Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Deborah Feldman and UnOrthodox

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.


Adam Zur said...

Frum world is 1/2 good 1/2 evil. The trick is to connect to the 1/2 good part. She was from what i can tell from satmer. Satmer did have a tzadik as a leader. (Don't yell at me for saying this. Being a tzadik does not mean having right opinions. It refers to personal avodah and the probability of a certain insight into the spiritual worlds. A zadik can disagree and even fight against other tzadikim. He can even be wrong sometimes. and he can sin too. But then he repents of the sin.)At any rate after this whole speech let me mention that she was in Satmer after reb yoel was no longer there and the atmosphere was in fact quite oppressive. (I was there and i can understand how she must have felt there). Even good communities can deteriorate.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I'm not going to yell. But I will point out that being a genius in Torah and being a tzadik are not synonymous and that the Satmar Rebbe was proof of this.

Adam Zur said...

in spite of my respect for the satmer rav it does not look to me that he was Torah genius. have you ever read the Al HaTemura? Building halacha conclusions from midrashim?. he could write and very powerfully but i did not see a drop of anything that could be called a halachic argument.

SJ said...

This Feldman girl seems to have some deepseated issues and seems to me she needs to go by herself for a while to find peace. It's a process.

On the other hand, if the orthodox world had more free speech so people could vent issues without fear of being penalized ...... maybe things would be different.

Adam Zur said...

i agree with SJ. her complaints do no invalidate the importance of the Torah and Talmud. regardless of how accurate or in accurate the complaints are. If the system is flawed well so far i have no heard of any system that cant be misused including democracy. However I do agree that the question big question of ""what is the right system' is an interesting question. being a philosopher i cant help but wonder about it. But since this question is too big for me i prefer to emulate the hound dog who keeps his or her nose on the ground and looks at little questions.

Italia said...

This is a very intriguing book because it gives an insight into growing up in the Orthodox Jewish Hasidic community of Satmar. Although I was familiar with other Hasidic sects, the Satmar were new to me. She explains it mostly through the eyes of a child so I had to do a bit of on-line research to learn more about them. The biggest surprise is their complete opposition to Israel - they believe they must wait for the coming of the Messiah to return to their homeland - but much of the daily life seems similar (to me) to other Hasidic communities.