Dear Dr. Yael:
I recently concluded that I don’t believe in G-d.
One day, while davening with kavanah for yiras Shamayim, I found material flaws in my reasons for believing in G-d and Judaism. I have felt this way for pretty much my whole life, with much introspection and debate. Finally, in one instant, my entire belief system fell away.
Over the following few weeks, I remained hopeful that I could undo this break in emunah. But the more I read and learned, the more skeptical I became. Though I am open to the possibility that G-d exists and that Judaism is true, I consider both to be unlikely.
I seek your advice because with an amazing marriage and three beautiful children, my next move will impact all of us.
Right now, I am doing nothing about this. I am telling no one. I am continuing to practice a frum lifestyle. I don’t particularly mind observing halacha and definitely don’t want to lose my family. As healthy as my marriage is and as much as my wife loves me, she is probably more committed to building a bayis ne’eman than she is committed to me. Were I to divulge my secret, she would probably divorce me. And even if she couldn’t bear to divorce me, she would probably distrust and resent me – to the detriment of our family.
There are definitely negatives to this approach. I hate keeping a secret, especially one so significant, from my best friend with whom I share everything.
Also, to protect my wife from the pain of our children going off the derech, I join her in educating our children about Yiddishkeit as a definite truth and not as a possibility. However, I feel that this approach to religious education, heavily influences children through “status quo bias” and makes disbelief extremely inconvenient since it would be alienating and would hurt loved ones.
I am uneasy about prejudicing their decision-making regarding such an important topic, which may prove to be the house of cards upon which they’ve built their lives. When it comes to other major decisions, such as choosing a spouse or a career, I will encourage them to be as open-minded and investigative as possible. But I will not do so for the arguably more important decision of what to believe in and how to lead their lives.
Can you draw on your experience to help me understand the merits and risks of my decision?
You seem to be a very sensitive and caring person, able to conduct a loving marriage. It must be very difficult for you to live your life in a way that you feel is not based on the truth. While you are doing the right thing now, namely ignoring these powerful feelings in order to keep your family together, it is imperative that you speak with rabbanim who specialize in these issues.
There are many ways to explain and understand the Torah, along with many proofs that Judaism and its history are based on truths. By continuing to ignore these powerful feelings, you will begin to resent your way of living and possibly, chas v’shalom, your beautiful family. There are programs geared toward helping people strengthen their emunah and bitachon; these programs explain how the Torah is genuine. Perhaps you can join one of them or listen to shiurim that may help you in this realm.
If, for whatever reason, you are committed to keeping mitzvos and remaining a Torah-observant Jew (even if right now the reason is not due to personal emunah and bitachon), you will continue to strengthen your relationship with Hashem.
That being said, it is important for you to think about what has transpired and its effect on your relationship with Him. Further, how is your relationship with your parents? People who have difficult relationships with their parents may often struggle with their relationship with Hashem. And since you have a self-described amazing marriage with a woman committed to Torah u’mitzvos, what makes you think that your wife would divorce you if she was aware of your feelings vis-à-vis Hashem and Judaism? Is something else going on in your relationship that makes you believe that your wife – without seeking joint help – would make such a monumental life decision and divorce you?
For now, it might be prudent to keep your feelings private and take time to explore what it is about your relationship that you feel would not withstand this nisayon. Remember that a marriage’s strength is based on several things, including trust, respect, love, and the personal relationship between husband and wife. So ask yourself if your mutual relationship is built on a solid foundation. For instance, is your wife too tzniusdik for your taste? If so, is this hurting your level of Yiddishkeit?
Even if only one of the important aspects I’ve addressed is lacking in your life, tackle it in order to gain security in your relationship. Please try to get the personal help you need and, if warranted, the marital help as well. Study all avenues of Yiddishkeit before making such immense life decisions. And it is crucial that you repair any and all negative parts of your marriage.
Hatzlachah in seeking the professional guidance that you need, and may Hashem help you see the truth and feel more secure in your Yiddishkeit!
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