Eliav, Tamir and Nati have all abandoned Judaism. They're only three people, but when you have as few friends as I do three of them feels like a lot. Now the only friend I have around my age who's still acting like a Jew is Moshe. He and I aren't going anywhere.
I'd like to act outraged and tell them this is ridiculous, but I'd feel like a hypocrite for doing so. Their worldview is just too similar to mine. I see religion as a long string of obligations, most of which don't appeal to me. Reciting pre-written prayers from a book is repetitive and dull. The holidays are just meaningless things you do every now and then and then get back to your life. The fasts are just something to put up with. On an intellectual level I can tell myself there's symbolic value to all the Jews doing the same thing at the same time, but that only makes me less interested. I'd rather hoard the glory for myself, not share it with millions of others.
So how can I say to my friends that they're wrong? I know perfectly well that humans are emotional, not rational. And the correct emotional response to religion is to reject it. Am I really naïve enough to think that anyone would listen to a rational argument when they have no emotional reason to do so? No, I'm not.
But here's the argument anyway. When God tells you to do something, you do it. You don't do it because you're getting something out of it, you do it because the creator of the universe wants it. And why would he/it want that? Because when a large portion of the world is doing things in his name, they become like a puddle reflecting him, each individual person a drop of water in that puddle. And puddles are pretty.
I'm not entirely sure I'm convincing myself with this argument, actually.
Religion is just something you do. Or rather, breaking it is just something you don't. There are lots of laws I don't follow, like praying three times a day. But those are the things I'm supposed to do. The laws which say not to do something, those I have no problem with. Because they're just rules. I'm good with rules. So I wouldn't even consider using electricity on Shabbat (even though everyone knows that's a silly law), or eating dairy less than six hours before eating meat, or eating bread without washing my hands first, or eating food without thanking God for it first. Any Jewish law phrased as a rule -"always do this before that" or "never do this"- those I have no problem following.
Really, is it so hard to just accept the rules? Damn it, I really do sound like a hypocrite. I'm holding onto tradition because it's something you do, not because I connect to it. But I should connect to it. Why did my friends have to abandon all this and leave me alone here? It was easier before. Damn them.
Back when I was in Yeshivah, our rabbi Yisrael Ariel (who I have a great deal of respect for) said in a lecture once that it's best to stay away from dissenting modes of thought. He said that only a small fraction of those exposed to outside ideas stay Jewish, so it's better not to be exposed to outside ideas. (I'm not misrepresenting him here, this is actually what he said.) And I thought to myself, what's wrong with him? What a kharedi attitude. And now I wish that the world actually worked like that.
The kharedim are closing in around us in Beit Shemesh. They're multiplying faster than we are, they're coming in from all over the world, and soon they'll be moving into our neighborhood and we'll have to move out. At least, that's how I've always seen it. But my friends leaving Judaism changes things for me. How can I criticize the kharedim for being so strict when this is the alternative? I agree with them that the modern world has gone too far, so how can I criticize them for imposing the old way on people? I'd be a hypocrite!
Would it really be terrible to have kharedim everywhere? To have girls dress more modestly? To be surrounded by people with as much distaste for money as myself? To have Judaism as a whole way of life, rather than just something sprinkled on top? It would be so much easier to have a connection to God if he were in everything we did. I agree with their beliefs! Other belief systems getting pushed aside, that would just make life simpler. I want life to be simpler.
And yet, I do resent the kharedim. Their way stifles emotions. But am I really naïve enough to think they'd care about emotions?
I'm not one of them. I come from a secular culture. I watch TV and read comics and play games and make games and I doubt many kharedim would respect any of that. But my own friends, who come from the same culture- I'm not one of them anymore either. I believe in God and the Torah and all the Jewish laws.
I'm not going to be like my older brother, who threw everything away and ran off to America and has been dating a Christian girl for years. I can't ignore God. But I'm also not going to be like those Yeshivah boys I knew who sat and learned g'marah like it was the most interesting thing they'd ever seen. I can't ignore my frustrations.
I'm right on the fence between two sides, and I think everyone expects me to fall one way or the other. But what's wrong with the fence? Why are you all leaving me alone here?