Freedom is actually a good thing

In this article about the horrible tragedy of Deb Tambor’s apparent suicide and the way she and her partner were treated by her family and former community, the most powerful line to me is the last one. The Hasidic Jew from New Square levies upon her the damning accusation: “It’s like she was free!”

By all accounts, Ms. Tambor treated people with dignity and was a wonderful friend and partner. But all that is rendered insignificant because “she was free.”

I think that’s the biggest thing that separates us as freethinkers; we believe freedom is a good thing.

But this Chasid makes perfect sense, given his assumptions; if you’re sure you have the precise instructions from the all-knowing being on how to live a good life, and that includes a lot of restrictions and thus tells you that living however you want is a bad thing, then of course being free would be a bad thing. As the Torah says:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).

(In other words:

free will)

It’s like if you teach your daughter that cocaine is harmful, and she says, “But I want to be free!” of course you don’t want your kid to live free and do whatever she wants if that involves harming herself. So if you know that violating the Torah is as bad for you as snorting cocaine – except it’s worse, because it ruins your life both in this world and the next, then of course you would think of living free as a bad thing.

I normally have held the view that Orthodox Judaism, while based on a false assumption that the Torah is of divine origin, is not necessarily harmful, and as long as someone is happy and isn’t harming anyone, there’s no reason to try to encourage people not to be Orthodox.

However, as Sam Harris would say, beliefs have consequences. The Chasid in this article reminded me that if you really truly believe what Orthodox Jews are obligated to believe – i.e. that the Torah is God’s perfect instructions on how to live, then it’s impossible for you to believe that living “free” – i.e. living however you want as long as you’re not harming anyone – is a good thing.

And so how could we sit here while our neighbors teach their kids they do not have the freedom to live the way they want?


3 thoughts on “Freedom is actually a good thing

  1. John

    I realized the other day that religion is of course very harmful to everyone involved. My reasoning is that a religious person cares more about a spot on a fruit, or if he or she said the wrong word in his prayers, than a child laborer living in abusive conditions – if he or she is not Jewish or Jewish but not religious. A secular person may also not help the child laborer for example, but there is no divine command warping his mind to think putting straps on his arm is more important than a human suffering. This is also why I think religious people generally aren’t bothered by the big issue of unnecessary suffering – their empathy has been compromised. Their scope has been narrowed to only empathize with fellow religious Jews and only see that suffering in the framework of mitzvos – to help them, or the sufferer’s bitachon is being tested. A child in Africa dying from starvation or from local war simply doesn’t register..

    1. Freethinking Jew Post author

      Hey John, thanks a lot for reading and commenting. Sorry; I’ve been away from my blog for a little while.

      I’m with you – at least when it comes to right-wing Orthodox Jews, in general, though of course there are always exceptions. That certainly was how I was raised in school and yeshiva. Perhaps you had a similar experience. My experience with Modern Orthodox Jews, however, and, even more so, Jews to the left of that, is that they are at least as likely as secular people to care about the suffering of non-Jews. At least that’s my sense.

      And, of course, in the Christian realm, there are plenty of religious Christians who care – and do – a great deal about the suffering of non-Christians, right? Of course, that care and action often, but by no means always, comes with an agenda.

      I recently learned of Foundation Beyond Belief, and I’m excited about getting involved with them. You might enjoy doing so, as well. Stay well. 🙂

      1. John

        Hi! Thanks for replying. It was worth the wait : )
        Focusing on Judaism, I think that just strengthens the point. The more modern and liberal the more focused on world human suffering the person is (generally speaking). This speaks to the influence and aligning with modern, humanistic values. The care is not necessarily religiously sourced.
        Thanks for the info about Foundation Beyond Belief. I’m going to look into it.
        Take care.


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