Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Driven Re-Leaf of Chosen Foreskins

Shalom Auslander is the author of "Foreskin's Lament", yet another memoir about a frum guy's journey to freedom from Orthodoxy. He joins the august company of Elisha ben Avuyah (in the words of Milton Steinberg), Chaim Potok, Nathan Englander, Solomon Maimon, etc.

Here's a summary and highlights of his interview on NPR, if you don't want to sit through the whole half-hour. My and Debbie's reactions below:

The interviewer asks about his growing up in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey. [Zev S. points out on Areivim that he went to a local Modern-Orthodox yeshiva, hardly "Ultra-Orthodox".] He goes on about how he was raised with stories of a man who will kill you if you don't do the right thing, banish you, torture you, who can raise mountains and split seas, and repeatedly visits destruction on his chosen people. [Meaning God, of course].
Justify Full
He also had an abusive father. These he admits fed on each other, reinforcing each other:

- Eat a cheeseburger, God will kill you.
- Go in the garage again, Dad will break your arms.

He went to Israel after HS for a year, to some yeshiva in a small town "between J'lem and T-A" (between Minsk and Pinsk?), and flipped out - learned 10 hours a day, went to mikvah on Friday, gave in to pressure and bought a fedora (which pretty clearly indicates that he wasn't "ultra-Orthodox" before), excelled in the learning. "I rose to the top, I was the second, third, or fourth coming, whatever they're up to." Stayed in the yeshiva for some years.

Claims to still have UO mindset, but gave up on praxis due to personal tragedies - fellow student in car accident, grandfather ill. Got tired of small-town, moved to NYC, freied out (goes to McD's, prostitute). Feels he could easily have become a terrorist, because religion leads there. Madrassas == Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

"No longer observant, painfully ... miserably religious, watching others trying to get away from God as am I."

Intellectually wants to reject, emotionally feels he can't.

Keeps family away, even though now married with a kid - his psychiatrist pushes him to do so.

Waited 15 years to have a kid, finally decides to, then has to face question whether to "mutilate" him because some "maniac, 6000 years ago, did" "the past coming out and stealing something that should have been purely joyous".

"Everything I like, music, comedy, etc. comes from anger."

Waffled about circumcision all through pregnancy. After difficult delivery, Dr. asks if you want to circumcise, he says yes, it was done apparently right after birth. He listens to his son's screams from the other room - that was when his son became Jewish. [not?]

* * *

Debbie's thought - he never actually flipped out or freied out, he was just a chameleon, giving in to pressure wherever he was. In Monsey, he's the good boy, crying for acceptance from family. In yeshiva, he puts on the uniform. In NYC, he embraces sin.

He goes on about how he's always religious emotionally. Doesn't look like that at all - looks like his core essence is rejection of religion, but with a strong desire to be liked and accepted, unlike his situation at home. He wasn't really frum (qua pious) at all. Perhaps in the Rav Wolbe sense of doing religious stuff without thinking about why he does it, though, he might have been "frum".

His emotional reactions are strongest in rebelling against religion, comparing yeshivas to madrassas, his religious fervor to the 9/11 hijackers,

I know people who gave up religion because of intellectual reasons, those become Orthoprax. Remember the joke about the Vilner Apikorus? Giving up the religious behaviors and community, that seems to me more emotional than rational.


Anonymous said...

The interviewer is an easy mark for him. She seems to think that Monsey is in the Catskills.

Monsey is portrayed as a wholly Hassidic town, when there actually is significant diversity there (though less than years ago).

Anonymous said...

He's supposed to be on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC (NYC NPR affiliate) tomorrow.

thanbo said...

fair amount of diversity, yes. My boss and his boss live in Monsey, one modern, one black-hat, both thoroughly modern (we're a software company)

although the son of the black-hat one is more true yeshivish.

auslander mentioned "Yeshiva of Spring Valley" at one point. seems a large institution, K-8. what's its character?

Anonymous said...

I have not lived there, but I believe YSV is basically Yeshivish. It has been around for many years so I assume it's typical Yeshivish for it's vintage, which might be viewed by some today as liberal or moderate Yeshivish compared with more strident versions that have gained in popularity among some more recently.

Anonymous said...

I knew shalom as a child in monsey. he was a sweet talented boy, with a lovely family, 2 sisters and an older brother - very much loved by his mother. if his father abused him - i didn't know about it, and he [father] must be punished or be treated and ask for foggivness from his son. but i don't know why his mother deserves all shalom's hurtting words. i guess it is right what they say: a child who was abuesed - becomes an abusive father - in this case, shalom is abusing his parents.

thanbo said...

Well, mothers are often enablers for abuse, even if they love their children. You can see it in terms of RYBS' chazakah from Chazal that tav lemeisav tan du milemeisav ormolu, or in terms of contemporary psychology, but it's clear that often mothers do not want to leave an abusive situation for fear of losing the ability to protect their children, or of losing their children entirely, or out of some sense of guilt that it really is their "fault."

It's certainly the premise of a lot of Law&Order episodes.