The Conspiracy

Leaving Orthodoxy… and telling the tale [Response]

Is telling an "ex-frum" story bad for the Jews? | Photo by Flickr user Danndalf (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Friday’s Required Reading, we featured a short article by Gavriella Lerner on “ex-frum” stories and the implications they have for Orthodox Jews. The article follows the publication of “Unorthodox,” the story of a young woman who flees a Satmar Chasidic community. The book is gaining momentum in the public eye. But Lerner’s not sure it’s for the best.

Feldman’s book is described this way on

“The tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until, at the age of seventeen, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she had met for only thirty minutes before they became engaged. As a result, she experienced debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to immediately consummate her marriage and thus serve her husband. But it wasn’t until she had a child at nineteen that Deborah realized more than just her own future was at stake, and that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.”

So, where does Lerner come in? In the opening to her piece, Lerner writes:

“With all the press coverage over the last few weeks, I can’t even count how many of my classmates have asked me if I have any hair under my hat or if I shave it off. For the record, I keep it long. Still my answer doesn’t do much for the weirdness factor. But I guess we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so; it’s nothing new.”

Sure, people can be insensitive (even when they’re meaning well). And finding oneself the brunt of stereotypes and broad assumptions plainly sucks. But “we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so” just tastes strange to me. If there’s going to be hubbub at all, shouldn’t it be about the victim, the person sharing her harrowing story?

Lerner argues that this form of press has negative repercussions for well-meaning Orthodox Jews. I agree; people use stereotypes to build walls, not to tear them down. But does that mean ex-frum Jews (and those who have fled other rigid lifestyles) must keep quiet for the sake of sparing others the jibes of ignorant people?

Lerner goes on by saying, “Orthodox life is not for everybody, I get that. I only ask that in return that women like Feldman and Reich respect those of us who find beauty and meaning in our rituals and way of life.”

I have to respect that last bit. No one wants to wake up one morning to see their philosophies the subject of a scathing critique or “horror story.” And we can agree that many who live in Orthodoxy (whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) don’t ever experience abuse and hardship in their lifetimes. Of those who have chosen to leave Orthodoxy, many don’t necessarily do so because they are victims of some untold crime.

Even so, for those who have be injured or manipulated by a rigid religious lifestyle, sharing their experiences openly can be freeing, therapeutic, and healing. This is more than being an individual with “chips on their shoulders” who has “gone to the media.” It would have been preferable if Lerner made that distinction in her article.


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4 Older Responses to “Leaving Orthodoxy… and telling the tale [Response]”

  1. bigwheeel
    March 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Whether Ms. Lerner makes that distinction or not is less relevant in the specific case of Debora Feldman (a/k/a Sarah’le Berkovic). Because in her case, it is less a liberating cry from the soul than a (Yes. I will be so blunt.) a hatchet job, substantially based on half-truths and embellished recollections. For example. She attributes the bulk (Or, a substantial part) of her problems as a teenager, to the mental incapacity of her father. That statement alone flies in the face of reality. Her father, although not a Harvard scholar, is a hardwroking, skilled laborer with an average mental IQ. (To be continued.)

  2. bigwheeel
    March 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Continued; Also, her recounting the story of the alleged murder and subsequent cover up by Hatzolah of Kiryas Joel. This is something that is in the public record. The NY State Police and the Medical examiner of Orange County, both investigated the case and concluded that it was a suicide. But it goes from bad to worse. When those “Honorable” ladies on “the view” asked her that loaded question about Leiby Kletzky, the little boy who succumbed to that crazed killer, she had a chance to resurrect her credibility. She blew that, too, by giving a patently false and dishonest answer. Namely. That the reason the little boy approached his killer rather than a police officer, is because Chassidic children are taught to trust only individuals with a beard. That answer is not only false. But it comes from someone with a twisted mind. There are many more examples of her playing with the truth, but they are too numerous to recount in an online post.

  3. Pete
    April 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    “many who live in Orthodoxy (whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.)”

    Please…the Eastern Orthodox Christian church should not be dragged into this discussion.

    The doctrinal relationship between Orthodox Jews vs. Liberal (Reform) Jews is totally different from that of Orthodox Christians vs. Liberal “evangelical” or “mainstream” Christians.

    Thank you.

  4. John Wofford
    April 5, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Orthodoxy in this case, Pete, refers to any form of thinking within the context of ANY Christian organization that is seen as conforming to the doctrinal standards of that particular denomination. So it could be Eastern Orthodoxy as a movement, or just being in a state of orthodoxy according to the articles of faith of your particular organization, rigidly so.

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