Friday, June 24, 2016
Many formerly ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews who no longer hold the beliefs of their communities feel "pushed off the derech," yet still retain their sense of Jewish identity, a groundbreaking new study of the group has revealed.
A third of those surveyed have yet to physically leave their communities, and may maintain outward displays of religious observance while having "left" the community in their beliefs and private lives. When they do leave, over half the respondents reported feeling disconnected to any Jewish community, and nearly a quarter have trouble with dating, holding relationships, or finding a job.
The report surveyed 855 people who once identified (or currently reside in) Chasidic, Chabad, Yishivish, Modern Orthodox, or other Orthodox communities. Many of these individuals now identify as Off The Derech, or OTD, and go to organized OTD Meetups or are members of OTD social media groups.
Other important factors cited by respondents included the treatment of women within ultra-religious communities and the widespread perception of contradictions, double standards, and hypocrisy. Contrary to widely held assumptions about those who leave Orthodox Judaism, only 2% of respondents cited the influence of the Internet or weak secular education as significant spurs to leaving.
The report was released by Nishma Research, a marketing firm that specializes in Jewish demographics.
A huge majority — 95% of all respondents — still view themselves as Jewish. Two-thirds now identify as either "traditional," culturally or humanist Jewish, or, simply, "just Jewish." Only 21% identify now with a mainstream denomination such as Reform, Conservative, or Chasidic. The Pew Research Center's "Portrait of American Jews," by contrast, reported that 70% of American Jews identify with a mainstream denomination.
Mark Trencher, the director of Nishma Research, noted that there was an inverse relationship between level of observance while still a part of Orthodox Judaism and level of observance after leaving.
"It seems that those who started out most stringently to the right — Chasidic Jews, Yidishists — after leaving the community, they retained less of their beliefs and practices than other groups," he said.
Acceptance by the respondents' families, Trencher said, also started out lower in the most religious groups.
"But it does grow over time. The understanding and acceptance of the families goes up to about half after ten years. That's in pretty much every group, too."
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