As the local poster boy for Chassidic rebellion, I am often asked about my life’s story. What was it like growing up as a Chassid? What was most challenging about your struggle to relinquish your faith? What was the single event that caused you to stray?
The last question is by far the most common, and also the most difficult to answer. I am typically caught tip-toeing around it, straddling the line between indulging the curiosity of my interlocutors, and remaining faithful to the simple truth that I do not know.
What was it that compelled me to “leave”? Boredom? Sexual appetite? Bacon?
In the years since I “fried out,” I have tried to construct a narrative about my irreconcilable relationship with Chassidic Judaism, accounting for the events that lead to my inevitable rebellion, weaving the so-called “Story of Why I Left.”
The process was Talmudic. I worked backward from a set of exegetical fragments, interpreting the Mishnah of my life’s events. Back and forth, I assumed the roles of the celebrated Talmudic rivals and scholars – the lenient Hillel and his intellectual nemesis, the stringent Shamai; the erudite Abbaye, the fat, gregarious Rav Pappa, and the reformed bandit Reish Lakish. I personified them all, trying to uncover the hidden truth behind my fateful transition.
Several candidates warranted examination: (1) my cantankerous Rebbe from Kitah Gimmel (3rd grade) who too often launched a wayward zetz to the back of my head; (2) my ever-expanding musical tastes, left unquenched by the likes of Yossele Rosenblatt, Avraham Freed, and Mordechai Ben David; (3) the credo naseh v’nishma, declared at Sinai and still resonating today in the halls of my yeshiva, that rendered it a virtue to obey before understanding, or from my perspective, to act without thinking; (4) the halacha that ritualized every moment of waking life, leaving little room for personal expression.
I explored the full gamut of psychosocial, political, and intellectual forces, leaving no kvetch unindulged, no trauma unexaggerated. But in the end, the outcome of my Talmudic exercise was frustratingly empty. The verdict? Taiku, – the ultimate anticlimax of all Talmudic debate: Stalemate.
You see, there simply was no precipitating factor, no single explanation. My transition from Chassid to apikores (heretic) was a murky one, an intractable chain of events with no clear onset. In my most recent efforts to understand how the man I am today emerged from my Chassidic origins, I have come to draw less from the Talmudic method and more from my training as a psychologist, particularly from the teachings of one of my favorite renegade Jews, my Rebbe, the notorious Sigmund Freud.
Freud had a simple and wonderfully perverse idea: our psychological make-up emerges from our sexual development. He believed that sexuality begins in infancy, and evolves throughout childhood and adolescence. He imagined psychological development in terms of several critical phases, each with its own erogenous mascot – mouth, anus, phallus, and genitals. As one progresses through the phases of development, the erogenous zones elicit sexual conflicts that must be resolved, lest one become stuck in a state of sexual immaturity, “fixated” on the impulses they failed to master. Later in adulthood, they experience a cocktail of neurotic traits and sexual perversions. For example, a toddler that overindulges in the pleasures of retaining his bowels becomes an anal-retentive adult: anxious, obstinate, and controlling with an insatiable appetite for all measures of ass play.
Freud’s psychosexual theory never survived the onslaught of empirical scrutiny and feminist critique. But despite his banishment from the ivory tower, his ideas have endured in popular culture. Freud had a knack for constructing a narrative, and his legacy is the fable of human psychology that the masses accept and enjoy.
Freud’s use of symbolism and mythology in his scholarship is perhaps the most obvious vestige of his Judaism. Despite rejecting the faith, he imbued his work with one of our most beloved traditions: storytelling. It is therefore fitting that as I weave my story of Chassidic rebellion, I tell you the version that Freud would have told, a tale replete with conflict and transition, indulgence and restraint, impulses and erogenous zones.
So, let us start at the very beginning….
Dear Reader, Be sure to check back here in two weeks for the 2nd installment of From Chassid to Apikores: The Psychosexual Development of the Jewish Heretic when Lamed Resh examines the oral phase of his rebellion.
Lamed Resh hails from the streets of Cote-des-Neiges in Montreal, where he attended Yeshiva as a child. LR’s journey to relinquish his Chassidic faith for a secular life was featured on local and international television. He is now studying for his Doctorate in Philosophy as part of a broader effort to demystify human experience for himself and others.
The illustration for this story was done by Jacob Aspler. Check out his other work.