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Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews Hardcover – Nov 4 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (Nov. 4 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199380503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199380503
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.3 x 16.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #454,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Lynn Davidman offers us a window into the hearts and minds of young Jews who have left the world of ultra-Orthodoxy. Offering a range of reasons for their departure, they describe both their love and frustration with pious communities, as well as with the constrictions and, at times, lovelessness, and even abuse they experienced in their families. An excellent study of an important and growing phenomenon." --Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College

"This is the best-written and most insightful study yet of those who abandon Orthodoxy, breaking with the religious worlds in which they were raised. Award-winning sociologist Lynn Davidman highlights the role played by rituals of the body in the whole process of becoming un-Orthodox. Her broad lens and rich comparative insights elevate this study into a major contribution to the study of religion." --Jonathan D. Sarna, President, Association for Jewish Studies; Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, and Chair, Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, Brandeis University

"This is a beautifully-written and important book. It is not only a masterful contribution to scholarship on contemporary Judaism, but the rare and moving story of those who have turned away from Orthodox Judaism, losing the only identities and communities they have ever known and endeavoring to reinvent and reconstruct them." --Robert Wuthnow, Andlinger Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University

"A learned, imaginative study of defectors from Orthodox Jewish communities; Davidman's analysis of identity narratives and the process of transformation is original and provocative." --Joyce Antler, Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture, Brandeis University

About the Author

Lynn Davidman is the Beren Distinguished Professor of Modern Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Tradition in a Rootless World, which won a National Jewish Book Award, Motherloss, and Feminist Perspectives in Jewish Studies, co-edited with Shelly Tenenbaum. Her research has appeared in such journals as Sociology of Religion and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. She serves on the advisory board of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University and is a member of the editorial board for Qualitative Sociology.

From the Publisher

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa7bcbce4) out of 5 stars 25 reviews
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa7756444) out of 5 stars The stories lost impact after too much repetition Nov. 27 2014
By Shay VanZwoll - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Becoming Un-Orthodox is the story of Ex-Hasidic Jews who left the ultra-orthodoxy to become either modern-orthodox or to enter secular society. I really wanted to like this book, since the intricacies of the Haredi world interest me, as well as the stories of the people who left those communities. The individual tales were interesting, as the tellers struggled to understand the world around them and to find their way through the secular world that had previously been denied to them.

Unfortunately, there is so much repetition in this book. The author organized the book into different sections, with each section concentrating on a part of the "leaving" process, from when they first knew that the Haredi world wasn't for them, to the actual act of joining the secular world. Because of the way that the story is told, and the stories of the research "subjects", we are often told the same stories over and over. Not only are so many of the experiences shared by different participants, but the author gives us a recap anytime she references someone we're "met" before.

I can honestly say that this book could have been half the length and still provided the same amount of information. Instead of breaking the stories into sections and having to retell (or recap) each story in every section, I think the book would have had more of an impact if the author has told us the stories of each person in whole, giving us the complete stories of 4-5 people who had somewhat different experiences. Though I did learn a lot about Haredi (and Hasidic, in particular) Jews and the gender and learning constraints that they had, breaking up the book into sections caused the stories to be disjointed and lost the impact they could have had.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa71055c4) out of 5 stars Repetition ruins it all May 25 2015
By Galina Petrenko - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
On the one hand, the author clearly has done a huge job to gather all the material and to analyse it all. On the other hand, the book itself only reveals, probably, 10% of the original material (interviews), which, judging by the parts that the author does let us read, could be incredibly interesting.
Instead, most of the book's contents is the author's analysis, and there's a problem: the text is exhaustingly repetitive. In her (unnecessarily long) introduction, Dr Davidman writes about how she was trying to make the text "clear and understandable" [this is not a precise quote] for a reader who was previously unfamiliar with the Hassidic world — but instead, it seems that she's just trying to rub in the same conclusions 5-6-7 times, across different chapters.
The book does provide some very interesting insights into the matter but the text, as it is now, would have only become better and more appealing if it were transformed into a 20-30-page paper.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Mrs.58 - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read first person accounts as well as my own experiences in departing, all I can say about Ms. Davidman's soulless book is, if you want to read very little personal comments by Hasidim and loads of data studies/social-cultural commentary, this is just the read for you. Couldn't even bother to finish it.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6f54bac) out of 5 stars This story is old, I know, but it goes on. Dec 16 2014
By JD 314 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: I was interviewed as part of this project and received a copy of the book as a present from the author. As such I might be biased:)

I grew up in the ultra-orthodox (Litvak) world in Israel. While I left that world, I've never met anybody else who did so (a relatively small number of people leave). As such, when talking with Lynn about this project I was surprised to see the commonalities between my experiences and those of the other 'defectors'. Such things as phases in which I pretended to be religious while being fully secular in worldview, the first time wearing secular clothes were shared with the other defectors.

Of course, I disagree with some of Lynn's theories (such as the non-standard nature of families of defectors). However, her sample size is larger than mine:) More importantly, the differences between my story and the stories she focuses on do not detract from either.

The beautiful exposition and evocative writing make this a book well worth reading if you are interested in the insular Haredi world. Obviously, merely reading a book is no substitute for having lived through in that world, but 'tis enough,'twill serve.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa71d654c) out of 5 stars Great Read Dec 22 2014
By Ben Davidman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The book was really well done. It was very easy to follow, you did a tremendous job of telling one story through interviewing forty people. I figured that this was a book that just bashed the hasidic religion. This book is the complete opposite of that. I really sympathized with all the people who are mentioned in this book. Whether it was abuse, tragedy, or whatever hardship everyone had to deal with, I felt the pain. Overall, I felt sad as I read through this book. I really hope this book was therapeutic for everyone involved and everyone is in a better place than they were.