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:
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?
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:
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?
Why would someone maintain religious observance?
(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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.