Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic RootsUnorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Deborah’s mother left home soon after her birth.  Her father is mentally handicapped.  She is left in the care of her grandparents who are members of a Hasidic Jewish community.  She is raised according to a strict set of rules.  These include never speaking English because it will corrupt your soul.  Don’t educate girls past the very basics they need to survive.  And certainly never have boys and girls together.

Deborah was a rebel.  She knew how to read English.  She cared about school.  She would sneak to other parts of New York to borrow books from the library.  She was able to become a teacher in her sect’s elementary school.

That all changed when her family arranged her marriage at age 17.  Suddenly they became the talk of the community when their inability to consummate their marriage became common knowledge.  She was no longer able to read or have books in house against her husband’s family’s rules.  Eventually she rebels again and starts taking adult continuing ed classes that lead to her leaving her husband and her community.

It always amazes me to read about the overt misogyny in religious sects.  I don’t know why.  I know what goes on.  I guess I just want to believe that things are getting better.  The things that are done to the girls here are heartbreaking.  Their absolute ignorance of their bodies especially when it comes to sexual matters leads to extreme psychological and physical harm.  The boys don’t fare any better in these matters.

She talks of the books that helped her realize that there was another world out there.  Hopefully this memoir helps other girls imagine a way out.