Dear Formerly Orthodox Jew…10 Commandments Just for You


As you go about systematically destroying all the hard work and years of blood, sweat and tears your parents shed for you, place yourself in their shoes, and understand that you’re the one making the changes –not them, and this is hard for them, just as it’s hard for you. Be patient, give them time and space to get accustomed to the new you. As I advocate to parents, don’t just tell them, show them you’re not a monster, show them you’re the same person they knew and loved not so long ago, and that despite wearing jeans or going to college R”L, you’re still a good person.

Here in Freiville, we believe strongly in “derech eretz kadmah laTorah,” and we tend to place more of an emphasis on mitzvos bain adam lachaveiroh than bain adam lamokom. So for example, boys and girls, when you go to your mommy and daddy’s house, put on a yarmulke or skirt, park around the corner and don’t pull out your cell phone in front of them on a Shabbos. It’s not that hard or complicated. You don’t have to believe in Torah m’Sinai or keep Shabbos to be respectful and courteous. I know, I know, you didn’t come all this way just to cave and be the obedient little clone they want you to be, but we all make compromises in life, and you need to pick your battles wisely. It’s not worth losing your family over wearing a yarmulke or skirts in their presence.

I fully understand the need to commit every aveira you can — and that’s fine, it’s your Zeus-given right as a newly minted shaygetz, but try to hold onto the most important of the Ten Commandments — “Vehayisah Mentch — Thou shalt be a mentch.” Wait, it’s not in there? I guess I’ll have to write my own Big Ten.

  1. Thou shalt joineth Footsteps, Hillel, Gesher, Mavar and the Facebook OTD Group. Or not. But thou shalt definitely haveth a very strong opinion on the matter.
  2. Thou shalt readeth (or pretendeth to have readeth) the Rishonim – Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett, and the AchronimDeen, Vincent, Auslander, and Brown, and do chazarah regularly.
  3. Thou shalt haveth a strong opinion on the title “OTD,” and be ready, willing and able to defend thine position vociferously, and at the drop of a hat. (A baseball hat. We don’t wear Jewy hats anymore.) Personally, I like “OTD” because of the one-finger salute it represents to its etymology, but I’d be overjoyed if “Frei” or “Maskilim” caught on, or if there were an English equivalent to chozer b’shayla. “Frumshpringa” is a good one, too, and of course there’s “transsecular.”
  4. Thou shalt at least dabble in self-hating Jewish rhetoric. And although that phrase is basically meaningless, it is your chiyuv as a bum to at least pretend.
  5. Thou shalt not letteth a day or conversation passeth without mentioning the fact that thou hath been raised Orthodox.
  6. Go to College. Do I really need to justify this? Want to broaden your horizons? Make more money than you would’ve as a cheder bus driver? Learn all the things they conveniently forgot to mention in yeshiva? Acculturate yourself, learn about the world, meet a diverse group of people and find out that you’re not nearly as different or weird as you think? Go. To. College.
  7. Read. It almost doesn’t matter what you read, just read everything you can get your hands on. It doesn’t even matter how you “read.” I listen to audiobooks and podcasts constantly. Again, I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a commandment.
  8. Not to sound like your dad (in heaven, or otherwise), but as you’re out there tearing up the town and enjoying the one and only life you will ever live —  as you absolutely should — use your Yiddishe kup. As my drill sergeant said to us, “be smart about the stupid things you do.” Don’t drink and drive, wrap it before you tap it, no means no, don’t feed the trolls, drink water, brush your teeth, etc.
  9. If you’re having a bad day =- reach out. We all have bad days, even those of us who pretend never to. It’s okay to be vulnerable. You’re OTD, which is damn near perfect, but imperfect nevertheless.
  10. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. No matter why you left, even if you suffered the most horrific abuse imaginable, even if you never want to see another Jew, speak or hear another word of Yiddish or even smell kosher food again (as I felt when I first left), kugel is delicious.
  11. Thou shalt not maketh a chillul OTD. Remember that inside every Jew is a Pinteleh OTD just waiting to be fanned into a full-blown inferno, and your shtick can scare them away forever.

(I know that’s an eleventh commandment, but we’re OTD, we ignore the rules. And besides, as with the originals, the first five are overly self-congratulatory and silly, so feel free to ignore them.)

Ultimately, my advice to both sides is to kill them with kindness. It worked in my case, and if there’s any chance of keeping your relationship, the way to achieve that is through mutual kindness and respect.

About the Author
Ari Mandel was raised in a Hasidic community in Monsey, N.Y. He married at 18 and had a child a year later. At about the age of 22, he became an atheist. A couple of years later Mandel joined the US Army. After completing five years of service in 2011, Mandel enrolled in New York University, where he is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree. In his spare time, Mandel wonders why his least thought-out posts get the most attention.
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