If You Need to Break out of the Haredi World

Hofesh recognizes that it is not easy to break out of the haredi world. While any society has mechanisms to enforce certain types of behavior (including a secular society), it is well known that the pressures to maintain a haredi lifestyle are enormous. The stories that appear in the Israeli press describe guilt, fear, rejection, and trauma. These are normal reactions to a change in lifestyle, and are all the more magnified by the strictures of the haredi hatzeroth.

SpinozaPerhaps the greatest and most famous of those that left the prevailing Orthodox establishment was Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza was a Jewish philosopher living in Holland, and his ideas have been recognized by both Jewish and Gentile scholars. During his lifetime, however, he was excommunicated by the Jewish establishment in Amsterdam, and was rejected by Christian scholars.

Since the Enlightenment (ca. 1750), however, leaving the haredi/Orthodox world has been much more common than either becoming Orthodox or remaining Orthodox. In a 1990 study conducted in New York, it was found that 30% of Conservative Jews, 20% of Reform Jews, and approximately 10% of all nonobservant Jews grew up in Orthodox households. The Second Aliyah (ca. 1912), which laid the basis for Israel, was almost entirely comprised of hilonim that grew up in Orthodox or haredi homes. In the post-WWII era, Orthodoxy and haredi movements have not grown at the expense of normative Jewish movements; their only growth is from natural increase. The only exception to this is in Israel, but even there it is not clear what the net growth of the haredi population is--there seem to be many "reborn" haredim, but the number of those that leave the haredi world, or those that want to leave, is less known and may be even more.

Conclusion: Abandoning the haredi lifestyle is "normal" and has been going on for over 200 years. Considering that the haredi lifestyle was not heard of prior to the Spanish Expulsion (1492), it is more accurate to address the haredi phenomenon as a 250-year movement within Judaism that has become more extreme and less normative over time.

If you want to leave the haredi world, you are not alone. Most Jews have already rejected the extremist haredi lifestyle that has been radicalized by Israel's religious establishment, and there are people who leave it every day.

Below are links to personal stories of haredim who have decided to leave a world that has become, for them, abnormal. You may find that their feelings are similar to yours. These stories appear in Hebrew, and will be translated as time permits.

Yossi Gurwitz, whose pressure-cooker secondary schooling pushed him out of Orthodox Judaism.

Avraham, who left the Habad movement.

Ariel, whose learning disabilities made him anathema to his teachers, and whose thirst for knowledge (such as philosophy) made him come to the inevitable conclusion.

An interview with Shimon, a middle-aged man who has become an atheist but is trapped in the haredi world.

Stories in English at the Hillel site.

Hofesh does not encourage haredim to abandon their families--parents, children, spouses, or educators--in the manner that many mahzirei b'tshuvah demand of young secular Jews. This page is provided as a service to those who have decided that they need a way out of the haredi world.