Leaving the Hassidic community

Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities known as the Hassidim create a cocoon to protect their people from the influences of the outside world. At least when it comes to other groups that seek to separate themselves out, like the Amish, they live in fairly isolated rural communities. But the Hassidim live right in the middle of urban centers like New York, so creating a self-contained world is quite a feat.

This short clip from PBS describes how they achieve that, by training their children to essentially not ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what they are not supposed to see and hear. One consequence of creating an insular world is that no one wants to make the family or the community look bad by reporting anything to outside secular authorities, leaving the religious elders in total control, which guarantees that all manner of abuses will occur.

What really bothered me, though, was the young man saying that his education consisted of seven out of the eight hours of school being spent on religious education with only one hour for normal school. As a result, he felt that he was only at fourth or fifth grade level on reaching adulthood. Teaching children in this way strikes me as a form of abuse.

But as the clip makes clear, TV and radio and mainly the internet are breaking down the barriers erected by the elders of the community. It also highlights the difficulties that young people have when the outside world breaks through the walls and changes them and they decide to leave the group. Their families disown them and the community ostracizes them. Fortunately there is a group known as Footsteps that helps people make the difficult transition to the secular world. (I wrote about this some years ago, see here and here.)

Watch Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


  1. grumpyoldfart says

    Their families disown them and the community ostracizes them.

    Isn’t religion wonderful.

  2. MNb says

    “As a result, he felt that he was only at fourth or fifth grade level on reaching adulthood.”
    It amazes me that Americans spend so much time on issues like praying at school, while this still happens. I can guarantee you that in The Netherlands this is simply impossible. Dutch law of compulsory education prevents it, as some muslim schools have experienced last few years.

  3. dukeofomnium says

    It’s a gruesome reminder that Judaism, when actually believed and practiced in its strictest form, is as toxic as any other religion.

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