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Now it is true that there is a lot about Orthodox Judaism that does bring me joy. But much of that is based not on the essential Halachos themselves, but on the by-products derived of those Halachos. Without getting into detail, Shabbos is a weekly family day like no other. That is the enjoyment I get. In theory I could have the same setup without observing Shabbos at all. I can dress up, have a four course leisurely meal with my family and friends at a set table covered with fine linens every day of the week if I choose. But as lovely as that is, it is not the essence of Shabbos. Observing the Halachos of Shabbos that is. Like refraining from the 39 Melachos as outlined by Chazal. If looked at by themselves, there is no joy in refraining from. I get not a scintilla of joy in say… not carrying an item in the public domain.

The real motivating factor for being religious is something called Yiras Shomayim. Fear of Heaven. We believe the Torah when it tells us (in this week’s Parsha) that if we observe the will of God, things will be good for us. In this world and the next. If we don’t, things will be bad… very bad. In this world and the next. This does not take away the higher level observing His will because of Ahavas HaShem – Loving God. But I think for most of us, being in awe of God’s infinite power over us is the real motivating factor.


I will concede that being raised in an Orthodox environment gives us an Orthodox Jew a huge head-start in being Orthodox. If that is how you are raised -baring any traumatic experiences related to that Orthodoxy – that is probably how you will lead your life. The intellectual component is developed later. But it will be a natural transition in motivation, not in lifestyle.

I should add that Yiras Shomyim does not eliminate sin. Those of us who have it still sin even knowingly and on purpose. We are human and subject to our Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). But when we do, we know we are wrong. And usually regret it after the fact. That is what this season of Teshuva is all about.

All this being said, I do think that Rabbi Fink is right about why people leave Orthodoxy. It is usually because they associate something really bad with it. Like being abused at a very young age when observance is based more on being raised that way than it is on the more compelling motivation of Yiras Shomayim that is develops much later in life.

There are some people who leave Orthodoxy for intellectual reasons. I think that part of the equation is increasing. The free flow of information in our day is planting seeds of doubt into many minds about the existence of God and the truth of Judaism. It is these intellectual ‘dropouts’ that probably comprise the majority of Orthoprax Jews. – Those who continue to observe Halacha despite dropping their beliefs. But I believe that most people like this observe the Mitzvos only where it shows. In private, they ignore them.

As I mentioned above, there are some non believers that are meticulous in their observance. Jay Lefkowitz comes to mind. He explained his motivation as desiring to belong… and that entails following the rules. Why do they want to belong? I think it might just as well be for emotional reasons as it is for intellectual ones. It is for intellectual reasons that they stopped believing. But their resons for staying Orthodox is anything but intellectual.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].