Two ex-haredim, musician Basya Schechter (“Pharaoh’s Daughter,” “Darshan”) & author Shulem Deen (All Who Go Do Not Return), discuss their journeys with The Jewish Week’s Sandee Brawarsky at NYC’s Rodef Sholom Synagogue.
Updated at 12:54 pm CDT 10-20-2015
I couldn't watch all of this video. I stopped shortly after Deen, reading from Chapter 15 of his book, says the Zohar is an 11th century work. But it isn't. It is a 13th century work. Deen is off by 200 years. (Those of you remember my past infrequent criticisms of Deen will recall it is similar mistakes with his other writing that set me off.)
Deen's mistake – which, again, is in print and went through an editing process that involved at minimum a copy editor and a publishing editor (publishers generally don't fact check memoirs, and Greywolf, Deen's literary press publisher, wouldn't have had much reason to think Deen would be wrong) – speaks as much to the poor education Skvere hasidim get as it does to anything else. It is a glaring gaffe nonetheless.
Brawarsky calls Deen's book brutally honest, which it is – to a point.
But she should have known that Deen left his father's mental illness out of the book and minimized what he really was, as Shaul Magid pointed out (too gently for my taste) after the book was published.
Deen's father was mentally ill. He was also a kind of cult leader. A very weak cult leader, a failure as a cult leader, but the leader of small haredi-esque cult nonetheless.
Deen pretended he wasn't really aware of this before the book was published, but I'm reliably told that claim is false.
Deen's father was more than a failed, mentally ill, Jim Jones wannabee. He was also a non-Jewish man who adopted Judaism as his religion but, sources say, never actually formally converted to it – at least in a way Orthodoxy would recognize. Deen supposedly knew this, as well, but also left it out his book.
There is no doubt Deen is an especially talented writer, head and shoulders above the average memoirist or essayist.
There also is no doubt that the bulk of Deen's book is factually correct and that his story is painful and real and should be read.
But a "brutally honest" writer would have told the truth about his father (just as a journalist worth her salt would known about the Shaul Magid's too-gentle outing of Deen and would have refrained from calling Deen "brutally honest").
Deen has had a tortured life. He deserves accolades for overcoming it and for what he has done to expose the plight of many ex-haredim through telling parts of his own story, from being denied all contact with his children to losing almost every friend he had. He also deserves strong praise for the lyrical quality of his writing and for his courage in telling those stories.
Perhaps his next book can fill in the blanks in his first in a way that admits he hid those missing words from all of you the first time around: