Those who exit a religion—particularly one they were born and raised in—often find themselves at sea in their efforts to transition to life beyond their community. Sociologist Schneur Zalman Newfield, who went through this process himself, has interviewed dozens of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews who left their communities. Why did they leave? How do they make sense of their personal Exodus, and what do they think of their religious upbringing now? What have they lost, and what remains with them, in their new lives?
Newfield has found that exiters experience both a sense of independence and a persistent connection with their roots. And their experience offers important lessons for Jews of all backgrounds, or for anyone interested in religious tradition in the modern world.
Schneur Zalman Newfield grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Jewish community. In his early twenties he left this community, seeking out secular education and a broader life. Today Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and the author of Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Temple University Press). Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com.
Newfield is also a host on the Jewish Studies channel of the New Books Network podcast.