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Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge Paperback – November 30, 2005

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Paperback, November 30, 2005
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Devora Publishing (November 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932687432
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932687439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Baffled by her own experience as well as those of friends, Margolese explores the phenomenon of yeshiva-educated children from observant homes abandoning their tradition, or "going off the derech path." Interviews with formerly observant Jews, as well as rabbis, educators, therapists and program directors uncover the emotional and intellectual complexity behind the phenomenon. "Most observant Jews seem to have left, not because the outside world pulled them in, but rather because the observant one pushed them out," she concludes. "They experienced Judaism as a source of pain rather than joy." Margolese, who returned to a religious lifestyle, views her findings as a wake-up call to reshape the observant world so it remains inspiring and inviting. Though some of her observations hardly break psychological ground-healthy parent- and teacher-child relationships ground self-esteem, for instance-they can have startling results when placed in the context of the religious world. She advocates focusing on meaning instead of on rules, and placing a child's emotional needs above his Torah observance. Though Jewish readers may be most interested in Margolese's subject, her conclusion will resonate with those of all faiths: "God cannot be confined to the narrow path we walk... neither can his people."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Faranak Margolese is a freelance writer and editor. She received her BA in Philosophy from Stern College and a Master of Fine Arts in Non-Fiction Creating Writing from Columbia University's School of the Arts. She subsequently served as an adjunct professor of writing at Yeshiva University and Queens College; as a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Jewish Times; and as editor of Freedom in the World. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Easy read as well.
Again I would stress one point the author makes. i.e. that the religious treat with respect and consideration those who are less religious than them.
Shalom Freedman
This book is a must have for parents, educators and community leaders alike...a worthy addition to every Jewish library.
Arielle Listokin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on January 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an important book. And the writer of the book is to be commended for choosing a subject which is of great importance to the Jewish community, and has not been previously treated ( so far as I know) in book form. Faranak Margolese spent five years preparing this book, interviewed several hundred people including many major Rabbis for the project. She studied the subject in depth and came to no easy and hasty conclusion.

One of her findings is that there is no single all- encompassing reason why observant Jews cease to be so. It can be the coolness of their own observant parents to religion, or the difficulty they have with teachers in school. It can come from their own sense of the religion's simply 'not working' for them. There are many , many reasons. And the author is honest enough to say that she has no formula for any specific case.

Here it is important to note that this study is written by an observant person who is looking at the falling away from observance as something 'negative' In other words this book's audience is the audience of observant Jews worried about what is happening to their community.

My own experience teaches me too that there are many reasons for falling away. One is simply the great amount of time and effort required to be religious when people are in frameworks ( for instance, university) where they may be pressed for time. I would too second one of the major points the author makes, the frequent insensitivity of religious people to the needs of their fellows. Even in the matter of 'rebuking' those fallen away, I have seen a neglect of Rambam's advice to do this gently and with respect for the dignity of the person.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By jsa on December 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Off the Derech," which I read last spring and have recommended to a number of people since, deserves to reach a wide audience - not just clergy and educators, but anyone sincerely interested in the orientation and direction of traditional Judaism.

The question that Faranak Margolese poses in her book's subtitle, "Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism," may well be expanded to "Why Aren't More Jews Observant" - for in my view the reasons she gives for the former are the same as those for the latter. "Off the Derech," in fact, seeks to address one facet of a much larger issue, but actually reaches way beyond this by delving into the very meaning of what it means to be a religious Jew. In this respect, the author quotes Joseph Telushkin: "Among many Orthodox and non-Orthodox as well, the word 'religious' has acquired an exclusively ritualistic connotation. If two Jews are speaking about a third and the question is raised as to whether or not the person is religious, the answer will be based exclusively on the person's level of ritual observance... Ethics are treated almost like an extra-curricular activity - nice, but not that important in defining a person's religiosity." (pp. 222-223) The point Ms. Margolese makes by quoting Rabbi Telushkin, who opens his own most recent book, "You Shall be Holy," by making this same statement, is not that mitzvah observance in all of its forms is secondary, but that it is a means to an end, which is right behavior, and not a mechanical substitute for it.

The author's outlook is one of Torah-grounded, love-oriented, positive Judaism, and her many important observations are designed to support traditional religious thinking and practice.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Arielle Listokin on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Hats off to Ms. Margolese for thoughtfully and courageously tackling a subject that has, for too long, remained behind closed doors! By addressing the complex issue of children who leave the derech in extensive, written form, Margolese has boldly taken the first steps towards mending this problem. The book provides not only compelling analysis, but also insightful and pragmatic approaches to resolution that parents can, with a little resolve, easily put into practice. Off the Derech reflects years of demanding and intricate research, yet somehow manages to read like a novel. The narrative style and easy flow of Margolese's writing captured my attention from cover to cover, nearly 400 pages-no small feat for a work of nonfiction, especially for this reader whose interest is easily diverted!

It is certainly worth note that many works of this genre, that examine the challenges of the Orthodox, Jewish world, are written with an underlying tone of disdain and contempt for this very special community. Margolese does none of this. She writes with a deep reverence for this community, a clear and well-rounded understanding of Jewish law and tradition and an unusually profound sense of Jewish values. This book is a must have for parents, educators and community leaders alike...a worthy addition to every Jewish library.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Blum on November 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
I met this woman in person, at a lecture she was giving. I spent almost her entire lecture in open-mouthed shock. It was as if this woman were a mind-reader, knowing my thoughts exactly. Before hearing her, I had felt guilty having such thoughts, that I dare not express them to anybody, and that even if I did, they would be categorically rejected by any of the countless Orthodox Jews that I know. I myself used to be far more formally religious, slowly but surely shuffling off this religious coil, precisely due my personal experience with the abysmal behavior of so-called religious Jews. Ironically, the Rabbi that has most turned me off from being a religious Jew, was a Rabbi present in that very audience where I heard Faranak speak. And when she allowed for questions afterward, he tried to discount everything she had said. Clearly, he had completely and very defensively missed the entire purpose of her lecture.
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