Orthoprax Vs. Off-The-Derech
There is a letter in the latest edition of Ami Magazine from the wife of the "Orthoprax" (goodness, I hate that term) Posek who was profiled in their notorious article "The Imposters Among Us." But before quoting the letter, I would like to differentiate between two categories: Orthoprax and "Off The Derech." There is certainly some overlap between these two categories, but they generally refer to two different phenomena.
The term "Orthoprax" (OP) usually refers to people whose departure from classical Judaism involves intellectual objections which have led them to a lack of faith, to a lesser or greater degree. While this may well lead to emotional strain, that is a result rather than a cause. They appreciate the Orthodox lifestyle and community and are still shomer Torah u'mitzvos.
The term "Off-the-Derech" (OTD), on the other hand, usually refers to people whose issues are primarily emotional. This may in turn stem from feelings of rejection which may be connected to questions that they asked, but their intellectual objections to Judaism, even if present, are secondary. Such people are often deliberately trying to break away from the conventions and standards of the Orthodox lifestyle and community. They are also usually younger than those of the previous category; in my neighborhood, these people often end up dressing as provocatively as possible and involved in substance abuse. (Note: I am not referring to well-adjusted people who have simply altogether abandoned the Orthodox community and way of life solely due to intellectual reasons, who I would refer to as "post-Orthodox." But such people seem to be a rarity, I think.)
Now, to the letter from the wife of the Orthoprax posek:
I read the article you printed about the so-called Orthoprax population with great interest, mainly because my husband, the posek (decisor), was interviewed. (If I ever envisioned myself becoming famous, this was not the way.) It was this past Tisha B’Av that he informed me that he was no longer a believer. At least the timing was perfect. Of course I noticed the telltale signs. I watched with great concern as my kollel husband no longer resembled his peers. I inwardly cringed as books, radio, Internet replaced the Talmud, Chumash, sefarim. Watching this, I remained silent as the warning of my mechanchot (teachers) echoed in my ear, “Do not be your husband’s mashgiach.” How I cried when my husband told me that he was attending a conference on evolution with his kiruv partner. I would have cried a lot harder if I knew that it were that night that he threw away the yoke of Torah.
Surprisingly, my husband had no urge to leave his yeshivish lifestyle. In fact, he felt great comfort in maintaining his outward appearance, thus joining the ranks of the Orthoprax. He no longer feels alienated now that he socializes with this eclectic group of people. People using drugs, wearing white socks and shtreimels or yeshivish hats, or having multiple ear piercings, are all embraced by this colorful group. These men and women have one thing in common: they wonder why their fellow apikorsim aren’t as emotionally healthy and normal as they are themselves.
I’m glad that he has support. However, I wish I could find my place as well. There are many programs and great awareness concerning children at risk. However, I guess most people feel uncomfortable believing that someone who dedicates his life to learning in kollel can go off the derech... that emunah is so fragile. Friends and relatives always mention how inspired they are by our yeshivish, sheltered lifestyle. Little do they know what goes on behind closed doors. If not for those special individuals guiding me, I would be lost. Those mentors all agree that with patience and unconditional love he will eventually be able to rekindle his inner spark. However, as the sole audience of his anti-religious diatribes, I wonder where that spark will emerge from. I know that he was essentially a broken person on the inside before his belief began to dwindle. Perhaps if I had provided him with sufficient fulfillment from our marriage his emotional emptiness would have not reached rock bottom. Now it’s too late. I feel as if I lost the husband that I married.
Yes, I would love to kick and scream, and would relish the opportunity to tantrum and let it all out, but I know as a religious person that life is a test. The spiritual future of my family lies in my hands. I can choose to either have joint custody with a nonreligious person or channel my inner anguish into creating a home that will make Hashem proud. I feel that I am being personally summoned by Heaven to work on my emunah. It is my hope that sometime in the future I will look into the mirror and smile at the person I have become, that I will hold my frum grandchildren close and think... it was all worth it.
I would love to be in touch with those who are living through a similar situation. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs. “Aharon Gutberg”
Now, is she describing someone who is OP or OTD? It's not clear. Is he actually part of the multiple-body-piercings and drug-using group, or just friendly with some such people, or just theoretically open to being friendly with such people? Did he truly have emotional issues before his intellectual issues - and if so, what were they? Is he an OP that she is misinterpreting as an OTD, or is he actually OTD? The article seemed to indicate that he is an OP, but if he is an OTD, then he is out of place in the article altogether.
The situation with this husband and wife is, of course, sad. But what I personally find especially painful is how some of this tragedy is so unnecessary and possibly made worse by the wife. Was it such a tragedy that he brought secular books into the home? (I'll bet she doesn't know that Rav Dessler studied Uncle Tom's Cabin.) She cried so terribly when he attended a conference on evolution? Goodness, it's not as though it was a conference on Bible criticism or atheism! There are many fine, frum, OrthoDOX people who attend conferences on evolution, which is not at all incompatible with Torah. Perhaps if she hadn't been so unnecessarily distraught at this, her husband would not have thrown away the yoke of Torah on that day?
Rejection turns even ordinary Orthodox Jews into OTDs - it can certainly have that effect on OPs.