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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  51,984 ratings  ·  4,970 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, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everythin
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Simon Schuster (first published February 14th 2012)
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Popular Answered Questions
Vanita How could she understand allusions when she didn't know what they alluded to (or even that they alluded to anything)?…moreHow could she understand allusions when she didn't know what they alluded to (or even that they alluded to anything)?(less)
Regan Cafiso In the Netflix series, I found the Brooklyn scenes fascinating and heartfelt but the Berlin plot was totally disingenuous. She had her entire dysfunct…moreIn the Netflix series, I found the Brooklyn scenes fascinating and heartfelt but the Berlin plot was totally disingenuous. She had her entire dysfunctional past shed and resolved within a week, and gained a gang of cool friends and a scholarship at an exclusive music conservatory along the way. The acting was good, though, and again, the Brooklyn scenes were fascinating. It's still worth watching IMO just for that.(less)

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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: feminists and cultural enthusiasts
Recommended to Jaidee by: a Jewish feminist friend
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "controversial, vivid, courageous" stars !!

2017 Honorable Mention with High Distinction Read

This book has been through so much controversy. Friends, family and her former hasidic Satmar community have blogged, exposed and tried to shame Ms. Feldman into quiet submission of her experiences and opinions and thoughts. I have perused some of these. I do not blame the community for reacting in this way. Some of them believe in the divinity and peacefulness of their way of life. Others are envious
May 22, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish, memoirs
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
Frieda Vizel
Note, my review goes over the goodreads character limit. Read the full review here including perspective from the husband Eli and my whole incestous connection with this book.


When Deborah Feldman’s memoir hit shelves in 2012, all hell broke loose. Not before or after have I seen so much to-do about our little niche world of defectors of the Hasidic faith. Everyone was talking about Unorthodox, raving, ranting, attacking, defending, calling her a James Frey or an Angela’s Ashes—fussing it all t
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,
Maria Espadinha
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Power of No

Deborah Feldman is real.
She’s a Jewish girl who used to be part of a religious community that controlled every second of her life:

They told her what to eat!
They told her what to wear!
They told her whom to talk to!
They told her what to do!...

She was a marionette, an obedient robot and, at the same time, an extremely unhappy human being!...

Until the day she met Jane Austen heroines!

Those irreverent characters triggered her rebel side, and made her dream about a life without chains.

Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I confess that I really did not know much about Hasidic Jewish traditions or culture before reading this book. Feldman was born into the Satmar sect of Hasidism in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and raised by her grandparents. Her mother left after divorcing her mentally ill father. She found books to be her salvation, even though she had to become adept at hiding the forbidden children’s classics from her grandparents. This memoir exposed the myriad traditions followed by the secretive sect. Not surpr ...more
Feb 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jamie Smet
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Who will rid me of these religions! (Paraphrasing Henry II, 1170 CE) Too much?

Not whenever the complete list of any religious rites and rituals and prohibitions and punishments are exposed, as they are in 'Unorthodox'. Which religion am I specifically talking about? Pick any one that comes to mind, although this non-fiction memoir is about a sect of Hasidic Judaism.

Americans consistently come in near the bottom of surveys on having religious knowledge, yet always end up in the top five of count
B Newmark
Nov 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
After having watched the Netflix series, I wanted to know more about Deborah Feldman’s past.
She grew up in a Hasidic community in Williamsburg, NY, where every day life is full of religious rules and where social control and pressure are always present.
In contrast to the series a lot more of her teenage years are described which gives a better picture of what her life was like. She also emphasizes more than once that pressure and control was exercised even more by women than men.
Privacy also s
Ieva Andriuskeviciene
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
As I am really into all kind of radical beliefs, religions and people inside it, I really liked the book.
It is difficult to find many information about hasidic groups, this is quite accurate portrayal of traditions and proper inside look how is it to live inside.
Some facts are extremely shocking. Did you know that woman are dirty almost half of the time? During the period, man cannot touch you in any way, even to hand a plate of food. After that it is 7 days of to get properly clean and go
Anouk Markovits
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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 cou
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
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
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Elyse  Walters
2.5 Stars.....'maybe' 3 Stars (only because I never know how to 'rate' a book when a person is writing THEIR story). Its a different type of rating! Its very personal to the author --and for that I do respect THEM...

However: I would NOT compare this book with "Infidel" in ANY way. "Infidel" was much engaing --more complete ---easy to follow her entire process ---and seemed to flow and feel 'genunine'.

"Unorthodox" 'was' engaging enough ---( fast reading --a page turning book--not always likeable
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Review in English | Reseña en español

I became interested in this book after watching the Netflix adaptation and a documentary where the author appeared, along with four other women, to explore how women have been silenced and mistreated in different cultures all over the world.

I was completely shocked by Feldman’s story and though the TV show changed some elements, in the end it did not affect the depiction of the oppression and hard life she led. Her story is terrible, sad but hopeful in the e
Mar 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
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
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
Unsettled by many parts. Mainly I'm keen on knowing how the author got permission to post family photos of members she claims to have not spoken to in years? It was extremely unsettling to hear her describe intimate moments with her then-husband only to then see his face in a photograph with her at the start of the next chapter. Does he know photographs of him in them appear? I wish that would've been stated, especially with an opening statement like this:
"The names and identifying characterist
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, fascina
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gosh, I have so many feelings about this book. It brought up so much for me. First, I should state that there is a lot of beauty to Orthodox Judaism, even if it's not for everyone. But this particular sect takes some things to an extreme even devout Jews might have a problem with. Or might not. Yet another story where books are the entry way for a young girl or boy to envision new possibilities and eventually gain power. Without question books and education and colleges expose and you cannot hel ...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
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Deborah Feldman was born and raised in the Hasidic community of Satmar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her marriage was arranged at the age of 17, and her son was born two years later.

At the age of 25 she published the New York Times Bestselling memoir, UNORTHODOX: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (Simon and Schuster, 2012)

She currently lives with her son in Berlin, Germany.

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  Ellen Oh is an award-winning author of middle grade and young adult novels such as Spirit Hunters, The Dragon Egg Princess, and A Thousand...
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“I can't bear the thought of living an entire lifetime on this planet and not getting to do all the things I dream of doing, simply because they aren't allowed. I don't think it will ever be enough, this version of freedom, until it is all-inclusive. I don't think I can be happy unless I'm truly independent.” 12 likes
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