The Spiritual Transformation of Jews Who Become Orthodox

By Roberta G. Sands

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Jewish Religious Studies, Religion, Anthropology, Ethnography
Hardcover : 9781438474298, 312 pages, May 2019
Paperback : 9781438474281, 312 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents

List of Tables

Introduction: The Context of Spiritual Transformation

1. Beginnings

2. Searching, Finding, and Making a Commitment

3. Developmental Trajectories

4. Challenges of Novices: Learning and Adapting

5. Marriage, Parenting, and Relations with the Family of Origin

6. Spiritual and Religious Struggles

7. Psychological and Social Integration

8. Incorporating Spirituality into Everyday Life

9. The Spiritual-Religious Transformation and Its Consequences

Appendix A. Individual Interview Questions
Appendix B. Focus Group Questions
Appendix C. Key Informant Questions


A psychological study, based on extensive interview data, of Jewish adults who take on a devout lifestyle.


Spiritual transformation is the process of changing one's beliefs, values, attitudes, and everyday behaviors related to a transcendent experience or higher power. Jewish adults who adopt Orthodoxy provide a clear example of spiritual transformation within a religious context. With little prior exposure to traditional practice, these baalei teshuvah (literally, "masters of return" in Hebrew) turn away from their former way of life, take on strict religious obligations, and intensify their spiritual commitment. This book examines the process of adopting Orthodox Judaism and the extensive life changes that are required. Based on forty-eight individual interviews as well as focus groups and interviews with community outreach leaders, it uses psychological developmental theory and the concept of socialization to understand this journey. Roberta G. Sands examines the study participants' family backgrounds, initial explorations, decisions to make a commitment, spiritual struggles, and psychological and social integration. The process is at first exciting, as baalei teshuvah make new discoveries and learn new practices. Yet after commitment and immersion in an Orthodox community, they face challenges furthering their education, gaining cultural knowledge, and raising a family without parental role models. By showing how baalei teshuvah integrate their new understandings of Judaism into their identities, Sands provides fresh insight into a significant aspect of contemporary Orthodoxy.

Roberta G. Sands is Professor Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. She is the author of several books, including Clinical Social Work Practice in Behavioral Mental Health: Toward Evidence-Based Practice and Interprofessional and Family Discourses: Voices, Knowledge, and Practice.


"Sands's judicious and comprehensive application of social science theories to the study of Jewish returnees provides a unique contribution to the social scientific study of religion." — Roberta Rosenberg Farber, coeditor of Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader