Freiing Out – Book Review

Rabbi Binyamin Tanny is not a polished author.

He says so himself. And he doesn’t apologize for it.

His writing is sharp and to the point. No one will ever doubt where he stands on the issues.

His new book is titled Freiing Out – Why People Go Off the Derech & What We Can Do About It.

When you read the title you could be excused for thinking that the person going off the derech has a problem and maybe we could help them.

However, even before getting into the book we are “treated” to a story:

The four-wheel-drive Land Rover jolts along a dirt track that cuts through the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. There are dozens of elephants, giraffes, lions and zebras; herds of impala, birds of many colors and even two cheetahs enjoying a meal of freshly killed zebra. Our guide points at a lone brown impala. “See animal standing by self? Normally impala in big group, maybe one hundred or two hundred animals together, but this impala, him group not like him and kick him out. Now you can see him very nervous; He eat – look lion – eat – look lion, because lion for sure catch him and eat for dinner!”

It was just a story of a doomed impala but it brought with it a clear message:

When an individual is pushed out of a home or community, be it emotionally, physically or spiritually, –

The lion will get him.

Now, you don’t feel so comfortable. Is Binyamin Tanny suggesting that you might be part of the problem?

Freiing Out

The title comes from the expression often heard in the Orthodox community, based on the Yiddish and German word “frei” = free.

The author explains in the Introduction:

The primary focus of this book is to understand three things: who freis out (goes off the derech), why they do so and how we may prevent this from happening. …

If you are someone who is not concerned with ‘going off the derech’ issues, you may still appreciate the general educational ideas that I present. However, you may want to reconsider your lack of concern. The ‘going off the derech’ issue today is an epidemic. It is one of the biggest issues facing observant Judaism.

I think the best approach I can take to convince you to buy and read this book is to quote a few of Rabbi Tanny’s key ideas.

Why would someone go off the derech?

Everyone I know who came from observant homes and went off the derech experienced some of the same problems that I went through. Their overall experience of observant Judaism was negative. [Emphasis in the original.]

Why would someone maintain religious observance?

I believe that people maintain religious observance for one of three reasons:
(1) They have a strong personal relationship with G-d and their observance is a reflection of this relationship.
(2) They do things because of family pressure.
(3) They do things because of communal pressure.

Of course, family or communal pressure are not strong reasons for staying on the derech. Unless a person is internally motivated, it’s easy today for a person to drop out of the community and make a new life for themselves.

I think one of Rabbi Tanny’s most important contributions is his analysis of the six main factors that contribute to going off the derech:

1. Religious Misery
2. Role Model Discredit
3. Being Prejudged or Labeled as Frei
4. Rejection & Conditional Love
5. Dysfunctional Home & Abuse
6. The Mind

I think the first five items are pretty clear and don’t require more explanation in this brief review.

However, what does he mean by “The Mind”?

This is a person who thinks they’re trapped in a lifestyle that doesn’t feel right to them.

A teenager growing up in a Yeshiva system that only leaves space to travel in one direction can experience random anxiety without understanding why, or where it is coming from. The subconscious mind realizes that the message being given is that one must sit and learn Talmud for an ever-increasing number of hours. The teenager’s subconscious mind may realize that this system is not realistic for him, in particular, but it also recognizes that no alternatives are bing presented.

Let’s be clear. Rabbi Tanny is not opposed to full time learning.

However, he urges that parents and educators be aware of the abilities and inclinations of each teen. For those who are not suited for full time learning or who want to pursue another path, they must be shown which other paths are open to them.

One of the big issues facing observant Jewish families and communities is how to make proper use of the internet.

Rabbi Tanny urges parents to strengthen children so that they can live successful lives in the modern world.

You may choose to live without the internet, but your children and grandchildren will, with the way things are going, eventually conduct their lives via the ‘net. … you could perhaps go live in a place where you may not need to worry about banking, travel or library books. But be careful, because your children may not be learning how to build earthquake-protected foundations …

Readership

I know it’s a cliche, but here goes:

This book is for every Jew who cares about the future of the Jewish people.

In particular anyone who has kids, even if they are not yet school age, will find this book worthwhile.

I would even add, make sure you read and understand this book before your kids start school.

No doubt your kids will face different specific challenges, but being aware of the principles that Rabbi Tanny deals with can save you and your children much heartache.

Who’s the Author?

I only wish that Rabbi Tanny would have provided a bit more detail about his background and the community he grew up in.

It is possible with a careful reading to glean many details, I just wish he would have added a few pages that made this more explicit.

This is a good place to mention that Rabbi Tanny is well qualified to write about the issues facing teens and young adults. Throughout his life he has had extensive contact with Jews from all walks of life. He also has firsthand experience with many schools and communal organizations.

My Verdict

Freiing Out is a must read.

If you have children in school or close to school age you should read this book.

If you are a teacher or administrator in a Jewish school you should read this book.

If you care about the Jewish teens in your community you should read this book.

Don’t ignore the message of Freiing Out. Use it as a basis to ensure that your children’s questions, doubts, and fears are being dealt with in the best way possible.

Freiing Out by Binyamin Tanny. Published by Penina Press. Distributed by Urim Publications.

You can follow the travels and adventures of Rabbi Tanny and his wife and son at their blog Travelling Rabbi.

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Freiing Out by the publisher.

Your Turn

Please share this post with your friends on Facebook.

What do you think? What steps can the Jewish community take to help teens and adults stay on the derech? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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No Spam. It's Not Kosher.

Ze'ev

Having read “Off the Derech”, what does this book add?

    Shlomo Skinner

    I did not read “Off the Derech.”

    R. Tanny refers to it a couple of times.

    Here is a part of what he says:

    If you are someone who likes to read technical data, I recommend you pick up a copy of Off the Derech … I came across her book after I had written mine. … I have read her book and did not find that we disagree on anything fundamental.

    He goes on to say that he’s basing what he writes on informal research and many conversations with Jewish educators around the world.

    Hope this helps.

Ben

Hi Reb Shlomo,
Thank you for this review. I’m glad you found the book insightful and have shared it with your readers.
I never really wanted to write the book, but it baffled me for a long time how the number one concern of every observant-Jewish parent has for the most part not been addressed. Aside for the book “Off the Derech,” there had been virtually nothing else written on the subject. I wrote my book to address the issue of “Freiing Out” in hope that more people will open to the subject and work together in finding solutions. “Freiing Out” doe not have all the answers, though I see it as a good starting point.
Kol Tuv, and thanks again,
Rabbi Ben

    Shlomo Skinner

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. I find it very interesting that you felt forced to write the book. I hope we have a chance to find out more from you about your work to find solutions.

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