Hasidic No More

In an interview about her forthcoming book, Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, Lynn Davidman offers a glimpse of what life is like in Hasidic communities:

They’re taught to be modest: Aside from dressing in an unrevealing way, this means not talking in a loud voice, not wearing gaudy colors, generally not calling attention to yourself. Men, when walking down the street, will look down so they don’t catch a woman’s eye. Before marriageable age, there is complete and utter separation of the sexes. Inside the Satmar community, there are Yiddish signs indicating which side of the street men walk on and which side of the street women walk on.

The entire day is filled with ritual.

When you wake up, you are not allowed to walk more than three steps from your bed before you encounter a big bowl of water that was placed on the floor the night before. There’s a cup with two handles; you pick it up and pour it over each hand three times. Then you say a prayer thanking God for returning you from sleep. Then you go to the bathroom. There’s a special blessing to say after you go to the bathroom — you thank God that all your organs are functioning. Then there are more prayers, especially for the men. The men are obligated to pray every morning by a certain time. If you go to breakfast, you’re supposed to say a blessing over each food. There’s an order in which you say the blessings. If you have a fruit salad, but you have granola too, which do you bless first? One idea is that if the fruit’s grown in Israel, you bless that one first. There’s a whole system.

Her summary of what typically prompts someone to leave:

They generally have had some childhood experience that doesn’t fit with the ideal Hasidic way. They’re taught that this is the ideal life — but if they’re subject to un-ideal conditions, they start to question what’s wrong. Sometimes there’s verbal or physical or sexual abuse. Perhaps they have two parents whose levels of religiosity differ. This is confusing for a kid, because [they’re taught that] there’s one right way. If their parents disagree, they start to wonder: Is there really one truth? Other people may have cousins or relatives who are secular. One woman said [of her cousins], “They go skiing, they have such a great time — and nobody’s punishing them.” People who leave are mostly young, up to around 25 years old. If you’re married and starting to have kids, it’s much harder to get out.