AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

ALL WHO GO DO NOT RETURN

A Memoir by Shulem Deen

Shulem Deen was raised to believe that questions are dangerous. As a member of the Skverers, one of the most insular Hasidic sects in the US, he knows little about the outside world—only that it is to be shunned. His marriage at eighteen is arranged and several children soon follow. Deen’s first transgression—turning on the radio—is small, but his curiosity leads him to the library, and later the Internet. Soon he begins a feverish inquiry into the tenets of his religious beliefs, until, several years later, his faith unravels entirely.

Now a heretic, he fears being discovered and ostracized from the only world he knows. His relationship with his family at stake, he is forced into a life of deception, and begins a long struggle to hold on to those he loves most: his five children. In All Who Go Do Not Return, Deen bravely traces his harrowing loss of faith, while offering an illuminating look at a highly secretive world.

🔯

"Shulem Deen has a fascinating story to tell, and he tells it with exquisite sensitivity. All Who Go Do Not Return gives us not only an insider's glimpse into a shrouded world few outsiders get to see, but also a movingly told narrative of one man's struggle toward intellectual integrity. The setting may be the world of Hasidic Judaism, but the drama and the insights are universal."
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

🔯

From the Author:

Each of us has a story to tell. Rarely, however, are our stories ours alone; typically, we share them with family, friends, colleagues, and so on. And yet, our subjective experiences remain unique. This is true of everyday events, but even truer of contentious moments. When we feel aggrieved, we stew in the passions of our own righteousness, our very experiences often leading us to see only what we want to see. In shaping our narratives, we select facts to our advantage, even if only unconsciously.

Throughout the writing of this book, these thoughts were never far from my mind, hovering like a gray cloud in the middle distance, reminding me that my truth was not the only truth. I am all too aware that some people in this book, either individuals or groups, might offer details and perspectives that I have surely missed. I think particularly of my ex-wife, with whom I shared nearly fifteen years of marriage and who doubtless has a compelling story of her own to tell, perhaps even an altogether different story of our marriage. 

Additionally, there are people described in this book who behaved in ways that are, to my mind, less than admirable. And yet, laying blame and casting stones is an ugly business, especially when dealing with people who were once dear to you. However, this story could not be told without a measure of castigation, overt or implied. I have taken pains to describe characters in this book fairly even when I didn’t feel entirely inclined to do so. I offer this not to absolve myself of the responsibility to offer an accurate telling of events, or to excuse any errors of fact that have slipped in, but to acknowledge the very real challenges in trying to present a fair and honest portrayal of deeply painful events. 

Memoir, of course, is not history, nor is it, strictly speaking autobiography. More than simply a collection of facts, it is a rendering of personal history along with an attempt to find meaning within that history, to weave together narrative threads that might, both to the writer and reader, illuminate aspects of the narrator’s life, and by so doing, impart something of value to the reader. That was my sole objective.
🔯

Very Brief Reading List

This book describes a crisis of faith that unfolded over a number of years, a largely internal process of inquiry and examination. I relate here mostly the external, more demonstrably dramatic aspects of that process, and the observable effects upon me and those close to me. My intellectual and philosophical journeys, however, while internally dramatic, do not lend themselves to narrative form in the same way. By necessity, therefore, they have been offered only in collapsed form within the book’s main narrative. Furthermore, this book is not intended as an argument against Orthodox Jewish belief and practice broadly, and should in no way be seen as such. I am aware, however, that some readers might want to further explore some of the faith-related topics presented in this book. I offer the list below as a modest attempt at sharing some of the works that have contributed meaningfully to my own intellectual journey, in the hope that others might find them useful. This list includes a variety of works, both in favor of and against aspects of religious faith, from popular works to recent classics. Most of them are accessible and illuminating even to nonscholars. They are presented here in the approximate order in which I encountered them, and correspond loosely to the trajectory of my own journey.

The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel: Being a Special Presentation of the Principles of Judaism, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Permission to Believe: Four Rational Approaches to God’s Existence, Lawrence Kelemen 
Permission to Receive: Four Rational Approaches to the Torah’s Divine Origin, Lawrence Kelemen 
Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible, Gerald Schroeder 
The View from Nebo: How Archaeology Is Rewriting the Bible and Reshaping the Middle East, Amy Dockser Marcus 
God against the Gods: The History of the War between Monotheism and Polytheism, Jonathan Kirsch 
The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, Yehezkel Kaufmann 
How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now, James Kugel 
Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliott Friedman 
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silverman 
What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel, William G. Dever 
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without DesignRichard Dawkins

🔯
About the Author
Shulem Deen as a Hasid, and now as a modern, secular Jew
— Shulem Deen then and now —
Shulem Deen, a former Skverer Hasid, is the founding editor of the website Unpious. He is a regular contributor to Forward, and in 2015 was listed in the Forward 50, an annual list of American Jews with outsized roles on political and social issues. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the New Republic, Salon, Tablet Magazine, and elsewhere. He serves as a board member at Footsteps, a New York City-based organization that offers assistance and support to those who have left the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. He lives in Brooklyn.

🔯

👉 Deen's book is freely available online, downloadable in PDF here: http://1.droppdf.com/files/eqRTa/all-who-go-do-not-return-deen-shulem.pdf
👉 or with Google here
👉 or you may request a free PDF copy by emailing me.


🔯
Synopsis:
A moving and revealing exploration of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and one man's loss of faith Shulem Deen was raised to believe that questions are dangerous. As a member of the Skverers, one of the most insular Hasidic sects in the US, he knows little about the outside world—only that it is to be shunned. His marriage at eighteen is arranged and several children soon follow. Deen's first transgression—turning on the radio—is small, but his curiosity leads him to the library, and later the Internet. Soon he begins a feverish inquiry into the tenets of his religious beliefs, until, several years later, his faith unravels entirely. Now a heretic, he fears being discovered and ostracized from the only world he knows. His relationship with his family at stake, he is forced into a life of deception, and begins a long struggle to hold on to those he loves most: his five children. In All Who Go Do Not Return, Deen bravely traces his harrowing loss of faith, while offering an illuminating look at a highly secretive world.

Incipit:
Rabbi Yochanan said: Once
a man has lived
most of his life without sin,
he is unlikely to sin ever.

—TALMUD, YUMA 38B

PART I
Chapter One

I wasn’t the first to be expelled from our village, though I’d never known any of the others. I’d only heard talk of them, hushed reminiscences of ancient episodes in the history of our half-century-old village, tales of various subversives who sought to destroy our fragile unity. The group of Belzers who tried to form their own prayer group, the young man rumored to have studied the books of the
Breslovers, even the rebbe’s own brother-in-law, accused of fomenting sedition against the rebbe.

But I was the first to be expelled for heresy.

The call came on a Sunday evening, while Gitty and I were having dinner with our children.
“Shulem, this is Yechiel Spitzer,” a deep male voice said, and then paused. “Can you be at the dayan’s office for a meeting at ten?”

Yechiel was a member of both the Education Committee and the Modesty Committee, which were, together, tasked with looking after the behavior of individuals in our village, ensuring that they wore the right clothes and attended the right synagogues and thought the right thoughts.

“What kind of meeting?” I asked.

“The bezdin would like to speak with you,” Yechiel said.

The bezdin was our village’s rabbinical court, a three-member body that issued regular edicts on urgent religious matters—banning Internet use, or condemning unauthorized prayer groups, or regulating proper headcoverings for women—at the head of which sat the dayan, our village’s chief rabbinical judge.

Yechiel waited for my response, and when I said nothing, he said, “You might want to bring someone along. You may not want to be alone.”

His tone was oddly flat, which sounded like a deliberate affect, as if to underscore the gravity of his call. I didn’t know Yechiel well, but we were friendly enough when we passed on the street, or if we happened to be sitting next to each other at a shiva or a bar mitzvah. Clearly, though, this was not a friendly call.

When I returned to our dinner table, Gitty raised an eyebrow, and I shook my head. Nothing important. She pursed her lips and held my gaze for a moment, and I turned back to my plate of leftover chulent from yesterday’s Sabbath lunch. The children seemed happily oblivious. Tziri, our eldest, had her eyes in a book. Hershy and Freidy were giggling into each other’s ears. Chaya Suri and Akiva were squabbling because Chaya Suri had looked at Akiva’s dinner plate and Akiva said he couldn’t eat food that Chaya Suri had looked at.

Gitty continued giving me silent glances, until I looked up at her and sighed. “I’ll tell you later.”

She rolled her eyes, and then stood up to clear the plates off the table.

I looked at my watch. It was just after six.

I wasn’t entirely surprised by the call. I had heard from friends that word was getting around the village: Shulem Deen has become a heretic.

If heresy was a sin in our all-Hasidic village in Rockland County, New York, it was not an ordinary one. Unlike the yeshiva student who ordered a taxicab each night to get away for an hour of karate lessons, or the girl spotted wearing a skirt that didn’t fully cover her knees, or the schoolteacher who
complained of the rebbe’s lengthy Sabbath noon prayers, heresy was a sin our people were unaccustomed to. Heresy was a sin that baffled them. In fact, real heresy, the people in our village
believed, did not happen in our time, and certainly not in our village, and so when they heard there was a heretic in their midst, they were not sure what to make of it.

“Doesn’t he know that the Rambam already answered all questions?” the rebbe had asked.

The Rambam, alsoknown as Moses Maimonides, was a twelfth-century Jewish scholar and philosopher, perhaps the greatest of all time. His gravestone in the city of Tiberias, Israel, declares: “From Moses to Moses, there has risen no one like Moses.” In our study halls, we pored over his
legal codes and his famous Commentary on the Mishna. We told tales of his righteousness and
his scholarship. We named our children after him.

But we did not study his philosophy. 

It was said that the Rambam’s most notable philosophical work, the Guide for the Perplexed, was
so great and so brilliant that it was meant only for the most learned. For everyone else, to study it
was unnecessary. The important thing was to know that it contained all the answers, and so all
further questions were pointless.

“Doesn’t he know that the Rambam already answered all questions?”

I don’t know if the rebbe in fact said that. I had heard it from friends, who heard it from other friends, and rumors in our village weren’t always reliable. What I did know was that the rebbe was the village’s supreme leader, and nothing of consequence happened without his direct involvement.

And so when I was told to appear before the bezdin, I knew that the order had come all the way from the rebbe.

At exactly 10:00 PM, I walked up the dirt path to the side entrance of the dayan’s home. The dayan’s
authority came from his extensive knowledge of Torah, but his office was an extension of the rebbe’s. If the rebbe was our chief executive, the dayan and his bezdin wereour judiciary and law enforcement.

The gravity of his office notwithstanding, the dayan was a kind and gentle scholar. Back when I was a yeshiva student, more than a decade earlier, I had spent hours with him in talmudic discussion.

During the years following, I had walked this very pathhundreds of times for various personal and
familial matters, bringing palm fronds to be inspected before the Sukkos holiday, undergarments to be
inspected for menstrual blood, chickens with discolored flesh to be inspected for signs of injury.

Now, once again I walked up the familiar flight of stairs onto the weather-beaten wooden porch and knocked on the door. Through a window I could see the light on, and from inside came voices, vehement ones, argumentative, disturbed. I waited a few moments and knocked again, and the
door was opened by Yechiel Spitzer, who off to the side.

“Wait there,” he said curtly, and disappeared into the dayan’s office across the hall. I sat in an old chair near a small table and listened to the hum of voices coming from the next room. After a few minutes, Berish Greenblatt joined me. Berish and I had been close for years, ever since he had been my teacher at a Brooklyn school when I was a teenager and he’d invited me to his home for the Sabbath when my father was ill and in the hospital. Now, years later, we had grown apart—he,
still the pious scholarly type and I the rumored heretic. Still, his presence was comforting, even
though neither of us knew what to expect.

Soon we were summoned into the dayan’s office. The dayan sat at the center of a small table strewn with religious texts, surrounded by two other rabbis of the bezdin and four other men, leading members of the community.

The dayan smiled warmly, almost beatifically, his face framed in his sprawling gray beard.

“Sit, sit,” he said, and pointed to an empty chair facing him across the table.

I sat and looked around, while Berish took a seat behind me. The men facing me were pressed tightly together, nervouslyfingering the books on the table, stroking their beards and tugging at their mustaches. A few exchanged whispered remarks, and soon one of the men began to speak. His name was Mendel Breuer, a man known for both shrewdness and piety. It was said that he was as comfortable negotiating a voting bloc for an elected official as he was delivering a Talmud lecture to a group of businessmen each morning.

“We have heard rumors,” Mendel began. “We have heard rumors and we don’t know if they’re true, but you understand, rumors alone are bad.”

He paused and looked at me, as if expecting me to show agreement of some sort.

“People say you’re an apikorus. People say you don’t believe in God.” He raised his shoulders to his
ears, spread his palms, and opened his eyes wide. “How does one not believe in God? I don’t know.” He said this as if he were genuinely curious. Mendel was an intelligent man, and here was a question
that, given the time and inclination, one might seek to discuss. But now was not the time, and so he
went on to tell me more about what people were saying.

I was speaking ill of the rebbe.

I was no longer praying.

I disparaged the Torah and the teachings of our sages.

I was corrupting other people. Young people. Innocent people.

In fact, people were saying that I had corrupted a yeshiva boy just last week. Corrupted him so badly that the boy left his parents’ home, and—Mendel didn’t know if this was true, but so people were saying—went to live with goyim in Brooklyn. It was rumored that the boy planned to attend college.

People were saying, Mendel further informed me, that something must be done. People were very
concerned, and people were saying that the bezdin must act.

“If people are saying that the bezdin must act, you understand, we can’t very well do nothing.”

Yechiel Spitzer, sitting at the very end of the table, twirled a few hairs beneath his lower lip and absentmindedly placed one hair between his front teeth. The three rabbis sat with their eyes downcast.

“You understand,” Mendel went on, “that this is not about causing pain to you or your family.”

Here he paused and looked at the dayan, before putting his palms flat on the table and looking at me directly.

“We have come to the conclusion that you must leave the village.”

[...]

(keep reading by downloading the book as specified above)



Kol bo’eho lo yeshuvun.
All who go to her 
do not return.

So says the Bible
regarding a woman of
loose morals. So said the
rabbis of the Talmud
regarding heresy.