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However, data and information can temporarily induce someone to try something. That’s why I started working out at the gym. I knew it was good for me so I was willing to give it a shot. But I stopped after a little more than a year. Despite the fact that I was seeing results, I just stopped going.

Why did I stop going to the gym? Because I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it enough to make it worth the effort. The intellectual justification was only able to keep me going for a little while. Eventually I ran out of intellectual motivation and because the activity was not giving me great joy or making me feel particularly good, and it was taking my time and energy, I dropped it. We can’t rely on the intellectual knowledge that something is true or good or beneficial to induce a desired behavior.


Judaism is like anything else in the world. The same rules apply. Intellectual knowledge and belief could be very important to God or the Orthodox Jewish community or to each individual Jew. But that does not necessarily mean that beliefs actually dictate what we will do with our lives.

I know more than a few atheists who are happily practicing Orthodox Judaism. The do not believe in God or Torah m’Sinai, yet they are devoutly Orthoprax. They keep Torah and Mitzvot (except the few inchoate Mitzvot) just like anyone else in their communities. I also know true believers who can’t even be in the presence of Orthodox Judaism. These people really believe in God. In fact, some of these people fear God more than most Orthodox Jews. But they just can’t do Orthodox Judaism. They sin despite their faith in God.

The thing that determines whether an adult will practice Orthodox Judaism is not what they believe. It is what they feel.

We like to think we are intellectual beings who make choices based on morality, logic, and rationality. But we really don’t. It’s much more banal than that. We do what we like. People who associate their Orthodox Judaism with good feelings, want more of those good feelings. They want to live a life that gives them those good feelings. They will practice Orthodox Judaism no matter what they believe. People who had negative experiences as Orthodox Jews and associate their Orthodox Judaism with pain or trauma never want those feelings again. They want to avoid those feelings. These people will not practice Orthodox Judaism no matter what they believe.

The rule, and every rule has exceptions, is that if you enjoy something, you will do it over and over again. People who enjoy Orthodox Judaism will do it over and over again. People who do not enjoy Orthodox Judaism have a few options. They might simply leave. But not everyone leaves. Some have no idea that there is a way to leave. So they don’t leave and are miserable. Others might expend a lot of energy reminding themselves that they intellectually believe the benefits of staying, whether spiritual or practical, outweigh the benefits of leaving. That might work for a while but if it doesn’t become enjoyable, they probably won’t be able to sustain their observance.

I have talked to a lot of people about their Jewish experience. There might be a few outliers, but almost everyone I’ve talked to fits into these neat boxes. People who leave had a negative experience that define their Judaism. People who stay loved their religious experience. The ones who leave want to avoid future pain and trauma. The ones who stay want to have more good experiences.

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Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.