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October 5, 2012 / conservadox

Deborah Feldman

Quite by accident, I got to see a book talk by Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox, a book about her leaving the Satmar hasidic sect (the frummest of the frum) and going secular.  I just happened to be in a library in midtown Manhattan returning books, saw the sign about the book talk, and went. I haven’t read most of her book (I read about the first 70 pages in Bryant Park).   A couple of things that grabbed me:

*She said that in her youth “books were evil”; when she did well on reading tests she actually realized she had to play dumb so people wouldn’t realize she was reading.  I can’t imagine she meant all reading outside school was discouraged- my guess is she meant secular books and Talmud, since haredim tend not to teach girls Talmud, just the Tanach.  (Then again, maybe the Satmar expect even Tanach knowledge for girls to be transmitted orally; if we’d had more time I would have quizzed her about this).  I wonder if the Satmar kids read all the inspirational books put out by Artscoll, Feldheim etc that MO and yeshivish children presumably read.

*I thought that she had completely rejected Judaism but I was wrong.  She said that when she was in Paris, she heard the sound of a shofar and ran into the nearest synagogue (a sephardic one).  She didn’t know anything about Sephardic synagogues, and says she is just realizing that there are lots of ways to be Jewish and she wanted to explore them.  My guess is that she really was never exposed to any non-Satmar form of Judaism; I wonder if she even knows anything about Chabad.

*She explained how she got custody (given that Satmar rabbinic courts tend to favor (a) the most religious parent and (b) the father, and that Brooklyn judges are elected and thus might favor the vote-rich Satmar).  Basically she wrote her book as she was getting the divorce, and threatened to make a stink if her husband’s household made trouble.

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