Off the Derech

Leaving Orthodox Judaism

Edited by Ezra Cappell & Jessica Lang

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Religion, Identity, Memoir, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture
Paperback : 9781438477244, 451 pages, August 2020
Hardcover : 9781438477251, 451 pages, August 2020

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Table of contents

Jessica Lang

Part I: Stories

My Father, Myself
Naomi Seidman

That Long and Winding Road
Joshua Halberstam

The Law of Return
Morris Dickstein

Tuesdays with Facebook
Shulem Deen

Black Hat, Combat Helmet, Thinking Cap: A Mostly Philosophical Memoir
Mark Zelcer

How I Lost My Innocence
Frieda Vizel

The Trickster Bride
Leah Vincent

A Stranger among Familiar Faces: Navigating Complicated Familial Relationships When Leaving the Hasidic Community
Frimet Goldberger

Uncovered: An Interview with Leah Lax
Jessica Lang and Ezra Cappell

Excerpts from Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home (Chapter 18)
Leah Lax

Part II: Analysis

Between Us: Intimacy in Women's Off-the-Derech Memoirs
Jessica Lang

The Embodied Process of Haredi Defection
Lynn Davidman

The Right to Education: Israeli OTD People and Their Struggle for a Fair Chance
Moshe Shenfeld

In Terms of OTD
Shira Schwartz

Notes from the Field: Footsteps' Evolution and Approach to Supporting Individuals Leaving the Ultra-Orthodox Community
Rachel Berger, Tsivia Finman, and Lani Santo

Educational Attainments among Disaffiliates from Ultra-Orthodoxy
Miriam R. Moster

Representation, Recognition and Institutionalization of a New Community: Reflection on the Mediatization of Former Ultra-Orthodox Jews
Jessica Roda

The Social Practices and Linguistic Spaces of Shababniks in Brooklyn
Gabi Abramac

The OTD Struggle: Telling a More Compelling Story
Naftuli Moster

Off the Derech and into the Wild: Navigating Jewish American Identity
Ezra Cappell


Combines powerful first-person accounts with incisive scholarly analysis to understand the phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox Jews who leave their insular communities and venture into the wider world.


In recent years, many formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews have documented leaving their communities in published stories, films, and memoirs. This movement is often identified as "off the derech" (OTD), or off the path, with the idea that the "path" is paved by Jewish law, rituals, and practices found within their birth communities. This volume tells the powerful stories of people abandoning their religious communities and embarking on uncertain journeys toward new lives and identities within mainstream society. Off the Derech is divided into two parts: stories and analysis. The first includes original selections from contemporary American and global authors writing about their OTD experiences. The second features chapters by scholars representing such diverse fields as literature, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, religion, and gender studies. The interdisciplinary lenses provide a range of methodologies by which readers can better understand this significant phenomenon within contemporary Jewish society.

Ezra Cappell is Professor of Jewish Studies and English at the College of Charleston. He is the author of American Talmud: The Cultural Work of Jewish American Fiction, also published by SUNY Press. Jessica Lang is Professor of English and Director of the Wasserman Jewish Studies Center at Baruch College, City University of New York. She is the author of Textual Silence: Unreadability and the Holocaust.


"Off the Derech tells an important story of a growing community of disaffiliated members who are living on the margins of their previous worlds and are building new spaces for themselves with new identities." — Nova Religio

"An important and eye-opening work for those of us who have been off the derech for ages or who are eyeing an exit ramp. The essays and memoirs reinforce each other beautifully. A true must read." — Gary Shteyngart

"This is an impressive collection of personal narratives, conversations, and historical and sociological analysis. Its greatest strengths are the diversity of voices offered and the honesty of the contributors. I found it compelling." — Nora L. Rubel, author of Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination