Thursday, December 24, 2009

"I have never promised you a Rose Garden" - Rebellious Women in Chassidic Society


Tel Aviv is like New York !
Open minded and big. Not as huge as New York but it offers enough room to hide.
Israel's Chozrei Be'She'ela usually escape to Tel Aviv in order to start a new "free" life.

Religious society loves to talk about the massive wave of Baalei Teshuva (Jews who became religious in the course of their life) but avoids mentioning its own members who became Chozrei Be'She'ela (religious Jews who became secular).
Once I became religious myself, got close to haredi society, to an "extreme" chassidic group but, in the end, I was unable to keep track with society demands and especially my own ones. I left and since I have undergone all kinds of religious and almost secular stages in my life.

For more than a year, I have been following three different stories of women leaving chassidic society and becoming secular. The question always remaining in the background is "How secular can you become ?" and "How strong is one hunted by guilt feelings ?"

I have read about a lot about Gitty Grunwald from New York leaving the Satmar society in Kiryat Yoel, about the former Satmar member Baile Glauber who became a police officer and about the Israeli case of Sarah Einfeld (leaving Chassidut Gur).

Gitty Grunwald became famous in summer 2008, when the "New York Magazine" printed her story but no one seems to know how she is today. Despite all the pity people felt, Gitty seems to be a real flake.

Baile Glauber was born into Satmar, was married and has a child. However, she dreamt about a "free" life and wanted to become a police officer. She left the Satmar community, started a police job in the New York area but was suspended just a few weeks ago. Last summer she filed a complaint because she felt being mistreated in her police unit. Her colleagues would be full of anti – Semitism towards her. Now the police do not want to give her a firm working contract. Baile admitted that already at an early age she became rebellious and started asking questions.

The most public case, however, comes from Israel. More than a year ago, Sarah Einfeld left the Gerrer (Gur) community in Ashdod and moved to Tel Aviv. Already two years ago, she started writing a blog in Hebrew which is extremely popular. Secular and Haredim read her short stories and life experiences / thoughts. She mainly expresses her pity for the "poor" rejected women in chassidic society who only learn to talk about children, getting pregnant and leading a life behind the stove. Life would be so much more than running after all the Takanot and keeping quiet in society. Men talk so much about the perfect "Eshet Chayil" and want their wives to be one because it means the wife shuts up and does not make trouble. Shut up and do what the Rebbe and society demands from you. Those jailed women do not think about having a REAL LIFE. Dreams, freedom and joy.

I find it rather astonishing that Gitty Grunwald as well as Sarah Einfeld show the same pattern. Both started to rebel at an early teenage age, both left chassidic society and both freaked out as soon as they had their freedom. Becoming totally secular. Sarah got some tattoos eats on Yom Kippur but does prepare food for Shabbat.
Gitty published pictures of her where she can be seen half naked. The "New York Magazine" put a whole slide show on its website. Almost the same with Sarah Einfeld: In the latest article about her in "Yediot Acharonot" from two months ago, Sarah is posing a kind of half naked, too.

It seems to me that former Haredim first freak as soon as they leave the group. Enjoying their personal freedom without any pressure. Suddenly they can do whatever their feel like, eat whatever they want, and Tel Aviv is paradise for those kind of people. Tel Aviv, the liberal city, where hardly anyone tells you what to do.
These three women represent a minority striving to fulfill their dreams. "Its my life" and I do not want to ask a Rebbe making decisions about me. Marrying me off at the age of 18 and keeping me in prison. I want to express feelings and improve my capabilities. Why not having a driving license like Sarah Einfeld did ? Why is everything forbidden to women but allowed to men ?

Sarah Einfeld's blog is read by many Haredim; male and female. Some use it as a gossip source because she published / is publishing the "secret" sex Takanot from Chassidut Gur. Only having sex twice a month and no foreplay is allowed. Women are forbidden to talk to others about their marriage and problems in the family.

It is just an amazing how certain patterns remain the same. A rebellious young woman leaving society and then trying to catch up with all the fun in life they may have missed. Trying to soak in as much secular pleasure as they can in order to distance themselves from their former lives. Nevertheless, eventually they will realize that there is no escape. You can hardly ever leave society when you grew up in it as those three women. Your thoughts will always be with your past. No matter how unkosher you eat, you always think about saying a blessing over the food. I said "thinking" but do not necessarily mean "saying". However, when you are used to a certain kind of behaviour, you cannot stop it within a few days or weeks.

As a matter of fact, chassidic groups are not too excited dealing with the subject and usually those cases of people leaving and turning secular is not too much published. Other members might follow and further women may get some rebellious ideas.
If those groups tried dealing with the problem as soon as a rebellion is showing up, they may avoid further problems. Instead parents, society and rabbis push the rebel into modest and appropriate behaviour. Threats and the family only thinks about its reputation and future Shidduchim for their other children.

Clip from Sarah Einfeld's movie (in Hebrew)

Each person is dealing with such a situation differently. Some suffer for years, others try to concentrate on the new life. A few even may return to haredi society.
It is obvious that chassidic groups are afraid of having such a "virus" spread in their society but threats are not a solution in order to keep the members on the right path. There will always be people born into societies who do not fit in. The perfect case would be a compromise between the two parties. Sometimes this can be reached and sometimes it just does not work and the member's escape is eternal.


  1. Why are you always talking about Chassidism, Rebbe etc...?

    Do you know that you can be a perfect orthodox jew without being a Chassid ? Why are you not looking for another path but still orthodox ?

  2. B"H

    I have tried national religious and a bit litvish but have to admit that I didn't feel comfortable there. I cannot even figure out why. This is, why until today, I am mostly together with Chassidim. Like: Going to chassidic Synagogues, keeping different chassidic customs (e.g. Pessach no Gebrochts), etc.

  3. What about "Lithuanian" communities ? Rav Eliashiv, Rav Kanievsky etc...

  4. B"H

    I am not saying that I don't respect Rabbi Eliyashiv, Kanievsky, Wosner or others but the litvishe thing is not for me.:-)

  5. Give the girl a break. There's good an bad in every community and she obviously wants to hold onto what she is most comfortable with. Who says you have to flush it all down the toilet, throw the baby out with the bath water just because a girl wants to drive a car, or wants to make life altering decisions for herself, and doesn't want to have to be beholden to a rebbe like a cult leader (i.e., "no Dr. I know the cord is wrapped around the baby;s neck, but you cant perform an emergency caesarian until I ask the rebbe" -- and we'll just pretend the gabbai relayed my message and asked the rebbe for the 50 other callers in the same hour.) And the litvkas, they got their own cult worship going on with Eliyashev, Kanievsky and others... why would someone want to go from the frying pan into the fire?