Orthodoxy – The Loneliness of its Dropouts

In recent years, the Orthodox community has taken great pride in the “Baal Teshuva” movement where previously thousands of unaffiliated Jews join the fold and become Torah observant Jews. However, there is a serious problem that is rarely addressed. That is, why has Orthodoxy been losing so many of its young people?

There are numerous reasons why this is a serious problem. The primary reason is the ineffectiveness of the school systems both here in Israel and abroad. Students are not being inspired to appreciate the beauty of our faith.

Too often, the Judaism that is presented is one of very strict laws that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Students are regularly lectured for not living the proper Jewish lifestyle without really explaining why. In many high schools where the freshmen population are mostly observant, by the time they graduate, most lose interest in religious observances.

A more serious problem that many young people are faced with, are the apparent inconsistencies of many rabbis and teachers. If it gets to the point where the behavior of this Jewish figure is inappropriate, to put
it mildly, the student feels totally justified in leaving a religion of “hypocrites and phonies”. If teachers treat their students in a degrading and insulting manner, often the pain and scars are so great, that the student wants no part of Judaism in the worst way.

Another problem in the Orthodox world, is the family and the synagogue. If Judaism is “stuffed down the throats” of young people, because they must attend Synagogue services on Shabbat morning where they are forced to be “bored out of their minds” for two to three hours each week, may cause them to want to run away.

Coupled with that, they feel justified in leaving because their parents aren’t the greatest role models, either. Therefore, the combination of bad educators, poor role models, insulting teachers, and meaningless prayer services, often leads young people to feel that they want out in the worst way, and they’re never coming back.

This becomes the greatest tragedy when this becomes the justification to marry outside of the faith. Orthodox Judaism is no longer an option and the attitude is, “anything but Orthodox Judaism.”

One savior for young people is the year that many spend in Israel. They are presented Judaism in a new, exciting, and refreshing way. They witness Jewish history unfolding right before their eyes. They meet heroes of the Jewish people and they suddenly realize there’s something really special about being Jewish.

Enlisting in the IDF is also a potential game changer. Putting on the uniform of a Jewish soldier who defends the honor of his people, awakens a sense of purpose and excitement.

The ones who made up their minds that they no longer want any part of Orthodoxy, have really dug a deep hole for themselves. They are good people who are looking for meaning and purpose but have ruled out Orthodox Judaism as being able to supply the goods. So they look for causes that they can believe in. They choose a new group of friends and search for mentors that they can truly look up to. The problem is that the ability to be intellectually honest, now becomes tainted.

The balance to be able to discern truth from falsehood is blemished when it is decided that there’s no way truth can be found in Orthodoxy. So they will bend over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to that which they now want to believe in. They never were able to give the benefit of the doubt to a lifestyle that caused them to much hardships. Once the choice to leave is made, it is a choice of loneliness. These Jews will never find the contentment and peace of mind that they would have found, had they stayed and looked a little bit more diligently at the religion started by our Father Abraham. They settle into a lifestyle that they can cope with but they are lonely. They have detached themselves from the Family of the Jewish nation and have chosen substitutes that are just that, substitutes.

There is a deep spiritual bond that every Jew has to be part of the Jewish people. For some, the yearning is dormant. For those of us who love the Jewish people, it burns strongly. Whether it is on a conscious level, or spiritual level, there is a need in the soul of every Jew to come home to the Family Nation of Judaism. Without it, loneliness.

The Orthodox community must not be smug. There are real problems that need to be addressed. We must improve our educational system and we must find better role models, and we ourselves, need to be better role models. We must present Judaism with patience, tolerance, kindness, and love. We must stop pushing our young people away. The so called “dropouts” need to know that this is the religion of truth given to us by G-d on Mount Sinai.

Judaism is holiness, and perfection and it represents all that is pure and sanctified. As the revered educator, Rabbi Aharon Rakefet, often quotes, “Judaism is perfect. Those who practice it are not.” For those of you who have left, come back and take a second look. If you look beyond the flaws, you will find your place.

And you will build a life of meaningfulness and contentment that our ancestors fought so hard to hand down to us. Come home!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.
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