The Self-Destructive Nature Of “Off The Derech” Anger On The Internet

If you kick a stone in anger, you’ll hurt your own foot.  ~Korean Proverb

America is a nation that likes to pretend it isn’t angry. In work situations, in day to day life, we do everything we can to avoid the emotion. We see anger as some sort of disease, something that needs to be fought and cured with all our energy. People go to “anger management”; they talk about how anger ruined their marriage, etc etc. And the ones who give into their anger seem to feel that the only way to direct it is in a spiteful, destructive way.

When we deny the validity of anger, we deny our ability to feel a purely natural and healthy emotion.

And the more we deny it, the more we ignore it, try to play it down, or pretend it doesn’t exist, the more it spills out in unhealthy places.

I don’t know where that anger used to spill out, but now, it’s become very clear that there is a very large segment of our society that uses the internet as the place to displace their unwanted anger.

The comments section of almost any news site or blog, no matter how mundane or trivial the subject, is almost always riddled with some sort of petty argument. Topics such as attachment parenting, gadget reviews, and poetry have transformed from noncontroversial topics into places for people to vent their anger, create rivalries, and unleash the most vile and personal attacks imaginable.

This anger, this huge amount of bile and resentment, is often poo-pooed as just being the haven of “trolls”, a term used to describe weirdos who sit in their basements looking for arguments to start. This might be partly true, but the anger on the internet has become far too widespread to simply shove off on a bunch of thirteen year olds with hormonal issues.

Mayim Bialik recently quit Facebook because she was attacked by old Jewish women for being untsnius. COLLive, the local website for Crown Heights, is notorious for being a breeding ground for angry, petty online arguments. And my own blog, of course, has recently become a location to unleash unbridled anger.

The point is, these arguments clearly have no boundaries. At some point, all of us have at least been tempted to leave an angry, spiteful message on the internet.

It goes much deeper than the internet being “anonymous”, a place where anyone can say anything without consequences. The anonymity has just made it easier for us to let loose when we feel the need. It’s become a “safe place” to let out our bottled up anger from our day to day lives.

Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.  ~Eckhart Tolle

This wouldn’t even be that bad if it was healthy, or if it just allowed us to let go of steam without hurting anyone. The problem is that Internet Anger hurts a lot of people. It hurts the person we’re arguing with. It hurts the writer of the article, or the creator of the YouTube video, or the musician who made the music. But most importantly, it hurts the person saying it. Sitting on a computer, madly typing with anger, makes us feel good for a second, but at the end of the day, we can’t help but feel empty. We haven’t accomplished a damn thing, and while our emotion was vented, we feel useless, even if we don’t realize it.

What this boils down to is that since anger is natural, and a perfectly normal thing to experience in a given situation, what really matters is how we deal with that anger.

The natural inclination, usually, when one is angry, is to destroy. To fight against. To live in opposition. To tear down the external source of one’s anger.

But the truth is that our anger comes only from within. No matter how much we try to blame, attack, and destroy the people that we believe have caused our anger, no part of us will be fulfilled.

That’s not to say the anger isn’t justified, we just need to know where it lives.

Deborah Feldman and many others that have been so vicious and personal in their attacks in the recent hubbub in the frum (and no-longer-frum) internet world, have chosen the destructive path. The path of personal assaults and external attacks.

There is another option, though.

We don’t have to destroy every time we get angry. We can build. We can construct. We can change the world.

Those who choose to attack and deride myself and anyone else that is proud of being Jewish, are not just doing us a disservice, but themselves as well. They get angry at us as a way to vent over their frustrations with the world they feel rejected them, scarred them, and continues to do injustice to the people like them. There is no doubt that their experiences are valid, worth discussing, and that it is absolutely imperative that the Jewish world listen to them.

However, until that world, this off the derech movement, learns to speak constructively, to build rather than destroy, they will remain on the fringe, only hurting others and never building anything worthwhile.

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.  ~Malachy McCourt

Yitz Jordan, also known as Y-Love, is an example of a person who has rejected his Hasidic  roots and is aware some might call him off the derech but has worked tirelessly to use his influence, clout, and personal strengths to help build a better world for the Jews he feels connected with. While we may not be on the same page on a lot of issues, the fact that he is attempting to build rather than destroy is exactly what the community of disconnected and disillusioned Jews need. A leader rather than a fighter. A creator rather than a destroyer.

When they do accept this role, and when the Orthodox Jews who choose to castigate them and reject them also transform their own anger, we’ll start to realize we all really want the same thing: a better world for all Jews.

Venting is a temporary solution to anger. Destroying only gives momentary satisfaction. But to build a better world based on the anger we’ve experienced creates a lasting and profound change.


18 responses to “The Self-Destructive Nature Of “Off The Derech” Anger On The Internet”

  1. Y-Love Avatar

    One love for the shoutout.

    My only critique with this article is that you talk about the OTD community “not building anything worthwhile” — perhaps, from a frum perspective.  The OTD community would say that providing support networks for those who wish to leave Orthodoxy, helping people leave the charedi world and helping people leave abusive situations (while not nec. leaving frumkeit), are “worthwhile” enough.  Maybe they won’t build bridges with frum people, but it’s still an achievement.

    And don’t get me wrong – I’m angry as hell a LOT of the time.  A lot of things, however, as I say to Diwon and other artists I work with, ultimately can only come out on a therapist’s couch, and not in an interview.  I could tell story after story to rile up millions against homophobic people and racists in Boro Park and Flatbush — to what end?  What would this accomplish?  

    Most of the anger and pain I have inside will never show to anyone but my social circle and therapist.  That’s probably a good thing.

    1. Micha Ghertner Avatar

      Yitz, have you noticed that in the last decade or two, fundamentalist Christian homophobes have become just a wee bit self-conscious about their bigotry, and now try to couch their opposition to gay people in terms less confrontational and hateful than in the past? There is a reason for this. There is a reason why when preachers call on their congregants to beat the “gay” out of their kids this becomes newsworthy and not just another Sunday sermon.

      Why? Because gay people have spoken up and come out. Because gay people have publicized the bigotry they have faced in their religious communities. Because, increasingly, people who at one point in history would have been openly bigoted towards LGBT folk have now discovered that many of their friends and family members are gay.

      That is the purpose of coming out and telling story after story of homophobic and racist people in Boro Park and Flatbush. Until people like you have riled up millions (and you have already done more than most of us just by coming out), the Orthodox Jewish community will remain where the Christian community was a generation ago.

    2. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Yitz, thanks for commenting,

      Totally hear you about that, and maybe I should clarify what I wrote: I don’t think that the OTD community hasn’t built anything worthwhile.  But in terms of making the changes they are claiming they want, they haven’t been successful.  

      And I hear that you get angry.  As I’ve had to say a few times, I never said I was against anger, just against it being used in an unconstructive or unhealthy manner.  But it sounds like you’re working on that whole thing already.  B’hatzlacha.

  2. Y-Love Avatar

    For instance, just to illustrate the differences in approach:

    Some of my fans are angry that I mentioned oral sex between men in the JewishJournal in a halachic context.  Some are angry that I have trans women dancing in videos.However, on the most practical level – I got people to talk, often for the first time, about GLBT issues in the Orthodox community.  Had I gotten in the media and made my statement “F*CK THE FRUM COMMUNITY THEY’RE ALL HOMOPHOBIC” — your average viewer would have just turned off the TV or clicked “next”.  That would have been it. no dialogue. no conversations.  I’d rather spark the conversation.

  3. Micha Ghertner Avatar

    Nonsense. Chaya’s xoJane piece was a series of lies, half-truths, and kiruv propaganda. She went out of her way to minimize the abuse Deborah Feldman suffered from her community. And it is necessary and important to point out that Chaya is a baal teshuva, as her entire argument rests on the premise that she freely choose to live this lifestyle. No doubt she did, but she was not speaking only for herself in her article, but for Chassidism as a whole. Those who are born into that community – Chaya’s children, for example – are not offered the same opportunities or choices that Chaya was offered. (How many FFB Chassidish women do you know who have graduated from large liberal universities with degrees in Women’s Studies?)The author of the popchassid article calls for each individual Jew, including FFBs, to become a baal teshuva, to choose their Judaism. Great! I think this is a wonderful idea, and would go a long way towards addressing many if not all of the concerns us OTD folk have about Orthodoxy. If every frum child were given the tools necessary to make a meaningul choice about their future lifestyle and religious ideology, then Orthodoxy would no longer look like a form of child abuse as it does now.That means: 1. A secular education so that if an FFB child chooses to go OTD, he or she has the necessary tools to survive financially and socially outside their religious community.2. Exposure to secular culture, secular media, the Internet, and an end to all derogatory comments Jews teach their children about non-Jews and goyishe zachen – insulting comments that Chaya makes in her xoJane article and is called out for by many of the commenters. 3. True sex education (not this kallah class bullshit) with an honest discussion of effective birth control, and an effort to stop encouraging teenagers to get married and have lots of babies while their hormones are at their most active but before they have an opportunity to live any kind of independant adult life and decide what kind of life they want to lead for themselves. As it stands now, by the time young adults are able to think for themselves and make these kinds of lifestyle decisions, it is already too late to make any decision other than remaining in the fold as they are married and have multiple kids.4. An end to guilt tripping any form of deviation through the use of scare tactics such as threatening family members who remain frum that the OTD relatives will jeopardize their shidduch chances. Also a solution to the agunah crisis so that married women who wish to leave the fold can’t be held hostage by their husband’s refusal to give a get.5. And most importantly, an end to the prohibition of teaching and reading about other religious beliefs and non-beliefs outside of Judaism, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, but also Atheism and Agnosticism.Until I see people like popchassid supporting these kinds of efforts, their complaints about the self-destructive nature of OTD anger is little more than concern trolling and victim blaming. OTD anger is fully justified so long as the Orthodox community keeps their children in captivity.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Micha, when did I say I was against all of these efforts?  And since when did I say OTD anger is unjustified?  That’s, in fact, the exact opposite of what I said.  Don’t put words in my mouth.  Read the words in the post carefully before you respond.

      And if you have such a deep need for all these things to happen, complaining at me won’t accomplish anything (as I said in the blog post).  I’m not your enemy and neither is Chaya.

      Accusing us personally of “kiruv propaganda” and other outrageous statements just hurts your cause.  We’re just speaking the truth as we see it and trying to share our experiences from our own perspective.  You have so many ideas for how the frum world should be run and yet you refuse to acknowledge that there are others that have different viewpoints.  You claim that all orthodoxy is a form of child abuse, and then you accuse others of representing all Hassidim.  Give me a break.

      You want me to respect your experience and ideas?  Respect mine.

      1. Micha Ghertner Avatar

        I never said you were against these efforts. I just said I would like to see your support for them before I take your claims seriously. If you do support them, great!

        I don’t know enough about you and your beliefs to declare you as my enemy, although after reading your thoughts on evolution along with your blind faith in the RebbeChrist and don’t-trouble-me-with-the-facts attitude, I don’t hold out much hope that you are a fellow traveler.

        Chaya, though, is certainly my enemy based on what she has written. Her insulting dismissal of Deborah Feldman, her minimization of child rape and other problems in the Orthodox Jewish community that are not simply problems shared by every community, but are significantly worse in closed, tight-knit, authoritarian ones like the Catholic Church or the Hassidic communities in Brooklyn. Her ignorance of Christianity combined with her holier-than-thou insulting attitude towards non-Jews and the secular world. When commenters challenge her vicious lies, instead of responding with substance, she distracts her audience by inviting them for a personal meal at her shabbos table. Her critics then rightly point out that she made claims in a public forum and so should respond to those critics in public, rather than trying to hide her embarrassing mistakes in private.

        I never accused you of kiruv propaganda; I accused Chaya of it, because that is exactly what her piece is. It could have been taken word for word from an Aish/Discovery brainwashing seminar.

        Nor was Chaya just speaking the truth as she sees it or sharing her own personal perspective. She was deliberately trying to speak for her community, even though she differs from that same community in pretty signficant (yet unmentioned by her) ways.

        Of course I acknowledge that others have different viewpoints! How could I not acknowledge this if I am criticizing and arguing against those viewpoints? If everyone had the same viewpoint as me regarding Orthodoxy, what would I be arguing against?

        Of course, not all of Orthodoxy is a form of child abuse, or at least there are varying degrees of it. The Modern Orthodox, for example, do value secular education under the principle of Torah Umadda, although even Yeshiva University was severely lacking in its (secular) philosophy instruction back when I was researching it. Perhaps they have changed since then.

        I don’t really care if you respect my experience and ideas. Your era is over. I have no respect for myths and fairy tales, especially when they are used as cover to abuse women and children. The Internet, smart phones, and other gifts of the secular world are destroying these communities from within, which is why they are smart to ban them. But it is only a matter of time; Here’s hoping Ultra-Orthodoxy will one day be relegated to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

      2. Micha Ghertner Avatar

        [response censored by administrator]

  4. Shulem Deen Avatar

    I agree that anger isn’t very effective in bringing about change, at least not directly. Anger tends to shut down the receptive capacity of those who need to hear the message most. But I disagree that it’s only destructive. Anger has its place; it galvanizes people to action. Many lasting social movements sprung from a deep sense of outrage. It can be argued that the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, labor unions, and the like, all came about because people were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

    Ultimately, energies need to be harnessed to be less reactionary and more of the let’s-create-a-better-world sort. But this happens in stages. Many in the OTD world have left their communities with deep emotional scars, and with very little support along the way. To expect people to just lay aside their histories and experiences for cool-headed strategizing is unrealistic — and perhaps even damaging. 

    Furthermore, I find it ill-conceived for a self-declared frum person to insist that OTDs issue their criticisms and build their community only in the way that you approve. You may or may not be well-intentioned, but until you’re part of the OTD community, it’s hard to see how your own advice can be seen as anything but self-serving.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Hi Shuleem, thank you for your input.  You of all people, I am glad to have here.

      First of all, I’d like to address your point about anger.  I totally agree, actually.  As I said, anger is natural.  It’s simply an emotion that needs to be channeled constructively.  As someone who has had his own issues with anger, I have had some intense experiences of how low, but also how high anger can take us.  As you said, it’s all about how we use it.

      I want to emphasize that I didn’t ask anyone to “just lay aside their histories and experiences for cool-headed strategizing.”  The point is that anger directed constructively, as you’ve done with Unpious, is healing and strengthening.  Anger directly wildly around on the internet, though, leaves one empty and unfulfilled.  I am not implying people should bottle up their anger.  Just the opposite.

      As I heard once, “Anger is natural. Grief is appropriate. Healing is mandatory. Restoration is possible.”

      I have to take issue with your last paragraph, though.  First of all, I never asked anyone to build their community in a way I approve.  As I said, I don’t agree with everything Y-Love has done.  What I admire is the way he has chosen to create and build rather than tear down.

      And I have been very disturbed by the tendency of the OTD community to declare that no one else can speak to them, address them, or try to relate to them.  First of all, your community doesn’t live in a bubble.  By posting your thoughts on the internet, writing for Slate about your experiences, publishing books, etc etc, you are effecting the entire Jewish world.  Every frum Jew is effected when Deborah Feldman lashes out on CNN or when the New York Times writes as if every Chassidic Jew in the world is oppressing women and abusing children.  If you want things to change, you need to hear our input also.  You want to effect the world?  Especially the frum world?  Expect to hear from them.

      I find it sad that you find my blog post self serving.  I believe that as a baal teshuva, I have a lot to learn from you, and as an OTD, you can learn some from me.  Hearing all these angry comments on my site, and on the writing I have worked so hard on, is incredibly painful.  If I was self-serving I would write for, make $150 for a piece of propaganda and move on with my life.  I want to create open communication.  I want the Jewish world to improve.  I want to continue the dialogue that has started in a constructive way.  Is that too much to ask?

      1. Micha Ghertner Avatar

        “when the New York Times writes as if every Chassidic Jew in the world is oppressing women and abusing children”

        This never happened. Stop being dishonest. To say that a problem is systematic and a result of a corrupt authoritarian leadership is not to say that each and every member of the group in question is guilty of the underlying crime.

        I don’t expect the frum world to change on their own and fix the child rape crisis. What I do expect is that many of these Rabbis, particularly the ones from Agudah, be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. That the frum community may be shamed in the process into possibly changing their behaviour is but a happy coincedence.

        1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

          I agree that didn’t sound right.  Edited the comment.

          1. Micha Ghertner Avatar

            Thank you for acknowledging the error; It is appreciated.

      2. Shulem Deen Avatar

        First, re your last remarks… Point very well taken. It was a flippant remark on my part, but realize, it’s the flip-side of your own frustration (re OTDs unwilling to listen); frum people, too, are far too often unwilling to have an actual conversation. But I shouldn’t have assumed that about you. I also think I came across more harshly than I intended. My apologies for that.

        As for the issue at hand: I recognize that the frum world is affected by the messages put out by OTDs, and yes, of course, a discussion should not only be allowed, but is absolutely crucial. In fact, an open dialogue between frum people and OTDs, at least in the interim, is probably the most desired immediate effect of speaking out. I would distinguish, however, between substance and style. What we say should be discussed and debated; how we say it… well, I’m not sure that’s really so important. Also, just to flip the coin around, if the frum establishment doesn’t like tone of OTD criticism, then shouldn’t that impel them maybe to just pay attention — if only to soften the tone? (Yes, you are doing it as an individual, and it’s commendable. But the frum establishment has barely acknowledged an iota of OTD concerns. They barely acknowledge the OTDs’ existence!)

        I sympathize with those who feel the frum world is unfairly maligned. We have to recognize, however, that all that bad press is because the frum world has, until now, refused to acknowledge the voices of the disenfranchised. When people feel oppressed, they don’t go to their oppressors for dialogue; it would be foolish to think they’d get anywhere with that. All they have left then is to get the frum world to listen up because otherwise they’ll be shamed. It’s not a pretty game, but can we honestly say that this isn’t the frum world’s own doing? 

        Also, I’m not really sure that anger is as ineffective as you say it is. This has actually been part of an ongoing discussion among those involved in OTD vis-a-vis frum-world advocacy. There was a time when I felt very strongly that anger blocks out the message, but I have come to feel somewhat differently. At the end of the day, it is often those who are angry who feel moved to speak out, to organize protest rallies, to write books and articles and to be willing to speak to the media. So yes, it would be nice if those who are not angry are moved to speak out as well, but, as Yitz said, it’s simply not true that anger prevents “building anything worthwhile.”

        Lastly, I should acknowledge the individual frum voices, such as yours and others like you, who engage OTDs respectfully. I suspect there are far more like you than we know. But we have yet to see it on the institutional level; a critical mass of frum folks recognizing that, as the saying goes, “sh*t is f*cked up and bullsh*t.” And until that happens, can we honestly hope for real constructive dialogue?

        1. Micha Ghertner Avatar

          I love how we are discussing the negative tone of the OTD movement. Yes, if when you try to speak out about the problems you see you are dismissed as crazy, depressed, from a troubled home, an anomaly, a harlot, an addict, a burnout, or whatever other terms of derision the Orthodox community loves to use to explain why not everyone follows in lockstep with their edicts, it does tend to make these critics somewhat bittter. Imagine that!

  5. Baruch Pelta Avatar
    Baruch Pelta

    OTDers just arranged a protest with a positive message to stand up for the disenfranchised in the frum community. The primary focus was child abuse, but there were also signs protesting the education system. We embraced — nay, actively looked for — frum people and even a rabbi or  two came. I traveled 4 hours each way to go; Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz reports somebody else traveled 7 hours each way. So I’ve actually been quite impressed by the other OTDers I’ve discovered.

    As for Deborah Feldman, are you upset about her rebuttal to that xoJane article, is that what this all about? She merely pointed out that Chaya’s experiences — as a baalas teshuva who got a fine education and then joined up with Chabad — aren’t representative of what goes on in the broader Hasidic world, and then recounted her own negative experiences as a counterweight to Chaya’s portrait. I don’t see the problem.

    I don’t see some massive outpour of consistent self-destructive non-constructive rage or anything like that. The post rings hollow to me.

  6. e :) Avatar
    e 🙂

    I find the article amusing. The way you talk about anger ruining people but then you take a stab at two other Jews. People whose shoes you have never walked in. You even retort to another
    comment about not agreeing with what Y-love has done. It is not your place to “agree” pr “disagree” with what another has done or is doing [with their own life]. It’s their own right. It’s not like
    he is asking for anyone’s approval. The orthodox community and some [actually, unfortunately many] Rabbi’s have taken it upon themselves to “approve” or “disapprove” of other’s behavior.

    I do not recall reading anything in the torah about Hashem giving them HIS right.

    I may be “OTD”, I may not follow every single law or halacha but one of the few that I almost never break is loshen horah. Perhaps you ought to brush up on that one.

    Also, unfortunately, the vast majoriy DOES in fact live in a bubble. It can be seen EVERYWHERE. Just mentioning a news paper article about a Hassid in the ommunity arrestedcharged with something
    has most reacting with utter denial, practically saying that a Jew could never do such a thing. Oh no? Then why has hashem given us laws telling us not to do things that we would not be capable of doing?
    It’s because of this very nature that many feel they simply cannot speak to another in their community regarding anything that may not conform to their little world. if a boy asks about girls [or vice versa]
    they are quickly shut down and told not to speak of such things. Same for even slightly “otd” activities such as [gasp] sports or riding a bicycle [for girls] are frowned upon.

    You know why so many feel they must go “OTD” and are consumed with anger, rage and frustration? It’s because of the bubble they were brought up in.

    Before you retort, reread and think about that last paragraph and tell me it isn’t true.

  7. Jorma Teräs Avatar
    Jorma Teräs

    religious herited cultures that are a substitute for the free personal identity is not your friend. it is an ancient relentless and preverted parasitic conseptual meme-creature living in the heads of men. it holds you and your neighbour prisoner. it really is your true GOD. it lives in you. why are you scared to be who you are? being free of your parasite god and in control of your life and fate.

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