Hasidic swingers have finally…
…made it out of Craig's List and onto the television screen.
How widespread is this behavior? It's hard to say, because no studies have been done, and al reports are anecdotal.
I hear the this type of behavior is fairly common, and professionals (law enforcement, social workers, etc.) that have regular contact with Brooklyn's haredi community talk about very dysfunctional families with high rates of sexual abuse and incest.
Instead of quoting them, CBS went to Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler of YU for comment. This is not his area of expertise, and his family's problems – which in all fairness do not necessarily reflect badly on him – make him a particularly strange choice.
The good news? CBS mentioned Footsteps on the air and linked to it online.
Culture Shock: Secret Lives Of Hasidic Jews
Not Happy With Their Marriages, Some Hasidic Men And Women Engage In Extramarital Affairs Via The Internet
CBS 2 HD Goes Deep Inside A Rigid And Sheltered World Few See
Dave Carlin NEW YORK (CBS) ― The overwhelming majority of men and women in New York's Hasidic Jewish community are strictly pious and scrupulous in their religious observances. But in the course of a three-month investigation CBS 2 HD found something hidden -- secrets kept not only from the outside world, but from each other.
Some Hasidic men and women are straying far from their beliefs and breaking their marital vows. CBS 2 HD gained exclusive access into this rigid, ultra religious world, and spoke to Hasidic men and women who broke the rules by sneaking on to the Internet. They betrayed Jewish law and their spouses.
On the Internet there are postings in chat rooms and on craigslist. One posting advertises a husband and wife, who describe themselves as "frum" or observant. They claim to be from Flatbush and want another Orthodox Jewish woman to join them for sex.
"I know of swingers in the ultra orthodox community, which shocked me to hear it … just the way it would shock anybody else," said "Yossi" of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Yossi said he knows adultery is taking place because he said he had affairs with several Hasidic women.
The 36-year-old was raised strictly Hasidic and was in his teens when a bride was chosen for him.
"I met my wife for just very brief period and then months later we got married and we hadn't seen each other. I never felt committed to her in any way," Yossi said.
He was not physically attracted to my wife, "But given the culture I was raised in I did not think it an appropriate response to say I don't want this marriage arrangement because I do not like the way she looks. I did not think that would be an acceptable thing to say."
He said he only had a vague idea what sex was until his wedding night.
"I didn't know what sex was until the day I got married. There is someone who teaches you the specifics. They teach you the basic function of sex, the nuts and bolts, what goes where," Yossi said.
As the years went on Yossi said he felt trapped with a woman he did not love, with five children and a job he hated. He went on the Internet, looking for answers and for people who felt as alone as he did.
"There are a lot of places on the Internet where people meet up … in discussion forums where people have common interests. You get to know another person and sometimes it evolves into a sexual relationship," Yossi said.
He said he found unhappily married Hasidic women willing to have sex with him.
"It was with people I met online. Women in the Hasidic community that I met online and I had a number of fairly serious relationships ... while married."
He said things spiraled out of control when he fell in love, for the first time in his life, with a married woman whom he continues to have an affair with. He divorced his wife, which he said left him a ruined man in the eyes of his family and community.
"It is devastating to her, to our entire extended family and it was especially devastating because people know I've become non-religious. I've left the lifestyle," Yossi said.
He hoped the married woman he loved would leave her husband and the Hasidic world but she did not. Yossi regularly visits his children, who remain in the Hasidic world. He calls their lives "pure" and wants them to stay there and be raised just the way he was.
"It is the only life they know and I don't know that they could handle any other life," Yossi said.
Leah was a bride at 17. It was an arranged marriage that, at the time, she did not question. Her Hasidic community was so religious and rigid she did not dare ask to wear a wig over her bald head instead of a tichel, or headscarf. Refusing her chosen mate was not an option. She said her wedding night was miserable.
"I ended up with someone I had no idea who he was and I end up in bed with him," Leah said.
She had two children in the first two years of the marriage. She was unhappy and felt she couldn't talk to anyone. She sneaked out of the house and found computers hooked up to the Internet in coffee houses. In secret she reached out to others online, hungry for information. Later, that hunger included the desire for a satisfying sexual experience with someone other than her husband.
"Getting attention from other people was just for me an escape. I really didn't know what love was," Leah said.
While in her 20s she decided she could no longer live what she called "a lie" and she divorced her husband. She said her family is angry and she is in a legal fight with her husband for custody of their children. She abandoned the Hasidic style of dress, but continues to wear conservative, modest looking clothes. The transition to life in the secular world remains difficult.
"I had no idea what it was to even write a check, " she said.
She said she spoke to CBS 2 HD hoping it helps other women in similar situations. Referring to Hasidic leaders she said, "they need to face the issue. They can't pretend it doesn't exist."
Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a professor at Yeshiva University, told CBS 2 HD: "You're dealing with a real oddity, a rarity." But he added, "I believe (cheating) is more of a problem than it has been."
Access to the Internet is a factor, as is what he calls the "autonomy of modern life." While many in the Hasidic world deny this problem exists, Tendler and others said facing it could help the community solve the psychological fallout that can go hand in hand with arranged marriages, the separation of boys and girls and the influences of an outside world that threaten unwanted changes.
"This is where the community is particularly guilty," Tendler said. "They do not take care of psychiatric problems. They hide from them because it will impact on the ability of the other children to find mates."
Tendler said the reaction of Hasidim to temptations and threats from the outside is to clamp down more.
"It has been for the last 20 years a clearly discernible trend of further isolating from the outside world," Tendler said. "Opportunities for young people to meet each other have become very restrictive. How does a boy meet a girl? How does anyone learn how to communicate with a female?"
Tendler said while the isolation in Hasidic life actually works to preserve traditions, there is a downside.
"You can't put up a wall. You can put up a wall for one generation, two generations. But the wall is always breached. It is not a permanent solution to anything. Education is a permanent solution," Tendler said.
His advice, "Take the best of the outside world and spit out what is unfit."
Helping those in the Hasidic communities who feel conflicted, confused and alone is the New York City based group "Footsteps." Some of its members enter the secular world, but many others get information they need and decide they are happiest staying right where they are.
Yossi and Leah hope by sharing their stories they help others work up the courage to chart new lives in the outside world or tap in to the deeper faith and happiness to remain part of the world they grew up in and stay true to the traditions and religion they love.
"I think if more people would do it there would be less stigma attached to it," Yossi said. "There would also be a larger support network for those who want to do it. People would be aware of others who leave and it would make it easier for others to get out if they want to."
To learn more about "Footsteps," please click here.
[Hat Tips: Yochanan Lavie, KK.]