Complete Interview With David S. Gruber – The Orthodox Rabbi Who Became A Secular Humanist

Read the whole thing here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Luke: "Let me stop you there. How did your wife feel about this journey of yours?"

David: "I’ve been pontificating for a while, right? You can take the rabbi out of the shul but you can’t take the shul out of the rabbi. About a month after I started on this journey, that was one of the first things… ‘What do I say to her? She married an Orthodox rabbi.’

"She was teaching in the same school. She was teaching Chumash, Bamidbar. She’s probably a better teacher than I am but my level of knowledge is higher. She said, ‘My students ask me, what’s the deal with women, if they make a vow, the husband can annul it. My students who are not Orthodox said, ‘Why is that so? Why can’t a woman annul her husband’s vows?’ The kind of questions you would not get in an Orthodox day school because they’re pre-conditioned.

"She expected me to help her hammer the square peg into a round hole like I usually did. I just said, ‘That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because the Torah was written by a male chauvinist.’ She’s like, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, maybe it wasn’t written by God.’ ‘What?’

"We just started having a discussion. I said, ‘I can’t keep it to myself anymore. Let me tell you about where I am.’ We started having deep discussions. She’d been having the same kind of thoughts, maybe not on the same level. She’s not one to go read 150 books. She’s Israeli. Very straight and to the point.

"We kept having discussions. We made separate but intertwined journeys. For a whole variety of reasons, she decided to not continue teaching. I had another year to go.

"She said, ‘I’m not covering my head any more. I don’t think I believe in this.’ Then it was, ‘I think I’m buying my first pair of pants.’

"Gradually, she made her journey, which was parallel to mine. She could be more open about it than I could. I was still running an Orthodox day school."

Luke: "Your children?"

David: "I have a 14 year old, a seven year old and a five year old. Subtract a year and a half from each one of them. The little boys were little boys. ‘This is what we’re doing now. We’re going to change things a bit.’

"My daughter was a different story. She was going to an Orthodox day school.

"I said to my wife, ‘This is our fault. We raised her. If she decides to continue being Orthodox, we’re going to have to accommodate that.’

"I said to my daughter, ‘Let’s have some discussions. We’ve been doing gemorra (Talmud) until now. Let’s figure this out together. Here’s a book. Read it. Come back and tell me what you think. Here’s another book. Read it. Come back and tell me what you think.

"We just had some discussions. She said, ‘This makes a lot of sense. I never really thought about this.’

"I said, ‘I want you to write an essay about what you think.’

"She wrote an essay saying yeah, I think I want to be where mom is right now.

"I hadn’t really told her where I was going. I said, OK, cool."

Luke: "Didn’t you know all this stuff about the Documentary Hypothesis from your father?"

David: "Yes and no. That is a fascinating question.

"I’ve given the answers and the excuses. Remember that cheesy movie 48 Hours when Eddie Murphy walks into a bar and says, ‘I’m your worst nightmare. I’m a nigger with a badge.’"

David doesn’t use the word "nigger" but Eddie Murphy did.

David: "I’m your worst nighmare. I’m a secular humanist with an Orthodox semicha (rabbinic ordination).

"What they Orthodox do is set up a straw man. They describe things out of context. They quote a few people who believed in the Documentary Hypothesis out of context. Then say that nobody really believes in that anymore. There’s a really horrific article like that by Nathan Lopez Cardozo. A good example of shoddy scholarship."

Luke: "What did your dad teach you about the Documentary Hypothesis?"

David: "I don’t think my dad ever sat me down and said, ‘Here’s the Documentary Hypothesis.’

"My mom passed away in 1993. My dad thinks she was orthoprax. She lived Orthodox but may not have believed Orthodox. Two years later was Baruch Goldstein. My dad picked up the phone and said, ‘This is it. I’ve been a good little boy for the last 13 years. I made believe I was Orthodox. I made believe I wasn’t a [Conservative] rabbi anymore. I raised you kids as Orthodox. I never went to a Conservative shul. But this is it. If this is what this society produces, I’m getting off the train.

"There are many like him at your average shul in Israel. They live as Orthodox. They may have Conservative semicha and you wouldn’t even know it. They’ve moved to Israel and they want their kids to go to regular school like everyone else. ‘I don’t want to go to a shul that nobody understands. I’m going to live my life as Orthodox.’"

Luke: "Did you read any books on the Documentary Hypothesis when you were a kid?"

David: "No."

"I remember a few years ago reading an interesting posting on the Lookstein website where a friend of mine from my high school days, he’s now an educator, wrote the most honest posting. He said, I’m Orthodox and I’m staying Orthodox but we don’t have any good answers to the Documentary Hypothesis."

"After I left Jewish education, I got a job in the finance industry. I still wanted to do something with my training. I do interfaith weddings. My wife does some PR for me."

"Somehow somebody took the picture from my website, the article I posted last November on littlefoxling (which I only reference on my website), and the description of who I am from the website and posted it on I have no idea how it got there. And then it got referenced by the JTA and I’ve been getting all… I don’t see myself as a proselytizer for secular humanism.

"I had an article about me in the Texas Jewish Post and 50 Orthodox rabbis signed a letter condemning the fact that they would even cover this. I haven’t seen 50 Orthodox rabbis here sign anything. When there was a long standing rabbi here who was molesting children, it didn’t cause 50 Orthodox rabbis to sign a letter. When the head of the HUC got thrown out of his job because of sexual misconduct, you didn’t have 50 rabbis writing a letter."

"I think interfaith weddings should be celebrated. I concentrate on helping couples. I don’t ask couples when they come to me if they believe in God. That’s personal. I’m clear about where I am."

Luke: "How do you feel about Orthodox Judaism?"

David: "What a loaded question. It’s here to stay, but it’s running into more and more problems. Remaining Orthodox entails having to ignore some basic facts. Either you say that scientists and researchers don’t know what they’re talking about or you say, ‘You can’t challenge faith on the basis of science because science and faith are two entirely different things.’ That was invented in the 20th Century. Nobody ever said that before. Until the 20th Century, it was held that Judaism was based on a certain number of facts, just like Christian and Islam were… If you take those facts away, it crumbles. You can’t have Orthodox Judaism in tact once you face the facts that there probably wasn’t an Exodus and a conquering of Canaan. Just like you can’t say Jesus didn’t exist or do the things he said and still have a Christianity."

Luke: "Right, right, right, but I’m interested in how do you feel about Orthodoxy."

David: "One of my best friends at work is an African-American female Messianic Jew. We’ll just kid around. I’ll be like, ‘How’s your imaginary friend doing?’ I don’t begrudge her the way she lives her life."

Luke: "Do you keep kosher?"

David: "No. I don’t eat pork and creepy crawlies. I think that’s a cultural thing. Going back in archeology, the first thing that differentiates those Canaanites who we later called Israelites is that we found no pork bones. That became a cultural marker. I don’t eat pig to pay homage to my cultural tradition."

Luke: "How does your dad feel about your move?"

David: "I’m surprised. I didn’t know how they were going to take it. He was very open to it. My dad’s a very liberal guy. My brother’s reaction at age 13 was to become Chabad. He’s now a Chabad rabbi outside London. My mom probably would not have been totally cool with that. My dad was like, ‘Knock yourself out!’ At one point, he was even a moshiachist (believed that Menahem Schneerson was the messiah). My other brother, after yeshiva and hesder, decided he was secular. Now he’s at HUC studying to become a rabbi. He was totally cool. He remarked with a smile, ‘Now I’m going to be the frum (religious) one in the family.’

"When I did put my website up and started doing interfaith weddings, I was like, ‘OK, this one I’m uncomfortable telling him about.’

"I get an email from him. He says, ‘When I’m bored at night, I Google people I know. I came across your website. Let me tell you why I didn’t do interfaith weddings… I’m totally cool with the fact that you are.’"

Luke: "How many friends have you kept from Orthodoxy?"

David: "We had to make a conscious break. We’ll still email from time to time… We were living in the eruv. People were still calling me up and asking for religious advice while I’m sitting in my office munching on whatever, no yarmulke on."

"We didn’t go out with guns blazing. We did a lot to build up that school [the community day school in Dallas]. I like that school.

"We picked up. We moved from Dallas to Frisco, a northern suburb. Takes half an hour on the tollway to get back into town."

"Does that make sense my friend?"

Luke: "Absolutely."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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