Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

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3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  10,921 ratings  ·  1,503 reviews
The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape.

The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2012)
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Escape by Carolyn JessopStolen Innocence by Elissa WallBeyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige HillUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon KrakauerUnorthodox by Deborah Feldman
Small. Offbeat Religion Memoirs
5th out of 99 books — 54 voters
The Chosen by Chaim PotokSotah by Naomi RagenMy Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim PotokUnorthodox by Deborah FeldmanBoychiks in the Hood by Robert Eisenberg
Hasidism & Orthodox Judaism
4th out of 78 books — 9 voters


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Community Reviews

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Lisa
The minute I started this book I was engrossed and I finished it within 2 days. I found as a woman, it was almost infuriating to read. I also think it is disgusting and awful that so many from her former "community" are stalking her and posting fake reviews calling the book false. This book is HER memoir and HER truth and she is completely and utterly entitled to it. This is a rare look into this strange community. It is an interesting read for me personally since I live in an area where there i...more
Melanie Linn
While "Unorthodox" is a fascinating and enthralling book, I feel as though it was written several years too early. The book left me with many questions, questions that perhaps could not be addressed by the author because her escape from Hasidism is still too fresh. Did she ever get to the bottom of her husband's infidelity? How was she able to take her son with her when she mentions in the book that 'it's never been done'? Did she lose all contact with her grandparents after she left? Did she be...more
Sharon
A brave woman wrote this book and her spirit shines throughout. It takes exceptional courage to break out of the only life you've ever known, especially one as repressive to women as Hasidic Judaism seems to be. The story is a fascinating look inside this closed community where, like all communities, there is both good and bad. The author knew instinctively that she couldn't thrive where she was planted, and she knew this at a young age.

The book is her journey from childhood to adulthood and ho...more
Laura
Many of the details this book are apparently inaccurate, exaggerated, or even fabricated. I learned only after reading the book, for example, that the author has a much younger sister--so she couldn't have actually been abandoned by her mother as a toddler. She apparently also only attended a Satmar school for a few years after being expelled from one or two more liberal Jewish schools.

I was suspicious, additionally, about the author's silence on how exactly she gained custody of her son (when,...more
Su
I found the first 2/3 of this book dull, and wondered if I had simply read too many memoirs , as nothing that happened to Feldman seemed especially interesting, despite her coming from such a closed and unusual community. But once she gets married, the book becomes much more interesting, perhaps because her conflict with her Hasidic community comes into such sharp focus. I didn't find Feldman an especially good writer, and based on this and a memoir I read a couple of years ago by a former Old O...more
Carol
Would you like being brought up to never go into a public library? If you did manage to sneak in and get a library card which you have to hide, you would also have to hide your books under the mattress. You even have to hide 'Little Women'! If Deborah Feldman had not had the courage to wonder and then seek out knowledge about the outside world, this book never would have been written. I believe that her desire to know more her desire to read. That desire was a fountain of information for her and...more
K
Deborah Feldman's narrative has been challenged by many who know her, and although some (though not all) of the challenges may arguably fall into the realm of "he said she said," there is enough here to render her memoir dubious at best. I think we may be in James Frey land here.

Deborah Feldman describes a childhood where she was raised by her grandparents, having been abandoned as a toddler by her mother to a mentally retarded father incapable of caring for her properly. Except some apparently...more
Sunny
A story of a girl brought up in a religion and culture that feels foreign to her from the start and her experience trying to separate from it. I gravitate towards stories like these because I think many people have similar experiences and can relate to the struggles of discovering who you truly are, and what you believe in. Then, how you deal with the negative impact that has on your future with your family and community who can't and aren't willing to understand. I gave this book two stars for...more
Jennifer
My rating is not so much based on Ms. Feldman's potential skill as an author. She's still an ingenue. Rather, it's on content. What this book, and all of its subsequent publicity fails to emphasize is that she came from a highly dysfunctional family. Many of the issues she incurred could have happened to anybody, of any ethnic or religous background. However, she instead goes the route of making all Hassidim, and by association, Orthodox Jewry look like something akin to the Taliban.

Orthodox Jew...more
Sue
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anouk Markovits
“I struggle to be normal and dream of being extraordinary,” Feldman writes in her incisive, moving memoir, UNORTHODOX. Hers is an extraordinary story of struggle and dream.

Deborah Feldman lost family, friends, community when she left Hasidic Williamsburg — an escape planned so intelligently that she was able to win joint custody of her child. Jewish fundamentalist enclaves do not hesitate to separate children from parents who choose to leave the fold, and often succeed in convincing secular cour...more
Shoshana
“Unorthodox” is an authentic, gripping narrative of the author’s experiences growing up in an oppressive religious Hasidic community, and of how she courageously walked away from that community to provide a better life for herself and her child.

Having lived many years in that community myself, I can attest to the veracity of the author’s description of the Hasidic lifestyle, as well as relate to the challenges she faced in leaving, and the exhilaration of being able to freely explore the world o...more
Ana
Deborah Feldman's "Unorthodox” is heartbreaking, inspiring & brimming with chutzpah.
She slowly and skillfully reveals the secrets of the fanatical Satmar Chassidic community. She pulled me into the daily life of her family as I met her bubby cooking chicken soup and her grandfather reciting biblical litanies. Her family members are deeply enshrouded in the old world belief systems.
Deborah secretly struggles to reclaim her voice and break free from her family traditions. She is a feisty, fas...more
Jamie
I have been fascinated by Hasidim since a) I read Chaim Potok's novels, which led to b) my senior thesis on the relationship between Hasidic Jews and blacks in Brooklyn Heights, New York. As a result, I had high hopes for this book, and it did not disappoint. A fascinating, heart-breaking, beautifully written memoir.
B Newmark
This book felt deeply insincere and in an odd way, pardon the pun, unobservant—as if the writer did not deign it her job to pay attention to what is going on. The apartment rodent invested, the streets always dirty, the classmates mean or stupid or ugly, the teachers ignorant but only in comparison to the writer
So to me, her attempts to frame herself as a victim and smarter than all those around her only serve to annoy. It is very clever in setting up the community based on the repeated adages a...more
Michael
Mark Twain once said twenty years from now we’ll be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than the things we did do. Mr. Twain might have changed that around some had he read Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman.

I was excited when I first heard about this book and excited when I finally got it. I was interested in learning about Hasidic Judaism from an insider’s perspective and what happened in the author's life to make her leave the faith. I wasn’t...more
Sherry
With all the hype and publicity this book generated I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. I so badly wanted to like this but there were a few things that bothered me that I just couldn't get past. The book was decently written, (not particularly good writing but the honesty and humor make up for it), however the overall tone of the book made me instinctively distrust the author. I kept feeling like the author was more focused on taking her anger and hurt over her perceived rejection out o...more
Michael Doyle
I'm almost halfway through this book, but it's my last-resort book when I'm tired of the other books I'm reading at the same time. It's not that it isn't a good read. It mostly is, though it's written in a pretty basic, I-wrote-this-in-college-English-class kind of style. The real problem is if you've read one I-escaped-ultra-Orthodox-Judaism book, you've kind of read them all. Unchosen (Hella Winston) was this book about a male Satmar Hasid done much better. And it's kind of a shame the message...more
Shevy Friedman-Moser
I've been struggling for many days over how to review this book. Being an orthodox Jew with some strong ties to the strictly chassidic communities Feldman was raised in makes me confused as to how I am "supposed" to react to her self-proclaimed "scandalous rejection" of said community. As I was reading the book, I had many thoughts, mainly that I didn't feel as outraged as others in my community had (and honestly, most of them hadn't even read it). To me, the story seemed very much a memoir, nam...more
Megan
Dec 26, 2011 Megan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: women, people who like culture shock
This was a giveaways book I won that I was very excited about, and it lived up to my expectations. I’ve always been curious about other cultures and learning their secret language, customs, rules and rituals, so I enjoyed the author’s bluntly honest look back at her childhood and growing up as a Hasidic Jew in the city. I grew up a Catholic girl in the suburbs, so our backgrounds may be polar opposites; however there are certain things we women have in common, plain and simple. I think any woman...more
Elizabeth
Misleading title, but solid writing about a young Hasidic woman who chooses to leave her community. There is nothing titillating or scandalous about this story. It is (though) quite sad. Miss Feldman was born into a Satmar Hasidic community (movement comprised of Holocaust survivors). They believe that by keeping themselves socially isolated and reverting to old religious practices they will please God (who was displeased at their assimilation and a reason for allowing them to suffer in concentr...more
Alex
This book doubles as a memoir and as an expose of the Satmar Jewish sect, a group so conservative that they're anti-Israel because that land was supposed to be returned to them by God, not by the UN. Feldman's portrayal of them is scathing, but probably fair; Satmars are, after all, like any other religious extremists, dicks. At one point in this book a guy castrates and murders his son for masturbating; at another the neighborhood watch catch and beat to a pulp some black kid for no provable re...more
Randee
I seem to be alone in not caring for this book. The writing was OK but rather like a well written diary. Nothing out of the ordinary. While there isn't a thing in Deborah's life I would want in my own, I do feel that her dysfunctional family and that of her husband's has as much to do with her experience as does the limitations of an orthodox life. I do know there are ultra orthodox families in which there is a great deal of warmth and love and respect. Women can be treated badly or women can be...more
Saloma Miller
I read this book because I thought I would be able to relate to Ms. Feldman. I, too, left an insular community (in my case Old Order Amish) in which preserving the collective or community was valued over an individual's freedom. I know what it's like to be required to follow the rules blindly, even when these rules contradict one another and any self-respecting person can't help but question them. I know what it feels like to have my education limited in an intentional attempt to keep me ignoran...more
Kalen
I think I can now finally review this book, after taking a few days to chew on it. My initial reaction when I finished Unorthodox was WOW, incredible book. But, there were nagging thoughts in the back of my mind.

I started reading this book, fully aware of the controversy surrounding it and the accusation that it is more fiction than fact, a la James Frey (someone I’ve not yet forgiven for his manipulations and mis-truths.) Still, I found myself sucked in to Friedman’s stories of life in a Satma...more
Dawn
It was okay.
I don't think all of the Jewish and/or Hasidic rules and customs were explained too well. I wish the author had stopped to explain what various things were and why they were important in the faith or where the rules came from. They have to cover their legs and wear wigs, but they can have contact lenses and Blackberrys?

I also think the title is a bit misleading. The author spends most of the book talking about growing up in the Hasidic faith. She openly questions a lot of things espe...more
Gaylinn
I won this book through Goodreads, and it just arrived today. I plan to start reading it immediately. I will post my review as soon as I finish reading.

When I started reading this book I knew very little about the Sitmar sect of Hasidic Judaism. Fortunately the author did explain the terminalogy and fundamentals of the religion in an articulate and easy to understand way.

The author was raised in this insular, oppressive world where women are taught that they are incapable of independent thought....more
Heidi
I guess I am one of few who didn't really love this book. The writing was good and the story of the author was good. I did not particularly like the message that the author was conveying. The author wrote a memoir about her life in a Satmar Hassidic Community. Her grandparents raised her and were very strict about the traditions of being a Hassidim. Although they were strict, she was very close to them. Unfortunately, the author did not want to be restrained to the Hassidim's way of life. She fo...more
Wealhtheow
The story of one woman growing up as a Hasidic Jew in Williamsburg. The opening chapters, comprising Feldman's childhood, are strong and interesting. But once she gets older, the story starts running into problems.

First of all, it seems a little generic: Feldman's problems with Hasidism and her Satmar relatives are the exact same ones commonly talked about in the media (such as sexual ignorance, mocking "immodestly" dressed women, the shunning of survivors of sexual abuse, disliking her "Jewish...more
Paul
To me, this was definitely a riveting and interesting account of a woman who was able to lift herself above and away from a life trapping her and smothering her under some of the more shameful and backwards practices of what is undoubtedly one of the most fanatical sects of Judaism out there. In that respect, it was an engaging and powerful story; however, as a [non-fanatical] Jew, so much of the book bothered me.

For one thing, there are often times when she refers to “halacha” (Jewish law) as d...more
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Deborah Feldman was born and raised in the Hasidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York.

She is the author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, UNORTHODOX: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (Simon and Schuster.)

Exodus, Deborah's next memoir, is due out from Blue Rider Press in March of 2014. This follow-up to Unorthodox traces her new life as an independent young woman an...more
More about Deborah Feldman...
Exodus

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“I'd rather believe in reincarnation than hell. The idea of an afterlife is much so more tolerable when returning is an option.” 4 likes
“If my mind cannot be tied down, if my dreams cannot be diminished, then no amount of restraints can really guarantee my quiet submission.” 4 likes
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