Photo copyright George Baier
Books by and about Jews who leave Orthodoxy have been around for years now — centuries, really — but in 2014 they reached a critical mass.
With new memoirs by Leah Vincent and Deborah Feldman, an academic study by Lynn Davidman, and scores of essays, articles, films, profiles and trend pieces, 2014 became the year of the “off the derech” story.
Will readers grow bored of the ex-Orthodox tell-all? The books are still being published for the time being, including a forthcoming memoir by OTD pioneer Shulem Deen.
Even if the publishing phenomenon has peaked, however, these stories illustrate the considerable and lasting impact of Orthodox defection on the Jewish cultural landscape.
In my writing, I very purposefully label my ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic community of origin the “Yeshivish” community or sect, although I know it is a strange label for some, like Ezra Glinter, who in a footnote to his thoughtful and thorough essay “Ex-Hasidic Writers Go Off the Path and Onto the Page,” questions my use of the term, calling it “irritating.”
“Vincent” he says “…trades in cliché, since it is easier to slot her community into the Hasidic sect-based model familiar to readers of other ex-Orthodox memoirs than it is to deal with the vagaries of denominational hair-splitting.”
There are plenty of ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic people who don’t fit under the Yeshivish umbrella, but a significant percentage does. And while there are many sub-sects within the Yeshivish community (as the joke goes — two Jews, three opinions), the Yeshivish community is at least as homogenous as the Hasidic community, which manages to stretch wide enough to encompass sub-groups as divergent as Satmar and Lubavitch, Belz and Breslov. One might even say that the Yeshivish community is as homogenous as a single Hasidic sect like the deeply fractured Satmar Hasidim.