Book Review: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
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 expecting a fairy story filled with tales of a wonderful life but I was certainly expecting more than what I got which was little more than a poorly written and poorly edited fierce and bitter temper tantrum. Granted, this is a memoir and not a biography and I accept that I’m reading Ms. Feldman’s subjective account of her life and the lives of the people around her, but even taking that into account, I believe that much of the information she shared with us was inaccurate and exaggerated and coming more from a sense of revenge and anger than anything else.
If Ms. Feldman’s thoughts and beliefs about Hasidic Judaism weren’t bothersome enough, they were made worse by her passing off secondhand information and hearsay as factual. And what was factual was incomplete and left us with questions: How did she just leave? What happened to her husband? Where did she suddenly get all her money? Worse, and this is probably my biggest complaint about the book, was that she had no compunctions against dragging everyone around her, family and friends included, through the mud. Sure, she changed the names of everyone in the story, but she didn’t change her name and are we really supposed to believe that in the insular society of Satmar Jews living in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York she’s writing about that people don’t know who her family is and who her friends are? I feel sad for those people who were caricatured and shamed in the book.
There was very little I liked about this book. Insights into some of the rituals around marriage and cleanliness were interesting, but that was it for me. Unfortunately, I took nothing away from this book. Worse, I learned nothing.