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January 11, 2010

The High Cost Of Leaving The Haredi World

Mea Shearim Sign,jpg "They are like aliens," says Irit Paneth of the organisation Hillel, which offers practical help to former Haredim.

Mea Shearim Sign,jpg

High cost of leaving ultra-orthodox Judaism
By Heather Sharp • BBC News

"The kids, that's the highest cost," says Ido Lev, 30, who hasn't seen his two children for five years.

It's hard to imagine the software engineering student, now wearing jeans and a checked shirt, in the black hat and suit of the ultra-orthodox Jew he used to be.

It is seven years since he walked out of his home, cut off his curly side locks in a public toilet and slept in a shopping mall for a week.

Ido Lev says he felt "drunk from the freedom" when he left Israel's ultra-orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim, make up roughly 10% of the population. Most live their lives in voluntary isolation from the secular world.

Men tend to spend their days studying the Jewish scriptures, which are the primary focus of education for both genders.

Posters on the walls of ultra-orthodox areas pass on community news, as many residents shield themselves from what they see as the secular influence of television and radio.

Images of women are banned, and anyone driving on the Jewish Sabbath is likely to have stones thrown at their car.

Every detail of life is determined by religious observance, says Mr Lev, "even how you put on your shoes".

Angry rejection

Those who choose to leave know little about the world they are entering.

"They are like aliens," says Irit Paneth of the organisation Hillel, which offers practical help to former Haredim.

They often do not know how to open a bank account, use the internet, find work and rent an apartment, she explains, or how to operate socially in the secular world.

And they can face angry rejection from the community they leave behind. Mr Lev says his wife's family have stopped him seeing his children, fearing he will persuade them to leave the community.

But he says he has no regrets, although he is still battling for access.

His marriage had been arranged by his family; now he has a girlfriend. "I found out what love is. That makes it very complicated, but very joyful," he says.

In the first few months after he left, he says he "felt like a drunk from all the freedom".

Another member of Hillel, Chani Ovadya, 28, says she and her parents did not speak for a year after she left the religious way of life.

She had secretly rented a flat and moved her clothes, a few at a time, before she left home.

There are strict rules about dress and diet in ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods

"It was the hardest year of my life, and I didn't have my parents and family who I love with me, so it was even worse," she says.

Her demure long skirt gone, she is clad in a tight, low-cut shirt, spiky heels and tailored trousers and now rides a motorbike and studies engineering.

"As a religious woman, the most you can be is a teacher," she says. "Now I am following my dreams."

'In between worlds'

Ms Paneth stresses that Hillel does not persuade people to leave, but merely provides practical help and emotional support to those who decide for themselves to do so.

"For years, most of them live in between worlds," says Ms Paneth.

"They don't really belong to the secular world - they definitely don't belong any more to the ultra-orthodox world," she says.

Ms Paneth believes the 2,000 or so people Hillel has helped in the past decade are "the tip of the iceberg", and that numbers are growing as the internet makes the secular world more accessible.
Anthropologist Sarit Barzilai has studied former Haredim.

She explains that closed ultra-orthodox areas were formed after Israel was created because their immigrant residents wanted to preserve their traditional way of life.

Experience of leaving the community

The fear of secular society is so strong that if a son or daughter chooses to leave, for parents it can be "the end of the world", she says.

If one child leaves, it can harm the marriage prospects of their brothers and sisters, or influence siblings to make the break too, she explains.

In one case she knows of, a father told his daughter he would rather kill her than see her become secular. She eventually committed suicide.

'Impossible dilemma'

"It breaks people's hearts," says Rabbi Noson Weisz, who teaches at Aish HaTorah, an ultra-orthodox yeshiva, or seminary, close to the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites.

He articulates what he describes as an "impossible dilemma" for parents if a child wants to leave.

"Every child is my child and I love them… I think if I can only hang on to this child he'll get over whatever his problem is, but while he's going through this, if I have him in the house, what kind of influence will this have on my other children?"

But he says he would never advise parents to completely cut off contact.

He says ultra-orthodox society is broader than its stereotype and includes many people who work in professions in the secular world.

If people leave, this means the community has failed them.

He says he has only known four or five cases of people leaving in three decades of work, while he has seen thousands of Jews move from secular to religious lifestyles.

In the school's prayer hall, young men rock back and forth over leather-bound books, while others debate points of scripture.

For them, there is an enriching life, focused on family, community and meaning, to be found here.

"There are 613 laws that we live by, but I would look at it as 613 possibilities and ways of connecting to God," says British student Michael Mann.

And Mr Lev agrees there is value in ultra-orthodox life for some people.

"Maybe to people outside it looks like a cult, maybe a little primitive," he says, but he believes it can be "a happy community" and a "very beautiful place".

"But if you don't have the faith inside, it's like a jail."

The BBC website has two video clips that are excerpts from the full report the BBC is slated to broadcast tonight.


[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]

Comments

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"He says he has only known four or five cases of people leaving in three decades of work, while he has seen thousands of Jews move from secular to religious lifestyles."

He may be truthful about the numbers that he experienced, but it only means that he is not working with people who are leaving haredizm. The other side of this is that haredizm prospered in the last 30 years, but I hope, their lucky run is coming to an end.

What is the dropoout rate from the Charedi World in Israel? (that is those who leave it for another world (Secular, MO, Chrisian etc)

I would guess it is between 1 - 5%.

i know lots of chasidim who dont keep shabbes or kosher but still look outwardly like everyone else.
its not worth it for them to leave, but they believe less than even some conservative or reform jews.

I wonder if he had the decency to give his wife a “get”, or did he leave a chained woman behind while he went out to experience his “freedom”.

www.xat.com/heimishfun lol

>He says he has only known four or five cases of people leaving in three decades of work, while he has seen thousands of Jews move from secular to religious lifestyles.

I have no idea what to say to this. I had heard such claims while at Aish, while ANOTHER story was that one of R. Weinberg's own sons was OTD. AND there was project Chazon - a whole effort by Aish...to address OTD kids and kids at risk!!!

>What is the dropoout rate from the Charedi World in Israel? (that is those who leave it for another world (Secular, MO, Chrisian etc)

I would guess it is between 1 - 5%.

The post below gives links higher, as do anecdotal statements from R. Maroof and...that charedi rabbi who works with OTD people - both who claim alot;
http://www.threejews.net/2009/05/will-your-grandchilden-be-commited-jews.html

I would suggest its more than 8%, less than 20% - but I haven't the wherewithall to argue with the stats.

The question is this - is haredi drop out rate goes up or down and how quickly?

There is an anecdotal evidence to say that number of children of baal teshuvot are dropping out, but what about davka frum from birth all the way to great grand parents haredim?

Ben what do you call FFB? At some point someone is going to be a BT.

The problem with the charedim escaping their world is that they have no clue and often we see them going to complete opposite sides of the spectrum. They only know how to live on extremes. Extreme right or extreme left.
Is this organisation helping these people find the medium?

As for the statement of the man who has two kids at home who he can't see.
He has a girlfriend now so he knows what love is. That's very sweet. Did he not know what love was when his kids were born or did he not love them because his marriage was arranged?

As for the girl. She is simply acting out the opposite extreme to how she was brought up. Yes these people need help and maybe they need help with their own personal issues which a good psychologist could help them with.
As for the families making as if they don't exist. They are not helping matters.

The thing that always puzzles me is why someone would drop kashrut, Shabbat, or davening. Why does someone who wants to drop all the frum-shtick and study engineering (which could be a very *good* thing) feel they have to let the yiddishkeit go with it too. Obviously, this is a deep issue.

"The thing that always puzzles me is why someone would drop kashrut, Shabbat, or davening. "

They left because they don't believe. Question is how many haredim become MO? Either they don't exist (I doubt that though personally I can't think of cases) or nobody is talking about it because it's boring. So if people still believe they stick with all the haredi customs nowadays whether they agree with them or not maybe - leaving the haredi community for that reason isn't big enough to make it worthwhile?

Haredi life has many restrictions YM. To follow these restrictions one has to see some worthy goal. If you divorce haredi lifestyle from believe in God, then all of the restrictions are similar to self mutilation, because Haredi lifstyle is not at all healthy.

Should a person mutilate him/herself without a worthy reason?

I know of someone who was Bobov, became a punk rocker for a time, and returned to observance as Modern Orthodox. But I think he is exceptional.

David S. Thanks. your comments make sense, and you are right: Haredi -> MO would make a boring news story. The likes of Hella Winston would not bother to write a lurid book about it. Because, if it exists (which I really wonder!) it would *not* be lurid.

I wonder if anyone has ever thought of setting up a "foster homes" sort of thing for people fleeing UO neighborhoods - kind of an "underground railroad" program that would send them to a Jewish (but not chereidi) household far, far away from their original neighborhood (or county, or state...)? The type of help Footsteps and Hillel gives require some money, if I understand them correctly (for rent, etc.), but a "foster home" could give them a few weeks or months to get on their feet without needing money immediately - as long as they agreed to begin work on their GED or whatever they need to begin college or job training or whatever. Thoughts?

"The thing that always puzzles me is why someone would drop kashrut, Shabbat, or davening. "

"They left because they don't believe..."

I think you might be mistaken - they leave because they can't separate God from the UO lifestyle. They've been told either they stay UO or go to hell - and it's not like there's a "hell lite." They have to be taught that there IS legitimate Judaism outside of OU/Chereidi practice. They've been told otherwise their entire lives, and so when they bail, they figure they may as well bail all the way and go straight to the gutter (or, as they think, to experience ALL they've been missing). There is a sane middle ground, but a person who has just decided to basically commit suicide with their old life can't really think that straight.

The program is available in its entirety here for the next 7 days.

I hate to say it, but Haredism ought to be clinically treated as a kind of mental-disorder.

Their world is so binary--black and white--it is no wonder why so many abandon Jewish observances of any type altogether. However, I think there are better solutions that do not require a wholesale rejection of Haredi Orthodox Judaism. For this reason, I think Reform, Conservative, New Age, Reconstructionist, and Modern Orthodoxy are good choices to consider.

Many of those who gravitate toward becoming ba'ale teshuva frequently have psychological problems that nobody knows about until it's too late.

I thank my lucky stars that I abandoned that lifestyle over 28 years ago...

Chicago Sam, don't you think it is about us "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".

On a dark yeshiva pathway, cool wind in my hair
Sweet smell of esrogim, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, burnt bright yeshiva light
I had to stop in to davin, & be with Moshiach for the night
There the Rebbe stood in the doorway;
I heard the Yeshiva bell
And I was thinking to myself,
Could this be Haredi heaven or could this be Hasidisha hell?
Then he lit up a Havdala candle and showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome yunger leit and medeilach to hotel Haredi
Such a machmir place
Such a tsnisus space
Plenty of room at the hotel Haredi
Any time of year, you have minyans here

The Rebbes ‘divrei Torah, bent my mind with their depth,
Around the corner, hassidim park his Mercedes Bends
Rebbe’s got lot of pretty, pretty boys, that he calls “friends”
He invites them into his Beth HaMidrash, where he shows off the latest trends
Hassidish dancing in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Hassisha medalach looking, some blondes and brunets
All dance to remember, some dance to forget

So I called up the Mashgiach
please bring me my Havdala wine
He said, we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

Welcome baby to hotel Haredi
Such a machmir place
Such a tsnius space
Plenty of room at the hotel Haredi
Any time of year, you have minyans here
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Tzitzits hanging from the ceiling,
Delicious Vodka on ice
Rebbe said, “We are all machmirim, and command only the highest price”
And in the master beth hamidrash
As the rebbes face east,
They look to the sheina Rebbetzin , to get rid of all the Pesach yeast

The last thing I remember, I was
Running quickly for the door
I had to find the passage back
But instead I was greeted by Mr. Al Gore
We are all programmed to believe.
You can checkout any time you like,
But Frum people can never leave!

Welcome yunger leit and medeilach to hotel Haredi
Such a machmir place
Such a tsnisus space
Plenty of room at the hotel Haredi
Any time of year, you have minyans here

Chicago Sam, nicely done!

Chicago Sam, it does seem that we can never really leave. "Such a machmir place, such a tsnius space"

Chicago Sam: Reform and Reconstructionist do not constitute a rejection of Orthodox Judaism? Haredi or not. Huh?

Well it's not just the Hareidim that are extreme, it's the whole Judaism. If you work on the "holy" saturday you deserve the death penalty, and so many more. Whoever invented this religious is the most vicious person that ever existed!

Organized religion--you gotta love it!

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