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Off the derech (OTD), from the Hebrew word derech (meaning "path"), is an expression Orthodox Jews use to describe someone who intentionally stops practicing the tenets of his or her branch of orthodoxy. The phrase was first used by the medieval sage Rashi to describe the actions of the rebellious son of Deuteronomy.[1]

The term is often applied to teenagers and adults who leave the orthodox way of life. Teenagers who are not yet off the derech but who display signs of diversion from Orthodox norms, such as changes in dress or associating with off-the-derech friends, are sometimes called "teens at risk." Many Haredi Jews never leave the community despite losing their faith, and they are sometimes referred to as Reverse Marranos[2][3] or Orthoprax Jews.[4]

The off-the-derech community has developed its own identity,[5] with blogs and active Facebook groups.[6] Some in the community have protested against cover-ups of child sexual abuse[7][clarification needed] and lack of basic secular education[8] among ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews.

There are parallel movements of OTD in the US and Israel.[citation needed] In Israel, Ex-Haredim or yotz'im bish'ela refers to disaffiliates from the Haredi community and its way of life in Israel.[citation needed]

Depending on personal and other circumstances of the departure, Haredi views of "off the derech" individuals may range from considering them epikoros ("heretics") to viewing them as individuals who have strayed from the path and should be viewed with understanding and brought back to their religion.



Off the derech is similar to Haskalah in its disaffection with traditional modes of religion, its secularization and interest in secular education, and in experimenting with a secular Jewish culture. Like Haskalah, its members tend to be secularists and religious decentralists.[9]

Process of OTDEdit

One study found that the process the individual becoming 'off the derech' involved four pivotal milestones, and that these milestones were common in the narratives of study participants: 1) initial questioning; 2) growing doubts; 3) beginning to share selectively with a small group of trusted others; 4) revealing a new and altered identity.

  1. Initial questioning - For most, the process began at adolescence. This period is marked by either the emergence of cognitive doubts and/or emotional-relational dissatisfaction.
    • Emergence of cognitive doubts - This consists of cognitive dilemmas that arise between what individuals were told in their traditional education and information that they began to gather from other sources.
    • Emotional-relational dissatisfaction - This manifests in discontent with the religious environment, where demands on individuals are often felt overly intensive, beyond what they could tolerate and failing to accommodate their particular needs and challenges. A second relational-triggered beginning was abuse by parents or spouses, or suffering a loss (such as a death in the family). For some, gender discrimination was the trigger to the beginning of the process.
  2. Growing doubts - The initial questioning typically is followed by contemplating the newly discovered doubts. In this phase, individuals will eagerly and fervently consume available “secular” information. Also, during this stage, individuals also begin testing to commit forbidden acts (e.g. using electricity on the Sabbath). Emotionally, this phase is described by many as being very stressful.
  3. Sharing selectively with trusted others - This involves initiating discussions about issues related to Judaism without revealing personal doubts or inner conflicts. This phase was often characterized by a struggle, some tried seeking help from rabbis in resolving questions. Gradually, indirect disguised sharing becomes more open.
  4. Revealing a new and altered identify - Some continue to gradually become OTD by beginning to present external manifestation (e.g. mode of dress, shaving beard). Some alternated their appearance and behaviors as they move between the Orthodox and non-orthodox worlds. When they no longer belonged to the Orthodox community, participants had to reinvent their identities. Leaving the community did not necessarily mean leaving religiosity or spirituality. One aspect of developing the new self was completing the high school equivalency diploma. Other struggles involved higher education, family relationship, custody battles.[10]

Support groupsEdit

Tight-knit local and Internet-based support groups exist in Israel, the UK/Europe, the US, and Canada:

A group of OTD individuals launched the "It Gets Besser" initiative, a Yiddish play on words of Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project which sends the message to LGBT teens that their lives will improve.[18] Similarly, the It Gets Besser initiative highlights positive personal developments by OTD individuals after leaving the Haredi community.[19][20]

Notable peopleEdit

Examples of notable people who left traditional Judaism or became less observant include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ Fader, Ayala (2014). "Anthropology and History". American Jewish History. 98 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1353/ajh.2014.0003. 
  3. ^ "Introduction: an anthropological approach to Jews and Judaism". Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "Secretly seduced by science, Hasidic atheists lead a double life – Batya Ungar-Sargon - Aeon Essays". 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Facebook Off the Derech Group - Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  7. ^ "Ultra-Orthodox Jews Rally to Discuss Risks of Internet". The New York Times. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Yermi Brenner (19 June 2013). "Getting In Face of Ultra-Orthodox on Need for Real World Education". The Forward. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  9. ^ Samuel, Freedman. "Stepping off the Path and Redefining Faith". New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 31 December 2015. 
  10. ^ Berger, Roni. "Leaving an Insular Community: The Case of Ultra Orthodox Jews." Jewish Journal of Sociology 56, no. 1/2 (2014): 75-98.
  11. ^ "Security Check Required". 
  12. ^ "About". 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Helping Those Who've Left Hasidic & Ultra Orthodoxy Communities". 
  17. ^ [], LKMedia - Full Service Internetbureau. "Over ons - JLJK - Jouw Leven Jouw Keuze". 
  18. ^ "It Gets Besser". YouTube. 
  19. ^ IT GETS BESSER on YouTube
  20. ^ It Gets Besser - Tracks on YouTube
  21. ^ Kahn, Ann (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 1 (2nd ed.). Brenner, Yosef Hayyim: Keter Publishing House. pp. 506–507. 
  22. ^ Almagor, Dan; Band, Arnold (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Keter Publishing House. pp. 404–406. 
  23. ^ Leiter, Samuel; Spicehandler, Ezra (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Bialik, Hayyim Nahman: Keter Publishing House. pp. 561–565. 
  24. ^ Schweid, Eliezer (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 1 (2nd ed.). Ahad Ha-am: Keter Publishing House. p. 525. 
  25. ^ Klausner, Joseph Gedaliah (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Keter Publishing House. pp. 386–388. 
  26. ^ "A Descendant of the Founder of Hasidic Judaism Just Came Out As an Atheist Trans Woman". Camille Beredjick, Friendly Atheist, December 7, 2015.
  27. ^ "From Hasidism to Freedom: Singer Matisyahu Unbound". Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Haaretz, March 10, 2015.
  28. ^ "The Sun Is a Star". Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil), The Forward, September 26, 2012.

Further readingEdit