Why Judaism is bad for you
There are many fundamental problems with Judaism. An important selection of the rational and ideological issues can be found on our counter-apologetics page, which debunks many of the popular claims that people give to attempt to prove that Judaism is correct. Here, we will look at some of the mental, psychological, and social problems that often arise from living as a religious Jew.
If you live in a religious Jewish community or group from orthodox and towards ultra-orthodox (eg. Hassidic, yeshivish, and many other ultra-orthodox groups and sects), your life will be characterized by much restricted personal freedoms and self-expression. There will be many things which you are not allowed to do or say, or which you are expected to do and say.
These social norms are intense expectations of the most fundamental buy-in to the religion's beliefs and way of life. Everyone else obeys them, and you must, too. These practices are non-negotiable - and in the stricter communities, those who break even one of these core laws or norms are immediately ostracized and excluded, often with severe social and even personal impact.
Even asking the 'wrong' kind of questions can raise immediate suspicion as to your personal commitment to the religion and the community in particular - especially if you are a convert or an outsider from some other community.
Examples of restrictions
Some of the more obvious restrictions and limitations are the regular inconveniences that come with Sabbath observance and Kashrut. Although you can adapt your lifestyle to accommodate them, the negative consequences from these restrictions are significant. A wide set of limitations on food products, or about which restaurants you can get food from. Potlucks, dinner with friends, birthday parties, lunch provided at work, that gift basket your kind neighbor got you -- these are all out of the question if non-religious or non-Jewish individuals are providing the food.
What about Shabbos? Forgot to set the heat or A/C? Forgot to set 'Sabbath mode' on your fridge or oven? Didn’t have enough time to cook everything before Shabbos? Didn’t set all the lights right before Shabbos? Need the umbrella to walk to shul in the pouring rain? Dropped your glasses in the dirt outside an eruv? Need to take an animal to the vet? Left the television on in your bedroom? Need to take medicine for a mild medical condition? Want a job that requires your availability any day of the week? Any of these situations would leave you stuck under Orthodox Judaism. Although not typically insurmountable, the difficulties arising from rigid Sabbath observance are endless.
But the laws extend beyond how soon you can eat ice cream after chicken or whether that toothpaste is runny enough to use on a Saturday morning. Orthodox Judaism dictates the nuances of almost every aspect of life, around the clock. There are laws governing which orientation a bed must be in a bedroom, which sleeping position is allowed, the right way to wash up in the morning, the right way to use the bathroom and what you're supposed to say afterwards, the right order to put shoes on, the right way to dress, the right order you are supposed to eat different foods for breakfast (more important ones first, but this is only after Shacharis, of course)... and we're only up to breakfast.
If you are a secular person and are thinking about joining a religious Jewish community or becoming an orthodox Jew, please be aware: To join this religion (in particular, orthodox and ultra-orthodox, as mentioned above), you must effectively give up a tremendous amount of liberty and personal freedom which, in your current secular lifestyle, you might take for granted. Freedom of movement, action, speech and even thought in many realms and areas is strictly repressed, and a sometimes cruel, barbaric, backwards and deeply unjust system of values must be accepted, embraced, and celebrated. More details on these values can be found below.
It's hard to express the levels of fundamentalism that exist in these communities. The religion is not an aspect of your life - it is your life. It defines you, your family and your social life, and any sense of meaning and purpose in this existence is and must be perceived through the lenses of the religion and its belief system only. You could say that joining a community/religion like this is like permanently embedding glasses into your face. You will be forced to look through them at anything and everything from now on - and you can't take them off without significant effort, and without paying a major, painful price.
This fundamentalism can be a double-edged sword. If you're accepted by the community, and deemed to be 'one of them', you can feel very connected, trusted, and included. If you personally buy in to the religious beliefs, you might feel quite a deep sense of meaning and belonging. However, the price you pay for this feeling is incredibly steep. It's very worthwhile examining whether this price will be justified as an ongoing, continually-reinforced life choice.
Nobody's forcing you... Right?
Its important to note that in most communities, there will not generally be people coming to you on a day-to-day basis to enforce the rules restrictions mentioned above (although, as noted above, they will be watching you...) However, the importance and sacredness of the restrictions and norms and the values behind them are very pervasive, and they are an essential part of the culture of the religious community and its beliefs. As with many religions and cults, new members, and children who grow up in these communities, typically buy in to the beliefs and ideas shared by their fellow members after they join. Once the beliefs and ideas are internalized, new members are likely to find themselves adopting them in practice in their daily lives, working hard to uphold them - even when nobody else is watching.
The 'holy' books are full of incredibly detailed instructions governing how to live as a 'good' religious Jew in almost any circumstance, and they also contain horrific descriptions of torture and suffering which apparently await those who stray from the path. Orthodox Judaism's relationship with its religious literature is one of an unhealthy, inescapable subjugation: 'If the holy books say it, it is true.'
Major, problematic values in orthodox (and ultra-orthodox) Judaism include:
- The non-equality of women in halacha (Jewish religious law)
- A deeply repressive and unhealthy approach to sexuality or even sex in general
- Racist, elitist views codified clearly in the central, classical religious texts (Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, etc) and still widely propagated by mainstream leaders and community members
- A taboo on questioning the religion's fundamental articles of faith, such as the belief of its god and the veracity of its 'holy' books.
- A deeply unsettling reverence for rabbis (alive and dead) which treats them as godly and inerrant people. This mindset trains and conditions religious Jews not to question [religious] authority, even in the face of genuine injustice and abuse
- A drive to cover up criminal members of the community, even those who have committed fraud, abuse and rape, rather than turn them in to the local authorities (This seems to affect the ultra-orthodox more than the modern orthodox communities)
- A drive to silence, shame, and socially punish victims of abuse who speak up to accuse their abusers, especially if the alleged abuser is a rabbi or respected community leader.
- No recognition or acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, and a deeply unhealthy approach to homosexuality
- Incredible inflexibility in terms of sexual orientation
- Similar inflexibility for basic sexual freedoms. Polyamory is impossible, and open marriages are the highest taboo, earning a death penalty (although capital punishment at the hands of autonomous religious Jewish judges and courts has not been practiced for hundreds of years).
- Deeply invasive laws relating to a married woman's menstruation and whether or not she can be sexually intimate with her husband - often literally in the hands of a rabbinic authority.
- The agunah: In Jewish law, only the husband can divorce his wife, and not vice versa. A married woman whose husband refuses to divorce her is 'chained' to her husband indefinitely, while being strictly forbidden to marry or engage in intimacy with another man.
- A deeply unhealthy expectation of impossible levels of commitment to religious observances which govern every moment of daily life including thoughts and emotions.
- The feelings of anxiety, lack of worth, guilt and shame which arise as a natural response to failing to live up to these expectations.
- Many, many more.
Ideology and worldview
Like all religions, Judaism makes claims or assertions about reality, both present and past. And like all religions, the core claims, as well as most of the others, have no basis in fact, but contradict the most fundamental principles of knowledge which humanity has achieved through slow, careful, methodological experimentation and scientific discovery. Judaism completely fails to demonstrate the existence of a god, and its origin stories (the Torah's narratives of the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, the Great Flood, the Hebrews in Egypt for hundreds of years, the Plagues, the Exodus, the 40-year wandering in the desert, the conquest of Canaan, and most of the early kings) have no remote basis in fact or evidence of any kind. Despite this, the religion makes many hundreds of completely unfounded claims and assertions. Among them:
- Having faith in God will ensure your financial income
- God scrutinizes the smallest of actions and thoughts
- You must love God
- You must also fear the same God
- There is an inescapable afterlife, where all will be punished or rewarded for even their smallest actions and thoughts.
- Many superstitions (segulot) which are clearly old tales, many listed as apparent cures for illnesses
- Giving money to Yeshivas will bring prosperity
- One mitzvah or another protects you from harm
- Antisemitism is an intrinsic, inescapable part of reality
- A Jew is never truly at home outside of Israel
- True meaning and inner peace can only come from thinking of yourself as a servant of God.
- The Jewish messiah (Moshiach) is around the corner
- An angel of poverty will damage your income if you leave crumbs of food on the floor.
There are countless teachings like these in Orthodox Jewish thought. When layered on top of each other, they contribute to a greatly distorted view of reality and a consequently hindered ability to make reasonable decisions in day to day situations relating to these issues.
There are many financial challenges associated with Judaism. Over the course of a child's education, religious private school and yeshiva tuition can cost families upwards of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per child. There are also regular synagogue membership fees, holiday expenses like expensive etrogs for Sukkot and shmura matzo or other specialty food for Pesach, the costs of hand-made tefillin, expensive sefarim ('holy' books), and more. For many, the need to choose a career path that is compatible with Judaism means reduced income: a career must ensure they can always observe the Sabbath observance, they should not travel to a location that lacks Kosher meal options, etc. Another financial factor is tzedakah: This charity is certainly a positive thing in many cases, and it often goes to help families in need. However, this religiously-mandated obligation to donate 10% of your income is often difficult for those already under financial strain. People are also often encouraged to donate their tzedakah money specifically to religious institutions and yeshivas, which benefits the religion much more than it benefits the community members.
These social, financial and ideological issues affect each religious Jewish community as a whole, but they also naturally affect the personal lives of almost all members of the community, often causing major emotional harm or preventing much personal growth and self-fulfillment to the people living there.
On the other hand, being free from Judaism means being free from all of the impositions, restrictions, dogma, and baseless doctrines. It also means freedom from all of the guilt, the mental gymnastics you need to try to resolve contradictions both internal and with the outside world, and all of the very real practical negative aspects that come with Judaism. It means being free to dine at any restaurant of your choice. It means you don't have to stub your toe in a dark room on Shabbos night. It means you don't have to suffer through the physical and mental anguish of Yom Kippur, or to restrict your diet in any way on Pesach. It means the freedom to get as physical as you and your fiancé want to. It means finding a sexuality, and a sexual lifestyle, that works for you. It means being able to attend a Saturday event at a museum, arena, or festival. It means being free to listen to any music you choose, no matter the time of year or the gender of the singers. It means being free to dress any way you choose to, no matter your gender, and being free to visit the beach or a public swimming pool. It means the freedom to read whatever heretical book you please.
Being free from Judaism means the freedom to live your life in the best way you know how, informed by thinkers and ideas beyond the narrow confines of revered sefarim, and to find meaning and purpose not imposed on you from without, but which you have explored and found within.