Episode 70: After Ultra-Orthodoxy - Shulem Deen


Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return, a National Jewish Book Award-winning memoir that tells the story of his exit from ultra-Orthodox Judaism, joins us to understand the people who do and do not leave ultra-Orthodoxy, the needs and hopes of those who do leave, and the roles formerly-Orthodox people might play in the rest of the Jewish community and in re-imagining the Jewish future.

Image Credit: LeFigaro.fr

Image Credit: LeFigaro.fr

(0:01 - 13:56): To begin the episode, Deen tells the story of his own departure from the ultra-Orthodox world. [1] He discusses coming of age as a Skverer Hasid in New Square, New York, an all-Hasidic town of approximately 7,000, and he outlines the factors that eventually led him to leave the community. He also explores the ways in which the forces of early marriage and a lack of secular education create a "structure of dependency," whereby individuals have a very difficult time leaving their communities even if they might desire to do so.

(13:57 - 30:13): Deen continues by providing a window into an important organization called Footsteps, which provides resources to those who are transitioning away from ultra-Orthodox society. [2] He then explores the basic human needs that ultra-Orthodox society actually does meet very well, for a large portion of its constituents (he emphasizes purpose and community). He also critiques the tendency of many in the Jewish world to ask him and other formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews, "Why didn't you join X" -- with X representing the denominational group of the person asking the question. [3]

(30:14 - 57:45): Many people assume that formerly Ultra-Orthodox Jews largely discard Judaism entirely when they leave the communities of their upbringing. Deen questions that assumption, citing a wide variety of ways in which he personally connects to Jewishness and Judaism, along with organizations that have had particular success in reaching formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews (he cites Romemu, a Jewish Renewal synagogue in New York, in particular). [4] He closes by providing his thoughts on Jewish peoplehood [5] and calling for the non-Orthodox Jewish community to take greater interest in providing assistance to those who are suffering in ultra-Orthodox society. [6]

[1] Shulem Deen's bio can be accessed here, and his award-winning book All Who Go Do Not Return can be purchased here. An audiobook is available narrated by Shulem Deen himself.

[2] Learn more about Footsteps by visiting their website.

[3] Click here to read a piece Deen wrote in Zeek Magazine, entitled "Why I Am Not Modern-Orthodox."

[4] Learn more about Romemu's offerings by clicking here.

[5] Lex references a portion of a past episode, featuring Yehuda Kurtzer, where Kurtzer put forth his "Bnei Brak Test" for Jewish peoplehood. Revisit that conversation by listening to Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer.

[6] In particular, Deen advocates for broader support for projects like Yaffed: Young Advocates for Fair Education. Learn more about the work that they are doing to improve educational curricula in ultra-Orthodox schools by clicking here.