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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]

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.[17] Similarly, the It Gets Besser initiative highlights positive personal developments by OTD individuals after leaving the Haredi community.[18][19]

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. ^
  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. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ IT GETS BESSER on YouTube
  19. ^ It Gets Besser - Tracks on YouTube
  20. ^ Kahn, Ann (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 1 (2nd ed.). Brenner, Yosef Hayyim: Keter Publishing House. pp. 506–507. 
  21. ^ Almagor, Dan; Band, Arnold (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Keter Publishing House. pp. 404–406. 
  22. ^ Leiter, Samuel; Spicehandler, Ezra (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Bialik, Hayyim Nahman: Keter Publishing House. pp. 561–565. 
  23. ^ Schweid, Eliezer (2007). Encyclopedia Judaica. 1 (2nd ed.). Ahad Ha-am: Keter Publishing House. p. 525. 
  24. ^ Klausner, Joseph Gedaliah (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). Keter Publishing House. pp. 386–388. 
  25. ^ "A Descendant of the Founder of Hasidic Judaism Just Came Out As an Atheist Trans Woman". Camille Beredjick, Friendly Atheist, December 7, 2015.
  26. ^ "From Hasidism to Freedom: Singer Matisyahu Unbound". Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Haaretz, March 10, 2015.
  27. ^ "The Sun Is a Star". Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil), The Forward, September 26, 2012.

Further readingEdit