Deborah Feldman, a former frummie with a blogging history of antagonism towards the religious world has just published a book, Unorthodox, in which she details her religious upbringing and subsequent rejection of it to lead a secular life.
The book has gotten some expected and unexpected reactions. On one hand, Ms. Feldman has become a darling of the celebrity circuit, appearing on national television in the US to promote her tome. On the other hand, even normally hostile FailedMessiah seems to have turned against her as more and more of the supposedly biographical information in the book turns out to be either not verifiable, contradicted by others or just plain false.
Now some of this is to be expected. I have not read the book but in various reviews I've seen the phrase "And she heard this from her husband who heard it from..." repeatedly. Now perhaps I've spent too much time in the academic world but it seems to me that this kind of reference is generally reserved for such august publications as The National Enquirer, not serious publications in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. Indeed, the best defence I saw of her depiction of one fictitious episode was neatly encapsulated here in the comments section at the bottom: "Given the numerous scandals that have been covered up in many right wing Orthodox communities, I would say it's plausible that and event like that murder could happen." Hmmm yes, that's certainly a reason to condemn a group of people. It could'a happened so why not just assume it did!
However, there has been one positive response to the book that I think deserves attention, that of Rav Yaakov Rosenblatt. In polite but firm tones he points out that Feldman hasn't so much left frumkeiti for something different but rather has defined herself as the great tattler of loshon horo willing to give a sex-saturated society an inside look at another society, one in which sex is still restricted and taboo, the exact opposite of liberal secular life today. She is the guide to what the rest of Western civilization must certainly consider a freak show but is that really why she left?
A couple of years ago I was speaking with a yeshiva high school principle from the Long Island area about the OTD problem and, like a good black hatter, he initially insisted that the problem was miniscule, that it was totally overblown and that most OTD's were mentally unwell or something like that. When I pointed out the proliferation of books and blogs as well as the statistics showing the increasing numbers he retorted that the reason was because of a change in behaviour. Once upon a time someone who left the faith simply walked out the door and into a new life without looking back. You never heard from them again. Now the person walks to the door, stands under the lintel and spends the next few years screaming back "I'm leaving because you're all so terrible!" As a result people notice it more.
Ms. Feldman is standing in the doorway and shouting at the outside world "Hey everybody, look inside here at the people I hate!" But she can't stay there forever. It will be interesting to see what she does when she finally does leave the frum world.