I came across this article on the BBC web site about young Israelis turning away from Orthodox Judaism.
While atheists and secularists in America tend to focus on Christianity simply by virtue of the fact that we live in a majority Christian nation, personally I have always found Orthodox Judaism to be very frustrating. While fundamentalist Christians take the Bible literally, Orthodox Jews not only believe it, they live it. They strictly adhere to all of the commandments and laws set down in the Torah. To me, it struck me as odd that in the 21st century these people were living in a mental prison constructed by Bronze Age mythology. I was and continue to be absolutely bewildered by it.
At my job, I worked alongside two Orthodox Jews. One of them, named Daniel, was a paralegal, and was about 20 years older than me and had converted to the Lubavitcher sect some time in the Seventies or Eighties. I got the sense that his conversion was for reasons similar to lax Christians who become born again because their lives are in turmoil and they look to religion to give them meaning and guidance in their lives. The other, Jeff, was an attorney and was about sox or seven years younger than me.
Daniel's orthodoxy was stricter than Jeff's. Daniel had a beard, wore his yarmulke at all times, and dressed in a manner similar to others of the Lubavitcher sect. I don't know what stripe of conservatism Jeff adhered to, but he did not have a beard and wore regular clothes. The only time I would see him wear a yarmulke was when he was eating lunch in his office. Daniel was also more forthright in injecting his personal views into a conversation. He believed that the story of Noah's Ark was literally true. One time I was talking with a co-worker who shared an office with him (before that, I shared the office with Daniel for a couple of years) about the ancient extinct shark Megalodon, and what a relief it was that such giant sharks did not exist today. Daniel questioned how they could know that such a creature ever existed, and I mentioned the teeth they found that were much larger than any shark's tooth today. "How do they know it's a shark's tooth?" he asked me with a thinly veiled tone of derision. "Because it resembles a shark's tooth," I replied.
"It resembles a shark's tooth," he said dismissively. I realized that I had erred in my choice of words. I should have said that it had the characteristics of a Great White Shark's tooth, only much larger. His point, of course, was that just because a Meg tooth looked like a shark's tooth does not mean that it was a shark's tooth. I asked him what else it could possibly be but I don't recall that he was inclined to answer. For the sake of civility, I rarely openly challenged him about matters related to his religious beliefs, though I did frequently ask him about the rules of his religion and whether there were ever exceptions. For example, I asked him that if he was stuck in a place where the only food available was non-kosher food, and to not eat it meant starvation, he told me that under such a circumstance it would be permissible to eat the non-kosher food. Regarding Megaladon, I printed out some information from a web site about how it is known that there was such a shark and left it on his desk, though we never spoke of it afterwards.
Sadly, Daniel had a spate of bad luck. A couple of summers ago, he tore a ligament in his right arm trying to open a window in his apartment and was out for five months undergoing therapy. Then several months after his return to the office, he fell off of a step ladder trying to reach a file and injured his back. He had to be taken out in a stretcher. He also had some heart trouble while in the hospital. I suspected he would never be well enough to return, and last summer his employment officially came to an end. While I had my differences with him on certain things, he was a good man and I was very saddened at the bad hand that fate had dealt him.
Jeff, on the other hand, often spoke of his religion, but in a different manner than Daniel. Jeff, unlike Daniel, was born into his religion, and it would probably be more accurate to say that his branch of Judaism was conservative rather than Orthodox. Jeff would talk about the various holidays and what he would be doing during them. He liked to travel abroad a lot and often complained about how difficult it was to find places to eat kosher food, and how his departure and arrival dates had to be worked around the Sabbath. One time when he was bitching (though in a lighthearted tone) about such things, he said how tough it was to follow his religion, and I said, "Well, either you believe there is a God up in the heavens that wants you to live such a way and you suck it up and take it, or you decide that there isn't and do what you want." I admitted to him that I was an atheist, and he seemed surprised, but we never had any tense conversations about the subject. He recently left the firm I work at for another place of employment. Though he could be frustratingly anal at times, he was also basically a good guy at heart and we eventually got used to each other.