The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Monday, January 08, 2007

Children Not Demonstrably At Risk

There is an awful lot of talk in MO circles about "children at risk" and there are those in Chareidi circles who are also raising this issue. Organizations like TOVA attempt to identify these children at risk early on and intervene with mentoring programs.

But what is not as frequently discussed in MO circles are the kids who are NOT demonstrably at risk but go off the derech nevertheless. In other words, these kids are not particularly rebellious, they aren't necessarily doing drugs or drinking, they are doing fine is school, etc. They just don't believe in the program. And, at the first chance they get, whether in college or slightly later, they drop the facade of any religious observance.

I have no idea what the numbers are but I suspect they are relatively high. Anecdotally, in OOS's class of less than 40 boys, there are at least four such kids that I know of. And this was a relatively right leaning, all-boys school!

There are lots of questions. Like why is it happening and what can we do about it.

We allocate fortunes of money to kiruv organizations but I submit that we lose at least as many kids who are already in our system as we gain through every kiruv organization put together.



  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger and so it shall be... said…

    At the end of the day, for a person who is not interested in leaving certian things to faith, there really are no answers. The 'kiruv' discovery type of programs offer foolish hokum as 'reasons' to stay frum.

    The behavior of certain co-religionists is distasteful and embarassing. Rabis are typically unable to truly explain why strict observance is a must, beyond the ability to 'spiritually' ingite someone's spirit.

    To a more cynical thinker, spirituality is nothing more than the manipulation of brain chemicals, precipitated by contrived 'religious experiences' such as group singing, gratuitiously emotional stories, of flat out fear of bodily harm, financial ruin, persecution and harm to family members and friends.

    People with probing minds, perhaps a bit of resentment for any number of reasons, and no dire social need to maintain a facade (wife/kids, financial concerns, community standing, etc.) is more than happy to throw it all away.

    Is that answer you didn't have?

  • At 5:15 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…

    No, my question is how to prevent it.

  • At 5:31 PM, Blogger LT said…

    I'm not sure that it is entirely preventable. You treat Orthodox Judaism as if it were a system in which if you raise people into it right, they'll accept it 100% of the time... but that just isn't the case. Some people just might come to the conclusion that it isn't true.

    If you do believe in Orthodox Judaism and free will, then this is actually a bit of a good thing, for it means that we have the free will to leave Judaism - and therefore you would have merit for staying in it.

    In any case, you might be asking how to make it less likely? I don't know. Perhaps there just aren't enough rabbis in education who give the impression of being thinking, intellectually honest individuals. I went to a relatively modern Orthodox Yeshiva High School, and I could never shake the impression that 90% of the rabbis I had were afraid of serious, probing questions - or any question they could dismiss as "heretical", no matter how honest it was.

  • At 5:42 PM, Blogger topshadchan said…

    a couple of lines down from your blog listing on jrants was a jewishanswers link for what the location of the mabul was.

    if a kid who has been exposed to advance science sees the answer they gave, he would think something is not on the up and up.

    if you want to know why people leave, you may want to read the blogs of those who question their faith. these orthodox people are struggling to figure out whether some of the most basic underpinnings of judiasm are true or not.

    all the proofs that kiruv orgs offer are discussed and analyzed, and found wanting from their perspective.
    I hope that doesnt come as a shock to you.

    i think kids are exposed to a lot more information than there ever was, and any simple search on google will land you at sites dedicated to undermining any proofs for any religion.

    unfortunately we dont prepare kids for the types of questions they may encounter. I think as schools become filled with more charedi style rabbis, they begin to fill the kids heads with obvious nonsense.
    my kids go to mo school, and they come home with rebbi's telling them medrashim as if they actually happened.

    or aggaditas as if they happened.
    do you wonder if a child who knows about fairy tales and sci fi, wonders, my these stories sound too fantastic to be true?

    so should schools be teaching a more rational approach to judiasm as opposed to the prevailing mystical approach.

    there is a dissonance between what rebbeim say in the yeshiva, and what parents say in the home (rightly or wrongly - as in my case).
    im sure that doesnt help either.

  • At 5:42 PM, Blogger rescue37 said…

    What is needed is a kiruv program for ALL yeshiva graduates. Somewhere that when the accountant, lawyer, doctor, architecht etc that gets home to brooklyn, 5 towns, monsey etc at 10:00 or later, there is a place he can go to to learn something with someone. Chavrusas don't work as the hours are irregular for most professionals. The only thing regular is that they can tell their wives, I have no idea when I'll be leaving tonight. Kids mostly learn by example, and when they see Daddy, Aba, Totty etc doesn't learn so much or at all, why should they be interested? Anyone who learns or try to learns a little will have a better chance than someone who has no connection to anything. The only hard part for this will be to find talmidei chachomim to staff that can answer questions more than what does Rashi mean.

  • At 5:51 PM, Blogger LT said…

    Excellent comment, Happy.

  • At 6:19 PM, Blogger kishke said…

    I think the most effective way to keep a child connected is through a happy home life, and a good relationship with parents and family. A loving, supportive, happy family is just the strongest bond a kid can have. Even if a child veers off a bit, the bonds of family can keep him or her from going too far and will eventually bring him back.

  • At 6:27 PM, Blogger and so it shall be... said…

    Here's a school of thought that keeps me frum. I came across this on my own.

    a) Judaism is not a weapon, with which to beat people into submission. It is an organized means of acknowledging and connecting to the god who has created us. The organized part consists of commandments that are not part of some kind of metaphysical protection racket. Rather, a godly ordained instruction manual of how to maintain closeness and intimacy with one's creator; that a missed observance is nothin more that a hiccup in the unbreaking connective flow man has with his creator.

    b) Judaism is an entity of variety. That Jews can, as a matter of fact, look different, talk different, and think different within the realm of halacha and tradition.

  • At 11:50 PM, Blogger OOS said…

    I hate to say this but the reasons that kids are going off the derech are written right here on this comment thread.

    My dad mentioned the kids in my grade who went off the derech. The impetus for their leaving was not dissatisfaction with the logical underpinnings of our faith. They were not brilliant thinkers who did a methodical analysis and found Judaism wanting. They were kids who wanted to party.

    I agree with the commentators that schools should employ rabbis who are open to questions and know their stuff. A rabbi like this can do much to foster confidence in a religion. But to think that knowledge alone will give answers is sooooooooooooo off. In high school the rabbi who the biggest tamlmid chacham drove me thisclose to chucking it all.

    This is not the most impirtant thing. What is needed are home environments where people actually love yiddeshkeit and who give over the faith to their children in a loving and wsrm way. What children need is to see their fathers yelling over a blatt instead of at the Giants. What is needed is the abolishment of cynisism in the house. Basically, what is needed is the total opposite of what is found on this thread.

  • At 12:34 AM, Blogger J said…

    There is a phenomenon of well adjusted MO kids going off the derech - not to party - MO kids can party while ON the derech, but as stated above, they just don't buy it.

    Some of the posts here are contradictory: first they say that all the 'proofs' are found to be wanting. And then they say, 'if we just had Rabbis for the kids who could answer their questions.' What kind of answers? Unless you mean Rabbis who admit that Faith is faith and not provable fact; Rabbis who learned the science and still have faith then the point is valid.

  • At 7:21 AM, Blogger Israel Mom said…

    Hi MoC - I hope you don't mind, but I'm using your blog because I know that Uberimma reads it and she just made her blog for invited readers only!! (gasp!!) So this message is for Uberimma - please invite me back in! I don't know you but I love your blog and have been a faithful reader!

    Thanks - you can return to your regular scheduled programming now.

  • At 1:11 PM, Blogger Alan said…

    I guess I would argue that there exists all types of kids who go 'off the derech' who are not 'at risk' i can think of a number who went for intellectual reasons, others because they just didn't 'feel it' anymore, those who could not stand the orthodox community...

    In my opinion the best thing the community as a whole could do is , starting at high school age, accept differences between different personality types, and allow for a wider variety of hashkafot in the Orthodox world, as well as not reject anyone who does not practice as much as they should


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