...

In other words:
From rigid hassid to retrofit yid.

At 5:49 PM , Blogger Shtreimel said...


A great post yet again. You must be really good too, to attract such a well written piece by HT.

Great writing, both of you.

At 5:52 PM , Blogger Shtreimel said...


You’re a Curtis fan too… Oh, his solo radio show at night. It has yet to be topped.

At 6:50 PM , Blogger 'Thought & Humor' said...

Thought I would stop in to say, "Hi"!!!


'Thought & Humor'
Cyber Humor
Harvard Humor Club

At 10:06 AM , Blogger Frummer????? said...

Beautiful poem! (and I usually HATE poetry!)

At 7:53 AM , Anonymous The Hedyot said...

Love it! A masterpiece. Thanks for sharing it with us.

At 5:40 PM , Anonymous Ilya said...

I came across your site by accident when I was searching for Yevtushenko poetry that you had posted a while back. This poem that your wrote broke my heart. As a ba'al teshuvah myself, I rejoice in the opportunities that Judaism has allowed for me. To see the beauty that is a world of G-d as nothing but restrictions is, to me, not only distressing, but painful. I am sorry that you were unable to receive all your answers when you were young, but perhaps you were not asking the right questions or the right people. I don’t usually take the time to write things to people I will never meet, but I felt moved to do so on this occasion.

May your life be filled with peace.

At 7:58 AM , Blogger Shlomo said...


Thanks for your comments. Whatever it is that drives you to accept whatever it is that you accept as reality, I hope you find your peace with it.

As you browse the web, you will find dozens (and perhaps 100s) of persons who have serious questions about gods, Judaism, or religion in general. There is discussion all over the place by those who doubt, those who have no doubt, and those who aren't sure yet. These questions are not complicated philosophical issues, but basic questions of life, meaning (or absence thereof), and science. Judaism, or any religion for that matter, does not provide adequate answers. Never has and never will.

Kol Tuv

At 11:40 AM , Anonymous Ilya said...

Let me ask you then, what is the meaning that you derive from what it is that you believe?
I will tell you though; I too have struggled with the seeming contradictions between Torah and science. However if Torah is true and science is true, two truths cannot contradict one another. To me it is like the parable of the three blind men trying to figure out what is an elephant. The man holding the tail thinks the elephant is a snake, the man holding it’s leg thinks it is a tree and the man at the elephants side thinks the elephant is a building. But obviously it’s still an elephant.
None of these views seemingly contradicts each other, but they show disagreement due to their limited means. The only true way to figure out what the elephant is through the means of three blind men is to consolidate their information and try to figure out why there is a disagreement.
I’ll give you an example. A while ago I found a fairly good article on Aish that illustrated that Judaism and science do not have to disagree with one another.
http://www.aish.com/SSI/articleToPrint.asp?PageURL=/societyWork/sciencenature/ Age_of_the_Universe.xml

The link is in two pieces because it's long. I had to put a space before "age".

This is just one example, I’m sure there a hundreds of others.

Best Regards,

At 11:58 AM , Blogger Shlomo said...


Before we continue, are you sure you want to have this discussion? I've already had it a 1000 times or more, so I know exactly how this will go.

Secondly, the problem with your parable is that you are assuming the elephant is real, based on the observation of a 4th person not part of the story.

Thirdly, there is NO meaning to life outside of maintaining your biological existence. Everything else is abstraction, though those abstractions can lead us to peace and greater comfort within that biological framework.

kol tuv

At 12:54 PM , Anonymous Ilya said...

I will tell you, Shlomo, that I do not indeed want to have this argument with you. As I mentioned before, I am a ba’al tshuva and still relatively new at this. I am therefore very poorly equipped to handle and argument with someone whose torah and secular knowledge trumps my own. However, I think any person who can think objectively will admit that there is no absolute proof that can either prove the existence of G-d or completely disprove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are logical conclusions that can lead you one way or another but it’s up to each individual to pick which he prefers; the way of G-d or the way of no god. A human being is capable of rationalizing anything if he really wants to, (just ask the Germans) and if we did not have this ability to pick an out, there would be no free will. What is so appealing about the road of G-dlessness that mad you chose is?

At 1:40 PM , Anonymous Ilya said...

*choose it.

At 8:22 PM , Blogger Shlomo said...

"What is so appealing about the road of G-dlessness that made you choose this?"

Excellent question. Let me answer it by turning Pascal's Wager backwards. Pascal, who was no dummy, figured that on the offchance there was indeed a God, then it would be a good bet to live your life as if this God existed. You may wish to call this "erring on the side of caution."

I make the same wager, sort of. By accepting a God or religion I bind myself to years of dedication, expense, ritual, self-denial, worship, etc., and all the psychological and social side effects that accompany being a member of a particular faith. So, believing in a God would be a monumental task which would consume most of my life.

This is where the Wager gets turned around. What if, when I die, I find out there is NO God, since we have no way of proving it in life, why would I assume that death makes me any more knowledgable? It would turn out that I would have WASTED all of my time and effort serving a thing which did NOT exist. That sort of colossal waste would be painful to me, and not worth the possibility of wasting an entire life over.

I choose to err on the side of the evidence, and not on the side of caution. So far, no positive evidence has come forth to establish either a god, or any post death super ability to discern hidden facts of life and existence, and in fact, there is more evidence to the contrary.

Though some would say I am searching, I am certain that my search ended years ago, and what is left for me to accomplish is to refine my thoughts and journal them. There are latent feelings for my frumme life, but no desire to return to it.

I appreciate your questions and ideas, and I wish you the best in finding what you seek. I will answer anything you ask with honesty.

Kol Tuv

At 2:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is where the Wager gets turned around. What if, when I die, I find out there is NO God"

How will you find that out? Remember, no G-d means that, as far as we know, consciousness simply ceases altogether.

"I would have WASTED all of my time and effort"

But your time is wasted in any case. What can you do here? Preserve the human race? Make something beautiful so that some other people a few hundred years from now can get a little rise out of it? Nope. Still a waste.

"That sort of colossal waste would be painful to me,"

Where? When? Do corpses feel things?
I think Pascal's Wager still holds quite well, and cannot be "reversed."

Also, you mention what you feel are several negative aspects of a religious life, while leaving out the immense benefits that, quite often, simply do not exist in a secular society.

At 2:40 AM , Blogger Jack Naka said...

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At 12:28 AM , Blogger Jack Naka said...

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At 1:49 AM , Blogger BTA said...

Shlomo, not sure how you found my site, but this dialogue with a budding BT is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to occur- wherever it is.

Ilya is too new at this to debate the issues. He's right to acknowledge that, but he should not hide behind it. Also, you had such a great line in asking him whether he wants to go down this road, as you have for 1000 different times.

Ilya- the age of the universe post on aish- or anything on aish for that matter is not helpful. First, Shroeder is a joke in the scientific world. He is not the astrophysicist people claimed he was. Yes, he's a PhD from MIT, he's intelligent, but he's a geologist! And he was never an associate or full professor at MIT, as has been claimed as well.

His age of the universe argument should give you no consolation whatosever- it's been essentially banned by the so-called gedolei hador (the biggest baddest talmud scholars alive) and has been discredited by scientists.

But that's not the point. Becoming a BT is a search for truth for many. However, you will quickly see, you have to accept a lot of unsubstantiated claims and really unbelievable claims once you get started.

So, go ahead, get some tefillin. Start keeping some form of shabbos. See where it takes you. But I strongly advise you- don't start doing ANYTHING that you don't want to do at that moment. The kiruv rabbis will try to push you into more observance. They will maybe even claim "you're ignorant and need to learn in yeshiva for a while. After that, your questions will be answered."

I advise you to visit godolhador's blog for a concise summary of every issue you have a right and reason to be sceptical about.

There, you'll learn how much doubt there really is out there. And trust me, Akiva Tatz is a clown. So he got an MD in south africa, big deal? All of a sudden he can answer your questions? Listen closely, he's a kiruv clown. So is Kelemen and the rest.

You will soon realize that your desire to become a "legitimate" BT might be better channeled into connecting with your faith without all the dogmas and superstitions. Everyday orthodox observance is a drag- no two ways about it.

I happen to like keeping shabbos and kosher, but that's up to your personal taste. Trust me, god doesn't care either way what you choose to do! And no- you won't become wealthy the moment you start doing mitzvahs, just in case chabad or someone is after you with that angle.

I'd be happy to have you guest post on my site, which is really more of a forum for BT's than my own blog.

Shlomo- keep it up. Sorry I couldn't be more concise!

At 2:04 PM , Blogger InterestedJew said...

Great poem and terrific blog. The piece by Hoez was wonderful, too.

The Shaigetz: there are a lot of well-adjusted people who leave Orthodoxy (most of the Jewish world at this point!) But seriously, as hard as it is to leave a charedi way of life, there are many people who do it, and they do it because, as scary as it is, it feels better to them than living a life they don't believe in.


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