Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Happens When Hasidic Jews Go Secular -- Science of Us

The first time Lynn Davidman bit into a cheeseburger, she was worried for her life. “I was afraid some punishment by God might be imminent,” she recalls. She wasn’t sure what form his retribution for eating a non-kosher burger would take; she probably wouldn’t be hit by lighting in a restaurant, she figured, but perhaps she would be struck to the ground.

A junior at Ramaz, a modern Orthodox Jewish day school in New York, Davidman had begun questioning the strict laws she’d been raised with years earlier. Davidman, now a (secular) professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, has spent much of her career studying communities like the one she grew up in. In her first book, Tradition in a Rootless World, she profiled American Jewish women who grew up irreligious and chose Orthodoxy as adults. For her latest book, Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, Davidman got to know a very different group of people: 40 men and women born into ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities who had, against all odds, broken away and joined the secular world.

How unusual it is for people to leave these communities?
Very. It takes an enormous amount of guts, savvy, and bravery. The general idea in the community is to keep people as far away from the secular world as possible — it’s seen as polluting. They are taught that the outside world is dangerous, that they have to stick together because God chose them, and if they don’t follow God’s commandments, they will be punished terribly. They grow up with a tremendous fear.

What Happens When Hasidic Jews Go Secular -- Science of Us

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