A small firestorm has erupted in our circles regarding one Esther Petrack, a girl from an MO background who declared on live TV that she would cease observing Shabbat to become a top-tier model. Some have even said this is a blow to MO – decisive proof, if you will that our methods don’t work to keep our members frum. “See!”, cry the naysayers, “Go MO and you get Esther Petracks. Go (whatever version of black hat strikes your fancy) and you’ll get good frum Jews”.
I say – BS. This incident is proof of nothing whatsoever. We all possess free choice; indeed it is one of the fundamental postulates of Judaism. That choice includes the ability to sin and do wrong. If that possibility didn’t exist, then the very concepts of reward and punishment or even the covenant between God and Israel would be meaningless, since they were done be’ones (i.e. forced).
There are no guarantees or fool-proof methods that can ensure that Jews will remain religious; our own sources prove the opposite. We worshipped the Golden Calf a mere 40 days after the greatest event of Divine Revelation in our history. In the time of the first Beit Mikdash, we worshipped idols alongside God, something attested to in both scripture and archaeology.
Even in the mythical “Golden Age” between the destruction of the second Temple and the onset of modernity, there were plenty of Jews who committed major acts of wrongdoing. In some cases, these were acts of principle – willingly converting to Christianity or Islam or becoming a Karaite, a Sabbatean or a Frankist. In others, they were simply done from te’avon – illicit affairs, for instance. Esther Petrack’s public abandonment of Orthodoxy is no more “proof” that MO is wrong than the above described events are “proof” that our forebearers’ methods were a failure.
The idea that there are methods that are “fool-proof” in terms of maintaining religiosity is a chimera that we must stop chasing. The time has come to stop bashing one another because we don’t answer to a concept that is entirely unachievable. We are all only human – we can only do the best we can to impart our values and worldview to the next generation in the most positive way possible. What they do with this is unfortunately out of our hands.